A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 6 Part 2, Bramber Rape (North-Western Part) Including Horsham. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1986.
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Ashurst (fn. 1) lies north of Steyning on the west bank of the river Adur. In 1881 it comprised 2,372 a. A detached portion of 37 a. within West Grinstead parish, including Upper Posbrooks Farm, was transferred to West Grinstead before 1891, and a second detached portion of 83 a. between Steyning and Henfield parishes, including Heath Barn, was transferred to Steyning in 1933. In 1971 Ashurst comprised 911 ha. (2,251 a.). (fn. 2)
The parish is irregular in shape, West Grinstead parish making a salient into its north-western part. In the north, north-east, and south the boundary follows the river Adur or tributary streams, but in the east it runs west of the river, passing through Eatons Farm. (fn. 3) Both Pepper's Farm and Jessups Farm also lie very close to the parish boundary in the west.
The parish lies entirely on the Weald clay, except where a tongue of the Hythe sandstone beds forms an east-west ridge between Pepper's and Eatons Farms. Alluvial soils overlie the clay in the river valley. (fn. 4) The highest land in the parish, at c. 100 ft. (30 metres), is in the south-west. The landscape is gently rolling, dissected by streams flowing north or east to join the river Adur. The north and north-east parts of the parish form part of the Adur floodplain. Seasonal flooding in those areas was mentioned in 1730 (fn. 5) and continued in the 19th and 20th centuries. (fn. 6)
As the name of the parish indicates, the Weald clay favours the growth of woodland; in 1830 the combination of small closes and wide hedgerows was said to give Ashurst the appearance of 'an entire wood'. (fn. 7) The sale of oak trees at Ashurst was recorded in 1357, buyers coming from as far as Findon and Lancing. (fn. 8) Two oak woods called Wollye of 40 or 50 years' growth were mentioned in 1548. (fn. 9) Between the later 18th century (fn. 10) and the 20th, most of the woodland lay in the south-west part. A fifth of the parish was in woods in 1843. (fn. 11) There was oak, ash, and elm timber on Eatons farm in the 1850s; in 1857 a timber merchant from Steyning bought 177 oaks there. (fn. 12)
Most roads in Ashurst in the past, as usually in the locality, trended roughly from south to north. (fn. 13) The two most important were that from Bramber to Knepp castle in Shipley and that from Steyning to Partridge Green in West Grinstead. The former road crossed the centre of the parish, running northwards from Felbridge towards Honey Bridge in West Grinstead. (fn. 14) The latter road was perhaps mentioned c. 1250. (fn. 15) Reference was made in 1538 to an ancient endowment for its repair between Horsebridge on the southern border of the parish and Bines Bridge on the northern. (fn. 16) It was presumably the Horsham-Steyning road mentioned in Ashurst in 1621. (fn. 17) In 1724 it was an important route, (fn. 18) and in 1764 it was made a turnpike as the Horsham-Steyning road, (fn. 19) forming one means of approach to Brighton. (fn. 20) It was disturnpiked in 1885. (fn. 21) Much unfenced roadside waste remained beside it in 1983. In the north-east part of the parish it formed the wide open space known by 1524 as Bines green, (fn. 22) where a pond survived in 1983. In the south a similar open space called Horsebridge common (fn. 23) had by 1983 been largely overgrown by scrub.
Eatons Farm evidently represents one of the older medieval settlements in the parish, since Eatons was the only manor in Ashurst in 1086. (fn. 26) It lies on the sandstone ridge which runs east-west in the southeast quarter of the parish, (fn. 27) and seems to take the first element of its name from the nearby river Adur. (fn. 28) There may have been a nucleated settlement nearby in 1086, when eight tenants of the manor were recorded, (fn. 29) but nothing is known of it.
A nucleated village presumably existed at Ashurst in 1524, when one parishioner was described as living 'in the east street'. (fn. 30) That street seems likely to have been the one called Workhouse Lane in 1875 and School Lane in 1983. The village presumably extended north towards the church and south to the sandstone ridge. In 1780 there were 10 or 12 scattered dwellings in that area, (fn. 31) including several timberframed buildings which survived in 1983. The Fountain inn on the Horsham-Steyning road is of L-shaped plan, and is entered by a passage in the centre of the front range which has one plank-andmuntin wall of 16th-century character. Oakford Cottage, south-west of the church, is a small, probably 16th-century house which originally had an open hall. Blocques, next to the inn, is also 16thcentury, (fn. 32) as probably is Gratwicks in Church Lane. Sweethill Farm, south of School Lane, is a small late medieval house which was enlarged in the 17th century, probably at the same time as an upper floor was inserted in its open hall; to the south-west is a probably 16th-century barn with crown-post roof. A notable later building nearby is Batts, a small 18thcentury brick farmhouse which was enlarged and refitted in the same style in 1961-2 for the aircraft designers F. G. and Maxine Miles. (fn. 33) There are 19thor 20th-century houses and cottages in School Lane, including some council houses.
Other medieval settlement in the parish was scattered, as numerous surviving timber-framed farmhouses testify; though some may not be earlier than 16th-century in their present form, the pattern of settlement they represent is likely to be earlier. One notable example was Jessups Farm on the western border, apparently an open-hall house with two cross wings, which in 1706 had at least seven rooms besides service quarters; (fn. 34) it was demolished in the 1930s. (fn. 35) At nearby Kings Barn Farm the north end survives from a timber-framed building of the late 16th century or early 17th. Onto its south side in 1647 (fn. 36) was built a range of stone rubble with brick dressings and three-light windows with moulded stone mullions; it has a central porch, two principal rooms, and a staircase block. Old Lock, the farmhouse of Lock farm in the north end of the parish, is a building of red and blue brick on a sandstone plinth with an asymmetrical seven-bayed front dated 1702; (fn. 37) though later much added to, it retains many of its original interior fittings, including the staircase.
Ribbon development along the Horsham-Steyning road, presumably the modern road of that description, was mentioned in 1621 (fn. 38) and continued later. (fn. 39) At Horsebridge common in the south there were eight or ten houses in the later 18th century, some of which had originated as encroachments. (fn. 40) Horsebridge House, of the early 18th century, originally had a symmetrical three-bayed front and a back wing; it was extended southwards before c. 1800, an additional block being built in the re-entrant angle. A more substantial settlement was that at Bines Green, which in 1983 had several timber-framed houses faced with various materials. (fn. 41) The settlement was part of the medieval tithing of Byne in West Grinstead. (fn. 42) South Blows and North Blows on the west side are both 17th-century houses of conventional three-roomed plan with internal chimney; North Blows has a 19th-century south-west extension with a big ground-floor room.
In 1890 there were said to be no parishioners above the rank of farmer, (fn. 43) but during the next 25 years sites for building gentlemen's houses were offered for sale, (fn. 44) and two old houses at least, Pepper's Farm and Kings Barn Farm, were enlarged or modernized, the former for the landowner Arthur Lloyd (fn. 45) and the latter for his agent. Lloyd's estate, which later became the Lock estate, was said in 1914 to have some of the best shooting in the county. (fn. 46) Several small houses and cottages were built on the Lock estate west of Old Lock in the 20th century. (fn. 47)
Eight tenants of Eatons manor were recorded in 1086, (fn. 48) but other inhabitants of Ashurst were evidently counted in Steyning manor and presumably in what was later King's Barns manor in Upper Beeding. (fn. 49) Twenty-one persons were assessed to the subsidy in Ashurst vill in 1296 and 1327, 33 in 1332, (fn. 50) 34 in 1378, (fn. 51) and 36 in 1524. (fn. 52) The vill evidently included Eatons, since members of the Burdeville family were listed then, (fn. 53) but it also apparently included Coombewick and possibly Woodman's farm in Wiston parish. At the same period those living in the north-east quarter of the parish were evidently included in Byne tithing in West Grinstead. (fn. 54) In 1642 there were 60 adult males in the parish, (fn. 55) and in 1724 c. 50 families. (fn. 56) From 385 in 1801 the population rose by 1851 to 441, then fell by 1901 to 315. In the first half of the 20th century it fluctuated between 314 and 352, but by 1971 had fallen to 253. In 1981 it was 263. (fn. 57)
There was an inn in the parish in 1686. (fn. 58) It may have been on the same site as the inn on the west side of Horsebridge common successively called the Green Dragon, the Coach and Horses, and the Fountain, which was described as newly built in 1734 and was still apparently an inn in 1833. (fn. 59) The modern Fountain inn further north on the road to Horsham was called the Red Lion between 1788 and 1795, (fn. 60) but may have had its present name by 1830. (fn. 61) The innkeeper was also a miller in 1817. (fn. 62) The beer at the Fountain was celebrated by Hilaire Belloc in 1902. (fn. 63)
There was a close called the cricketing field in the south-east part of the parish c. 1843. (fn. 64) Football, stoolball, and cricket were played in 1939-40, (fn. 65) and there was a football club in 1974. (fn. 66) A recreation ground south of the village was opened in 1932, (fn. 67) and was still used in 1983. The vicar in 1890 held weekly winter social evenings for young men and boys at work. His successor by 1893 had founded inter alia a library, a temperance society, a weekly mothers' meeting, a Sunday bible class, and a series of fortnightly entertainments. (fn. 68) In the early 20th century there was a village choral society which gave concerts in the church. (fn. 69) A village hall north of the Fountain inn was built, as a working men's club, c. 1909, at the expense of three local landowners. In 1974 it was used by various societies, including a drama group. (fn. 70)
The parish still lacked main drainage in 1974. (fn. 71)
'Michael Fairless' (d. 1901), author of The Roadmender, is buried in Ashurst churchyard. (fn. 72)