The village of Ardingly, which was formerly the area around the church, was known in past times as Hapstead.
The earliest known record of the name Hapstead is dated 1558, which is much too late to be of any use in helping us to find out how the place arose or what the name means. The only shadow of a clue was contained in the fact that Robert de Hempsted was Taxator for neighbouring lands in 1332, and he may have had a small holding here which perpetuated his name, but this is only a very vague possibility, and as Knowledge increases it becomes more unlikely. This Robert took his name from Hempstead in Uckfield.
A considerable portion of Hapstead is in the manor of Ditchling, and by knowledge of the names of the tenants it is possible to trace some of the houses back to the 16th century, the date of the earliest Court book existing. But another part which may have been a portion of the manor or South Malling seems to have been enfranchised so long ago that it has been impossible to trace it at present. This portion contains Great Hapstead, the chief house of the hamlet, now called Hapstead Farm. This was the headquarters of the Paine family, and through them we get the earliest record of the name. The first entry in the Burial Register of the parish is that of “John Paine of Hapset”, January 1st, 1558. In 1571, October 28th, “John Paine the heire of Hapset was buried“. A little later we get the Willard family, also of Hapset, contributing to the records in the registers. They almost certainly occupied Little Hapstead. They removed to Highbrook (West Hoathly) and have left their name behind them there in Willards.
The Paines were a very old Ardingly family, and in the 16th century they seemed to have reached the high-water mark of their prosperity. Hickpots, Stone, Lywood, Lodge, West Hill and Hook were all in their hands to farm in Elizabeth’s day. So long ago as 1381 Roger Payne was the wheelwright of the village. He paid ls. as his Poll Tax, and it is probable that the premises now occupied by Mr. Bashford and Messrs. Box and Turner have been the site of the blacksmith’s and wheelwright’s shops since the days when such trades became necessary.
It has been suggested that Well Platte (Mr. Bashford’s) represents the well plot or pightle which Thomas, Rector of Ardingly, took in settlement of a claim against William de Wakehurst in 1255-6. We have no means of knowing certainly, but it is well to record the possibility.
One other house remains which must be nearly if not quite as old as Great and Little Hapstead, and that is Mr. Clifford’s cottage. In old days this was called the Bough House, a name implying a small ale house, whose sign was a bough or bush hung outside. The custom is enshrined in the proverb, “Good wine needs no bush”. The late Mrs. Clifford could remember the half-door still remaining, over which the ale was served, though the practice had long since ceased.
It will be noticed that the spelling in the registers is Hapset. This continues throughout the entries of the 16th century. Later the place of residence is unfortunately omitted, so it is difficult to know when the corruption to Hapstead took place. The second syllable is no doubt correct, as “set” is well known in the making of place-names. A familiar example exists in Somerset. It comes from the Old English “saete”, which has two meanings, one, which is rare, a house or seat of a person (of some importance), and the other in the plural, which can be added to any place-name to denote the inhabitants of that place, and is fairly common. When some ancient document is unearthed which gives us the necessary information we can decide, but till then we must content ourselves with the later history of what is now “the village”.
It is probable that after the houses already mentioned the next oldest in Hapstead are those now known as the “Rosary” and “Commerce House”. The former, better known as Miles Cottage, and now owned by Mr A.W. Backshall, was built on the strip of waste running down the west side of the main road. Among the deeds in the possession of Mr. Backshall is one which states that the first Sir William Culpeper gave John Langridge the frame of a house, e.g., the timber with which to make it, and free liberty to set up the same upon part of his freehold belonging to Wakehurst, and leave to enclose three-quarters-of-an-acre lying between lands called the Gores and the High Road, leading over Hapstead Green to Lindfield, for 500 years at a rent of ls. a year. The first Sir William Culpeper died in 1678, so that the house must have been built before that date. All went well for many years, and two other houses seem to have been built on the said three-quarters-of-an-acre, of which Plummer’s Cottage was probably one.