25 January 2014 – the toilets in South Street car park are still closed for reconstruction after the roof was blown off in gale
An easy walk taking in the sights of Mayfield High Street and surrounding roads
|Length||3.2km (2 miles)|
|Terrain||Tarmac paths, pavements or edge of roads|
|Difficulty||Easy, one short steep hill|
|Time||30 – 60 minutes|
|Start||South Street car park, Mayfield (TN20 6DF); grid reference TQ586268 ; GPS co-ordinates 51° 1’11.14″N, 0°15’42.34″E|
|Public transport||Bus route 51/251/252 between Tunbridge Wells and Heathfield/Eastbourne stops in Mayfield High Street|
|Parking||Car park for 50 cars in South Street, which can be full at peak times.|
View 2 mile loop round Mayfield Village Centre in a larger map
Leave car park by steps. Turn left into South Street and after approx. 50 yards turn right up Star Lane, a small pathway, up to the High Street. Turn right past the Middle House Hotel, and follow the High Street as it bears left with the Mayfield Church of England School on the right. Proceed to wrought iron gates and turn right into the King George V playing fields. This area, known as Court Meadow, was where the retinue of the archbishops stayed in the past and was instituted as part of the King George V Memorial playing fields scheme.
The Memorial Hall, venue for many village activities is on the left, and the Scout & Guide Hall on the right. From this point there are extensive views ahead to the Burwash ridge and the Weald of Kent. Looking left in a prominent position on the hill is Mayfield Grange which has now been converted into apartments and houses but was originally Mayfield College. The college was built in 1865 at the same time that the Duchess of Leeds was encouraging Cornelia Connelly to restore the Old Palace. The architect, EW Pugin (son of Augustus) worked on both the College and the Old Palace. The college was run by the Xaverian Brothers until 1976 when it was taken over by the Mayfield College Educational Trust. The college finally closed in 2000.
Past the Scout & Guide Hut follow the tarmac path down past the children’s play area to the bottom of the field. Proceed past a large oak tree onto a path between garden fence on right and hedge on left, then along for 150 yards before bearing right next to private drive to come onto Fletching Street with the Rose and Crown on your right. Parts of the inn date back to the fifteenth century when it was a coaching inn with stables. Over the small green opposite is Yew Tree Farm, a mid eighteenth century building on the site of an earlier farmhouse. The adjoining fifteenth century barn has been converted to a private dwelling.
Turn right uphill on Fletching Street, where arrow makers, called fletchers, once operated, past the eighteenth century Toll Cottage on right. Mayfield was once ringed by toll gates. Past on left Wheelwrights built circa 1600, and Courtney and Pound End Cottages. These were originally a single fourteenth century open hall, one of the oldest buildings in the village. Opposite is the seventeenth century Carpenter’s Arms; originally a beer house, it has served as a smithy, stables and carpenter’s workshop. The Avenue leading back to South Street car park forks left at this point. Continue steeply uphill past Charity Cottages on right, traditionally known as Smugglers Cottages because of their deep cellars. Smuggling was endemic in this part of Sussex in the eighteenth century. At the top of the hill on the left is Yeomans, part fifteenth and part sixteenth century Wealden house built with a central open hall. On the right is Mayfield Church of England School. The school moved here from the convent grounds in the eighteenth century and was rebuilt in 1913, becoming the primary school in 1950.
Cross the new Tunbridge Wells Road, where it turns north, at the junction with the High Street. Proceed along the High Street, which is on the crest of the ridge. On the right is the fifteenth century stone Gatehouse leading to the Old Palace. The Great Hall was built by Archbishop Simon Islip, c.1350, on the site of the wooden manor house beside the original wooden church of St Dunstan. The Old Palace was enlarged in the middle of the fourteenth century and the original arches spanning the hall are reputed to be the widest unsupported medieval stone arches in Europe. The Chapel in the Great Hall is normally open until 6:00 pm. (Contact the school reception on 01435 874600 to make an appointment.)
The palace was largely dismantled after 1740 and many of the walls and buildings in the village have been quarried from the ruins. It was bought in 1863 by the Dowager Duchess of Leeds and presented to a remarkable woman, the American Cornelia Connelly, who sponsored and restored the Palace and was the foundress of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus. In the grounds of the Old Palace there is a well of considerable depth called St Dunstan’s Well. The Saint was skilled in the blacksmith’s craft which needed a regular supply of water and it is said that his prayers caused water to spring up in this place.
Past the Gatehouse on the right is the Mayfield Cannon cast in the Mayfield Gunfoundry and discovered there in 1824. It was previously placed on top of the porch of the Old Palace and removed when the Old Palace was rebuilt. The cannon was descaled and refurbished by a member of the Mayfield Local History Society, who then had the cannon mounted in its present position for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. The cannon is obviously a reject casting as part of the muzzle has been broken off and a large blow hole is apparent at this point. The cannon manufacture has been dated between 1567 and 1579 – from the first Elizabethan age.
Next to the cannon is St Joseph’s also known as Stone House. This was built in 1730 by Michael Baker and is said to have been constructed almost entirely of materials taken from the ruins of the Old Palace. It was acquired by the Convent in 1883 and now serves as their Guest House.
By St Joseph’s is the village sign erected in 1925. There is some doubt about the origin of the village name. It may well stem from the camomile plant, for the Saxons named this “Maegthe” and the village in 1295 was known as Maghefeld. The sign suggests that “Maid’s Field” was the original name but there is no known authentic record of this. St Dunstan and the Devil can be seen on the sign’s supporting post. The village pump once stood on the kerb here, but having been knocked down several times by passing traffic it was re-set by the bus shelter.
Crossing the High Street by the cannon, Walnut Tree House is opposite. This close studded and jettied house was built in the early sixteenth century. There is evidence the house was once tile hung but in 1925 the owners had them removed to expose the old beams. Next door is the Middle House Hotel, built about 1575 by Sir Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange. In 1926 it became an inn when the “Star Inn” burnt down and the licence transferred. Continue on the south side of the High Street to the narrow Star Lane on the left. Just before the lane is Stone Court. The date on the gables is 1641, but this is thought to be the date of alterations or the rebuilding of an earlier property. The house has a long and interesting history and has served over the years as the Parish Workhouse, the Star Inn and the home of the Mayfield School of Woodcarving and Gilding.
Crossing the High Street towards the War Memorial the Post Office (currently closed) is on the right. This was a tailor’s shop for 300 years run by the Fenner family. Behind the War Memorial is the entrance to St Dunstan’s Church. The original wooden church built for the Archbishop of Canterbury in 960, was replaced by the Normans in the thirteenth century with stone quarried in Quarry Woods south of the village. It was rebuilt in 1420 after being destroyed by the 1389 fire that swept through Mayfield, leaving only the tower and the north aisle. Firemarks can be seen on the west wall of the tower. The tower contains a peal of bells dated between 1602 and 1923. The font is dated 1666. Several local iron tomb slabs are set in the nave floor, including one to Thomas Baker, whose family donated the beautiful eighteenth century chandeliers. Various alterations have been made over the years including increasing the height of the nave, and the lengthening of the south aisle to form the Lady Chapel.
Returning to the High Street turn right to pass the narrow North Street which runs up past the churchyard. Next pass the Royal Oak, an erstwhile coaching inn, now apartments, which is one of the oldest buildings in Mayfield. The mews behind have been converted from the former stables. On the right opposite the fork with West Street are the spacious grounds of Aylwins. The main house, now converted into apartments, dates from the fifteenth century and is Sussex style, semi-timbered in the shape of an E with a high square tower on the north side. The front was added in Tudor times. It was owned by the Aynscombe family for 240 years, until sold to a local ironmaster and then to Peter Baker
whose family owned the Old Palace ( the Upper House) and the Middle House, hence Aylwins became the Lower House.
Continuing on the same side of the road, after approx. 200 yards passing the old village Police Station, Colkins Mill Church is reached. This was originally a Methodist Church built about 1850, which later became a member of the Congregational Union until its closure in 1984. Subsequently it was purchased and refurbished by Colkins Mill Church which had been meeting in a small chapel at Colkins (now known as Coggins) Mill. In front of the church is a small memorial to the Sussex Martyrs, four men burnt at the stake on 23rd September 1556 behind the house opposite, now called the Firs, during the persecution of Protestants during the reign of Mary Tudor. Now on Station Road, once known as the
Upper Level, on the right after the tennis club is St Thomas of Canterbury Roman Catholic Church. This flint and stone church was built in 1957 to a medieval design and its altar contains stones from the old St Dunstan’s Church and Canterbury Cathedral.
As Station Road bears to the left, two roads lead off to the right. Love Lane, now a “no through road” led into Rotherfield Lane and before the bypass was an infamous rat run to avoid the village centre. Fir Toll Road, now cut by the bypass which was constructed on the track of the railway, was another of the toll roads out of the village. Round on the right is the old Mayfield Station, now a private residence. The railway line, built by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, was in use between 1880 and 1965. The line had a chequered history and never offered the alternative route to Eastbourne and Brighton that was intended. Although highly scenic, and lovingly christened the Cuckoo Line, the bends were too tight for heavy traffic and sustained one spectacular derailment in 1897, when a train came off the steep embankment near Clayton Farmhouse killing the driver and injuring over 30 passengers. The building on the corner was until recently the Mayfield Inn, previously the Railway Hotel, now converted into flats and renamed Firstone.
Continue down the hill to the next junction and turn left into Newick Lane and then immediately left again into West Street. This was the old road out of the village, the Lower Level. From the road, fine views are to be seen to the south. Partly hidden in the trees is the seventeenth century house, Cranesden, once reputedly visited by Oliver Cromwell. Towards the top of the road, a raised footpath runs in front of some old cottages, one of which was the Sawyers Arms Public House. Turn right at the junction with South Street with the Baptist Chapel on the corner.
As South Street bears left a small road leads down to the Chapel of St Mary in the Fields. In 1922 the site was purchased by the Order of St Elizabeth of Hungary (Angle-Catholic Sisters based in London), and was developed as a rural shelter for disadvantaged children. The last Sisters left in 1975 and the buildings were sold to private buyers. The new residential development just past St Mary in the Fields was the site of the 1930’s Brewer’s Arms which had previously been the site of an old Tramps Lodging House.
Continue along South Street to the car park on the right where the walk started.