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Hay­wards Heath – a well-con­nected com­muter favourite

Sussex Life - - Inside - WORDS: El­lie Fells


Fan­tas­tic trans­port links make Hay­wards Heath a hot spot for com­muters. De­spite the glo­ri­ous West Sus­sex coun­try­side be­ing just on its doorstep, Lon­don can be reached in less than two hours by car via the A23 and M25, while Brighton is about half-an­hour down the A272 and A23. Chich­ester is just over an hour away, and Gatwick air­port is only 30 min­utes up the road. The town’s rail­way sta­tion forms part of the Brighton main line and is served by reg­u­lar di­rect trains to both Lon­don Vic­to­ria and Lon­don Black­fri­ars, get­ting you to the cap­i­tal within an hour. Trains to Brighton are only 20 min­utes, and run through­out the day. De­spite these ma­jor towns be­ing within easy reach, Hay­wards Heath’s po­si­tion­ing on the edge of the High Weald Area of Out­stand­ing Nat­u­ral Beauty means that coun­try walks in rolling hills are also just a stone’s throw away.


Although the town is rel­a­tively mod­ern as a set­tle­ment, its name has Old English ori­gins with ‘Hay­ward’ roughly trans­lat­ing as an of­fi­cer who pro­tected hedged en­clo­sures from wan­der­ing live­stock. How­ever, lo­cal leg­end has it that the town takes its name from Jack Hay­ward, a no­to­ri­ous high­way­man who used to ter­rorise the com­mu­nity. Whether this tale is fact or fic­tion, a sign­post de­pict­ing him stands proudly on Heath Road as a marker of the town’s his­tory, the site where he is be­lieved to have once roamed.

It has only re­cently been dis­cov­ered that Hay­wards Heath also played a de­ci­sive role in the English Civil War. Part of the bat­tle front­line bound­ary ran be­tween Sus­sex and Hamp­shire, and in Novem­ber 1642 lo­cal Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans came face to face with Roy­al­ist troops at Muster Green, a site which is now beau­ti­ful park­land. It was here that the Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans were vic­to­ri­ous over the High Sher­iff of Sus­sex, who had been ad­vanc­ing with Roy­al­ist troops from Chich­ester.

In 1598, Sir Stephen Borde built Borde Hill House, a stun­ning El­iz­a­bethan stately home that forms part of a 2,300 acre es­tate, ly­ing mostly in the High Weald Area of Out­stand­ing Nat­u­ral Beauty. It sits on the out­skirts of Hay­wards Heath and to­day the spec­tac­u­lar gar­dens are open to the pub­lic, fea­tur­ing ex­otic and rare trees that were col­lected from all cor­ners of the world in the early 1900s.

How­ever, it wasn’t un­til the ad­vent of the Lon­don to Brighton rail­way in 1841 that the town was of­fi­cially put on the map. The peo­ple of Cuckfield had op­posed the train-line run­ning through their parish, so a rail­way sta­tion opened in Hay­wards Heath in July 1841 as an al­ter­na­tive. This then kick-started the area’s rapid ex­pan­sion, soon out­grow­ing Cuckfield, which it had orig­i­nally formed part of. The Sus­sex County Lu­natic Asy­lum was opened here in 1859, which is now the Princess Royal Hospi­tal, and in De­cem­ber 1894 Hay­wards Heath was of­fi­cially formed as an in­de­pen­dent set­tle­ment un­der the Lo­cal Govern­ment Act.

The early 20th cen­tury saw a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in hous­ing; in the 1920s a scheme was drawn up to pro­vide ac­com­mo­da­tion for fam­i­lies on low in­comes, cul­mi­nat­ing in the build­ing of

Fran­k­lands Vil­lage in the 1930s, which has since de­vel­oped into its own com­mu­nity. By 2001 Hay­wards Heath was home to 22,800 peo­ple, which had climbed to 27,057 by the 2011 cen­sus.


Hay­wards Heath’s strong sense of com­mu­nity is cel­e­brated every Septem­ber with their Town Day, which in­volves a vil­lage-style fete be­ing held in Vic­to­ria Park. The event is or­gan­ised by the Town Coun­cil, and fea­tures tra­di­tional favourites such as a Punch and Judy show, as well as fal­conry dis­plays, arts and crafts stalls and even a climb­ing wall. May sees an an­nual Spring Fes­ti­val take place on Muster Green, also or­gan­ised by the Town Coun­cil. At this year’s cel­e­bra­tion there were more than 50 stalls as well as 60 lo­cal char­i­ties, all help­ing to raise money for fan­tas­tic causes.

Muster Green is also the site of a Re­mem­brance Day com­mem­o­ra­tion ser­vice every Novem­ber, with the lo­cal com­mu­nity com­ing to­gether at the War Memo­rial. This year, the event is set to be big­ger than ever as the town cel­e­brates 100 years since the end of World War I.

The Greater Hay­wards Heath Bike Ride also takes place every April, with routes of vary­ing length wend­ing through the glo­ri­ous Sus­sex coun­try­side that this town has on its doorstep.


Run­ning through the mid­dle of the town is South Road, a bustling area that forms the main shop­ping dis­trict. Here there are a num­ber of high street shops such as a Boots, a WH Smith and a Water­stones, as well as the Or­chards Shop­ping Cen­tre, which makes Hay­wards Heath a haven for fash­ion lovers. This town will spoil you for choice with places to eat, with there be­ing a wealth of both chain and in­de­pen­dent restau­rants. There are also plenty of pubs to choose from, as well as many good fam­ily run cafés. The Broad­way dis­trict of Hay­wards Heath is renowned for its buzzing nightlife with an eclec­tic se­lec­tion of pop­u­lar bars, and Clair Hall hosts a va­ri­ety of events through­out the year in­clud­ing live mu­sic and stand up com­edy.

A se­lec­tion of su­per­mar­kets means that you won’t have to go far afield for your food shop, in­clud­ing a brand new Waitrose con­ve­niently sit­u­ated next to the sta­tion. There are also nu­mer­ous hair­dressers, bar­bers, banks and phar­ma­cies, plus three doc­tors surg­eries and churches of vary­ing de­nom­i­na­tions. Hay­wards Heath Golf Club sits on the out­skirts of the town, of­fer­ing a 19-hole course set in stun­ning coun­try­side.


A move to Hay­wards Heath would have you fol­low­ing in fa­mous foot­steps. The tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter Richard Os­man grew up here, at­tend­ing War­den Park School. He now makes a reg­u­lar ap­pear­ance on our screens as a pre­sen­ter of the BBC’S Point­less. The singer­song­writer Natasha Bed­ing­field was also born in Hay­wards Heath, re­leas­ing her de­but al­bum Un­writ­ten in 2004, which has since gone on to sell more than 2.3m copies.


Hay­wards Heath Town Coun­cil com­prises of 16 mem­bers; to­gether they rep­re­sent the five wards of the town, Ashen­ground, Bentswood, Fran­k­lands, Heath and Lu­castes and Bol­nore. The cur­rent town mayor for the mu­nic­i­pal year is Jim Knight. Hay­wards Heath comes un­der Mid Sus­sex Dis­trict Coun­cil, based in Oak­lands Road, and West Sus­sex County Coun­cil. The area is rep­re­sented in the Houses of Par­lia­ment by Sir Ni­cholas Soames of the Con­ser­va­tive party, who has been a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment for Mid Sus­sex since 1997. In 2017 he re­tained his seat with 56.9 per cent of the vote.


“It’s the peo­ple that make Hay­wards Heath so great. They are gen­uinely friendly, help­ful and com­mu­nity minded,” says Jim Knight, the town’s mayor and long stand­ing mem­ber of the Mid Sus­sex Coun­cil.

Along­side Hay­wards Heath’s ex­cel­lent trans­port links and beau­ti­ful ru­ral sur­round­ings, he praises the char­i­ta­ble na­ture of the res­i­dents. “One ex­am­ple is the reg­u­lar Com­mu­nity Lit­ter Picks that are or­gan­ised around the town to keep it look­ing green and clean. Res­i­dents young and old all come to­gether and I have al­ways been amazed by the will­ing­ness and fun at­mos­phere that pre­vails on these days.”

The mayor ex­plains that next month will be par­tic­u­larly spe­cial for the peo­ple of Hay­wards Heath, with var­i­ous events and cel­e­bra­tions go­ing on to com­mem­o­rate 100 years since the end of World War I.

One res­i­dent of the town, Sylvia Har­ris, has or­gan­ised a ‘Rivers of Pop­pies’ project.

“This has seen the com­mu­nity pull to­gether to cre­ate 10,000 hand­made pop­pies that will be planted on Muster Green to raise funds for the Royal British Le­gion and the Dame Vera Lynn Chil­dren’s Char­ity,” the mayor says. “The events will cul­mi­nate in our mov­ing Re­mem­brance Day ser­vice on 11 Novem­ber.”

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