The butcher, the baker and the clothing maker
In 1260, the Diocese of Chichester made a survey of its huge estates across Sussex. By good fortune, this dating (and the document’s survival) are perfect material to illustrate the evolution of the woodland pasture of Heathfield through a series of individual clearings in a forest into a small settlement in its own right around a new church. We can meet individual villagers and follow in their footsteps around their expanding settlement.
LENGTH – 3.5 miles
TIME – 2 hours
START – Old Heathfield Church, School Hill, Old Heathfield, TN21 9AH, NGR 598 204.
PARKING – On street parking adjacent to Old Heathfield Church.
TOILETS – No public toilets available.
REFRESHMENTS – Pub at Old Heathfield
CAUTION – This walk includes two crossings of the A259 road.
This walk contains stiles.
Heathfield (the “heathy clearing”) originated as a common woodland owned by the inhabitants of Bishopstone near Seaford, used for its timber resources and as grazing land especially for pigs. Gradually people began to live permanently in the area which was probably initially settled from the “worth” place name settlements of Tottingworth, Nettlesworth and Possingworth which are described but not named in the Doomsday Book. In about 1236 a priest called Dogo was installed in a newly built church in a compromise location centred between the three “worths”. The oldest part of the surviving church is the tower, dating from this period, the inside of which is built of chalk. This very poor building material must have been carried from further south in Sussex and may represent a link back to the “mother settlement” of Bishopstone on the chalk downland. The present (1260) incumbent is Robert the Vicar.
The ponds in this area mark the site of the settlement’s mill, more recently known as Twissells. In 1260 the mill was held by Sileman ate Halle who paid 12s rent to his landlord, the Diocese, and 1s 4d in tithes to the vicar, Robert. When, in the opinion of the local bailiff, Roger Harmere, and his neighbours, the mill needed repair, Sileman had to do this work himself, but had free timber provided by his landlord.
To the left is Sapperton. Although the name does not appear until 1273, it appears that this was occupied in 1260 by the Harmere family, who had moved to the area from Etchingham as the Archbishop’s bailiffs and had taken over an undeveloped portion of the Nettlesworth holding. By 1260 it comprised four small parcels – Roger de Haremere occupies 13 acres for a rent of 2s 2d, Morgana de Haremere has 30 acres for 5s, William 5a for 10d and Agnas 16½ acre and 1 rood for 2s 11¾d. However, the main holding also occupied by Roger (the father) is an unspecified amount of forest land held for 15d plus a huge list of services. If any cattle are impounded or when other tenants die and have to surrender their “heriot” (their best beast – a form of death duties) to the Archbishop, Roger must drive the animals to Bishopstone. If animals are impounded at Burwash he has to go and get them and move them to Bishopstone. He can also deliver legal writs to Bishopstone, Robertsbridge, Bexhilll or Arlington. He also has to fell timber or cut underwood as directed and load it onto the Archbishop’s carts. Later generations established a hunting park on the northern part of this land in 1387, which became the present walled Heathfield Park.
The route now runs along a fine section of drove road marked by its extreme width with boundary banks with “living hedges” on top to keep the animals within the route and stop then straying into adjoining fields. This may represent the original route between the original settlement at Bishopstone and the daughter settlement of Heathfield.
Nettlesworth is one of the original clearings that began the permanent settlement of the area, which were called “yardlands” and represented the amount of land needed to feed a family. By 1260 it was held by Morgana de Hall for a standard rent of 5s 4d and 2½d extra for wodepans (the right to take timber from the common woodland). Reflecting the links to the original settlement, she was also required to cart one waggon-load of timber per year to Preston (in Brighton), Bexhill or any other of the Diocese estates. If the Bishop of Chichester visited, she had to cart his victuals to Bexhill, Bishopstone or Arlington. Once a year she had to travel for a week to the Bishop’s hunting park at Aldyngebourne near Chichester to carry out repairs to the lodge, banks and fences, in return for free food and beer – the nearest medieval peasants got to a holiday. A new 15 acres of land (rent 2s 6d but no services) to the south of the original holding (the present Hale Hill Farm) has subsequently been added to the estate and her son Sileman ate Halle (the mill owner) is living there.
We now enter a smaller estate owned by the de Beckington family whose head, Adam, holds 30 acres for 5s rent and 37½ acres for 6s 3d. This reflects two different phases of woodland clearance (assarting) but in each case there is only the rent – there are no labour services such as those described above with the older holdings.
Nearby Braysland is the holding of the de Brailssham family. The nucleus is held by father Walter – an original yardland held for the standard rent of 5s 4d plus 2½d extra for wodepans plus the same labour service as apply at Nettlesworth. On place name evidence, this represents a slightly later clearing than Nettlesworth but earlier than the Beckington holding. It has been expanded at a later date with holdings of 6 acres for 1s and 29 acres for 4s 10d, the latter held by his son Adam. Both these rents state “and nothing else” to make it clear that they have no services.
The route passes through an area of woodland, reminding us that beyond the 1260 rent roll are others, mostly craftsmen, holding smaller areas as subtenants, but their names still appear in the national taxation records. Unsurprisingly they are carrying out woodland based tasks such as Rado and Lawrence atte the Wode, Henry, Thomas and Adam Turner and Rado and Randulph Collier (charcoals makers) overseen by the Woodward – Walter.
Highlands Farm marks the last of the original clearance sites on this walk with the now familiar pattern of an original yardland held for the standard rent and labour services by a widow Alice de Hegelond. Her children Roger (4 acres for 8d) and Morgana (30 acres for 5s) hold the land cleared more recently.
Approaching the church again at the end of the walk, a settlement can be seen forming around the new church in 1260 where four shops and three houses have been erected abutting the churchyard. The low rents for these of 2d and 1d respectively, show the landlord’s intention to assist in setting up this area. The roles of Roger Smith and Adam Baker (plus son Henry) are obvious to the community. More unexpectedly is a tiny textile industry (presumably wool based) with Geoffrey Chaloner, a blanket maker and the brothers Geoffrey and Nicholas Weaver. Their output is sold by Godfrey Mercer, a cloth merchant, presumably using the trade links offered by the Archbishop’s other holdings. Unsurprisingly an alehouse has opened – the present Star Inn – parts of which date back to medieval times. The success of this fledgling settlement was recognised by the award of a charter in 1316 by King Edward II for a weekly Thursday market and an annual three day fair centred on 16 June, which still exists today as the “Heathfield Cuckoo Fair”.
Whilst we have taken reasonable endeavours to ensure the information is up to date and correct, you will be using the information strictly at your own risk. If you come across any inaccuracies whilst you are on your walk, please contact Wealden District Council’s Community and Regeneration team.
The self-guided walk descriptions are provided to help you navigate your way, however we recommend that you plan your route prior to walking the route and that you carry an Ordnance Survey map of the area being walked and follow your position on the map as you proceed.
Please note, we cannot be responsible for the conditions of the footpaths and land and you are responsible for your own safety.