Everything you need to know about hidden Hailsham

Bluebells carpeting the woodland at Abbots Wood. © Matt Gibson/Loop Images

Bluebells carpeting the woodland at Abbots Wood. © Matt Gibson/Loop Images - Credit: Alamy

This East Sussex town is known for its livestock market, which can be traced back to 1252. It also had the rather dubious honour of manufacturing hangman’s rope in days gone by. Nowadays it is a bustling little town with big plans for the future

St.Mary's Church, Hailsham © Greg Balfour Evans

St.Mary's Church, Hailsham © Greg Balfour Evans - Credit: Alamy

Farming for the future

Hailsham has a long history of agriculture, and its farmers’ market has been established since 1998. The market is on the second Saturday of the month in the Cattle Market, Market Street, from 9am to 12.30pm. Local food producers offer a variety of fresh meat, fruit and vegetables, dairy products, honey, bread, cakes, eggs, pies and condiments. Talking of farmers, local cow man Steve Hook and his Longleys Farm herd became the surprise toast of 2013’s Sundance Film Festival, after festival director John Cooper called their film, The Moo Man, his “crazy favourite”. You can find out more and order a DVD copy at www.the-mooman.co.uk


On the move?

Hailsham is a great place to raise a family, with plenty of good schools, says Graham Engley, of local estate agent Taylor Engley. “The town is just eight miles from the busy coastal resort of Eastbourne and is surrounded by open countryside. There is the charming recently renovated Hailsham Pavillion Cinema, and recently rebuilt leisure facilities at the Hailsham Lagoon include an excellent swimming pool.” Graham adds that easy access to open countryside via the Cuckoo Trail is a highlight, as is the town’s historic church, pictured.


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Hailsham through history

Richard Goldsmith, Treasurer of Hailsham Historical Society

Although the Manor of Hailsham was recorded in the Domesday Survey, there is now little evidence of early occupation, except that a Roman coin (now displayed in the Heritage Centre) was found by workmen in George Street.

Hailsham is well known for its livestock market, which dates back to a charter granted in 1252 by Henry III. Originally held in the High Street, photos from the 1860s show the cattle penned against the shop fronts – not very hygienic by today’s standards! It moved to purpose-built premises in Market Street in 1868 and is one of the only weekly livestock markets remaining in the south east.

Rope-making was started by Thomas Burfield in 1807 and gave Hailsham the title of “String Town”. Very much a cottage industry, there were several Rope Walks around the town where rope was manufactured and then brought to Burfield’s premises in the High Street. Later a rival rope maker, Green Bros, was set up and the two businesses provided the main employment in the town for many years in Summerheath Road and South Road. The hangman’s rope was reputedly made here and during the two world wars, tents, camp beds and even canvas decoy Hurricane planes were manufactured for the war effort. Eventually it became Marlow Ropes which now specialises in ropes for yachting and is still trading today on a site behind the original Burfield factory in South Road.

Although predominantly a rural economy, brick-making was an important industry in the town. Utilising local clay, it thrived on many sites during the Victorian building bonanza. However, no brickworks now survive.

The Grenadier Hotel in the High Street was built to supply beer to the soldiers stationed in the barracks on the Common west of Eastwell Place during the Napoleonic Wars.


Looking to the future

Hailsham Forward Partnership is a Town Team partner, born out of Mary Portas’ initiative for transforming town centres for modern needs. The group has received £10,000 funding from the Government for projects to benefit the local business community. The Partnership is made up of local people and organisations including the local Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses, Local Councils, Hailsham Youth Council and Hailsham’s MP. The Partnership is already working on a number of projects, including a forthcoming online shopping guide and a street market, established last year.


Hailsham Heritage Centre

A small museum in Blackmans Yard, Market Street (behind the Town Council Offices) will be re-opening to the public on Friday 2 May. It will be open from 10 to 12.30 each Friday and Saturday until September and has many objects of everyday life and a collection of photographs of Hailsham. This year’s special display has the theme of the First World War.


Best kept secret

Abbots Wood, between Hailsham and Arlington was gifted to Battle Abbey by Henry I – giving it the name.

There are many different types of tree within the wood. Recent conifer plantations are harvested for timber needed in paper and chip board manufacture. Thanks to coppicing Hazel and Hornbeam for firewood, rare species like dormice and pearl bordered fritillaries thrive here.

In spring, the woods are carpeted with bluebells. In warmer months, barbecues are available on a first-come, first-served basis and there are plenty of inviting spots for a picnic. There are two walking trails, Abbots Amble and Oaks Walk.

How to get there

Abbot’s Wood is signposted off the A22 between Hailsham and Polegate and is also signposted off the A27 at Wilmington. Car parking is £2.20 for up to two hours.

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