A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 6 Part 3, Bramber Rape (North-Eastern Part) Including Crawley New Town. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1987.
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In the Middle Ages the whole parish apparently lay within St. Leonard's Forest, so called by c. 1208. (fn. 1) The description 'forest' is a misnomer, since the area belonged to the Crown only during wardship or forfeiture, and was therefore technically a chase. (fn. 2) The connexion with St. Leonard evidently postdates the Norman Conquest: the saint, a forest hermit, was French, and was especially favoured by Benedictines, (fn. 3) such as those of Sele priory in whose parish the forest lay. It seems likely that the forest took its name from the chapel dedicated to St. Leonard which was evidently built by the lords of the forest, the Braoses. (fn. 4) By the late 15th century (fn. 5) the forest had been divided into several wards or bailiwicks: Roffey, Bewbush, and apparently 'Alkynburne' (perhaps Hawksbourne in Horsham) in the north; Hyde and Shelley in the east; Gosden and Patchgate in the south; (fn. 6) Horningbrook in the west; (fn. 7) and Whitebarrow, (fn. 8) Horestock, (fn. 9) New Park, Rickfield, Sedgewick, and Chesworth in the southwest, (fn. 10) with Knepp (in Shipley) as an outlier in the same direction. The central area perhaps corresponded to the otherwise unlocated bailiwicks of Thrustlehole and Herony. The forest as a whole then had an outer pale, (fn. 11) as did Ashdown Forest in Pevensey rape, (fn. 12) and there were also internal divisions between the bailiwicks. In 1720 the constituent parts of the forest were described as walks, their relation to the bailiwicks being obscure; they included the Middle walk (1,500 a.), and in a clockwise circle round it from the north Stone Lodge, Roffey End, or North End walk (839 a.), Carter's walk (600 a.), Docker's Lodge walk (700 a.), South End walk (800 a.), Monk's Lodge walk (400 a.), and New Lodge walk (600 a.). (fn. 13) The last named was evidently the same as St. Leonard's walk, mentioned in 1593. (fn. 14)
As the names of its medieval bailiwicks indicate, St. Leonard's Forest extended outside the boundaries of what became Lower Beeding parish into the parishes around it. In 1553 it was said to lie in Crawley, Cowfold, and Horsham parishes besides Beeding, (fn. 15) and in 1575 it was depicted as stretching from Ifield in the north to Cowfold in the south, and from Horsham in the west to Slaugham in the east. (fn. 16) Nevertheless, the boundaries of the late 19th- century parish of Lower Beeding are related to those of the forest, corresponding partly to its outer boundary and partly to the internal boundaries between its bailiwicks. In the north and part of the south-west the parish boundary seems to be that of the forest itself; in the south-west it makes a salient to include the bailiwick of New Park. The place names Parkgate and Peppersgate on the southern boundary of the parish and Monk's Gate in the south-west may also allude to the forest boundary. (fn. 17) Elsewhere place names including the element 'gate' occurring on the parish boundary presumably refer to gates between bailiwicks: Faygate, recorded from 1614, (fn. 18) and Coots and Roffey gates, (fn. 19) all in the north-west, apparently led to Roffey bailiwick in Horsham parish, while Shelley gate, recorded from 1330, (fn. 20) was possibly an internal gate to Shelley bailiwick, and Grouse gate, recorded in 1795, (fn. 21) perhaps another. Similarly, the mid 19th-century boundary of Bewbush tithing (fn. 22) passed through Colgate, recorded from 1279, (fn. 23) and therefore presumably corresponded with the southern boundary of Bewbush bailiwick mentioned in 1498; (fn. 24) another gate, recorded near Bewbush Manor House on the same boundary in 1330, (fn. 25) still apparently existed in 1829. (fn. 26) Other forest gates included the unlocated Heythorngate, recorded in 1439, (fn. 27) and Gosden gate, recorded in 1499. (fn. 28)
One chief use of St. Leonard's Forest in the Middle Ages was to provide pannage for swine. There is no evidence of pre-Conquest pannage rights belonging to all the tenants of an area of the county, as obtained on the Wealden commons of the lathes of Kent. (fn. 29) Instead the forest pannage seems to have belonged to the successive lords of the forest, (fn. 30) and later also of Bewbush manor, (fn. 31) who might grant pannage rights to others. (fn. 32) Tithes of pannage in the forest were confirmed to Sele priory, evidently of the gift of the Braose family, in 1235. (fn. 33) Similarly, pannage rights there were leased or granted to John of Ifield for life by William de Braose (d. 1326). (fn. 34) In the 15th century the lord's pannage rights were usually let. (fn. 35) Pannage for swine was still being taken in the parish in the 16th century; (fn. 36) a fifth of the mast growing in the north part of the forest was the subject of a conveyance in 1579. (fn. 37)
In the early Middle Ages the forest also contained feral horses and wild deer. The place name Horsham may allude to the practice of horse rearing on the forest edge as early as the 10th century, (fn. 38) and the tithes of colts born in the forest were among those settled at an unknown date on Sele priory. (fn. 39) Feral horses and ponies survived perhaps until the early 16th century, when stray mares were mentioned in the forest. (fn. 40) It is not clear whether the horses were considered to belong to the lord. Deer, on the other hand, certainly did, being either killed by him for his own use or given away. Thus during wardship in 1234 the Crown presented seven bucks from the forest to the archbishop of Canterbury, (fn. 41) confirming at the same date the grant of John de Braose (d. 1232) to the abbot of Fáecamp (Seine Maritime) of the right to take five bucks and five does a year. (fn. 42) Similarly in 1303 eight fat deer were ordered to be delivered to the prior of Christ Church, Canterbury. (fn. 43) In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, when they continued to be given as presents, the protection of the deer of the forest was apparently more important to the lord than the care of its timber and underwood, to judge from its greater predominance in the work of the forest courts. (fn. 44) By then, however, deer were being kept in inclosed parks. (fn. 45)
In the mid 13th century cattle as well as swine were being pastured in the forest: tithes of herbage were mentioned in 1235, (fn. 46) and of calves and cheeses in 1247, (fn. 47) and c. 1250 William, Lord Braose (d. 1290), confirmed to Sele priory all the grazing rights for cattle in the forest which they had had before. (fn. 48) John of Ifield before 1326, in addition to pannage rights, received pasture rights for all his cattle and animals in the forest, (fn. 49) and the similar pasture rights belonging before 1400 to two estates in Slaugham, one of which later apparently became Hyde manor, presumably originated in a similar grant. (fn. 50) Pasture rights continued to be vested in the lord in 1506-7; (fn. 51) in the 15th century they were usually let. (fn. 52)
The forest also in the Middle Ages provided timber and underwood, which both belonged to the lord. During forfeiture of the Braose estates the Crown in 1214 ordered timber to be sent by river and sea for use in the new hall at Dover castle, (fn. 53) and it granted timber to the bishop of Winchester c. 1208 and later for use on the episcopal estates in Surrey and at Portsmouth, (fn. 54) and oak timber to the bishop of Chichester in 1234 for use at Chichester cathedral. (fn. 55) By the late 15th century if not earlier Sele priory had the right to take timber from the forest for building and repairs. (fn. 56)
The right to take underwood in the forest was granted to Sele priory before 1234, (fn. 57) and income was received by the lord from its sale to others in the 15th century. (fn. 58) The first element of the place name Colgate may indicate the growing of underwood to provide charcoal. (fn. 59) As with pannage, there is no evidence of pre-Conquest prescriptive rights to underwood belonging to all the tenants of an area of the county, and the rights mentioned c. 1300 and in 1449 as belonging to Wiston and Washington manors (fn. 60) seem likely to have originated, like that of Sele priory and like the pannage rights mentioned above, in postConquest grants.
The medieval forest consisted chiefly of woodland and heath, (fn. 61) perhaps in roughly equal proportions: the 3,000 a. of woodland which descended with Bramber rape in the early 14th century were probably part of the forest, since they cannot be identified with any other holding, (fn. 62) while the forest as a whole was said at about the same time to comprise 7,000 a. (fn. 63) Scattered woodland is indicated by place names such as Bewbush ('beautiful thicket'), (fn. 64) and by references to a grove in the forest belonging to John Shelley in 1330 (fn. 65) and to a wood called Suthboys there belonging to the lord of the forest in 1354. (fn. 66) There were also presumably 'lawns' or areas of open grassland. There was arable land in the parish in the Middle Ages, (fn. 67) and enclosed deer parks from the late 13th century. (fn. 68) In 1295 Bewbush park, St. Leonard's Forest, and Knepp park in Shipley were said to contain deer, hares, rabbits, pheasants, and herons. (fn. 69)
From the 16th century onwards the amount of arable increased, while woodland and parkland diminished. (fn. 70) The woods that remained could be dense: the adjective 'vaulty', i.e. vault-like, was applied to the forest in 1614. (fn. 71) In 1561 the forest was said, admittedly by a partial witness, to have plenty of large timber suitable for fortifications or shipbuilding. (fn. 72) During the rest of the 16th century both timber and underwood were over-exploited by successive lessees or sub-lessees of the forest or of the Crown's rights to the trees. In the early 1570s 1,407 oaks, 695 beeches, and 25 ash trees were reported to have been felled in the former Bewbush and Shelley parks, many by one Edward Branch, in order to make barrels, wood shingles and laths for building, and charcoal to supply both the ironworks of the parish and the needs of Horsham town. (fn. 73) In the early 1590s there was further large-scale felling, of pollards and other trees, in the same places, again to supply the ironworks and to provide building materials. (fn. 74) Between 1578 and 1597 Sir Thomas Shirley and Edward Caryll took 83,000 cords of wood between them from St. Leonard's Forest. (fn. 75)
In the early 17th century, however, the woods were managed for the Crown's own use: timber trees were reserved in the 60-year lease of the forest granted in 1602, (fn. 76) and in 1609, for instance, 500 loads of timber were ordered to be sent from Bewbush and Shelley among other places to Deptford and Woolwich for shipbuilding. (fn. 77) Nevertheless, there was further depletion before 1656, perhaps mostly during the Civil War: (fn. 78) in 1650 there were calculated to be only c. 1,870, mostly young, oaks at Bewbush, besides a few birches and beeches, (fn. 79) while in the rest of the forest the parliamentary sequestrators c. 1647-8 had grubbed up 200 a. of coppice. (fn. 80) Destruction continued after the Restoration, especially it seems after the forest was granted away by the Crown. (fn. 81) By the early 1670s underwood, generally birch and beech, predominated over timber trees in the forest, but even that was said to be in decay: the decline in the iron industry had reduced demand, and the coppices were not cut regularly; moreover, when cut they were not always inclosed to allow regrowth, so that both timber and underwood were damaged by grazing sheep and cattle. The rabbits which had begun to multiply in the parish during the 17th century evidently also hindered the regeneration of woodland, and the practice of burning heathland to increase their food supply sometimes caused inadvertent fires among the trees. (fn. 82)
In 1553 there were said to be no deer or other game in the entire forest; (fn. 83) red deer were mentioned in 1584, however, (fn. 84) and there were some deer in the 1640s. (fn. 85) In the 17th and 18th centuries the chief fauna of the parish were rabbits. Two holdings in the forest containing woodland and heath or heath alone and comprising 1,500 a. and 900 a. in 1602 were perhaps already warrens. (fn. 86) A warren had certainly been made in the forest before 1614, (fn. 87) and a parishioner was prosecuted for hunting rabbits in the forest in 1647. (fn. 88) In 1684 heathland was being burned to provide food for the rabbits, whose numbers were said to have declined over the previous 20 years. There were then, however, at least three warreners in Lower Beeding; (fn. 89) two others were apparently recorded in 1724 and 1730. (fn. 90) About 1800 the centre of the parish had two warrens, comprising 3,000 a. (fn. 91) The Great warren extended from Hammerpond Road northwards to Colgate, south-east and south-west of which there survived in 1981 earthworks apparently representing part of its boundary; (fn. 92) in the east the boundary was that of the parish, the name Warren wood being later recorded there. (fn. 93) Plummers Plain warren, south of Hammerpond Road, included the area of open, rolling heathland known by 1795 as Plummers Plain; (fn. 94) the name evidently derives from the Plumer family recorded there from the early 18th century. (fn. 95) There was a warren called Sibballs field on the Bewbush manor estate by 1608. (fn. 96) In 1650 it comprised 834 a. including a lodge, and was said to be reasonably well stocked, the annual rent including 360 rabbits. Its site was evidently north and east of Colgate: it was bisected in 1650 by the road from Horsham to Tilgate, (fn. 97) evidently the modern road through Colgate, the Holmbush house which preceded the present one may have been identical with the lodge, (fn. 98) and an earthwork which may have been a burrow was recorded east of Colgate in the 20th century. (fn. 99) By 1787 the warren comprised 1,598 a.; it was then said to contain c. 12,000 rabbits, and several warreners were employed. (fn. 100) In 1794 St. Leonard's Forest was said to yield only rabbits, which were sent to London in large numbers. (fn. 101)
By c. 1800, therefore, the centre of the former forest was largely heathland, (fn. 102) varied by the presence of isolated pollarded beeches and oaks, some of which survived in 1982, for instance south-west and south-east of Colgate or near the south end of Mick Mills's Race east of St. Leonard's house. (fn. 103) Despite the existence of wooded areas at Holmbush (fn. 104) and in the south, (fn. 105) the parish in its general aspect, according to one writer, was as bleak and barren as moorland in Yorkshire or Westmorland. (fn. 106) In 1823 the unproductive character of the 'miserable tracts of heath and fern and bushes and sand' drew scorn from Cobbett, who described his journey across it as 'six of the worst miles in England'. (fn. 107)
After 1800 the landscape of Lower Beeding was changed in three chief ways: by the conversion of heathland to arable and later to pasture, by afforestation, and by an increase in the extent of gardens and ornamental parkland. Agriculture is treated below. (fn. 108) There was much planting on the Holmbush and Buchan Hill estates in the first half of the 19th century, evidently at the former Bewbush manor warren, and in part at least to provide coverts for game preservation. At Holmbush over a million trees were planted, including larch, fir, oak, and sweet chestnut, besides spruces which had reached a great height by 1852. (fn. 109) Buchan Hill had 100 a. of plantations by 1824, when much other land on the estate was said to be suitable for planting. (fn. 110) There were 435 a. of woodland in all at Bewbush tithing in 1838. (fn. 111) By 1875 much of the central and southern parts of the parish too were wooded. (fn. 112) During the succeeding century there was further afforestation throughout the parish, for instance east of Colgate and around Hawkins and Hammer ponds, (fn. 113) though there were still 281 a. of heathland in 1909, (fn. 114) and some heathland remained in 1981, for instance north of Buchan Hill. Birch and beech trees were mentioned in 1934, (fn. 115) oaks, 'Scotch firs', and some rowans in 1941, (fn. 116) and there were larches in 1981. After c. 1950 much land in the parish was bought by the Forestry Commission, which in 1981 owned 289 ha. (714 a.) and also leased a little more, growing chiefly Scots pine, larch, beech, oak, and western hemlock. (fn. 117) By that date the amount of planting carried out since c. 1800 had made the parish more wooded than it had been for several centuries; especially prominent in the landscape were the conifers on the east-west ridge at Colgate.
There had been gardens and parkland in the later 18th century, for instance at St. Leonard's house and at Holmbush, and in the first half of the 19th century an 'American' garden was created at Leonardslee. (fn. 118) After c. 1850 the extent of such land use greatly increased, rhododendrons and exotic species growing well on the sandy soils. (fn. 119) The gardens at Leonardslee were much enlarged, and those at South Lodge nearby laid out, by their late 19th-century owners, the naturalists Sir Edmund Loder and F. D. Godman. (fn. 120) There were parks or gardens in the late 19th or early 20th century at Kilnwood and Beedingwood in the north, Carter's Lodge and Plummers Plain House in the east, the Grange in the west, and Selehurst in the south, (fn. 121) besides others mentioned below. (fn. 122) By the 1970s, when those that survived were mature, the south part of the parish, together with the adjacent parts of Slaugham and Cuckfield, had the effect of a 'continuous garden'; (fn. 123) a similar effect had been described along the HorshamColgate road in 1905. (fn. 124)
By the later 19th century, partly because of the landscaping and planting described, Cobbett's practical viewpoint had been generally succeeded by the idea of the forest as a romantic place of wild natural beauty, rich in legends and supernatural happenings. The first recorded legend is that of the serpent 9 ft. long which was said to have been seen there in 1614. Though rationalized in various ways since the early 19th century, the story has remained potent. (fn. 125) Other legends concern St. Leonard's slaying of a dragon, nightingales' failure to sing in the forest, a headless horseman, and the origin of Mick Mills's Race, a long avenue of trees south-west of Colgate which was laid out perhaps by Michael Mills, named in 1720, was blown down in 1836, and replanted. Such legends were still widely believed in the earlier 19th century. (fn. 126) The poet Shelley often walked in the forest from his family home in Warnham, later considered acquiring a house there, and, it has been suggested, owed to it something of his 'love of the marvellous'. (fn. 127) In 1868 the scenery of the parish, with its mixture of conifers, heather, bracken, and water, was praised for its romantic character and for its similarity to Scottish scenery; the recent encroachments of cultivation were deplored, while the fine views, admitted grudgingly by Cobbett, were fully appreciated. (fn. 128) By the same change of taste the situation of Buchan Hill, noted for its bleakness in 1824 when the view from it was described as 'extensive but fatiguing', had come by 1907, especially because of improvements made by the then owner, to be considered exceptionally picturesque. (fn. 129) Wild deer were to be found in the forest in 1941, (fn. 130) and were still present in 1982. (fn. 131) Despite increased road traffic and building development much of the parish could be described as an oasis of quiet in 1941, (fn. 132) as it remained forty years later, though close to both the motorway and Gatwick airport. Three small areas (5 ha.) north-west of Hawkins pond were established as nature reserves in 1962. (fn. 133)