by Peter d’Aguilar
With a rich history and plenty of things to keep its residents entertained, Peter d’Aguilar tells us more about the market town of Heathfield.
The small East Sussex market town of Heathfield lies equidistant between Eastbourne to the south and Tunbridge Wells to the north, surrounded by the beautiful countryside of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
While there is some evidence of local Stone Age settlement, Heathfield’s modern origins stem from the granting of a Market Charter in 1316. Over the centuries Heathfield – or Heffle as it was originally called – has achieved fame as the place where Jack Cade was killed after trying to overthrow King Henry VI. It is also the birthplace of Robert Hunt, the first Protestant minister to preach in America. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Heathfield became an important centre of the iron industry. With the arrival of the railway in 1880, known locally as the Cuckoo Line, the centre of Heathfield moved from the picturesque village now known as Old Heathfield to its present location – hence its Victorian and Edwardian architectural characteristics. In 1968 the branch line closed and has now become the Cuckoo Trail; part of the National Cycle Network and popular with walkers, cyclists and horse riders.
Each year Heathfield welcomes the start of spring by hosting the Heffle Cuckoo Fair, a celebration dating back to the 14th century. For over 70 years the Heathfield and District Agricultural Show has taken place on the second May Bank Holiday and is now one of the largest one- day agricultural shows in the country. Since 1997 Heathfield has held the Le Marche Anglo/French market on August Bank Holiday Monday. The event is free and features market stalls from French and English traders, as well as live music and a magic show. On the last Saturday in November local organisations hold a Christmas Family Fun Day to mark the switching-on of the Christmas lights.
Heathfield parish church is dedicated to All Saints and has an example of a Harmer terracotta decorated gravestone in the churchyard. The nearby mansion of Heathfield Park dates from the seventeenth century. In a corner of the estate stands a memorial named the Gibraltar Tower. On the edge of the parish to the north-east, Braylsham Castle is a modern house built in imitation of a moated medieval manor house – complete with working drawbridge.
Heathfield has thriving cricket and rugby teams, badminton and bridge clubs, a choral society and a drama club, a branch of the Rotary Club and a silver band. It has an Army Cadet Force Detachment, a youth centre, a monthly farmers’ market, a library, several restaurants and supermarkets and a wide range of independent shops.