We found out what it’s like to live in Hailsham

PUBLISHED: 10:21 15 January 2019

The Observatory Science Centre at Herstmonceux Castle

The Observatory Science Centre at Herstmonceux Castle


With thriving local markets and a bounty of amenities, this East Sussex town ticks all the boxes

Getting there

“Hailsham: a small town, a parish, a sub-district, and a district in Sussex. The village stands in a pleasant vale.” These were the remarks of John Marius in his 19th century Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales, before he went on to describe the town’s various amenities, markets and inns. Nearly 150 years on, it seems that little has changed. Hailsham sits between the High Weald and the South Downs, and still enjoys unspoilt scenery of some of the county’s finest countryside. History lives on with various markets taking place each month, and it continues to offers a large selection of local shops, pubs and restaurants. It is now, however, the largest of five towns in the Wealden district of East Sussex, home to more than 20,000 people. Although in a rural setting, Hailsham is within easy reach of major towns. It is just seven miles from Eastbourne, 11 miles from Lewes, and about halfway between Brighton and Hastings. Hailsham benefits from fantastic road links, with the A22 from London to Eastbourne passing through the north of the town, and with the A27 to the south which will get you to Brighton in under an hour.

Hailsham is also served by regular bus links to most other nearby towns. The nearest railway connection is just a few miles away in Polegate; here there are direct trains to London Victoria running every half an hour, and numerous fast trains to Brighton and Eastbourne. 


Hailsham is believed to have been inhabited since the late Neolithic age, with evidence of its existence well before the Roman invasion of Sussex in 43AD. It is mentioned in the Domesday book where it is called Hamelesham, with its current name thought to have come from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Haegel’s Ham’ meaning the settlement of Haegel, Hella or similar. It could even come from ‘Aella’s Ham’, referring to the clearing of Aella, who was the first king of the South Saxons from 477 to 514 AD. In 1252, Henry III granted Hailsham a Market Charter. The market was held in the High Street and Market Square, and the town continues to see weekly livestock markets and monthly farmers’ markets today, with stalls in the town centre on Thursdays or Saturdays. Hailsham has a rich history as a centre for industry and agriculture, and between 1540 and 1640 it was a chief centre of leatherwork and tanning due to its status as a thriving cattle market town. Another traditional industry here was rope making, and Hailsham had the grisly task of supplying the ropes used for hangings across Britain and the colonies. Herstmonceux Castle still stands to the east of the town, a spectacular structure that is one of the earliest examples of brick building in England. It now operates as an International Study Centre for Queen’s University in Canada. It was also briefly the location of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, and today houses the Observatory Science Centre. The castle and grounds regularly open their doors for various events throughout the year. 


Following a report commissioned by TV’s Mary Portas, the Town Council and the local Chamber of Commerce formed a Town Team, known as Hailsham Forward, in 2012. This was set up in order to take a closer look at ways to revitalise the town’s high street and surrounding urban environment. Actions laid out for the next five years included the creation of a pedestrian friendly high street, improvements to shop frontages and the attraction of a broader diversity of retail outlets.

Hailsham offers everything you could need on a day-to-day basis. The main shopping centre sits along High Street and George Street. There is an ASDA, Waitrose and Tesco, as well as numerous banks, charity shops, hair dressers, health food outlets, doctor’s surgeries and places of worship. There are plenty of places to eat, including both chain and independent restaurants; Bebble’s Langos is particularly popular with the locals, serving traditional Hungarian flatbreads. Many good pubs are on offer, as well as various cafés.

In addition to Herstmonceux Castle, there is the Freedom Leisure Centre and Knockhatch Adventure Park to keep little ones busy. The Pavilion is also a thriving theatre and cinema. 

Annual events

The regular markets in the town centre bring the Hailsham community together all year round. However, the Guy Fawkes Night, organised by the Hailsham Bonfire Society every October is a popular event with local residents, with an average attendance of more than 3,000 people.

Another major event for the town is the Hailsham Festival of Arts and Culture. Every September the festival exhibits and celebrates the work of more than 100 artists from the local area, complete with events such as an art trail and poetry and short story competitions.

Meet the neighbours

King Henry VII’s Lord Chancellor Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, is believed to have been assigned the lease of the rectory at Hailsham, but sadly there is no proof that he ever lived here.

However, we do know that Fanny Cradock, the writer, restaurant critic and television cook, spent the final part of her life living in Ersham House. 


Hailsham’s town councillors are elected from the four wards of Hailsham – Central and North Ward, Hailsham East Ward, Hailsham South and West Ward and Upper Horsebridge Ward. Nigel Coltman was re-elected as Town Mayor in May 2018.

Hailsham is also the home of Wealden District Council and comes under the auspices of East Sussex County Council.

In parliament, Hailsham has been represented by the Conservative MP for Wealden, Nusrat Ghani, since 2015.

Insider’s view

As general manager of Hailsham Pavilion since 2005, Paul Nunney knows a thing or two about the local area. “It has that great small town feel where everyone knows everyone,” he says.

The Pavilion is a Grade II Listed 1920s building that acts a focal point for the community. “We’re a registered charity and a theatre and cinema,” Paul says. “We run our own programme of events, such as cinema screenings, and live satellite broadcasts from the Royal Opera House, the National Theatre and other prestigious venues.” The Pavilion also holds music, theatre and dance events throughout the year, so it’s no surprise that it’s a regular destination for the locals.

The Pavilion’s future was once under threat. During the 1960s the original cinema was closed, and for a brief period the building acted as a bingo hall. It then fell into a state of neglect until the 1990s, when the mayor at the time, June Bourne, decided that something needed to be done. The local people rallied together, and along with the help of organisations such as the Heritage Lottery Fund, enough money was raised to restore the Pavilion back to its former glory.

This seems to be a prime example of Hailsham’s fantastic community spirit, and today its success still rests on the hard work of local residents. “We work very closely with schools and clubs, and we are staffed by a dedicated team of volunteers,” says Paul.

“They are fabulous.”


Primary, Rated Good by Ofsted

• Grovelands Community Primary School, Dunbar Drive, Hailsham

• Hellingly Community Primary School, North Street, Hellingly

• Park Mead Primary School, Upper Dicker

• Polegate Primary School, Oakleaf Drive, Polegate

Primary, Requires Improvement

• Burfield Academy, Oaklands Way, Hailsham

Primary, Not Yet Rated

• White House Academy, Marshfoot Lane, Hailsham

• Phoenix Academy, Marshfoot Lane, Hailsham

• Hawkes Farm Academy, Hawks Road, Hailsham

Secondary, Rated Good by Ofsted

• Hailsham Community College, Battle Road


• Annan School, Lewes Road, Uckfield

• Bede’s Senior School, Upper Dicker


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