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Thomas Bannister (1842-1912) created a Cattle Market in Haywards Heath that lasted for 120 years...

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

Thomas Bannister's Market (where Sainsbury's now stands) is extremely important in Haywards Heath history

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 02 July 1912





To a large number of people the news came as shock that Mr. Thomas Bannister, J.P. of Limehurst, Haywards Heath, had passed away on Sunday morning at Seaford. There was no man better known than he in the agricultural world in Sussex, and it is freely admitted that as an auctioneer and valuer he adorned the profession.

Mr Bannister, who was 70 years of age on January 1st last, had been in failing health for a long period. His heart was affected, and within the last fortnight he said to a friend that he thought his days were numbered. A week ago to-day he went to Seaford, feeling that a change of air would benefit him. On Sunday morning along came the news that he was dead.

Mr. Bannister was born at Cuckfield, his father being a successful agriculturist. Eventually the family moved to Kenward’s Farm, near Lindfield, and young Thomas Bannister had for his schoolmaster the late Mr. Thomas Wells. He was a diligent lad. Manual labour did not appeal to him, but intellectual pursuits did. His father permitted him to follow his bent, and on leaving school he was articled to the late Mr. John Agate, an agricultural valuer, who lived at Slaugham. The work interested him, and when he started business on his own account his grip of things and his quick and correct judgement of the qualities cattle—also of men—speedily gained for him an excellent reputation. It was where the Liverpool Hotel at Haywards Heath now stands that Mr. Bannister conducted his early auction sales. At that time of day timber

Thomas Bannister

and saw pits were his surroundings. In 1868 he realised the possibilities of a cattle auction mart at Haywards Heath, and although he started in a small way—tradition hath it it was with three sheep penned between three hurdles - yet he was spared to see his early labours fruitful and his market become one of the most important in Sussex for the sale of cattle.

First the sales were held monthly, next fortnightly, and then, in response to the general demand, weekly. Mr. Bannister never tired of urging farmers to breed good stock, and those who followed his advice had the satisfaction of obtaining in the auction ring high prices. He himself was never so happy as when upon a farm and inspecting stock, and he was a most successful breeder of pedigree Sussex cattle and large black pigs. For over forty years he acted as agent for the Sergison estate, and most of the sales of building land in Haywards Heath were effected through him. To-day the town has to thank him for the building restrictions he imposed. But for him there would not have been the present nice wide roads and open spaces which make the locality such an attraction to health seekers. He served on the Cuckfield Board of Guardians, and as a member of the old Haywards Heath Local Board his sound common sense and judgement did much to benefit the town.

His was a strong personality, and one had not to be long in his presence to find out that he was resolute and determined, especially when it came to maintaining pecuniary rights. When Urban Councils were established Mr. Bannister became first Chairman of the Haywards Heath Urban Council, and no man has ever filled the position with greater dignity than he. He never played to the gallery. His utterances were never commonplace. He never thrust his presence to the front. If by reason of his public position he was called upon to come into the limelight he bore himself well, and impressed those who listened to him as a most capable man. The Cricket Ground which is such an acquisition to Haywards Heath was opened by him.

In 1901 divergences of opinion on public matters caused another Councillor to be made Chairman of the local governing authority, but Mr. Bannister was as loyal to his successor as for years his colleagues were to him. But in 1907 the cry of “fresh blood” was raised by practically all new residents. It was a stormy period, caused mainly through the drainage problem. Mr. Bannister favoured strongly the Wall House site. The “near-sighted” ones did not, and they did their best to bring about the defeat at the poll of those who differed from them. Mr. Bannister declined to beg for votes. If his past record of public service was not sufficient testimony to his worth as a Councillor he was prepared to swallow the “retirement pill”. And he did swallow it. When the result of the poll was announced Mr. Bannister’s name was among the defeated candidates, and immediately the town heard

that there was a sigh of genuine regret. When too late it was recognised that Haywards Heath had lost the advice and help of a man whose judgment was generally sound and who had done great things for the district.

At the next election Bannister was urged again to come forward as candidate, but firmly declined. When was made Justice of the Peace

Bannisters Cattle Market in 1938

for Sussex everybody conceded that the honour was well merited. As long as health permitted he was a regular attendant at the Bench, and harshness was not characteristic of his decisions. In1869 Mr. Bannister married the daughter of the late Mr. Richard Caffyn, J.P. of Cuckfield. This lady survives him, as also three sons and three daughters.

Since 1881 Mr. Bannister had been a Fellow of the Surveyors’ Institution; for many years he was Chairman of the Sussex and Adjoining Counties’ Agricultural Valuers’ Association, and a representative of that Association the Central Association of Agricultural Tenant Right Valuers; he was member the Royal Agricultural Society of England, the Smithfield Club, the Council of the Sussex County Agricultural Society, the Sussex Herd Book Society, and was President at the time of his death of the Large Black Big Society. His knowledge of Sussex cattle caused him to be in demand as Judge of that breed at the Royal and other leading summer shows, the Smithfield Christmas Show, and at local fat stock shows. He was a supporter of cricket, and was President of the Haywards Heath Cricket Club. He was also fond of shooting.

Although his business instincts were keen, so keen in fact that those who tried to better him in a bargain considered him “a hard nut to crack”, yet there was never an appeal made to him for financial aid in behalf of a deserving cause without him making a generous response. As an employer of labour he will be greatly missed. If a man wanted work, and was a capable fellow, Mr. Bannister would do his best to find him a job. He had a knack of knowing a good worker, and invariably employed such a man. He farmed at Sugworth, and he also had a fruit farm. At local horticultural shows Mr. Bannister was a successful exhibitor. “Thoroughness” in all things was his maxim. To be idle, or to see others idle, was distasteful to him. He loved the open air, the fields and their crops, and the stock that grazed in the meadows. Through Nature he looked up to Nature’s God and may we not now say of him —“After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well.”

The funeral is fixed for tomorrow (Wednesday), at 2 pm., at St. Wilfrid’s Church, Haywards Heath


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