River Ouse

Returning to the southern bounds of the parish, it is noticeable that, contrary to the usual custom, the natural boundary of the river does not form the boundary of the parish, except for a very short distance to the east of Lower Rylands bridge. The river enters the parish at Upper Rylands bridge on the Haywards Heath – Balcombe road, but the parish crosses the river and includes much of the high land on the southern side of it. In the parishes of the Forest Ridge the definition of boundaries seems to have been comparatively late, and the fact that the river was not used to define a boundary is probably due to the parish being largely formed from the two great pre-Conquest manors of Ditchling and South Malling, which run side by side from the Downs to the Surrey borders of the county.

Another curious fact is that the river which we know as the Ouse has only been given that name during the last few hundred years. Its old name was the Midwyn or Midwynde, and the bridge at Lindfield was called the Midwyn bridge till the end of the 18th century. The corruption and transformation of names are amazing, and only documentary evidence can prove the fact of changes that are otherwise unbelievable. The process in this instance seems to have started through the river near Lewes being called Acqua de Laewes – Lewes water. It is not a long step from Lewes to Louse, hence L’ouse – Ouse, a well-known river name in other parts of England.

The river itself has given its name to Rivers Farm (the “s” is an accretion) and to Ryland wood, bridges and farm. The word is often spelt Ryeland because we know what is meant by Rye, but this is misleading. The name really comes from the early form for water – “ea”, the same origin from which come “isle”, “island”, “eyot”, etc., with an “R” tacked on in front to make it easier of pronunciation. We get the name in its intermediate form in the 15th and 14th centuries, when the family of “ate Ree” appear as taxpayers in Ardingly. It should be recorded that Rylands Farm in Balcombe has only lately taken that name. It was Theobalds (pronounced Tibbles) up until a generation ago.

Lower Rylands bridge has always been a trouble to the parish, and there are many entries of the need for its repair in parish accounts. It is the chief means of communication with Cuckfield, which was our centre of civilization in the 17th and 18th centuries. The old road apparently went straight up through the wood, and it is possible that it may do so again now that motor traffic has made the twisting Fountain Hill so dangerous. The spring at the top gives its name to the Hill and, in another form, to the land beyond. A well has nearly disappeared from the knowledge of men, but in old days a spring of clear water was of the utmost value, and in this case gave its name not only to the surrounding land but to the cross roads known as Awell Cross in the 16th century. In the Parish Registers we find the burial of John Gillam of Awewell in 1570-l. He was one of the French family who settled in the garish on account of the iron works, the origin of his name being “Guillaume”, the French for “William”. The name still exists in the same form and must not be confused with “Gilham”.

The puzzle of finding Awell Cross will be solved if we remember that the enclosure of roads by hedges is quite modern. There would have been a wide open space at the top of Fountain Hill, and the fourth arm of the cross is still represented by the right of way through Kenwards. On the west of Fountain Hill is Hornsland Wood, which probably gets its name from being at the corner of the boundary of the parish.

Place Name Index