Mary Holgate wrote in 1925 (1) “The presence of the school amongst us has made a mark in the parish quite apart from the increased population and enlarged demands. The sound of the boys’ voices at play and the chapel bell rise to the little village on the hill and remind of the young life that is being brought up in the faith and fear of God, together with brotherly love and sound learning.” (The inscription on the foundation stone)

St. Saviour’s was renamed Ardingly College in 1882. It began as the third or Lower Middle School in Sussex for the sons of small tradesmen and superior artisans. The school began at Shoreham and moved to the Ardingly site in 1870. The history of the College is well covered in R. Perry’s book “Ardingly l858~l946..A history of the school”(2).

This short essay looks at the effect on Ardingly parish the school had from it’s building and progress in the 19th century. Information has been gleaned from Stanford Lett’s book (3) “Ardingly and its building and buildings up to 1880”, the college archives (4), the census, and local -information which is very scanty. Canon Nathaniel Woodard acquired the Ardingly site of 196 acres in 1862, consisting mainly of two farms of great antiquity, namely Great Saucelands and Little Saucelands; He purchased the land from Mr. Jollands of Buxshalls for £6,000. The land had a long frontage down High Beech Lane from the village towards Haywards Heath. The land slopes southwards from a ridge which made an ideal site for the school, ending up at the ‘river Ouse. When purchased the fields were full of crops. Some years later the farming area was increased by the purchase of 300 acres of Rivers Wood Farm, a great deal of which was actual woodland. Most of this was sold in 1920. The fields not used for recreation were kept under cultivation.

The architects appointed for the building of the school were Slater and Carpenter. In 1862 four estimates for the building work were obtained and the lowest was chosen of the contractor Mr. Carpenter from Brighton, who tendered for brickwork not stone. The many thousands of bricks used had the description of Kiln burnt, red brick facings. It has been said that the bricks used were made on site, with clay dug from what is now known as Fellows garden, and because of the name of the nearby wood called Kiln Wood. However, one of the archival invoices for the east wing of the school in 1866 states “the bricks from G. King and carted by G. Bedford. I think it was unlikely that many if any bricks were made on site for another invoice calls for:

78,000 clamp of bricks, very sound.
39,000 clamp of bricks, inferior
20,000 clamp of bricks, soft.
too large amount to have been made in situ.

All the stonework came from the quarry at Scaynes Hill, some ten miles away, and the brown roof tiles from St. John’s Common. The nearest brickyard was that of George Box (the famous Sussex cricketer) who was a builder and timber merchant in the village and, as he was known as a friend of the College, it is possible that some bricks came from his yard. At the time of the 1871 census (5) the village boasted some 13 bricklayers, but there is no way of determining if some of them were used on the college.

As the great amount of building materials had to be carted from the railway station at Haywards Heath and later the new station at Ardingly it is not inconceivable that local carters would be used.

The buildings needed a great deal of timber, for instance the roof frames of fir, with oak slats for the tiles; oak beams with fir floors. Great amounts of timber were used for the scaffolding, some described as of six inches diameter. Long runs of boards for the same, and large ladders up to 52 feet long. Timber could have purchased locally from the many surrounding woods. It is known that the station at Haywards Heath held large stocks of timber at this time. Box and Turner from the village made many timber artefacts; ladders, wheelbarrows, boards for scaffolding. The cast Iron for the rain water pipes, leadwork and drainage pipes would have come from further away, probably Brighton. Drainage did cause some problems for the contractor, Mr. Cane, for he was brought before the Cuckfield Guardians in 1880 over pollution from old farm channels and drains from the College farm area, and Canon Woodard had to pay costs of £20-12s-10d.

The first part of the school buildings were delayed somewhat because of a dispute between Canon Woodard and Cane the contractor. When the next phase of building took place Canon Woodard decided to use his son, William known as Billy. Billy straight from university with very little knowledge of building managed very well on the “Do it yourself” system and at 30% less than the contractors price. If then the contractor was dispensed with, did Billy use any local craftsmen? Although there are no records to ascertain this, I feel sure he must have done so. When the school first opened the facilities were primitive, no running water for the boys, long dormitories, large class rooms with three or four classes in the same room.

An early benefactor to the school was Martin Gibbs who took over the school farm and shouldered the cost of the north school building, gifted the roof to the chapel which was dedicated in 1883 and the terrace retaining wall on the south of the school. This terrace took a lot of infilling to bring it up to the level of the quad. Martin Gibbs also had the new school farm built in 1880, but he employed the famous London Architect, William Butterfield instead of Slater and Carpenter. The 1881 census provides a record of everyone who was resident at the college which comprised of 17 teaching staff, 4 nurses, 3 matrons, 26 domestic servants and 338 pupils, all by name and origin. Only one domestic servant, a Louisa Elsey, an 18 year old housemaid came from the village. By the 1891 census, the teaching staff numbered 25 and 311 pupils with 24 domestic staff some of which came from the surrounding parishes but only one from the village. As far as full time employment was concerned the college brought little to the village, but surely there must have been a lot of part timers.

Did the college use local suppliers for meat, bread, butter, cheese, milk and potatoes and vegetables that would be needed in the kitchens? A diet table of the 1880s was produced for the boys and is copied below. lt adds up to a large quantity of food required.

SundayBread & Butter with teaCold meat with Bread & vegetables. PuddingBread & Butter with tea
Mondaythe samePudding. Bread & Cheesethe same
Tuesdaythe sameHot meat, with Bread
and vegetables. Pudding
the same
Wednesdaythe sameMeat Pie with vegetables
Bread & Cheese
the same
Thursdaythe sameHot Meat, with Bread &
Vegetables Pudding.
the same
Fridaythe samePudding. Bread & Cheesethe same
Saturdaythe sameMeat Pie, with vegetables
Bread and Cheese
the same
Diet Table circa 1880

It’s inconceivable that they did not use the village shops and farms. There were two main grocers shops and general suppliers in the village and the farms who would have welcomed orders from the school. It is known that a George Tester farmed at Town House, nearby the school, and a William Tester at the school farm. One of these supplied milk to the school. There is no record of Butterfield’s new College farm supplying the school, except that the school kept pigs and sold to the school at Lancing as well as local butchers. They must have used some themselves.

Local carters were used by the school, especially for the boys boxes from the station and parents and others stayed at the newly built Station Hotel, later renamed The Avins Hotel.

Ardingly College used up a fair amount of farm land, employed few full time from the village, nor is there any record available of the local shops and farms being used. However I believe there was a good connection with the parish in many ways. If there was not then the cricket matches between the college and the local farmers would not have taken place. Mr. Box of Box and Turner gave and built the first thatched pavilion on the school cricket ground. Various locals did contribute to the school including the Rev. H.R. Wetherell, W.D. Jollands, and Sayers shop who contributed to the Library fund.

As the 20th Century developed there was to be a much closer connection between the College and the village.

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  1. Mary Holgate; From Generation to Generation; 1925 p60.
  2. R. Perry. “Ardingly 1858-1946”. Published privately by The Old Ardinians Society l951
  3. Stanford Lett. Ardingly and its Building and Buildings up to 1986. Published privately by The Old Ardinians Society 1985.
  4. Ardingly College Archives with permission of the Archivist Mr. Nigel Argent.
  5. Censuses 1871-1891; W.S.R.O.