Uckfield

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Uckfield is a town in the Wealden district of East Sussex, in southern England. It is located on the southern edge of the Weald and on the River Uck, one of the tributaries of the River Ouse.

The town was originally called Uccafield. Uccafield derives from the Celtic word for ‘High’ or ‘Height’ – Uchafedd, this in turn coming from the Indo European ‘Uchch’ya’. When the Anglo Saxons heard this word they changed the ‘fedd’ part to something they understood – ‘Feld’ from which ‘field’ derives. The original river Uck name was most likely related to the ancient Celtic word for ‘water’ or ‘stream’ – Uisge, derivations uske, usci, that give river names still existing such as the Usk. When the Celts came along the sound of the river name was so close to the sound of Ucha that the name became Uch or Ucca over time and eventually Uck. So Uckfield really means something like ‘high place’ – Uchafedd – and the river derived its modern name from this Celtic word. There are, however, other theories as to how the name came about. One theory suggests that it came from “Oak in Field”, something which is reflected in several town crests. Another theory is that it used to be the free land of a Saxon man called Ucca.

The first mention in historical documents is in the late thirteenth century. Uckfield developed as a stopping-off point on the pilgrimage route between Canterbury, Chichester and Lewes. The settlement began to develop around the bridging point of the river, including the locally-famous Pudding Cake Lane where travellers visited a public house for slices of pudding cake; and the 15th-century Bridge Cottage, the oldest house still standing in Uckfield, now a museum. The town developed in the High Street and in the New Town areas (the latter to the south of the original town centre).

The Eversfield family, who later became prominent in Sussex history, giving their name to the prime waterfront street of St Leonards-on-Sea, first settled in Uckfield from their Surrey beginnings. The family, who later owned the mansion Denne Park in Horsham, which they represented in Parliament, acquired a large fortune through marriage, real estate acquisition and iron foundering. Their climb to wealth and prominence was a heady one: in fifteenth-century Sussex they were described as ‘yeomen’, but within a generation they were already among the first rank of Sussex gentry.

As its name indicates, Church Street was at the heart of the original settlement of Uckfield, near the medieval chapel (built c.1291), which was replaced by the present parish church in 1839. Situated on an ancient ridgeway route from the direction of Winchester in the west to Rye and Canterbury in the east, it would have seen many travellers (in the traditional sense) well before 1500. Some would have been on short journeys, either on foot or on horseback, to or from local markets and fairs, but others, bound for destinations further afield, would have spent the night at local hostelries along their route such as the Maiden’s Head, the King’s Head (now the Cinque Ports) or the Spread Eagle. Since Uckfield was part of the Archbishop’s extensive Manor of South Malling, some of these travellers could have been bound for Canterbury for business or other (e.g. religious) reasons, though others had destinations elsewhere along the route.

Church Street contains a number of post-medieval buildings. These include the Old Grammar School, Bakers Cottage and the Malt House with Malt Cottage (all built before 1700), and Church House with Andertons, Coppinghall and Milton Cottage (all 18th century). Notable inhabitants of these properties were the Markwicks (builders and carpenters, from 1700) at Coppinghall and Milton Cottage (Interestingly, the current generation of notable Markwicks in Uckfield run the local picture house), Edward Kenward (19th century maltster) at the Malt House, Thomas Pentecost (a Victorian leather cutter and local poet) in a cottage near the Grammar School and General Sir George Calvert Clarke (commander of the Royal Scots Greys at Balaclava) at Church House.

The town council consists of 15 councillors, representing four wards: Central ward (3 councillors); New Town (3); North (6); and Ridgewood (3) mayoral elections take place every year.

The town of Uckfield has grown up as a road hub, and on the crossing point of the River Uck. Traffic on the A26 between Tunbridge Wells and Lewes, from the north-east to the south-west, joins with that on the A22 London – Eastbourne road around the town on its bypass; whilst the long-distance cross-country A272 road (the old pilgrimage route) crosses them both north of the town.

As the town has grown, new housing estates were developed: Hempstead Fields, Harlands Farm, Rocks Park, West Park, Manor Park and Ringles Cross among them.

Parts of Uckfield, owing to its location on the river, have been subject to extensive flooding on a number of occasions, the earliest recorded being in 1800. More recent floods have occurred approximately every nine years: in 1962, 1974, 1989, 1994, 2000 and 2007, although those in 2007 were not as severe as previous floods. Local residents have long been lobbying for flood defences in the town, and recently when the local Somerfield became a Co-op, its car park’s walls were rebuilt as flood defenses with a ramp to access the car park and a watertight pedestrian gate that can be closed when flooding is imminent. It is hoped that this new wall will act as a reservoir to contain the flood water until it recedes, allowing the water to flow back into the river Uck, which runs alongside the car park. Due to the positioning of the river within Uckfield, any flooding is within the lowest part of the town centre and industrial estate, and so does not affect residential areas as these are all built on higher ground.

The West Park Nature Reserve contains a wide variety of habitats; it is located on the western edge of the town.

The local Tesco has proposed the redevelopment of the central town area as has the town council. The Hub has recently been completed, having been acquired for an unknown figure, presumed to be about half a million pounds. A complaint from citizens was the purchase cost, that it would increase their tax bills and as a youth centre it would only benefit the town’s youth however many residents have noted its far reaching benefits, such as crime prevention.

The population of Uckfield in 1811 was 916; in 1841 was 1,534; in 1861 was 1,740; in 1871 was 2,041; in 1881 was 2,146; in 1891 was 2,497; in 1901 was 2,895; in 1911 was 3,344; in 1921 was 3,385; and in 1931 was 3,555. In 2001 it was 13,697.

Uckfield is connected to London Bridge station by Southern rail services on its Oxted Line via East Croydon. Until 1969 the rail link continued to Lewes; after it was closed Uckfield became the terminus; the station building was rebuilt in 1991 to avoid the necessity of a level crossing. The Wealden Line Campaign hopes to reopen the closed section to Lewes.

The Church of England parish church is dedicated to the Holy Cross. The Queen made several unannounced low-profile visits to this church. The Roman Catholic church is dedicated to Our Lady Immaculate and St Philip Neri.

Uckfield was the last place Lord Lucan was seen, at Grants Hill House, the home of his friends Ian and Susan Maxwell-Scott.By coincidence Lady Lucan was born in Uckfield.

There are a number of mysteries and myths associated with the town and surrounding areas. The disappearance of Lord Lucan is one. In addition, the hoax of the Piltdown Man occurred in the nearby village of Piltdown. There is also the tale of Nan Tuck’s Ghost, in which an old witch is said to have lived in a wood in nearby Buxted. There is an area of the wood where nothing grows, and the ghost is said to chase people who wander along Nan Tuck’s Lane at night.

The Picture House is the town’s cinema, opened originally in 1915, and refurbished twice since then, the latest reopening being in February 2000.

West Park Local Nature Reserve is situated with several access points, has a board-walk running through parts of the Reserve. The Reserve is a vestige of ancient parkland, containing herb rich uncultivated wet meadow, woodland, some thriving wildlife and the remains of Mesolithic settlement.

The River Uck runs through the flood plain, also occupied by the Hempstead Nature Reserve, and is an important area of wetland. The area has an abundance of unusual flora and fauna, which flourish on this ideal site.

A new footpath, the River walk is a recent introduction to this popular area.

Harlands Pond, located via Mallard drive, home of the common toad. Regular visitors include the Heron, in addition to its permanent residents, the coot and moorhen.

Almost adjacent to the pond is nightingale Wood. This is a cool, shady haven, containing many different tree species and is a valuable site for early purple orchids.

To the south of the town in Ridgewood the Uckfield Millennium Green is present on a site of disused clay pits (now an SSSI)

Uckfield has featured several times in notable literary works.

  • Uckfield was the setting for the book Maximum Diner by Christopher Nye. It is an autobiographical work which tells of Nye’s successful attempt to establish an American-style restaurant in a small town. The Maximum Diner, under new management, is still in operation.
  • Uckfield was featured in Julian Fellowes’s novel Snobs, which included the fictional characters the Marquess and Marchioness of Uckfield.
  • Uckfield was mentioned in the last chapter of John le Carré’s The Honourable Schoolboy.
  • The manic playwright Roland Maule, in the play Present Laughter by Noël Coward, is from Uckfield.
  • The river Uck was mentioned in the 1990 novel Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

Uckfield is twinned with the town of Quickborn, Germany.

Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and street map visuals are courtesy of Google.

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