Changes planned for one of Uckfield’s most prominent and historic buildings – once the Maidens Head – will hinder any hopes for its return to its traditional use as an hotel, it was claimed this week.
Opposition to plans for the former Smokehouse on the west side of the High Street has been registered by Uckfield Town Council.
Its plans committee is not supporting an application for 91A High Street for a change of use from hotel accommodation to two, 2-bedroom cottages.
Members of the committee are also against a planning application for 91 High Street (all part of the same property) to demolish a flat-roof garage and bin store and build a detached home and a pair of semi-semi-detached dwellings, along with car parking, amenity space and landscaping.
The former Smokehouse and the adjoining property were once part of the same building, known as the Maidens Head, which was a focal point for town functions.
See our story from last month about the planning application, which will be determined by Wealden District Council, for the conversion of the former Smokehouse hotel rooms here
Cllr Duncan Bennett, a former deputy town mayor, told the plans committee on Monday (March 4):
“I would be very sad to see the loss of hotel spaces in the town.
“There is nothing in the way of hotel space in the centre of Uckfield.
“Should we vote tonight to lose this, it removes any chance of people ever having hotel space in the centre of town.”
He said there were moves for out-of-town hotel space but said Uckfield was a growing town and there would be a need for rooms in the centre.
Cllr Louise Eastwood, a former town mayor, said the building had been an hotel for hundreds of years.
“It does have some historic value to the town and I think it will be a real shame to lose this and turn it into cottages,” she said.
Later, Cllr Bennett said he hankered after a reunification of the building now known as the Smokehouse and the one next-door to the north.
To allow the application would be a “fly in the ointment” for any hopes of combining the two buildings as one.
When the committee discussed the plan for new homes at the rear of the property, Cllr Bennett said: “We have previously objected to such a proposal.
“The loss of this amenity would preclude the return of commercial hotel use to the premises, I believe.
He said that it made no commercial sense from the town’s point of view and no sense from a heritage standpoint.
He said the ballroom was used as a magistrates’ court and the forerunner of the town council used to meet there.
“It is a very important building as far as Uckfield is concerned and I think this development in the grounds would be defacing that property and not only destroying its heritage but also destroying any potential for the future, which I think it still has.”
He said that if the two buildings were once again unified and the property turned into a boutique, bijou hotel it would be “absolutely great”.
The site’s use as an hotel dates from Medieval times when it was once known as the Red Lion. The name Maidens Head only moved to the present site when a new building was constructed in front of the Red Lion to support the coaching business arising from the turnpike roads of the 1700s. The old pub is still there as a store room at the back of the existing building, in the car park.
In more recent times, the Maidens Head was a focus of the community with the ballroom being used for many events including glamorous dances and discos. The building was also home to the popular Elizabethan restaurant.
Later the building was split in two with the right-hand side becoming a private residence and the left staying as licensed premises.
In 1966, the hotel was the scene of a stabbing which led to a man being convicted of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
Find local organisations in our Uckfield Directory