Fulling Mill Cottages

The Western boundary of the parish leaves the Balcombe road at Upper Ryelands Bridge and follows the old course of the river, which is now nothing but a large ditch, the modern course having been straightened when the river was canalised at the end of the 18th century. When we come to the footbridge near Rivers Wood the boundary leaves the brook and turns northwards past Bridle Shaw Wood to the bridge at Fulling Mill Cottages. This portion lies along the right of way which runs from Ardingly Church to Haywards Heath and is a proof that the way is a very ancient one, as the road must have been in existence before it could be used as a parish boundary. The full title of the wood should probably be Bridle road Shaw, as the way was undoubtedly used for horse traffic till quite recent times.

The Fulling Mill is on the Ardingly brook, which joins the Ouse not far below Rivers Wood Footbridge. This brook rises in Wakehurst (now called Paddockhurst) park, and forms the boundary of the parish from its source till it comes to Tilgate Wood. It is joined by the Shill or Shell brook from Balcombe about a quarter-of-a-mile above Fulling Mill Cottages.

There are two Fulling Mills in Ardingly, the other being on the eastern side of the parish, near Stonehurst. The latter is now a Farm. The Fulling Mill Cottages with which we are now concerned stand on a very ancient site. First as the crossing place of the brook by the old road above mentioned, and then as that of a mill making use of the water. The first documentary evidence we have takes us back to the second year of Edward II – 1309 – when Joan, the widow of John atte Ree brought a suit for the possession of “un molendin fulretta” in Ardingly as part of her dower. John atte Ree took his name from the land near the river still called Ryelands, and the personal name has developed into “Attree”.

Later the mill was used as a “Hammer” for iron, and when the iron trade failed it reverted to its original fulling purpose. The grandparents of the present generation remembered it in use, with the oxen bringing the bales of woollen and other home-made stuffs up the hill, after having been scoured and thickened by the process at the mill. We get a mention of the mill in the inquisition held after Francis Challoner’s death, in 1578, and it remained in his family for over a hundred years. A later mention is found in the map of 1711 contained in Mr. Loder’s book on Wakehurst. Here the old road to Town House is described as “The way from the Hammer to Ardingly Street”.

The Hammer carried out the second process in the making of iron, the first having been done at the Furnace, where the ore was smelted into pigs or sows. In our case the first process would have been completed at Strudgate Furnace and then the pigs would be sent to a hammer for the forging into bars. There is direct communication by water with this Hammer from Strudgate, and though we have no proof that the iron was sent down the Ardingly brook, it is not impossible, especially when the shrinkage of all water courses in the last 300 years is remembered.

The heaps of cinders are now covered with weeds and grass, but a very little investigation will show their blackness, and though the name has passed away from the Cottages, it still remains in the Hammer woods across the brook in Balcombe parish. The parish boundary runs up the brook for a few hundred yards and then takes a bend to the S.W., including the Hook in the parish of Ardingly, although judging from the lie of the ground it should naturally have been in Balcombe.

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