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Why you should visit Uckfield in East Sussex

The Picture House's building dates back to 1916. <i>(Image: Andrew Hasson)</i>
The Picture House's building dates back to 1916. (Image: Andrew Hasson)

It’s the hometown of double Brit Award-winner Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, is just down the road from AA Milne’s Ashdown Forest – Pooh Sticks anyone? – and was the last place Lord Lucan was spotted before vanishing in 1974. But while Uckfield doesn’t boast wisteria-draped cottages like some of the county’s well-heeled and historic enclaves, it has more than its fair share of medieval houses, a river meandering through it, and is nestled on the southern boundary of the High Weald National Landscape – previously known as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

With London just an hour and 20 minutes’ train journey away, the market town is now a commuter haven which has pushed up house prices, making it an attractive, sought-after location but unaffordable for many local young people and families.

Great British Life: The town still has a community feelThe town still has a community feel (Image: Andrew Hasson)

Along with the much-loved The Picture House - a modern cinema which shows all the latest blockbusters in a stunning building that dates back to 1916 - and a plethora of independent boutiques, bespoke emporiums and antique stores, Bell Walk, on the banks of the River Uck, is a pretty, pedestrianised shopping area with a café/restaurant and plenty of buzz that visitors will love.

The countryside is literally just on the doorstep, too, with a family-run woodland, Wilderness Wood, where traditional coppicing still takes place, to explore as well as Winnie-the- Pooh’s old stomping ground which is just as magical in real life as it is in the classic children’s book.

Sheffield Park and Garden, the stunning National Trust estate with Grade 1-listed Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and Humphrey Repton landscaped garden and lakes, is just a short drive out of town while families can steam over to see The Bluebell Railway and admire a collection of working traction and diesel engines.

Great British Life: Uckfield was named by the Saxons as Ucca's land.Uckfield was named by the Saxons as Ucca's land. (Image: Andrew Hasson)

History 

Perfectly poised as a stopping off point on the pilgrimage route between Canterbury, Chichester and Lewes, Uckfield was also central to the trade routes across the region and to London, meaning that it became far more important than the original Stone Age and Saxon settlement. The latter gave the town its name – Ucca’s open land – and by 1220 it had grown into a small borough in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Manor of South Malling with a manorial prison, court and a weekly market. Until 1752 coach carriers linked Uckfield with the capital as the main Lewes-London Road with a daily route established by 1805.

The arrival of the railway from Lewes in 1858 changed everything. Uckfield’s prime industry became the rather unsettling practice of cramming – fattening poultry by force-feeding – which lasted until World War I. By 1875 Uckfield was becoming known as a suburb of Brighton as commuters poured into the newly built New Town.

From just 916 residents in 1811, the town is now home to 19,147, but it still retains, according to locals, its friendly, community atmosphere making it an inviting place to live – where you can easily enjoy the coast and the country – or to visit as an historical and cultural Sussex gem.

Famous Faces 

Not one but two Olympians hail from Uckfield – gymnast Suzanne Dando and Lt Colonel Ronald Sanderson, an English rower who competed in the1908 Olympics before, tragically, being killed in the First World War.

But the town’s most famous son is Rory Charles Graham, otherwise known as Rag ‘n’ Bone Man. From his humble beginnings, MC-ing with a drum and bass crew using the handle Rag ‘N’ Bonez – because he loved watching repeats of BBC sitcom Steptoe and Son - he broke into the mainstream with Human in 2017. The baritone singer, who went to Uckfield College, now lives in a £1million country home in Heathfield, eight miles from where he was born.

Great British Life: There are independent as well as High Street shops.There are independent as well as High Street shops. (Image: Andrew Hasson)

Shopping

As well as the usual High Street favourites and supermarkets including Waitrose and Tesco, Uckfield is, like many Sussex towns, packed with antique stores and charity shops. There is plenty of arts and culture here, too. For some original art, or to get your own pictures professionally framed, head to Diane Hutt Gallery, where paintings and prints curated by Diane, are for sale.

Frills All Round, is the largest independent baby shop in Sussex, and has been open in the town for 35 years so they’re not selling prams, car seats and nursery furniture to their customer’s children when they start their own families. frillsallround.com

Drink

Sandwiched between the Bluebell Steam Railway and Sheffield Park and Garden are the award-winning Bluebell Vineyard Estates, one of the county’s – and the country’s – leading sparkling wine producers. Using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, along with Seyval Blanc, to produce a fizz that rivals Champagne – just as the county now does with its new protected status. Visitors can tour the estate, and take part in tastings on self-guided walks around the vineyard and woodlands. bluebellwines.com

If it’s a brew you’re after – no we’re not talking tea – then head to the 360 Brewery Tap Room in the town, home to Sussex Haze and Bluebell Best Bitter. Visitors can sample craft beer, go on a brewery tour and dine in the tap room. There’s even a range of premium cask ale. 360degreebrewing.com

Must Do

Visitors can step back in time by boarding the Bluebell Railway, one of the largest tourist attractions in Sussex. The volunteer-run line became the country’s first preserved standard gauge passenger railway when a part of the Lewes to East Grinstead line was re-opened in 1960. It now has one of the finest collections of vintage steam trains and carriages, many of which came straight from British Railways.

As well as experiencing the rush of travelling by steam, you can enjoy lunch, afternoon tea, and supper on board or even take part in a Murder Mystery Train journey. On selected dates throughout the year you will witness a murder then steam through the Sussex countryside while enjoying a three-course meal and solving the heinous crime. bluebell-railway.com

Great British Life: 15th century Bridge Cottage is now a heritage centre.15th century Bridge Cottage is now a heritage centre. (Image: Andrew Hasson)

Must See

As Uckfield developed along the river, travellers would stop at a local public house in the famous Pudding Cake Lane for slices of pudding cake,and call in to Bridge Cottage. The 15th century dwelling is the oldest house in Uckfield – believed to date from 1436 - and is now a museum thanks to the Uckfield and District Preservation Society. It formed in 1983 to save the Wealden cottage, which was inhabited by local families and merchants between 1500- 1900, on the High Street from demolition. They were given a one million pound Heritage Lottery Fund in 2014 to renovate Bridge Cottage, which is now used for local history and community events, exhibitions, talks and can now be hired for weddings, concerts, conferences and meetings. bridgecottageuckfield.co.uk



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