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What it’s like to live in Uckfield

PUBLISHED: 11:05 09 January 2018

Uckfield Picture House which marked its centenary in 2016 (Photo by Duncan Hall)

Uckfield Picture House which marked its centenary in 2016 (Photo by Duncan Hall)

Archant

Sandwiched between East Sussex’s coastal towns and Ashdown Forest this Wealden town may have been overlooked for too long

Getting there

Uckfield is to the east of the A22 between London and Eastbourne, which also links to the A26 and A272. The B2102 runs through the centre.

Uckfield railway station has regular hourly services to London Bridge and East Croydon taking in Buxted, Crowborough and stations in Kent. Sadly the route through to Lewes was closed in 1969, although campaign group Railfuture is campaigning for its reinstatement.

Brighton and Hove Buses’ Regency route (28 and 29) between Brighton and Tunbridge Wells takes in Uckfield, with services from Brighton running until 11pm. Stagecoach’s service 54 runs from Eastbourne to Uckfield stopping at Polegate and Hailsham from Monday to Saturday. Compass Travel’s 31 route runs between Lindfield and Uckfield taking in Haywards Heath and links with the Seaford and District 231 route to Etchingham. Seaford and District also has a two-hourly service to East Grinstead from Mondays to Fridays. And there are community transport services to Chelwood Gate, Sheffield Park, Hadlow Down, Buxted, Crowborough, Forest Row and Heathfield.


History

Novelist Fanny Burney visited in 1779 but according to Arthur Mee’s Sussex found nothing to interest her but an unusual epitaph in the churchyard, which by 1932 had disappeared. Nikolaus Pevsner was pretty damning in his 1965 guide to East Sussex describing it as “disappointing”. And similarly Norman Wymer’s 1972 Companion Into Sussex describes Uckfield as “a rather overgrown place”. He strides through with no further comment in favour of nearby Buxted. Many other guides barely mention the town. And this is a shame. Uckfield is a nice if a little over-modernised small town in a beautiful Wealden setting, with the countryside only a short walk away.

The first record of Uckfield’s name comes from 1220 when a weekly market was granted. The name may have related to an individual (Ucca’s field is suggested in a 2008 report in the Sussex Extensive Urban Survey). Its church began life as a 13th century chapel of ease to Buxted, but was rebuilt in the 19th century. The town began small, with evidence of clothmaking, pottery and leatherworking before the expansion of ironworking between the 16th and 18th centuries. Sussex ironmaker John Fuller, possibly an ancestor of Brightling’s famous Mad Jack Fuller, lived in the town and has a memorial in the church.

As with many places in Sussex the arrival of the railway from Lewes in 1858 changed everything. Uckfield’s prime industry became the rather unsettling practice of cramming – fattening poultry by force-feeding – which lasted until World War I. The corn and hop market also expanded, a brick and tile works was established at Ridgewood and breweries were opened. By 1875 Uckfield was becoming known as a suburb of Brighton as commuters poured into the newly built New Town.

Its population now numbers about 15,000. Employers based in the Bellbrook business park to the west include larger businesses such as TR Fastenings. And there is clearly a lot of building going on now, with a new housing estate springing up on the outskirts at Ridgewood Farm and lots of scaffolding and a crane visible around the High Street.


Annual festivals and events

In 2017 Uckfield Holy Cross Church, in Belmont Road, celebrated its tenth annual Festival of Christmas Trees. The free event sees sponsors support individual Christmas trees with both traditional and imaginative decorations within the confines of the church. In 2016 almost 6,000 visitors came to the ninth event, to see 89 decorated Christmas trees sponsored by schools, businesses, voluntary organisations and community support groups as well as individual families.

The Uckfield Festival has been running since the turn of the millennium. According to Dorothy Sparks, the chair of the festival committee, it started life as a one-off event for 2000 to improve the cultural life of the town, but after its initial success it has become a mainstay of the calendar on the second week of July, growing in size each year. Popular features include an art trail, live performances and the Big Day, on the second Saturday of July, which features a children’s parade through the centre of town leading to Luxford Field which hosts live entertainment, a fun dog show and DJs from Uckfield FM. Last year also saw a Festival Funday the following Sunday on Luxford Field and an electric car Grand Prix in the car park of TR Fastenings organised by the town’s Rotary Club and Uckfield Community Technology College. For more information visit uckfieldfestival.co.uk.

In 2017 the Uckfield Blues and Roots Festival celebrated its fifth anniversary. Among those who played the first event was Uckfield’s own Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, who has an open invitation to return. Other headliners this July included British Blues Acoustic Artist of the year Ian Siegal, Spikedrivers and Jo Harman with performances at the Uckfield Civic Centre and Highlands Inn.

In 2017 Uckfield Carnival celebrated its 190th event. Held on the first Saturday in September by the Uckfield Bonfire and Carnival Society, the event marks the launch of East Sussex’s county-wide bonfire celebrations. On the Friday night of the anniversary year there were fireworks and a funfair, and on Saturday afternoon there was a fancy dress parade for youngsters in the afternoon before an evening torchlight procession. A street collection raised more than £4,000 for charities and community organisations in and around the town.

A newer event has been August’s Weald On The Field in Luxford Field, a day event organised by Food Rocks to celebrate local produce and street food, soundtracked by live music. 


Amenities

From supermarkets to specialists Uckfield has a wide range of shops, many based around its long High Street, including a Waitrose and Tesco superstore.

And bargain hunters won’t be disappointed by the many, many charity shops on and off the main drag including a dedicated Lions bookshop.

Also on the High Street is the library and the much-loved Uckfield Picture House, which celebrated its centenary in 2016. The cinema shows the latest in blockbusters and event screenings including performances from London’s Covent Garden, National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company and the New York Met. And the Picture House has a restaurant opposite the cinema serving lunches and evening meals, as well as two-for-one pizzas on a Tuesday and Wednesday.

Uckfield and District Preservation Society came together in 1983 to save the 15th century Bridge Cottage on High Street from demolition. Renovation work began in 2014 following a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Wealden house is now available for meetings and conferences and can be hired out for weddings and concerts. A Christmas market is being held there on Saturday 2 December from 10am to 4pm.

Uckfield Community Hospital in Framfield Road has a minor injuries unit and a unit specialising in dementia and complex adult mental health problems. There are GP surgeries at the hospital and in Bell Farm Lane.

The town has its own leisure centre in Downsview Crescent, with swimming pool and gym and regular classes as well as the East Sussex National golf course to the south.

There are more open spaces at Lake Wood – where the image on the previous page was shot – and West Park nature reserves, as well as at nearby Views Wood and Buxted Park.

This year Uckfield Rugby Club celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Football club AFC Uckfield Town was formed in 2014 from the merger of AFC Uckfield and Uckfield Town, which dated back to 1881. They currently play in the Southern Combination Premier Division from their home at The Oaks.

For visitors to Uckfield attractions including Nutley Windmill, Bentley Wildfowl Museum, Sheffield Park Gardens and the Bluebell Railway are not far away.

Winnie-the-Pooh’s old stomping ground Ashdown Forest is to the north of the town.

Tinkers Park, near Hadlow Down, has held a steam rally every summer since 1966 and holds an open day event in September, as well as a model railway exhibition in August. 


Meet the neighbours

Double Brit Award-winner Rag ‘n’ Bone Man hails from Uckfield. The town is also the last place where there was a positive sighting of Lord Lucan at Grants Hill House, the home of his friends Ian and Susan Maxwell-Scott. 


Council

Uckfield has its own 15-strong town council, and is represented on Wealden District Council by five councillors. It comes under East Sussex County Council. Uckfield is represented in Parliament by Wealden MP Nus Ghani. The Conservative MP was re-elected in 2017’s snap poll with a majority of more than 61 per cent – up 4.2 per cent on the 2015 election. 


Estate agent’s view

“Uckfield is a growing town,” says Trevor Mepham, office manager at Mansell McTaggart’s Uckfield base in the High Street, pointing to 250 new homes, including 15 per cent affordable housing, being built by Taylor Wimpey from January next year. “Prices are much more affordable compared to when you start going towards Haywards Heath.

“There is a main train line here to London and we have good road links to the coast. We are finding a lot of people moving down here from London and Croydon. It’s a mixture of commuters and people with only three to five years of working life left looking for somewhere to settle. A lot of people are downsizing.”

Popular areas include West Park, Rocks Park and the surrounding villages – especially Buxted, five minutes to the north east, which also has its own railway station.

Mansell McTaggart, 212 High Street, Uckfield, TN22 1RD, 01825 760770; www.mansellmctaggart.co.uk/estate-agents-uckfield

More…

What it’s like to live in Petworth - It may be packed with antique shops and dominated by the stately home, but Petworth is more than a tourist stop as Duncan Hall discovers

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