East Grinstead Society

Heritage

East Grinstead lies in the middle of the Weald, approximately half-way between London and the south coast. It is a compact country town of historical interest surrounded by attractive countryside, with a population approaching 28,000 (2017). It is now part of the Mid Sussex District of West Sussex but was founded as a borough nearly 800 years ago.

Over 80 listed buildings exist within the town centred on the Conservation Area around the High Street. There are 16 ancient timber framed houses and two Grade I listed buildings, Sackville College – an alms house founded in the early 17th century by the Earl of Dorset and still in use, as well as Old St Margaret’s Convent designed by G.E.Street in 1865, which is now converted into apartments and forms part of a private housing trust.

The town’s boundaries are constrained to the north by Surrey Green Belt  and the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), to the east and south by the High Weald AONB and to the west and south by green gaps separating the town from the village of Crawley Down and Ashurst Wood. Delightful countryside is within easy reach.

Some significant historical events include the opening of the direct railway link to London in 1884, the award of the first Victoria Cross of WW1 to Private Sidney Godfrey who was born in East Grinstead, and the tragic bombing of the Whitehall Cinema and adjacent buildings in 1944, killing 108 people and injuring 235.

Tourist Information

The Town’s Tourist Officer at the Library can provide visitors with a wide range of information about the town including the Bluebell Railway and timetable.

Town Guides and Books

The 1861 Adam & Charles Black travel guide to the South-Eastern Counties describes East Grinstead as ‘…an irregularly-built, but pleasant market-town, situated on an ascent which commands a good view of Kent, Surrey and Sussex. It contains some old timbered houses, and some modern ones of tolerable pretensions…’ Today this snapshot remains largely true.

The first book-length history of the town was published in 1906 by Wallace Henry Hills. Although now out of print, reference copies may be consulted in the Town Museum and Public Library. From the 1890s onwards, commercial photographers produced significant numbers of picture postcards of the town. Many have been reproduced in no less than five published books.

A definitive ‘History of East Grinstead’ was written by M. J. Leppard in 2001, a full and scholarly account of the town’s history.

In 2004 Dorothy Hatswell produced ‘A History & Celebration’ of East Grinstead, illustrated by pictures from the Francis Frith Collection, relating stories from the past with what can be seen today.

In 2006 M. J. Leppard published ‘100 Buildings of East Grinstead’.

All the books in print mentioned here can be obtained from the town museum and local booksellers Waterstones and the East Grinstead Bookshop. Dorothy Hatswell’s book is available only at the museum, where other publications of local interest are also on sale.

Photographs

Over 800 images of old East Grinstead can be seen in the West Sussex County Council archive.