One of the names which has died out during the last century, but whose history goes back to the early settlement of the parish, is that of Churchlands. It consists roughly of the portion of the parish which is surrounded by Street Lane on the south, Wakehurst Lane on the west, Bolney Lane on the north and the main road on the east. It was at one time all arable except for a patch of woodland and the common land forming Hapstead Green. It belongs to the Manor of Ditchling, and has been held of that Manor for many generations by the owners of Wakehurst. It consists of an open level space sloping slightly to the south, making it the most suitable place for easy cultivation when the surrounded country was thickly wooded and impossible for ploughing owing to its steepness.
The northern part now goes with Bolney Farm, the southern used to go with Knowles. The Recreation Ground was cut out of it in 1887. The allotments and other portions near The Oak PH also appear to have been part of it. The acreage in the Ditchling Manor Court Books is given as 200 acres.
Some of the earliest history of Ardingly comes to our knowledge through disputes over this land. In 1255-6 there was a trial at the Assizes between Thomas, parson of Ardingly, and William de Wakehurst. The latter was in possession of a house and 218 acres of land which Thomas claimed as belonging to the Church. To support his case he quoted Quentinus, who was Rector in the time of John (1199—1216), as having held the same land as Church property. William de Wakehurst settled the matter with Thomas for the time by giving him a house in exchange, with a garden and croft containing five acres, called Well Pytle, or the Well Plot. But Thomas’s successor was not satisfied with this arrangement, and he, Robert de Aete by name, sued de Wakehurst in l278 on the ground that the preceding Rector had no power to prejudice the rights of the Church by agreeing to the settlement of 1256. The jury of 1278, however, upheld the previous verdict and Robert lost his case for the moment. But he persisted and appealed again, with the result that in 1284 he got the 218 acres restored to the Church. Apparently he had still further difficulty in getting possession of the land from the Wakehursts, for in 1287 we find Robert suing them for the purpose. The record of the result of this last trial is not available. By means of these disputes we get the names of the three earliest known Rectors of Ardingly, Quentinus, Thomas and Robert de Aete.
A forge is one of the first necessities for an agricultural community, and we know that the one now owned by Mr. Bashford has been run for many generations on the same spot by the Pilbeam family. When we find that the name of the house is Well Platte it is permissible to think that this is the place which William de Wakehurst tried to prove was as good as the 200 acres of land on the other side of the road.
The following are some of the items which connect the Churchlands of the 13th century with more recent times. The first is taken from John Rowe’s book, who was Steward of the manor of Ditchling from 1597 to 1622. The dates in italics are noted by Rowe as from earlier documents to which he had access. His book has recently been published by the Sussex Record Society, vol. 54. The remaining items are taken from the Ditchling Court Books.
1597 Free tenants in the North parte (of the Manor) in Ardinglye. Edward Culpeper knight holds freely certain lands called Churchlands containing by estimation 200 acres of land by rent 6/8. 1570, 1432, l513.
1657 Sir Wm. Culpeper for the Church land 6/-.
1779 T. Stanbridge and J. Francis, Part ? occupiers 3/2 and 6/8.Ditchling Court Books
In 1718, 1746, 1757, 1805, 1811, 1816 and 1825 the deaths of the Lyddell and Peyton owners are recorded in each case as seized of Churchlands held of the Manor of Ditchling.