by Ruth Lawrence
Lying just 36 miles from central London, Haywards Heath is the perfect commuter town, set amid extensive countryside yet with fast rail and road links to the capital and coast.
The town began its expansion following the arrival of the London and Brighton Railway in 1841 although it gained a mention in the English Civil War records in 1642. Back in 1544 it was known as Haywards Hoth, meaning ‘heath by the enclosure with a hedge.’ Earlier still, the name appears as ‘Heyworthe’ in deeds which survive from 1265. At that time a Philip of Hayworth is mentioned and in 1358 a land transaction refers to a John of Hayworth. We know from the Domesday Book that animal enclosures were called hays, in which game was conserved for hunting and so the name Hayworth appears to mean an enclosure for keeping animals for sport.
From a population of just a couple of hundred people in the 1850s it has grown to one of the larger towns of West Sussex with a population of over 27,000. The town seems to have connections with more than its fair share of celebrities; from Suede frontman Brett Anderson and actress Greta Scacchi to singer Natasha Bedingfield and Olympic decathlete Daley Thompson to name but a few who have spent part of their life here.
Haywards Heath is close to some of the regions best gardens open to the public and has plenty of open space of its own including Victoria Park on South Road, which offers views of the South Downs and a woodland plantation. A skate park, tennis courts and football pitch complement an outdoor gym and table tennis which are both free to use. The recreation ground contains Clair Meadow, a conservation area with a wooded part, appreciated by local dog walkers and birdwatchers. Beech Hurst Gardens has a miniature railway, tennis courts and a bowling green. Ashenground and Bolnore Woods Local Nature Reserve inhabit an area of ancient woodland which is accessible to wheelchairs and buggies via a surfaced path. Situated south of a bridleway that runs from Ashenground Road to Bolnore Village, the wood has a unique habitat which forms a valuable wildlife refuge and resource. A group called ‘Friends of Ashenground and Bolnore Woods’ helps to care for the woods on behalf of the local community.
Retail addicts are well catered for in the town; a large shopping centre complements the numerous stores lining the long High Street while coffee shops, restaurants and cafes are abundant. If historical buildings grab your attention, strolling round the quieter areas of town will reveal almshouses, art deco offices and former artisans’ houses, all detailed in the Haywards Heath Society’s informative website which provides an insightful guide to this increasingly popular town.