I

Ni­tial im­pres­sions can be de­cep­tive. When vis­it­ing Uck­field you could be excused for con­clud­ing that it was a per­fectly nor­mal and pleas­ant for­mer mar­ket town with a pretty river flow­ing through it. Noth­ing un­usual here, you might mis­tak­enly think. But lo

Sussex Life - - Front Page -

1980s when the area be­hind it was re­de­vel­oped into a shop­ping com­plex. Thank­fully, UDPS helped save it, re­stored it and now over­see its use as a splen­did venue for a wide range of events.

We cross the 16th cen­tury bridge over the River Uck. Largely re­built in 1858, it has been bat­tered down the ages by fairly fre­quent floods. Apart from burst­ing its banks, the river has given the coun­cil prob­lems be­cause of the ease with which signs bear­ing its name can be so eas­ily van­dalised by the ad­di­tion of an un­wanted ‘F’. The sim­ple ex­pe­di­ent of short­en­ing the signs leav­ing no room at the front be­fore the ‘U’ ap­pears to have thwarted vul­gar van­dals.

There used to be a lev­el­cross­ing by the bridge but this be­came some­thing of a nui­sance when the line south to Lewes was closed in 1969 leav­ing the sta­tion stranded on the wrong side of High Street caus­ing traf­fic con­ges­tion when­ever a train ar­rived or de­parted what was now the end of the line. A new sta­tion on the ap­pro­pri­ate side opened in 1991 and the old sta­tion was de­mol­ished af­ter sus­tain­ing what might ap­pro­pri­ately be de­scribed as ‘ter­mi­nal’ dam­age in the big flood that struck Uck­field on 7 Oc­to­ber, 2000 when nearly six inches of rain fell overnight.

The of­fend­ing river is look­ing re­mark­ably peace­ful as we climb up a hill and en­ter Vic­to­ria Plea­sure Ground, a park that com­mem­o­rates Queen Vic­to­ria’s Di­a­mond Ju­bilee in 1897 and boasts, amongst other fa­cil­i­ties, a cro­quet lawn. We are not here to knock balls through hoops but to ad­mire a some­what con­tro­ver­sial horse trough un­veiled in 1894 to com­mem­o­rate the life of the Rev Ed­ward Thomas Cardale, who was the first Rec­tor of Uck­field when it be­came a parish in its own right in 1846. So what’s con­tro­ver­sial about a horse trough?

Well, it would ap­pear that the late rev­erend may have ben­e­fited fi­nan­cially from a plan­ta­tion es­tate in An­tigua that em­ployed slaves. Although he didn’t make a lot from the en­ter­prise or re­ceive much in the way of com­pen­sa­tion when it was stopped, it’s all a bit awk­ward in this day and age and prob­a­bly ex­plains why the trough doesn’t oc­cupy a more prom­i­nent po­si­tion.

Just up the road is an­other memo­rial but this time there

is no em­bar­rass­ment. In the grounds of the High­lands Inn stands an im­pres­sive plaque that com­mem­o­rates the hero­ism of Flight Lieu­tenant Eu­gene Seghers, a Bel­gian pi­lot who was killed over Uck­field on 26 July 1944. Un­veiled on the 70th an­niver­sary of his death at a cer­e­mony at­tended by many dig­ni­taries, it records his ex­traor­di­nary brav­ery in di­vert­ing a V1 (doo­dle­bug) away from the town by tip­ping its wing. The V1 ex­ploded when con­tact was made killing Seghers in­stantly and scat­ter­ing the re­mains of his Spit­fire in the vicin­ity of where the memo­rial stands to­day.

In rather more som­bre mood, we stroll back down­hill, cross the Uck again and wan­der around the north­ern side of town. Brian in­di­cates a fine av­enue of lime trees. A lit­tle while ago these trees were in ur­gent need of at­ten­tion and, in what proved an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple of com­mu­nity ac­tion, ‘Lime Aid’ was formed to raise money and pre­serve them so that they are now in much bet­ter shape.

The trees once cre­ated an av­enue at the en­trance to Uck­field House, which was for­merly the home of Lord and Lady Ru­pert Nevill. It was ap­par­ently where Princess Mar­garet was stay­ing for the week­end with Group Cap­tain Peter Townsend in Oc­to­ber 1955 im­me­di­ately prior to her an­nounce­ment that she would not be mar­ry­ing the for­mer equerry. In what seems an ex­traor­di­nary co­in­ci­dence, it was also where she first met An­thony Arm­strong- Jones, who was at Uck­field House to pho­to­graph the Nevills’ chil­dren. That meet­ing, of course, led to ro­mance and mar­riage.

Stick­ing with the rather un­ortho­dox be­hav­iour of the up­per classes, we cross to the west side of the High Street to where Grants Hill House once stood. Now de­mol­ished, the man­sion was for­merly the home of Ian and Susie Maxwell-scott and the place where the no­to­ri­ous Lord Lu­can was last seen alive. A friend of the Maxwell-scotts, Lord Lu­can drove there the night of 8 Novem­ber 1974 af­ter his chil­dren’s nanny was mur­dered.

His Ford Cor­sair was sub­se­quently found in Ne­whaven but the poker-play­ing aris­to­crat was never seen again.

Although var­i­ous the­o­ries have been put for­ward, his dis­ap­pear­ance re­mains un­ex­plained, whereas our fi­nal rid­dle was even­tu­ally solved. Again Uck­field was right at the heart of what has some­what un­help­fully been de­scribed as a pa­le­oan­thro­po­log­i­cal hoax.

Back in 1912, Charles Daw­son, an am­a­teur ar­chae­ol­o­gist, claimed to have dis­cov­ered the ‘miss­ing link’ that evo­lu­tion­ar­ily con­nected apes with early man. A skull, said to be about 500,000 years old and to have been un­earthed in a gravel pit in nearby Pilt­down, grabbed head­lines around the world. Chris­tened ‘Eoan­thro­pus Daw­soni’ (Daw­son’s dawn-man) it caused a huge furore and doubts about its au­then­tic­ity rip­pled down the decades un­til even­tu­ally in 1953 it was con­clu­sively ex­posed as a forgery. Be­fore he hit upon the idea of glu­ing bits of an orang­utan to a hu­man skull, Daw­son, who lived in Lewes, was clerk to Uck­field Ur­ban District Coun­cil and a found­ing part­ner of the Uck­field solic­i­tors Daw­son and Hart. We walk past their of­fice in Church Street where a copy of the Pilt­down Man skull is still stored, al­legedly.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.