As to the meaning of the name it is exceedingly difficult to come to any definite conclusion at present. It has been Wakehurst for many hundred years, with a few variations in spelling, such as Wackhurst, which do not signify any real change, and we therefore have no real clue to the origin of the first syllable of the name; “hurst”, of course, means a wood. It has not been possible to trace any connection as yet with Wadehurst – now Wadhurst – though the intercourse with Wadhurst was much closer in ancient times than it is now owing to the Archbishop being overlord of both the manors of South Malling, to which Wadhurst and Wakehurst respectively belong.
We get records of the family of de Wakehurst in Ardingly from the 15th century; the “de” means that they took their name from the place where they were living, and therefore proves that it was in existence at a still earlier date. The earliest reference to it as a personal name which we have at present is dated 1205. It is a record, in the 7th year of King John, of the sale of a virgate and a quarter of land in Ardingly by Philip de Gravele to William de Wakehurst. Four marks were paid by William for the agreement. The late Mr. Booker read the name of the seller as Crauele, but one of our best scholars today reads it as Gravele, which we know as Gravelye in Lindfield.
Another early reference is in a dispute about the hunting rights in Henry III’s reign (1249) when William de Wakehurst is described as forester to Peter of Savoy, Lord of the Rape of Pevensey. A full account will be found in the page for Burstow Hill. Other lawsuits took place in the 13th century in which the de Wakehursts played a chief part. One concerned the land belonging to the Church and another concerned Hickpotts. Allusion has already been made to these in the previous series of papers on the history of the parish, and they will be dealt with again later.
One of the features of Ardingly is that there is no Manor of Ardingly, that is to say, there is no central estate held direct from the King in return for military service. There is no central hall, the abode of the lord of the manor, round which the village grew up. But there are detached portions of other manors which have their centre elsewhere, covering different parts of the parish. In the 16th and 17th centuries it became the fashion to call an estate a manor, whether it was held direct from the King or not. The first mention of Wakehurst as a manor is in Richard Culpeper’s will dated 1516 – he whose brass lies in the Chancel of Ardingly Church. The Manor Court Books begin in 1633, though they allude to a date ten years previously, and we find Sir Wm. Culpeper carrying out all the ancient customs of manor with due ceremony.
The manor of Wakehurst is very much smaller than the estate of Wakehurst, which includes portions of the manors of South Malling, Ditchling and Plumpton Boscage. The estate of Wakehurst reached its widest in the time of Sir Edward Culpeper, who bought a large amount of land in West Hoathly, Horsted Keynes and Worth.
The manor of Wakehurst seems to have been formed out of the manor of Walstead in Lindfield, itself a subdivision of the great pre-Conquest manor of South Malling. We find in the Inquisition held after Thomas Culpeper’s death in 15711 to ascertain the amount of his possessions that “the manor of Wakehurst is held of Thomas Browne Esq. as of his manor of Walstead Co. Sussex at a rental of 12d.“
Thomas Culpeper stated in his will that his house and other buildings were “now verie ruinous and altogether decaied“. He made provision for the building of a new one nearby to the old home of the Wakehursts and desired his executors to purchase as much free land as possible for the use of his son and heir. This son, Edward, was the builder of the present house at Wakehurst in 1590. He was knighted in 1603 and died intestate in 1630. He is buried in Ardingly Church, but there is no memorial to him. The entry of his burial is as follows : “1630. Ap. 9. Sir Edward Culpeper an ancient Knight was buried close by the south window in the Chancel“. He was born in 1561. Three years afterwards his widow followed him and was “buried in the Chancel 4 foote from the south window“. Her memorial brass has been replaced lately as near the place of her burial as possible, after having been moved at least twice from its original position.
See also “Manor, Hall, Court, Place and Bury: the distribution of manor house names in central and southern England”; Croom, Jane; The Local Historian; Apr 2023; vol 53; no 2; p123
1 The reference to the Manor of Wakehurst being held of the Manor of Walstead comes from the Inquisition held after the death of John Culpeper in 1565 and not from that held after the death of Thomas Culpeper in 1571.