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An unsung hero of Haywards Heath and the many good things he did for the town

Updated: Oct 2, 2020

Mid Sussex Times - Wednesday 10 June 1942





The story of Lord Clive, that regarded his escape from shooting himself through his pistol misfiring as an indication that Providence still had some work for him to do, may be almost parallel in the life of Mr. Harry Plummer. J.P.. of Lyntonville. Hazelgrove Road, Haywards Heath.

Mr. Plummer's escape, however, was from drowning. He was only a toddler of three when he rolled down a bank into a pond near his home at Lindfield and he remembers, when got out a lady asking him how he felt. “but I was too full of water for words!” He said with a smile. Mr. Plummer has lived to fill as full a life as falls to the lot of any man. He was in turn printer’s apprentice and reporter at Mid-Sussex Times Offices, Agent for the Liberal Party in the East Grinstead Division, the Haywards Heath Co-operative Society Secretary, Assistant Overseer and Rate Collector, Secretary of the Haywards Heath Building Society, a Justice of the Peace, a member of the Urban District Council and one of the ablest speakers Haywards Heath has produced.

Mr. Plummer is distinctly a Sussex product, for he can trace his ancestors back for more than 300 years in the records of the county.

In the course of a chat with a Mid-Sussex Times representative, Mr. Plummer drew attention to a list of contributions to a national defence fund at the time of the Spanish Armada (1588), when the sum of £25 was given by Jacob Plummer. The Marshalls Manor of Cuckfield was also held by the Plummer family at one time, Mr. Plummer commenting, “I expect our history, like that of other families, has been one of ups and downs. It has been said that the last of the Culpeppers, of Wakehurst, Ardingly, was a farm labourer at Ditchling within living memory.”

Topographically the family name has been given to Plummers Plain - the country between Warninglid and Horsham and it was from this

Harry Plummer

district that Mr. Plummer believes his ancestors came to Lindfield. It was said that the cause of this migration was the disapproval of the parents of this Plummer of the lady he married - a touch of romance which is good enough to be true. In any case, the associations of the Plummers with Mid-Sussex dates back many, many years. Mr. Plummer recalls a grandmother who was born in a house where the Roman Catholic Priory now stands. Her father kept the “Red Lion”, an inn which ceased to be licensed premises as far back as 1840. One of Mr. Plummer's household treasures is a pewter half-pint tankard inscribed “J. Anscombe. Red Lion, Haywards Heath.”


and went to the British School, then kept by that noted disciplinarian Mr. Thomas Wells. “And well I knew it." said Mr. Plummer, “for I was one of the bad boys. In those days we paid threepence a week as school fee, and I believe on more than one occasion I played truant and spent the school fee. I recall one occasion the master locked me in his house and went off and forgot all about me. I did not mind, for I discovered a shelf full of apples! The house with its veranda in front still stands just at the beginning of Lindfield Common on the way out from Haywards Heath.” Pupils walked to the school from Ardinglv, Balcombe, Horsted Keynes and Danehill.

School days over, young Plummer went to The Mid-Sussex Times Offices as apprentice to the late Mr. Charles Clarke, who eventually became one of the leading business men in Haywards Heath. Mr. Plummer was one of the first three apprentices Mr. Clarke had when he started the business of printer and bookseller in Boltro Road. He recalls the first edition of The Mid-Sussex Times being published in January, 1881. Every copy was folded by hand, and the machine was turned by a handle, something like mangle, until a gas engine was installed. One his fellow apprentices, Edwin Stevens, became Manager for Mr. Clarke. Another member of the trio. Mr. Albert Willett, of Cuckfield, whose father was a baker and confectioner, migrated to Crawley, where he still conducts a printing and stationery business. Mr. Willett is six months older than Mr. Plummer. The Willetts were a musical family, so much so that one the daughters was christened “Soprano.”

Recalling his reporting days. Mr. Plummer told a story against himself. He stated that he had the unusual, but not unknown, experience of reporting a speech which was never delivered. A home missionary and temperance advocate who lived at Brighton used to come over to speak at Haywards Heath fairly frequently. Young Plummer knew the speech by heart, and when he was announced to come again “missed the meeting” and wrote out the speech at home from memory. Unfortunately, the speaker also missed the meeting, and sent a substitute. He often chaffed Plummer about “reporting a speech which was not delivered.”

From the printing office to become Agent for the Liberal Party in the East Grinstead Division for a short time was the next move. Mr. Plummer's greatest joy was in assisting in the return of a Liberal Member for the East Grinstead Division, the late Mr. C. H. Corbett. J.P., the first and only occasion in which the seat went to the Liberal Party. “I regarded it,” says Mr. Plummer "as nothing less than a miracle.”



claimed Mr. Plummer's attention, and he became Assistant Overseer and Rating Officer for Haywards Heath and Cuckfield Rural. In his 80th year he is still in office as Clerk the Cuckfield Rural Parish Council - a post he has held for 47 years and one which he hopes to hold for half a century.

During the last war Mr. Plummer managed the Haywards Heath Co-operative Society and was also its first Secretary, but left before it was merged with the Brighton Equitable Co-operative Society.

His most recent record of splendid service, from which he retired only four years ago was that of Secretary to the Haywards Heath Building Society. Mr. Plummer took over the post in 1897 at the invitation of the late Major T. A. Maberly. J.P, when the Society had only mortgage assets of £1,200. He left the Society in November, 1938. with assets of about £85,000 and a membership of 1,700 against one of 80.

His public work has been mainly associated with the old Haywards Heath Urban Council, which was formed in 1894. Lindfield, which formerly had its own Local Board, reverted back to rural government. The first Urban District Council consisted of nine members, and there were 22 candidates, each of whom issued an “address”. Copies of these are in Mr. Plummer’s possession. He came out in the middle of the list of successful candidates. Here are the names of his fellow members; T. Bannister. A. R. Pannett. F. H. Beeny, A. Alwen, C.Higgs. Jesse Finch. Tom White and Jacob Grist.

An interesting link-up with the days when the Church had a finger in the government pie is revealed by the story told by Mr. Plummer of the action of a former Vicar of St. Wilfrid's. The old Local Board was called St. Wilfrid's, and by-laws bearing this name are still in existence. The Vicar decided to approach the Southern Railway Company, then known as the L.B. & S.C.R.Company, and ask them to alter the name of Haywards Heath Station to St. Wilfrid's. He was informed that he could call the Local Board any name he liked, but the railway had chosen the name Haywards Heath for the station, and Haywards Heath it would remain.

Two things stand out in Mr. Plummer's public career as matters of more than usual importance in their effect on the life of Haywards Heath and its development as a residential town. These, says Mr. Plummer, were his efforts on behalf of the Wall House drainage scheme, which carried away the drainage of the district for a far distance of over three miles “as the crow flies.” and the work he did in connection with the formation the Mid-Sussex Water Board.


all admit to-day, was the making of Haywards Heath. Before it was planned there used to be sewage outfalls in Sydney Read, in New England Road and Ashenground Road, and in addition, there were one or two outfalls. Apart from this, it appeared that a neighbouring authority was going to dump its sewage on the borders of Haywards Heath in an attempt to drain what was then known as Asylum Corner. A local Government Inquiry was held at Wivelsfield. and after it had been held Mr. Plummer proposed that the Local Government Board be written to, informing them that Haywards Heath was prepared to include Asylum Corner in their own scheme. This proposal met with approval the L.G.B. and Haywards Heath was very glad.

Mr. Plummer was associated with the formation the Mid-Sussex Joint Water Board and was a member of that body for over 20 years.

Other facts in regard the family tree of the Plummers were revealed in the course the conversation. The late Mr. Plummer, of Eastbourne, founder of the chain of Plummers Stores along the South Coast, wrote to Mr. Harry Plummer stating that he had traced the migration from Plummers Plain, but that previous to that period the family had lived in Wiltshire. It was recorded of one ancestor, the Rev. Jacob Plummer, that at the age of 90 he used to walk ten miles every day. The family were


which centred on and about Plummers Plain, and when that declined they were scattered, some to become farmers and some farm labourers.

A great-grandfather of Mr. Plummer, Mr. Edward Wille, was one of the contractors for toll gates management and the collection of charges. His district included Butler's Green, Cuckfield, but could get no one to live at the toll house there and had to manage it himself. At the time he was licensee of the Anchor Inn at Scaynes Hill, and on one evening the weather became so rough that he dare not stay in the house. He opened the gates and left the road free and made his way on foot to Scaynes Hill.

Mr. Plummer is ranked one of the most effective speakers in Haywards Heath, and he swayed many minds to his way of thinking at ratepayers’ and other meetings in the district. No doubt his connection with the old Haywards Heath Parliament developed his gift of speech. He did good work as a member of the East Sussex County Council and the County Education Committee, and always had the courage to fight fearlessly for what he believed to be in the best interests of the ratepayers in the area he represented.

Mr. Plummer—whose wife died eight years ago—has a son (Lieut. Commander Plummer) at the Admiralty, and two married daughters - Mrs. Jeffries, of Bournemouth, and Mrs. Chapman, of Haywards Heath.

Sorry to state, Mr. Plummer’s eyesight is impaired, but apart from this he is in excellent health and spirits. He still does his “daily dozen,” and can touch his toes without bending.

Beyond question, Mr. Plummer has every reason to be gratified with what he has accomplished in life. By sheer ability he came to the forefront in public matters, and in the evening of his days he has the satisfaction of knowing that he has the goodwill of his fellow men, also their respect and esteem.


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