Before the Romans, our little corner of land was probably covered with dense forests (the name Weald was the Saxon name for forest). The Romans cut a military road from the coast to London, passing west of St Peter’s Church and through what is now Wakehurst Place car park.
A second way developed as a drove road from the South Downs to the Saxon outliers for summer pasture. This way became the highway which exists today, the High Street. Although not mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086, it is known that there was a church here then and it was given by William de Warenne to the Priory of Lewes before his death in 1138.
The present church was built between 1325 and 1340 with a number of later additions. Wakehurst Place dates back to 1200 though was rebuilt in 1590. It is now renowned as “Kew in the country” with its 500 acres of gardens, viewed by over 400,000 visitors a year. The Millennium Seed Bank built in 2000 has taken the name of Ardingly worldwide. In 1960 Sir Henry Price, the owner of Wakehurst, donated 22 almshouses at Priceholme for retired workers in horticulture and agriculture.
North of the village the South of England Agricultural Showground attracts over 200,000 visitors a year, while to the south the public school Ardingly College, founded in 1858 by Canon Woodard, has around 800 pupils.
The Ardingly branch railway linking Haywards Heath to Horsted Keynes was opened in 1883, but succumbed to the Beeching cuts in 1963 after only 80 years. The track, tunnel, bridges and station buildings are protected for the Bluebell Railway and perhaps one day trains will pass through Ardingly once more.
Until the Second World War Ardingly was an agricultural parish with nineteen farms and the population largely engaged in agriculture or serving their needs. After the war house building began to flourish and an ever increasing number of men gained new skills. The building firm of E.H. Munnion Ltd at one time employed over 100 men.
With thanks to Clive Izard
(See page 2 of Newsletter 42 for Clive’s biography.)