Among the few records where we can hope to find mention of field names are the Manor Court Rolls, and we are fortunate in being able to give some extracts from the Court Books of Ditchling Manor, to which all this part of the parish belongs. The earliest record is of 42 Eliz. (1599-1600). This may seem ancient to many of us, but in tracing the meaning of a name it is practically modern. We find there mention of Knowles and Dewes. The former is, of course, the holding of which Old Knowles is the house. The name Knowles is very fairly common, but by no stretch of imagination can any trace of a small, round hill, a cnoll or knoll, be found in the neighbourhood to give a name to this one. Therefore we look for a possessor of the name of Knowles, who gave his name to his holding, the possessive “s” at the end of the name giving some weight in favour of this origin. We get the name as a personal name in Sussex in the 13th century in 1377 Richard atte Knolle appears in the Patent Rolls as a misdoer amongst others who come from this immediate neighbourhood.
The modern house now called Knowles was built in Cheeseman’s Meadow about 1861, and was called New Knowles because it was then part of Knowles Farm. It must not be confused with the original Knowles with which we are now dealing and which has been called Old Knowles of late years, for the sake of distinction. Little Knowles, now pulled down, stood near the north entrance to West Hill Farm, now called Lullings.
The description of Knowles and Dewes in the manor books is exceedingly puzzling. Knowles was divided into two portions and so was Dewes, and part of each holding seems to have been held with a part of the other. The problem would be less difficult if there was any proof of there having been a house on Dewes at any time. The division can be traced into the 19th century, when one part of Knowles and Dewes, amounting to 52 acres, was alienated by the heir of Mrs. Anne Dennett to W.D. Jollands, of Buxshalls, in 1854. The other portion of Knowles and Dewes, including the house, had previously fallen into the Wakehurst estate, the Rev. Charles Lyddell having taken it over in settlement of debt from John Tully, in 1740.
The name Dewes has gone through many changes – Dewces, Dawes, Duces, Denches, Deuces and Dences. Dewes is the oldest form available and far exceeds the others in frequency. Dences is almost certainly caused by confusion in writing of “w” with “n”. As to the real origin of the name we have no information old enough to enlighten us. There is a possibility that it may come from some special due being paid by the land; on the other hand, we must remember that there was a family named Delves in the neighbourhood, which may have been corrupted into Dewes – there is no certainty to be attained.
It seems likely that the land now divided between Knowles, Dewes, Sauceland and Town House was differently apportioned in old days. It was all in the same manor of Ditchling, but Knowles and Dewes appear far more frequently in the Court Books than the other two, and seem to have been much the largest farms.
The portion of Knowles and Dewes which lies nearest to Saucelands was held by the Challoner family in Elizabeth’s reign. In 1612 Edmund Challoner was granted leave by the Manor Court to divert a common watercourse running by his lands called Blackmere. Blackmare it is called in the next entry, and the name still remains. It is a query whether the first form is not the correct one, if there was a pond black with iron at the bottom. The watercourse which marks the present boundary seemed the natural place to look for this name, but on further study it seems to be on the other side of the brook which passes Fulling Mill Cottages. The marshy field, where the College targets have been recently, is called Black Mare field in the survey taken for the Tithe Map in 1839. Ardingly is fortunate in possessing this survey, and the preservation of the two small paper books containing this record is due to the Rev. James Hamilton. In the Tithe Map issued two years later the name is simply Black Field and the “Mare” has been dropped out. The blackness is easily accounted for by the nearness of the Hammer at the Fulling Mill. Masses of cinder and slag are there still.