Situated in the top right-hand corner of West Sussex lies East Grinstead. The name means Green Place and this ancient town is close to the East Sussex border.
It evolved from a Saxon village, can be found in the Domesday Book, and by the 13th century the village had grown substantially until it was granted its town charter in 1247. From that date a weekly market was conferred and East Grinstead was allowed a yearly fair. Within the next 300 years, visitors and traders were flocking from far and wide to attend the two fairs that were now held annually.
The population of East Grinstead grew over the years from a few hundred during Medieval times to 1,500 by early in the 18th century. The town had an MP from the 14th century until 1832. By 1800 the population had almost doubled to 2,700 and thereafter the area continued expanding until there were over 6,000 residents by 1900. Today there are about 25,000 residents in the town.
The early growth of East Grinstead came about because it was situated on the main road from London to Lewes. Now in East Sussex, the county was just Sussex in those days and Lewes was the county town. Stage coaches stopped off in East Grinstead and disembarked their passengers at the local inns. This allowed the town to become prosperous and attracted new residents.
During the 19th century the railway arrived in East Grinstead and that drew new residents who wanted to work in London yet still live in the beautiful Sussex countryside. Today the town is still very much in the commuter belt.
Later in the 19th century, East Grinstead adopted modern conveniences that we now take for granted. Piped water and sewers arrived and the installation of gas lights must have been another big step forward.
In 1913 a cinema was built in the town centre and brought much excitement. Sadly, during the second World War the cinema was bombed, killing 108 people.
There are many ancient buildings in East Grinstead, not least in the High Street. It’s renowned for its timber-framed 14th century buildings amongst other historically noteworthy houses and St Swithun’s Church where John Mason Neale is buried.
East Court Mansion is an important local historic house, set in beautiful parkland. The house was built in the 18th century and is Grade II listed. It is now home to the East Grinstead Town Council, having been restored by them in the 1980s, and is a popular wedding venue. The Greenwich Meridian runs through the grounds.
The famous Guinea Pig club began at the East Grinstead Victoria Hospital. Set up to offer support to burns victims, the club enrolled aircrew who were treated by plastic surgeons at the famous hospital unit. It was here that many plastic surgery procedures were perfected.
It’s ironic that the railway brought such prosperity to East Grinstead, because one of its famous residents was a certain Dr Beeching. One of the victims of his cuts was the line between Three Bridges and Tunbridge Wells in the 1960s, meaning that East Grinstead became a railway terminus, which it remains to this day.