What was the economic importance of the woods and fields between Loxwood Rudgwick and Alfold in the past?
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Timber is of course the main product of the woods. Before 1879, in the ownership of the manor of Drungewick (i.e., Denzil Onslow), there was an annual sale of the ‘underwoods’ or coppice. The manor’s woodward, Alfred Balchin, lived at Farnfold Cottage (a lost house). In 1851, George Smithers had a similar role for the Loxwood House estate, living at Little Songhurst. Later estate sales brochures made much of the value of timber. Indeed, the area of woodland substantially increased in the late 19th century. Extraction of timber, and coppicing, have been going on for centuries. The network of tracks and rides substantiates this, as does the mapping of a late Victorian sawpit on land part of Brickkiln Farm.
Extractive and small-scale manufacturing industries included clay pits, sand pits, ‘glasshouses’ (glassmaking) and brickmaking sites. Weald Clay underlies the whole area of the Low Weald but contains seams of sand within it.
The glass industry, dates from skilled Huguenot immigration in the 16th century. Speed’s map of Sussex marks a glasshouse near Songhurst, among other places. The exact location is difficult but was not far west of the proposed clay pit, just outside the woodland. Written evidence of glassmaking at Farnfold also exists, but was this a second site or the same one? Even the location of Farnfold is uncertain. Another site with a sand pit adjacent (sand is a raw material of glass, as wood was a fuel) is known on land part of Tismans. Who is to say there are no other glassmaking sites under the woodland cover? This industry is one for the archaeologists.
Photo, Pallinghurst heifers at Brickkiln; Hurst Wood Ancient Woodland seen across the field.
Farming has always been a priority, so the assarting – intake – of fields reduced the woodland over time. the patchwork of fields, shaws and eccentric boundaries to older woodland is quintessentially the Wealden landscape feature, good for wildlife too. Brickkiln Farm (aka Woodlands) to the east, Woodhouse to its northeast, Lonesomes to its east, have all disappeared as changes in farming practices, larger farms and remote locations all conspired against their survival; much of the land was subsumed into Tismans and Pallinghurst Farms. By contrast, Songhurst Farm to the west has become two, with New Songhurst hived off. To the south Barnfold was only a smallholding, now a joinery business, Pephurst, the house now separated from its land, has been subsumed into another holding to the south. There is more woodland and fewer fields than there were 150 years ago.
This is the final post written by Roger Nash, local historian and geographer, as part of the Sussex Spring Watch programme.
Interested in discovering more local history? You may like to look at Rudgwick Preservation Society, which runs guided evening walks through Pallinghurst Woods and other local areas. At time of writing, these are scheduled to begin again on May 18th 2021, COVID restrictions permitting. All are welcome. Walks are on Tuesday evenings at 19.00 and are free.