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The mystery of the Hickstead tollhouse ... 5

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

The Castle Inn with its hidden past of royal patronage

The turnpike history starts about 1817 after the relocation of a section of the most popular London to Brighton route away from Cuckfield High Street. But the positioning of a tollhouse and gates is a mystery and there is conflicting evidence on the maps. And you may like to see the reason for the confusion further down the page.

Our interest perhaps needs to centre on two buildings. The Castle Inn and The Old Post Office on the opposite side of Hickstead Lane to the south.

The New Inn (today’s Castle Inn - now a Chinese restaurant - formerly called Castle Hotel) was most probably built by Daniel Dench (1775-1826) in 1817. He was the former landlord of the King’s Head in Cuckfield.

Cuckfield landlord relocates

Dench was a very successful landlord and in 1798 and ran the most successful hotel and inn in town. He hosted high society including the Prince Regent who greatly enjoyed his company. The landlord kept 30 to 40 pairs of horses in the stables - that’s 80 horses in addition to looking after passing travellers’ steeds. So when the turnpike was permanently diverted through Hickstead and coaches virtually abandoned the old route. So Dench decided to relocate his business and follow his wealthy customers to Hickstead.

One theory is that the tollhouse was closely positioned to the tollgate. The passengers could alight for a comfort break and refreshment, or even stop over night.

Relocation to Bolney Toll House location

But because we have so many conflicting records of location - while it's likely that the tollhouse was initially at this cross roads, that it may have subsequently moved to the Bolney Tollhouse position. After all you don't need tolls taken twoce in a few hundred yards.

In my article on the Bolney Tollhouse I mentioned that industrial historian Dr Brian Austen, and expert on local turnpikes, suggested that Castle Inn landlord, perhaps Dench, may have objected to the presence of a toll gate so nearby? I would add that Dench or a later landlord would not have wished for his influential, important and big-spending guests to be inconvenienced by the noise of post horns as coaches approached the gate or the disturbance of arguments close to his inn’s windows - and insisted on the gate being relocated to the north.

No records of this Trust have been found, and any further map records may only further confuse and conflict. So the mystery of the precise positioning over the years may never be settled. What we do know is that the Trust maintained a gate or gates at this location throughout.

The Old Post Office

Recent shot of The Old Post Office, Hickstead

One building survives that may be relevant to the collection of tolls at Hickstead [location TQ 269203]. This is a two-storey house, flint with brick quoins, with weather-boarded (now tiled) upper storey and a slate roof. This is to the south of the crossroads and on the west of the turnpike, the position of the tollhouse on the 1824 map.

Earlier photo: Note the 'toll' window in the side wall

The cottage has a small side window near the front, of a type often found in tollhouses (see inset photograph). It has more recent additions, both north and south and the road, have been realigned. The building is adjacent to the old road, with the widened road (c1990) to the east.

A Victorian post box can be seen on the front centre of the house, a survivor from when it was a general stores and post office.

The Old Post Office and the Castle Inn beyond

The site was visited by industrial historian Frank Gregory (see below) who recorded (1940s?) that the Hickstead side gate on the north west corner of the crossroads opposite the Hickstead Castle Inn, which appears to have relocated to the other side of the road.

Quoting W. Simmons, then owner of the stores, he relates that the tollhouse was pulled down c.1910 and that the site owned by a Miss Dawes of Hickstead Place.

On the south side of the Twineham road, and immediately behind The Old Post Office, is a house named Gate House. This may have originally been a pair of Victorian cottages converted into one. This may be a throwback to one of the side bars (a gate closing off a side road) which may have been present at the time of the turnpike.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.


The location mystery

This gives you a flavour of the confusion:

  • A plan of 1807 shows no gate at this point

  • A map of 1824 the gate is clearly shown from the south of the crossroads. This mirrors how the inn is positioned today - to the west side of the turnpike and north of the crossroads.

  • A plan of 1836 shows the gate across the turnpike north of the crossroads.

  • In 1837 the Twineham tithe award map shows no gates at this location.

  • The 1875 25-inch OS map shows the Castle Inn to the south-west of the crossroads, no gate across the turnpike but side gates across both the roads to Twineham and Goddards Green.

If you have any map or pictorial evidence that might help solve this mystery, please let us know.


Other articles on Cuckfield Connections about toll houses and turnpikes:

1819: Notice: auction of Mid Sussex Turnpike Tolls

Detested but essential turnpikes ... 1

The tollbooth at Whiteman's Green ... 2

Fury at Butler's Green tollhouse ... 3

Bolney tollhouse - keeps moving ... 4

The mystery of the Hickstead tollhouse ... 5

Four tollhouses ... 6

1867: The challenges of maintaining Cuckfield roads after the abolition of turnpike gates


Based on the comprehensive research by Dr Brian Austen in: ‘Turnpikes To Brighton’ P39 in Sussex Industrial History, Journal of the Sussex Industrial Archaeology Society, No 41, 2011

Location map by Malcolm Davison. Map data with open database licence from Copyright link.

Frank William Gregory (1917-1998) was an authority on Sussex traditional mills, happily sharing his information and knowledge with everyone who had a similar interest. Supported by grant aid from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, the Mills Archive’s has digitised and catalogued nearly 40,000 items from Frank’s collection, which he left to the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum at Singleton on his death in 1998. An online archive and biography can be found here:

Hickstead ESRO QDP/89/1, QDP/158; WSRO TD/E44


The Castle Inn, Hickstead, West Sussex, seen from the south-east 2017. Wikimedia public domain image.

Old Post Office by Simon carey. Wikimedia public domain image.

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