Stan Smith’s History of Rudgwick
The Parish of Rudgwick lies in the heart of the Low Weald and to the North West of the County of West Sussex. It is bounded by the Surrey/Sussex border running along the ridge of rising ground which gave the parish its name – “Regwick” (1210) – “the farm on the ridge”. The Parish Church stands on the ridge dominating the whole area.
The local brickworks (now closed) used clays laid down millions of years ago when Rudgwick was on the shore of a very large pre-historic lake. It was in 1985, whilst excavating brick clay, that the bones of a unique dinosaur identified as Polacanthus Rudgwickensis was found. The importance of this discovery is that there are only two other unconfirmed dinosaurs of this species to be found in the World, both in the United States. This species roamed the earth about 100 million years ago. The bones are in the Natural History Museum.
There are few clear remains of pre-historic man in the Weald, but the Romans left much more enduring reminders of their occupation of Britain. The Romans were great road builders and nearby, to the east in Slinfold Parish, is Stane Street running between Chichester and London (A29). Another road branches off Stane Street at Rowhook crossing Rudgwick Parish into Surrey, to a Roman Temple at Farley Heath.
When the Romans left in the 5th C., the early Saxons settled in the coastal plain of Sussex and the South Downs, both fertile areas. These were more easily worked than the heavy tree-covered clay soils of the Low Weald. However, the Low Weald was exploited by the Saxons. The Weald provided woodland pasture and a source of wood and timber and “Wealden Outliers” were often separated from the coastal development by considerable distances.
The Saxon economy was largely based on transhumance, the seasonal movements of animals from one area to another. Animals were driven from the coastal settlements into the Weald to graze on the woodland pastures of these “outliers”. Large numbers of pigs were driven north in the autumn to feed upon the acorns and beech mast. The swine pastures were named “denns” by the Saxons – two fields on Tismans Common were known as the Denns. Hoglands Farm in The Haven is another reminder of the pasturing of swine in the area.
Slowly there was permanent settlement in places formerly only seasonally used by herdsmen and woodsmen. With the Norman Conquest, the Manorial System was introduced whereby all land in effect was held by the Crown. Clearance of woodland for agriculture, known as “assarting” continued after the Norman Conquest, peaking in the 13th C.; population had grown, and the demand for land continued.
Although Rudgwick does not appear in the Doomsday Book, in 1341 in the reign of Edward III, in order to raise taxes to pay for the French and Scottish Wars, the Nonae Rolls recorded the value of land and income of its inhabitants. The Church was assessed for taxation, but a sentence in the Nonae Rolls tells its own story about Rudgwick – “And they say that there are in this parish no major estates, nor any merchants, but the parishioners live off the land by their own labour.” Clearly Rudgwick was a relatively poor parish and life was hard and uneventful. It is interesting to note that Henry Husee, the assessor of the Rudgwick entry in the Nonae Rolls married Joan, the daughter of Alard.
This meant that houses built at this time have survived since occupants could not afford to rebuild. The earliest surviving timber-framed building in the Parish is Warhams in Naldretts Lane, revealed by recent dendrochronology dating to be among the oldest inhabited timber-framed buildings in the country, the earliest portion dating from between 1213 and 1239, the same age as our church, and probably built for Alard, lord of the manor of Pulborough in whose land the house was built. Other surviving houses date from about 150 years after this. Swains Cottage on Tismans Common, Woes opposite the Church, Hoglands in the Haven and Snoxalls in Bucks Green are among the oldest. The Preservation Society funded an earlier study undertaken by Diana Chatwin to accurately date some of these houses from an analysis of tree rings in the earliest timbers. Snoxalls was built in the summer of 1337, Hoglands in the Winter of 1369, Swains Cottage in 1378/9.
Rudgwick has a unique heritage of timber-framed buildings. In 1996 Diana Chatwin completed an eight year study of all 90 timber-framed buildings in the Parish and her book provides us with a fine detailed account and permanent record of these precious buildings. With the publication of this book, The Rudgwick Preservation Society has ensured that these fine old buildings help to tell the story of the shaping of Rudgwick.
The 16th C. and 17th C. was a time of great expansion and there was a dramatic change in the economy of the whole Wealden Area. Local ironworks were developed where iron-ore was plentiful and large areas of woodland provided charcoal. Here in Rudgwick an Elizabethan ironworks was set up at Dedisham, where there was both a furnace and forge (hammer). Sussex became one of the most industrialised counties in the Country. Here in North Sussex, the comparative proximity to London meant that iron, corn, leather and wood were supplied to the capital. Money thus generated saw the building of new houses and over 40 smoke-bay and chimney houses in Rudgwick survive from this period, to house the increasing population. At this time the Village of Rudgwick began to take shape.
A few houses were built around the Church from medieval times. There had been a vicar as well as a rector since the 13th C., but little remains of their original houses. The Rectory, now the Old Parsonage, is only a few yards from the Church, whilst the Old Vicarage lies a short distance down Lynwick Street. It is interesting to note that all houses were built to the west of Church Street, whereas apart from the Old Parsonage, the east side was glebe land belonging to the Rectory of Rudgwick. It was not developed for building until the beginning of the 20th C.
In the 18th C., there arose a well-to-do class referred to as yeomen, such as the Nappers, the Butchers and the Naldretts, who were lending money as mortgagors to the farming community. With the expansion of the Village at this time, a wide variety of shops and services were set up. It must be remembered that, despite the comparative prosperity, travel was restricted and without the metalled roads built at the beginning of the 19th C. – cart tracks on the clay soil were only of use during the summer months. The main road from Guildford to Horsham (the A281) was built in 1810; before that the journey to Horsham was along a clay track, almost impassable in winter, which survives today as Bowcroft Lane. As a result of this somewhat closed community, a new class of tradesmen arose such as carpenters, wheelwrights, weavers, tailors, butchers and even a peruke maker. The Old Bakehouse ( Humphreys Stores) was being used by tailors and mercers in the 18th C. An old ledger found in the roof shows that tailoring was the principal business in the early 1800s. Not only were garments made for the well-to-do residents, but they also supplied poor people on parish relief.
The next important event was the coming of the railway in 1865, when Rudgwick had a station on the Guildford-Horsham line. Travel by railway gave ordinary people greater freedom of movement. Also there were sidings at Rudgwick Station where coal and farm produce was delivered. There were also special treats, when Sunday School outings were organised for children to take a day trip to Littlehampton and Bognor , to make sand-castles and paddle in the sea.
Sadly, the railway line was closed down in 1965, just 100 years from its opening. This has now become of great amenity value since it was taken over by the Surrey and West Sussex County Councils. We have a delightful bridleway through open country called Downs Link where horse-riders, walkers and cyclists can exercise in safety. The former Rudgwick Railway Station is now the site of the Medical Centre.
Since the end of World War II, great changes have taken place in the Village. In an article written for a Preservation Society Newsletter, Jim Harrison, the head of one of our largest farm holdings recounts the changes in the farming scene. In 1946 there were more than 20 dairy farms operating in the immediate vicinity of Rudgwick. Today in the same area there are 4. In 1946 there was just one road leading off Church Street. today there are 10 leading to small estates.
Many of the original farmhouses are now quite separate from the land around them, and are lived in by people with no connection with farming. Many barns formerly used for storing hay and shelter for animals have been converted to houses.
Centred around the Parish Church is a designated Conservation Area that seeks to protect an area of timber-framed houses, adding greatly to the character of our Village. Within the Parish are over 90 timber-framed houses, all of which are listed. These fine old buildings are not only prized by their owners, but we can see them as part of our precious heritage.
It is the most important objective of the Preservation Society to protect our countryside and architecture from encroachment. Where future development can be justified, it must be planned with a view to the preservation of all existing beauties and amenities (often described as sustainability), not only here in Rudgwick, but in the whole of the beautiful Sussex countryside.