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    Heathfield
(19th Century Natural Gas)
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Name Derivation

General Details

The Gibraltar Tower Heathfield
Heathfield lies on the A265, midway along an ancient track called the Ridgeway, that since pre-historic times, has been the link between the South Downs and the Weald.

Legend has it that a quaintly dressed old lady always turns up at the annual April Heffle Cuckoo Fair , to release from her basket the first cuckoo of spring. Formerly the fair was held behind the Half Moon Inn now known as the ' Jack Cade ' in Cade Street . It now takes place in and around the Community Hall and Health Centre, in Sheep Setting Lane.

Between the 1600 and the 1800's the Fuller family from Brightling , ran an iron furnace at Heathfield which produced cannons for the Royal Navy. The Iron Ore was mined locally, and the charcoal used to fire the ore was also produced locally, some from Blackboys (Another local village, named after the colour of the charcoal burners).

East of the town is the walled Heathfield Park, where may be seen a round, castellated folly, called the Gibraltar Tower. This tower was built in 1792 by Francis Newbury, in honour of General Sir George Augustus Elliot, a Govenor of Gibraltar, who successfully defended 'the Rock' against the combined French and Spanish forces between 1779 and 1783.

At the south eastern corner of the park lies Old Heathfield , which consists of a church, a pub, and a few cottages. In the churchyard lies a fine example of a Harmer terracotta decorated gravestone, this is best viewed from the road, as it lies behind trees, and faces west.

Heathfield used to be called Tower Street, and it grew up around the railway station on the old Polegate to Tunbridge Wells line(now closed). This busy single track line built in 1880 was known as the Cuckoo Line .

It was axed in 1965 by Dr Beeching, when the local authorities took this opportunity to use part of it to create a linear Country Park and Nature Reserve. An appreciation of the ' Cuckoo Trail ' grows from year to year, and it is hoped it may eventually be extended.

Among the trees, near the bridge in Ghyll Road, north-west from sandy cross on the B2203 is an old stand pipe. This is the last remnant of Heathfield's natural gas industry. In its heyday it produced some 15 million cubic feet a day, and provided the railway station with lighting until the 1930's. The gas was discovered in 1895 when engineers were actually looking for water. However the operation never proved commercially viable. A medallion was struck to commemorate the coronation of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra - one side portrayed the Royal heads, and the other side was the inscription 'Heathfield, Sussex, 1902. Natural gas first used for light and power'.

(Our thanks go to Alf Rogers for the next details) In the quarter century that I lived in the area, the Heffle Cuckoo Fair was held at the Heathfield Market site which was adjacent to the Crown Hotel at the junction of the roads to Burwash and Battle .

It was never to my knowledge located by the Half Moon Inn (I note that this has a name change). Originally held strictly on the 15th April, it was by the 1950's held on the Saturday nearest to the 15th. The legend of the old lady bringing the first cuckoo of spring to release from a wicker cage was enacted as a regular feature. In the years I lived in the area I only heard the cuckoo once before that date so legend was pretty firmly founded upon its normal migration pattern.


Services

All Saints church (Old Heathfield East Sussex)
Heathfield is a major centre for the surrounding area with a good range of shops, and is also the centre of the bus routes from the villages.

The nearest trains are in Wadhurst or Tunbridge Wells giving a service running every 30 minutes, taking about 1 hour to London.

The nearest major shopping centres are at Tunbridge Wells about 12 miles north, or Eastbourne about 12 miles south.


Views

Old Heathfield again
Old Heathfield which can be driven to by travelling down the Battle road, and turning right just before you get to Cade Street , is very picturesque.

The road that goes down towards the old station has the feel of the early 20th century.

The main village centre is a nice example of late 19th Century rural Sussex.

 
       
 
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