Uckfield is a modern town in more than one sense of the word.
Yes, people have lived here for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, but until quite recent times Uckfield was little more than a hamlet, writes Paul Watson.
Research shows that at one time it was no bigger than some of the villages that surround it.
So it is a modern construction and even has a New Town – though hardly comparable with the “new towns” that grew up around London in the 20th Century, such as Crawley.
Take the words of the Rev Edward Turner when writing about Uckfield, Past and Present: “In fulfilling the task assigned to me, of bringing under your notice the antiquities of Uckfield, I shall have no need to occupy any great space, for the objects of archaeological interest are few; in truth this place has become singularly modern; almost everything of antiquarian value about it, having of late years fast disappeared.”
This comment was published by the Sussex Archaeological Society in 1860. At this time the town’s population was about 2,000.
And when Pevsner came to write about the town in the Sussex volume of his Buildings of England series, he commented: “Uckfield is disappointing.”
He went on: Opposite the church is not a bad beginning and down Church Street, Church House is a nice five-bay job of grey brick with red brick dressings.”
He then looked down the High Street from the junction with Church Street and commented: “From there to the south, down the hill, nothing for the eye . . .”
Uckfield did not rate a mention in the Domesday Book of 1086 and 200 years later it is referred to as no more than part of Buxted.
Indeed, at least in church terms, Uckfield came under Buxted until the mid part of the 19th Century.
Uckfield was on the pilgrim’s route from Canterbury to Winchester but for hundreds of years grew slowly, if at all, and little of record is known.
Even being fringed by “iron country”, Uckfield seems to have played little part in the thriving Wealden iron industry which dates from pre-Roman times to the early 1800s.
The Holy Cross Church is not as an old as you might imagine from a cursory glance. Many of this country’s churches will have a long history but not Uckfield.
The old church was pulled down in 1839 and replaced by what we see today.
Like many towns, it was the coming of the railway that brought real growth to Uckfield.
In 1858 the line from Brighton and Lewes reached the town and it pushed on north to Groombridge and Tunbridge Wells by 1866.
Uckfield now had a link with London. And like many other Sussex towns – Haywards Heath, for example, – the coming of the railway brought about a transformation.
The book Bygone Uckfield [Fuller and Turner] records: “It brought the town out of rural isolation and took goods and passengers daily to places previously out of reach.”
The authors go on to say: “The coming of the railway brought expansion to the business and farming communities in the area. Several new shops were opened . . . coal was brought to the town by train . . . the gasworks were built.
“The railway also brought about expansion in building. Several good sites were made available to the north and south of the town, and many larger, fashionable villas were built south of the railway. “This area became known as High Street, New Town.”
Smaller homes were built in the Framfield Road area. Fuller and Turner note: “Thus, the railway brought an air of prosperity and growth to Uckfield in the second half of the 19th Century.”
The two world wars saw Maresfield occupying an important Army role.
The Church Coombe and Selby Rise estates in Uckfield are typical of developments in the mid part of the century.
Since the late 50s, Uckfield has grown greatly. One of the biggest projects was the Manor Park Estate which gained planning permission in 1964.
Rocks Park, Hunters Way and many others have followed.
The housing development continues to this day with new homes being built at Eastbourne Road and Lewes Road.
Much of the landscape of Uckfield can be attributed to the aristocracy – the Streatfeilds on the west of the town and the Nevills on the east.
Some of what they created in Victorian times can still be seen and enjoyed – Lime Tree Avenue, for example in the heart of the town, and Lake Wood on the outskirts of the town towards Shortbridge.
We will continue in the weeks and months to come to turn the pages of Uckfield’s history so do come back another time. *You can comment on this article or add more information by emailing Paul Watson on email@example.com
• This feature first appeared on UckfieldNews.com on April 26, 2010.