Two churches with no villages
This walk links the churches of Little Horsted and Isfield, two impressive Manor houses, a hunting park and a Norman castle. Trying to find the original villages, however, is a much more difficult task, although there is a fish to laugh at your efforts.
LENGTH – 6 miles
TIME – 4 hours
START – Little Horsted Church, Lewes Road (A26), Little Horsted, TN22 5TS
PARKING – Car park adjacent to Little Horsted School (accessed off A26 by Little Horsted Church)
TOILETS – No public toilets available.
REFRESHMENTS – Pubs at Rose Hill and Isfield.
CAUTION – There are two crossings of the A26 on this walk. Beware of golf balls on the East Sussex National Course.
This walk contains stiles.
In Doomsday Book (1086), the manor of Little Horsted comprised about 70 inhabitants in 15 families. By 1524 the village was down to 8 families. Today there is no sign of their houses and the “village” now seems to comprise the church, school and the East Sussex National Golf Course. So where did the village go? The answer comes later on this walk. Whilst at the church, admire the “green man” carving on the frame of the tower door. “Green men” are carvings of heads with foliage sprouting from them and are thought to represent the pagan gods of nature and fertility. It is therefore a slightly unusual idea to find expressed on a Christian church. Just south of the church is a fine tollhouse which once served the Lewes to Uckfield turnpike (toll) road.
Horsted Green Park, on the outskirts of Uckfield, has quickly established itself as a popular spot for walkers, especially those with dogs.
At this point, the route passes briefly along Worth Lane. The former settlement of Worth is visible along the road on the hill to the south. The place name “Worth” meaning a protected or enclosed place shows an early Saxon settlement at this location on a spur above the transport route of the River Uck. On the eve of the Norman conquest, it comprised a village of about 40 people in 9 families and its historic roots were shown by its owner being free and not owing service to any overlord. There was a valuable watermill on the Uck worth 9s. Today the site is a single large farm.
Today, only the isolated church marks the first site of Isfield village. It was sited close to the transport route and drinking water supply formed by the River Ouse. A moated Norman motte and bailey castle guarded both the junction of the rivers Ouse and Uck and the crossing of the Ouse by the remains of the Lewes to London Roman road. The castle fell out of use by 1280 (although the moat was re-used as a fish pond) and today only the earthworks of the castle keep company with the church. Isfield Place can be seen over the fields to the north from near the church. The house was home to the Shurley family, one of whom rose to prominence as “Esquyer and Cofferer to Kyng Henry ye eyght”. Several monuments to the family exist in the church, one of which once rested on the marble tombstone of Gundrada, the foundress of Lewes Priory, which the family looted from the Priory in the dissolution and transported up the river to Isfield. (It is now back where it belongs in Lewes.)
The older properties in this area mark the first move by Isfield village, resited on a hill overlooking the church and the river, but now above flood level and with communications based on roads, not on the river. “The Old Farmhouse” represents a typical home of this period, comprising a medieval house with later Tudor chimney and tilehanging. Slightly to the north is a fine Victorian watermill (now two houses), which was the latest of a long line of mills to occupy this site on the River Uck.
The establishment of the Uckfield to Lewes turnpike road in 1752 seems to have had no influence on the village. However, once the railway arrived in 1858, this new form of transport superceded the roads and the village migrated towards the new station. The long, straight street lined with Victorian houses, represents this second move by Isfield village, forming the linear village plan of today. The closure of the railway as part of the “Beeching cuts” left the line terminating at Uckfield. Today Isfield station and the track northwards have been restored as part of the Lavender Line steam railway. Note the station hotel, built with the railway and now named “The Laughing Fish” – a unique name.
The walk passes along the boundary bank of Plashett Park. Once, this was topped by a paling fence to keep the deer in the park, where they could be hunted by the owner, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and his friends. Later in the 18th century the park was landscaped in the “Capability Brown” style. The Archibishop’s former fish ponds were enlarged into a chain of lakes and specimen trees were planted around the landscape. The paling fence was demolished and trees planted along the boundary bank to form an edge to the landscaped park. Modern walkers remain “beyond the pale”, that is outside the former hunting park fence.
Close to the finish at Little Horsted, the former manor house of Horsted Place can be glimpsed, now used as a hotel. It was the successive owners of this house who caused the demise of the village. Gradually they bought up land for farming or hunting until about 60% of the parish was included in their estate, squeezing out the smaller landowners, to leave the church in the isolation it finds itself in today. As will have become apparent, the estate has now been converted into two large golf courses.