East Grinstead

Street Map

East Grinstead is a town and civil parish in the northeastern corner of Mid Sussex, West Sussex in England near the East Sussex, Surrey, and Kent borders. It lies 27 miles (43 km) south of London, 21 miles (34 km) north northeast of Brighton, and 38 miles (61 km) east northeast of the county town of Chichester. The civil parish covers an area of 2443.45 hectares (6,035 acres) and had a population of 23,942 persons in the 2001 census. Nearby towns include Crawley to the west, Tunbridge Wells to the east and Redhill and Reigate to the northwest. The town is continuous with the village of Felbridge to the northwest. Until 1974 East Grinstead was the centre for local government – East Grinstead Urban District Council – and was located in the county of East Sussex. East Grinstead, along with Haywards Heath and Burgess Hill, as part of the former Cuckfield Rural District Council, came together as Mid-Sussex; moving to the jurisdiction of West Sussex County Council. The town has many historic buildings and is located on the Greenwich Meridian. It is located in the Weald and Ashdown Forest lies to the south of the town.

In 1863, the then cottage hospital, Queen Victoria Hospital, was built on its current site in the 1930s. During the World War II the hospital was developed as a specialist burns unit by Sir Archibald McIndoe. It became world famous for pioneering treatment of RAF and allied aircrew who were badly burned or crushed and required reconstructive plastic surgery. Most famously, it was where the Guinea Pig Club was formed in 1941, as a club which then became a support network for the aircrew and their family members. The club still provides assistance for Guinea Pigs, and meets regularly in East Grinstead. The Duke of Edinburgh is the current President of the club. Queen Victoria Hospital remains at the forefront of specialist care today, and is renowned for its burns treatment facilities and expertise throughout England.

During the War a German bombing run had targeted the town and a bomb hit the Whitehall Cinema where the city’s school children were taking shelter killing 108 and injuring 235. The town was devastated almost everyone in the town knew someone who lost or had a child injured. As such the townspeople became very supportive of the patients at the Queen Victoria Hospital. Even though horribly disfigured often missing limbs, and in the worse cases faces made up of burn tissue the townspeople would go out of their way to make the men feel normal even though they were horribly disfigured. Families invited the men to dinner and girls asked them to go on dates. Patients of the burn units remember the and cherish the charity received by the townspeople of East Grinstead.

The High Street contains one of the longest continuous runs of 14th-century timber-framed buildings in England. Other notable buildings in the town include Sackville College, the sandstone almshouse built in 1609 where the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas” was written by John Mason Neale. The college has sweeping views towards Ashdown Forest. The adjacent St Swithun’s Church, stands on the highest ground in the town and was rebuilt in the eighteenth century (the tower dating from 1789) to a perpendicular design by James Wyatt; its imposing building dominates the surrounding countryside for many miles around. In the churchyard are commemorated the East Grinstead Martyrs; and in the south-east corner is the grave of John Mason Neale. The Greenwich Meridian runs through the grounds of the historic 1769 East Court mansion, home of the Town Council, giving the visitor an opportunity to stand with a foot in both the east and west. The mansion stands in a parkland setting. In 1968 the East Grinstead Society was founded as an independent body both to protect the historically important buildings of East Grinstead (and its environs) and to improve the amenities for future generations.

On the outskirts of the town is Standen, a country house belonging to the National Trust, containing one of the best collections of arts and crafts movement furnishings and fabrics. Off the A264 to Tunbridge Wells, there is a 1792 historic house called Hammerwood Park (the first work of the future architect of the United States Capitol) which is open to the public twice a week in summer. East Grinstead House is the headquarters of the (UK and Ireland) Caravan Club.

Local attractions include Ashdown Forest (where the Winnie-the-Pooh stories are set) and the Bluebell Railway, a preserved heritage line with steam locomotives. The town is also the site of Queen Victoria Hospital, where famed plastic surgeon Archibald McIndoe treated burns victims of World War II and formed the Guinea Pig Club. The town is well located to visit Chartwell the country home of Sir Winston Churchill, Hever Castle home of Henry VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn, and Penshurst Place home of the Sidney family. Kidbrooke Park (today Michael Hall School), a home of the Hambro family, was restored by the noted Sussex architect and antiquarian, Walter Godfrey, as was Plawhatch Hall.

During the Second World War, the town became a secondary target for German bombers which failed to make their primary target elsewhere. On the afternoon of Friday the 9th of July 1943, a Luftwaffe bomber became separated from its squadron, followed the main railway line and circled the town twice, then jettisoned seven bombs. Two bombs, one with a delayed-action fuse, fell on the Whitehall Theatre, a cinema on the London Road, where 184 people at the matinée show were watching a Hopalong Cassidy film before the main feature. A total of 108 people were killed in the raid, including children in the cinema, many of whom were evacuees; and some twenty Canadian servicemen stationed locally, who were either in the cinema when it was hit, or arrived minutes later to help with rescuing survivors. This was the largest loss of life of any single air raid in Sussex.

In 2006, the East Grinstead Town Museum  was moved to new custom-built premises in the historic centre of the town, and successfully re-opened to the public. The Chequer Mead Community Arts Centre[5] includes a modern 349-seat purpose-built theatre, which stages professional and amateur plays and music (local rock groups to chamber music orchestras), opera, ballet, folk music, tribute bands, and talks. The centre has a large art gallery for temporary exhibitions.

In addition to the nearby Ashdown Forest, East Grinstead is served by the Forest Way and Worth Way linear Country Parks which follow the disused railway line from Three Bridges all the way through to Groombridge and which are part of the Sustrans national cycle network. To the south of the town lies the Weir Wood Reservoir which offers sailing and a nature reserve which attracts an interesting assortment of birdlife. It is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

East Grinstead has an unusually diverse range of religious and spiritual organisations for a town of its size. A broad range of mainstream Christian denominations have places of worship in the town, and several others used to be represented; Protestant Nonconformism has featured especially prominently for the last two centuries, in common with other parts of northern Sussex. Several other religious groups have connections with the town, from merely owning property to having national headquarters there.

The Church of England has four places of worship in the town. St Swithun’s Church was founded in the 11th century. Architect James Wyatt rebuilt it in local stone in 1789 after it became derelict and collapsed. Near the entrance to the church, three stones mark the supposed ashes of Anne Tree, Thomas Dunngate and John Forman who were burned as martyrs on 18 July 1556 because they would not renounce the Protestant faith. John Foxe wrote about them in his 1,800-page Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Two other churches are in St Swithun’s parish. St Luke’s Church in Holtye Avenue on the Stone Quarry estate was built in 1954 to serve the northeast of the town. St Barnabas’ Church in Dunnings Road serves the south of the town; the present wooden structure of 1975 replaced an older church built in 1912. The fourth church, in the northwest of the town, is dedicated to St Mary the Virgin. Built by W.T. Lowdell over a 21-year period beginning in 1891, the Decorated Gothic church was consecrated in 1905. It was established by adherents of the Oxford Movement, and services still follow a more Anglo-Catholic style than East Grinstead’s other Anglican churches.

In 1994, a documentary entitled Why East Grinstead? was produced for Channel 4’s Witness strand of documentaries. It sought to examine and explain the convergence of such a wide variety of religious organisations in the East Grinstead area. The documentary, produced by Zed Productions and directed by Ian Sellar, reached no definite conclusion: explanations ranged from the local presence of ley lines to the more prosaic idea that religious leaders had settled there because they liked the views.

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