10 great reasons to love Burgess Hill
PUBLISHED: 10:32 08 September 2020
This Mid Sussex town has been extensively developed but retains a sense of community – and an enviable location for travelling to Brighton and London | Words and Photos: Andrew Hasson
I have met many people from Burgess Hill who love their town – and who can blame them? Look how easy it is to get around. Look how easy it is to get away. Look how easy it is to enjoy.
Granted, there are some who aren’t happy with what has been demolished in the town over the years, particularly during the 1970s. Some lovely buildings and features were lost to make way for “that concrete jungle bit of town” as one resident put it.
It happened to a lot of towns and cities back then, but most of those industrial developments have brought a level of prosperity to the town. There are always two sides.
Nonetheless, Brighton lies this way, London is up that way and it’s surrounded by some of the most beautiful countryside Sussex has to offer. It’s right on the edge of the South Downs National Park. How can you not feel comfortable and welcome?
What a place to come home to. Although the town we now know as Burgess Hill lies right on the Roman Road from London to the coast, the Romans don’t appear to have settled there.
Keymer is actually mentioned in the Domesday Book, and there have been settlements at nearby Clayton and Ditchling for centuries, but Burgess Hill wasn’t really a town until the mid-19th century.
Prior to that it was a collection of scattered farmhouses around an area of common grazing land known as St John’s Common. Like so many other towns, it was the coming of the railway that transformed this place.
1) The Orion cinema in Cyprus Road. There was originally a cinema on this site in 1919 and, although it wasn’t entirely replaced, it was rebuilt and reopened as The Scala in 1928.
The first film shown there was Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus. It became The Orion in 1946, and then the Burgess Hill Cinema in 1985. Ten years later, it reverted back to The Orion.
2) The Railway pub opposite the station dates from about 1850 or so. There were a lot of towns like Burgess Hill that were changed by the arrival of the railway, and a lot of them have a pub very close to the station.
The nearby pubs were almost always an hotel at some point catering to people coming to the town by train, just like this one. It’s no surprise that quite a lot of them are called something like The Station or, as in this case, The Railway.
3) Hammonds Place is one of the oldest two buildings in the area, dating from about 1570 or so, and sits just off the road heading south towards Hassocks.
There have always been rumours that Queen Elizabeth I once stayed here. There are even claims she stayed long enough to carve her initials into the woodwork. Charming...
4) St John the Evangelist is the Church of England parish church of Burgess Hill, consecrated in 1863. It’s a classic Victorian-era gothic-revival style building that dominates the south-east corner of St John’s Park.
5) Church Road is the non-pedestrianised continuation of Church Walk, heading south up the hill towards Station Road and the railway station. It’s a comfortingly ordinary and familiar British high street and none the worse for that.
6) There’s quite an unusual-looking tree in one of the children’s play areas of St John’s Park. It’s difficult to be completely sure, but this looks like a young eastern white pine, sometimes called a Weymouth pine.
7) St John’s Park skate park and the recent improvements have been a welcome addition to the town for many young people.
8) Bedelands Farm Local Nature Reserve, at the very northern end of town, is huge – about 80 acres. It includes meadows and woodlands, parks and rivers and this beautiful mill pond.
9) Oldland Mill in Keymer has been there for more than 300 years. Granted, over the years it has fallen into disrepair, been dismantled and rebuilt but it’s fair to say this fully restored post mill looks absolutely sensational today.
10) There are only three other churches in the country dedicated to St Cosmas and St Damian, and Keymer has the distinction of being the fourth. Named after twin brothers from Syria, both of whom were doctors, they were martyred and later sanctified.
The church dates from Saxon times. Like most churches from that era, major repairs and a significant rebuild were required by the mid-19th century.
The local view
Karen Hickman: “What I love about living here is that we are just a few minutes from the train station, which is great. We’re just three stops from Gatwick Airport and one of our kids lives in Germany, so it’s great for him when he comes home.
“There are good main routes in and out of town. We have good schools all around, both state and independent.
“We have easy access to quite a lot of countryside walks around here. And Burgess Hill is a very friendly town. There are a few good restaurants in the town now, and a few more independent shops moving into the town, which is a good sign for the future.
“I’m all for independent shops, running one myself – a hair salon within Mercantile Adventurers – next door to the Orion Cinema.
“It’s handy for the coast here too. We’re lucky to have the Downs virtually on our doorstep as well. The Jack and Jill windmills are close by. Wolstonbury Hill is lovely. Also, there are some good pubs in the area and the town. We love it here.”