Burgess Hill is a civil parish and a town primarily located in the Mid Sussex district of West Sussex, England, close to the border with East Sussex, on the edge of the South Downs National Park. Located south of London, north of Brighton and Hove, and east-northeast of the county town of Chichester, it occupies an area of and had a population of 28,803 at the time of the 2001 Census, making it the most populous parish in the district. Other nearby towns include Haywards Heath to the north east and Lewes, the county town of East Sussex, to the south east.
Burgess Hill is predominantly situated just on the West Sussex side of the border dividing the two counties, although parts of the World's End district in the northeast are across the county boundary in the Lewes district of East Sussex.
Burgess Hill is twinned with Schmallenberg in Germany and Abbeville in France. It has recently achieved the status of being a Fairtrade Town. Burgess Hill Town Council was awarded the status of Town Council of the Year 2006.
Burgess Hill originated in the parishes of Clayton, Keymer and Ditchling - all of them mentioned in the Domesday Book. The town's name comes from the Burgeys family when the name John Burgeys appeared in the tax rolls. The name of Burgeys stood for 'bourgeois', the inhabitant of a borough. By the Elizabethan period a community had established itself and many buildings dating from this era still stand.
The hill in the town's name is taken to mean different things to different people; many believe that the hill in question is the hill on which the railway station currently stands, but there is a Burgess Farm on a hill in the south-east of the town, on Folders Lane. Whether this is the hill referred to in the town's name is not known.
The few buildings in the area were the two farmhouses, at Hammonds Ridge (still standing as a residence) and one at Queen's Crescent, in the west of what is now Burgess Hill. But until the nineteenth century, the town was known as St John's Common, and much of what is now the town centre was common land used by the tenants of Clayton and Keymer manors for grazing and as a source of fuel. Buildings which supported the common land were the King's Head pub (now demolished), a blacksmith's forge, and several cottages.
From the fourteenth century or earlier the annual Midsummer Fair was held on this common land on 24 June: the feast of the birth of St John the Baptist. The last such sheep and lamb fair was held in 1913.
This sheep and lamb fair was the first of the year in Sussex, and there was much interest. It is said that farmers from as far afield as Hastings to the east and Findon to the west visited, and at its peak, more than 9000 lambs were sold at the fair, together with numerous horses, cattle and sheep.
With the development of the London to Brighton mainline railway, however, those in the business soon realised that transporting sheep by train was more cost effective and easier than using the old roadways. Most livestock trading began to centre around railside markets such as those at Hassocks, Haywards Heath and Lewes railway stations. By the dawn of the 20th century, the livestock trading business had all but left the Burgess Hill area.
1700 to 1900
By the early seventeenth century small scale brick and tile manufacture was flourishing and during this time parcels of common land were allocated for house building and small businesses. By the early eighteenth century brick making had been extended and four shops and one or two alehouses established on the common. Craftsmen such as smiths, shoemakers and weavers also worked there. Brickmaking by hand was still undertaken until very recently, by Keymer Tiles (formerly the Keymer Brick and Tile company) whose tiles can be found in buildings such as St. James Church, Piccadilly and Manchester Central Station (now G-Mex).
The growth of Brighton in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries brought an influx of professional people looking for places to live. With accessibility, the common was ripe for development with the result that the Keymer and Clayton portion were enclosed in 1828 and 1855 respectively. Between 1850 and 1880 the area changed from an insignificant rural settlement to a town of 4,500 residents.
In 1857, in an area now known as either 'the top of the town', or Hoadley's Corner, the Hoadley family of Heathfield established a large department store, of which the original building still stands, on the corner of Station Road and Junction Road. This successful business also had branches at nearby Ditchling, and Seaford too, but it was in Burgess Hill that the head offices were based.
In 1876, a large building known as Wynnstay was constructed opposite to the Hoadley's store on Junction Road, to house a Mr Sampson Copestake. Mr Copestake provided money to create a new parish, building a church, and purchasing land around it.
Wynnstay eventually became the Wynnstay Hydropathic Institution, known as the Hydro for short. The property was bought up and converted by a Professor Weidhaus when Copestake moved on, and converted to a nature cure establishment. It is thought that the views from the property, along with the fresh country air and proximity to Burgess Hill railway station were the reasons for this enterprise. The Hydro remained until 1909, when the business was moved to Franklands, a large property to the south of the town. By 1914 Wynstay had become an hotel and by the 1950s it was known as St. Joseph's Convent and became a convent and school for Catholic children.
In 1897 the Victoria Pleasure Gardens were opened by local Edwin Street, a well-known farmer and butcher. The gardens were opened in honour of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, and contained a large lake, which covered , and what can only be described as a small early version of a roller coaster, known as a switchback (an alternative general term for a roller coaster). The lake was used for boating in the summer, and skating in the winter. The frozen lake was always tested by Mr Street, a man of 23 stone, before being used in the winter. This area is now the Victoria Business Park, although reality it is more of an industrial estate.
1900 to present day
The town gradually enlarged, having its largest population increase between the years of 1951 and 1961, when the population of about 7,000 residents almost doubled. This earned Burgess Hill the title of fastest growing town in the south-east. By 1956, the Victoria Industrial Estate was completed, and has since expanded. It now contains the British headquarters of two substantial international companies. In 1986 a smaller industrial estate to in the north of the town developed, known as Sheddingdean Industrial Estate. Both Sheddingdean and Victoria have now been renamed as business parks.
In the seventies and eighties several new housing estates were built, namely the Folders Lane estate (formally known as Oakwood), the Oak Hall Park estate and the Sheddingdean estate. The 1980s saw the largest single development in the town's history; new housing was created in the northwest of the town with a development known as West End Meadows. Along with this a link road to the A23 was built, replacing the previous route along Gatehouse Lane and Jobs Lane.
Next there was construction to the south and west of the town. Land to the south was developed, and the area is now known as either the Hammonds Ridge estate or Tesco estate due to its proximity to the supermarket, which was built at a similar time. The development is formally known as Priory Village.
The Triangle, a large leisure and conference centre was built in the northwest of the town and opened by the Queen in 1999. In 2005 St Paul's Catholic College moved from Haywards Heath to their new site opposite the Triangle.
In the southeast of town new housing known as Folders Keep is nearing completion, becoming the latest in a steady chain of development.
As well as the aforementioned developments, there have been two council estates built in the town – one around Cants Lane, in the town's north east, and the area around Denham Road in the west, both of course adding to the ever rising population of the town.
Future of the town
Mid Sussex District Council put forward its Master Plan for the development of the town in 2006. Some of the areas put forward for further development are the old Keymer Tileworks, space to the north of the town, and around the south east, off Folders Lane. With the proposed housing quota for the area high, it is expected to grow further as we progress into 21st century, and new housing will be created in the town centre in the form of flats as a result of the redevelopment plans, which are in more detail further down this article.
Hammonds Place, to the west of London Road as it leaves the town to the south, is a handsome Elizabethan residence which was substantially re-built by the Michelbourne family in 1565, the date engraved on its porch. Part of a structure dating from about 1500 was retained with the house. Grove Farm House, just south of Station Road, can be dated to about 1600 and was built about the same time as Farthings in Keymer Road. Chapel Farm House and Walnut Tree Cottages on Fairplace Hill are on medieval sites and the present buildings date from the late Tudor period, as do Pollards Farm and Freckborough Manor House on the eastern boundary of the town.
High Chimneys in Keymer Road is a handsome farmhouse once called Woodwards, "Fowles Farm", a 17th Century dwelling is now called "Old Timbers" and West End Farm is now the "Woolpack Pub" were all built or, more correctly rebuilt in the 17th and early 18th centuries. The farm from which the town derives its name, referred to as Burgeshill Land in the 16th century, is now the site of Oakmeeds School and the Chanctonbury Estate. The farmhouse itself is long demolished.
Almost all the Victorian detached houses and workmen's terraced cottages built in the second half of the nineteenth century (when the town was renowned as a health resort) have survived.