The Village Tradesmen

Ardingly appears to have been particularly well served with men able to carry out the trades necessary to the smooth running of a village community. In addition to the essential miller and blacksmith, there was a carpenter and wheelwright, a shoemaker, a tailor and a village shopkeeper. There were also those who worked at the Ardingly Hammer while the Sussex Iron industry was still flourishing, and who were eventually replaced by the weavers and clothworkers when Fulling Mill reverted to its original function when the iron industry in Sussex came to an end.

Ardingly had two water mills for the grinding of corn, one called Stone or Wakehurst Mill and the other at the bottom of Cobb Lane, mentioned as early as 1308 in release from William de Wulborgh to William de Chittingelegh of a water mill and land in West Hoathly called Colbe Melne”(1) The evidence of this mill is still to be found in the name of Old Mill Shaw it as well as in the alteration of the brook.(1) Stone Mill was probably the only one still working by the 18th Century. In 1630 it was referred to as Wakehurst Mill and was occupied by a George Gatland.(2) In 1840 the Mill “was said to be dry four months in the year; it runs two pair of stones, the wheel is over—shot, three feet wide, of which only eighteen inches is in this parish. Approach to and from the premises very bad. Occupier, John Hollands”(3)

The blacksmith’s forge was (and still is) on the main Turner’s Hill to Lindfield road, in the centre of what is now the village and next to the house now called Hapstead Farm, occupied for many generations by the Payne family. In 1381 Roger Payne was the wheelwright of the village.(4) The site of the Blacksmith’s premises is known as Wells Platt and Miss Holgate associates the name with that of “Well Pytle or Well Plot” — a garden and a croft containing five acres which William de Wakehurst gave to Thomas, the parson at Ardingly in 1256, as a result of a dispute over the ownership of Churchlands.(5) “It is possible” she writes, “that the premises occupied by Mr. Bashford (the blacksmith) and by Messrs. Box and Turner have been the site of the blacksmith’s and wheelwright’s shops since the days when such trades were necessary.”(4)

The Box family were well-established in Ardingly in the 18th century and there are many pointers connecting them with the carpentry or joinery trades, and finally with the sawmills which operated in the 19th century under the name of Box and Turner mentioned above.

In 1718 we have the inventory of William Box, mentioned on page 29, an extract of which is given in Appendix II. In 1719 there is an item in the churchwardens’ accounts “Paid a bill to George Box about the bell….15s. 9d.”(6) Between 1738 and 1751 George Box was a member of the “Homage” at the Manor Courts of Wakehurst and in 1771 a George Box sold a tenement at Hapstead Green to John Jordan.(7) In 1798 there is an item in the parish accounts, “Pd. John Box. Snr. for new pare of stocks, 18s.”(8) In 1803 a William Box was assessed for a cottage and wheelwright’s shop, and again in 1806.(9) Miss Holgate associates this William Box with the building of house on the outskirts of Ardingly in 1817, known as Mount Pleasant.(10)

The other tradesman’s inventory now in the Record Office at Lewes is that of William Wicking, Shoemaker and Cordwainer, who died on the 21st August, 1741. This consists chiefly of the contents of his house, and is given in the Appendix. At the end comes the item “in the shop — Leather and Working Tools, £6. 14. 4d” and “Book Deats. £19, 15. 7d.”(11) The use of the word “cordwainer” is interesting since it means “shoemaker” and is merely a repetition. It originated from the name “cordwain”, a fine Spanish leather, possibly coming originally from Cordova. This family also seemed to be of some importance generally throughout the century. In 1724 John Wicking, one of the churchwardens, witnessed the induction of Mr. Charles Lydell as Rector of Ardingly.(12) Wickings appear as the tenants of Mercers in the Court Rolls of 1757 and 1771(13) and there are several items in the parish accounts for the 18th century:—

1726 Pd. J. Wicking the House of Correctsion and Gole Money… £1. 16. 2.
1740 Pd. Wicking for repairing Rybridg.(14)

The mention of a tailor in Ardingly first comes from the Lindfield Register, where Major Challoner was Registrar during the Commonwealth. In 1656 he married “William Roberts of Ardinglygh, taylor and Anne Pennell of ye same, widdow”.(15) In 1739 there is an item in the Parish accounts:— “Pd. Wot West for making a pair of briches for John Wale, 10d” followed by the rather sad entry in 1740, “Pd. John Tooth for bred and beare at John Whall’s funeral. 4s. 0d.”(14) though of course it may not have been the same John Wale.

There is evidence that there has been a village shop in Ardingly since the 17th Century, when trade was connected with the Bingham family who left their name in Bingham’s Green and who issued tokens. This showed that they had enough custom to need small change, the purpose for which tokens were used.

There has, at any rate, been a shop on the site of the present one since 1752, when it was owned by the Harmer family. In 1791 it was taken over by a Benjamin Wheeler, and finally, in 1856 by the Sayers family,(16) whose name it now bears, although they are no longer the proprietors. Until the post war period and the improvement in the bus services, the shop must have retained much of the character that it had in the 18th century. It still combines the functions of grocer, confectioner, draper, wine merchant and ironmonger, although not with the same variety of goods as could be bought there ten years ago. It would have been interesting to have compared an inventory of the stock held in the 18th century with that held today. Unfortunately no inventory for one of the owners of the shop was available, but an extract from the inventory of Joseph Clarke, as Grocer and Draper, of Roxwell in Essex, who died in 1692, has been included in the Appendix, since it bears a close relationship to the things which could be found in Mr. Sayer’s store in 1950, and in the curious order in which the various commodities were grouped.

There is some evidence that iron working continued in Ardingly well into the 18th Century. Fulling Mill, which was used as a “Hammer” in the 16th Century at the height of the iron industry in Sussex, belonged to the Challoner family until the end of the 17th Century(17) and a 1665 Valuation list included “John Spence, tenant of Ardingly Hammer”(18). In 1711 a map of Tinker’s Croft and other fields, shows the “way from the Hammer to Ardingly Street” and in the 1727 map the same road is described as “leading to Ardingly Hammer Pond and so to Balcombe.” The first process in the ironworking would have been done at Strudgate Furnace, near the brook which divides Ardingly from Balcombe. Once the ore had been smelted it may have been sent by water for the next process of forging into bars. The name of the Hammer reverted to Fulling Mill when the iron industry had ended, but the woods on the other side of the brook are still called Hammer Woods. Specimens of grave slabs or firebacks cast at Ardingly Hammer still exist at Stonelands, West Hoathly and possibly at Hurst and Clays, East Grinstead. A complete list is given in Gardener’s article on Sussex Iron in “Archaelogia” Vol.X(19)

There were two Fulling Mills in Ardingly, one near Stonehurst. Richard Backshall, who died in 1573, gave instructions in his will to his eldest son Nicholas to “carry out the reparations of the fulling mill and also to fynde meete and drynke sufficient for the workmen and labourers”(20) Although the name has remained, we do not know how long it functioned as a mill.

Evidence for the other Fulling Mill, which became the Hammer, goes back to 1309, when Joan, the widow of John atte Ree brought a suit for the possession of “un molendrin fulretta” in Ardingly as part of her dower(21) and mention has already been made of its use after a period in the iron industry, as a Fulling Mill in the 19th Century. The cottage was inhabited until about 1945, but it has unfortunately now been pulled down, thus bringing to an end the occupation of what must have been a very ancient site, standing as it did at the crossing of the brook by the old road running past Ardingly Church to Haywards Heath which was mentioned on Page 1.

It is not, however, necessary to end this chapter on village industry and trade on a sad note, since some of the traditions of the past are still to be found. Of course the most apparent industry is that of agriculture, but it is doubtful whether this provides the most employment in Ardingly today. The building and joinery business which the Box family ran in a small way has since provided employment for bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers and decorators, through one or two flourishing local firms run by other people. Impetus to this growth of a building trade in Ardingly was no doubt given by the coming of the railway in the middle of the 19th century and the establishment of the large public school in Ardingly at about the same time. Though the local sawmills and brickyard are now derelict, the building trade is still one of the major sources of employment in the village. The local shoemaker has had to give up his business through ill health, but the premises still exist as a shoe shop where repairs can be handed in. The blacksmith works in a desultory way shoeing horses and carrying out repairs on agricultural and garden tools, though his place has largely been taken, as everywhere else, by an expanding garage business.

The general store appears to be flourishing and gives employment to at least ten people. Trades which the eighteenth century population did not need, since they did their own brewing and baking, have established themselves and there are three public houses in the parish, and a butcher and a baker. The main public house seems to have been The Greyhound, but not until the 19th Century. Before that ale was sold from a small house on the main road from Lindfield to Turner’s Hill, originally called “The Bough House”, the name implying “a small ale house whose sign was a bough or bush hung outside.”(22) Perhaps the tradition of selling drinks still lingers, since, although it is now a sweet shop, it was until recently the only shop where children could buy the various liquids described under the generic term “pop”, and they still seem to prefer to go there than elsewhere in the village.

Dependent as we are on modern sources of power, light, piped water and modern transport, it is at least pleasant to reflect that some of the old traditions linger on in a 20th century village community.

(1) Place Names of Ardingly (Holgate) No.7.
(2) Ibid, No. 5
(3) Ibid, No.5.
(4) Place Names of Ardingly, No. 22.
(5) Ibid No 39.
(6) Loder, P.234.
(7) Loder, P.152.
(8) Ibid, P.222.
(9) Booker Ms. Vol.7
(10) Place Names Ardingly No.5.
(11) Inventory, 1741, E. Sussex. Record Office.
(12) Loder, P.79
(13) Loder, P.151-153.
(14) Ibid, P.220.
(15) Holgate, No.41.
(16) Holgate, No. 41.
(17) Holgate. Plc. Names of Ard. No. 16.
(18) Referred to in a reprint of a 1665 Hearth Tax.
(19) M. Holgate, writing in S.A.C.Vol. LIX, P.131.
(20) lbid, Plc. Names of Ardingly, No. 5.
(21) Ibid, No. 16.
(22) Mary Holgate, Place Names of Ardingly, No. 39.