FERNHURST, with a population of some 2000 people
is a thriving community of houses, shops and businesses centred
upon The Cross and the Village Green. It is a typical West Sussex
village, evolving over nearly a thousand years to meet the needs
of its inhabitants, with its roots in an ancient past.
Fernhurst lies on the borders of the great, once-forested,
Weald in a thickly-wooded clay-floored valley between the sand topped
ridges of Blackdown and Marley to the north and Henley and Bexley
to the south. The little river Lod, tributary of the western Rother,
drains the area.
From flint arrowheads to under-floor heating
Our story begins at the end of the last Ice Age,
when the Stone Age hunter-gatherers began to clear the Wealden forests,
using knapped flint tools brought from the South Downs. These have
been found in the hills (Moses Hill on Marley) and in the valley
(Sollers and Surney). Little evidence remains for the Bronze and
Iron Ages here, but the Romans used the local clay, timber and water
found at Surney for a factory producing roof, floor and hypocaust
(under-floor central heating) tiles.
The Dark Ages to the Crusades
Four hundred years of Roman domination had ended
by the 5th century A.D. During the next five hundred the clearing
of the forests continued, with timber-felling and charcoal burning,
and swineherds from the south bringing their pigs for seasonal pasturage
among the oak and beach. None of this has left evidence, and the
Domesday book of 1087 ignores the scattered populations of the Weald.
Our Saxon predecessors named the area 'fearn hyrst' meaning 'ferny
wooded hill', and settlement spread gradually from isolated farmsteads
in clearings. By the 12th century small farms linked by paths centred
upon the new stone church, dedicated to St Margaret of Antioch --
the Crusaders' favourite saint -- and probably built as a soldier's
thank offering for safe return from the Middle East.
15th century -- Hall-houses and Noxious Fumes
Until the last century, traces of a 14th century
fortified hunting tower, Verdley Castle, could be seen in Henley
Woods, but less solid farm and forest dwellings had long since disappeared.
In Fernhurst the earliest surviving buildings are 'hall-houses'
dating from the 15th century: timber-framed, in-filled with wattle-and-daub
or, later, by locally made bricks. Examples of these are the yeoman
farmers' Moses Hill and Home Farm (Oeborne), while Sollers, on The
Green, may have housed the saddlery. Beyond the village lay the
Tanyard. The Tannery needed oak bark and running water provided
by the location -- and the village was protected from the noxious
fumes produced by curing hides.
There are many houses still inhabited which were
built in the 16th and 17th centuries, including Chase, Dawes, North
Park and Lower House farms, together with the Reeks Reynolds (Timberscombe),
Popmoor, Vanlands, Bridgelands, Courts Farm and Baldwyns.
Early 17th century -- Cast-iron and Canon from
a mini 'Black Country'
It is hard to associate a densely-wooded area such
as Fernhurst with heavy industry, yet that was a situation for long
periods over two centuries, periods of clamour and bustle with the
thick pall of industrial smog hanging over the valley. Using the
large natural iron deposits, streams, and charcoal from the surrounding
woods, a skilled workforce produced cast-iron cannon and farming
and domestic implements. This industrial past is recalled by the
names; Minepit Copse, Furnace Pond, Furnace
Wood and The Barracks (home to some of the imported workers). There
is evidence of a dam at Surney, with a dam, sluices and piles of
slag at North Park.
Friday's Hill may have been named from the muddy
day-long haul of cannon from the valley -- and Saturday's Nap from
the rest at the top.
Mid-17th century -- Civil War, ambush and an executioner's
As in feudal times, the lack of a major local land-owner
had one advantage for the men of Fernhurst. Unlike their southern
neighbours they were not called up to fight at home or abroad. However
the copse name of Cavalry Quarters may come from a Royalist troop
of the Civil War (1642-51). Local legend tells of ambush failing
when Parliamentarian soldiers chose another route through the valley.
The Cavaliers might have been more successful had
they lain in wait for Oliver Cromwell at Blackdown House, home of
ironmaster William Yaldwyn, (Yalden), whom he visited occasionally.
It is said that on one of these occasions Cromwell negotiated a
'safe house' nearby for the executioner of King Charles I.
During Cromwell's Protectorate the staunchly Royalist
rector of Fernhurst was ejected from the parish by a more conforming
parson, only returning with the restoration of Charles II in 1660.
A watercolour view of
Mr Yalding's house on Black Down near Fernhurst in West Sussex built in
1640 drawn on May 27th 1790 by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm
(image courtesy of the British Library, reproduced with permission)
18th century -- Turnpikes and Tolls
By 1777 Fernhurst, last of the iron foundries of
West Sussex, had had its industrial heyday, superseded by the invention
elsewhere of coke-fuelled processes. Woodland management, forestry
and farming once more absorbed the valley. The gentrification of
yeoman houses such as North Park, The White House and Chase Farm
reflect the affluence of these times.
A fortunate legacy of the 'iron age' was an improvement
in the roads, the 'Fernhurst clay' previously having made it notoriously
difficult to get in or out of the village. 1749 saw the establishment
of the Sussex Turnpike Trust to maintain the road from Hindhead
Heath to Chichester. This included Fernhurst Lane and formed the
basis of our present roads and village expansion around The Cross,
with a toll-gate at Kingsley Marsh (now Green) -- which regulars
became adept at dodging.
19th-century -- the railway, incomers and...
The opening of Haslemere station on the London
to Portsmouth line in 1859 made Fernhurst far more accessible to
the outside world. New building from The Cross along the Midhurst
and Vann (Chapel Street) roads, as well as larger establishments
in the countryside, provided homes for people who worked elsewhere.
The surrounding hills became popular with professional
people and intellectuals -- artists, scientists, writers and thinkers,
for both holiday homes and permanent residences. Anthony Salvin,
the eminent architect, was an early 'incomer'. Building Hawksfold
for himself, he designed Verdley Place in 1870 and worked on the
restoration of Petworth and Blackdown houses. He left little of
the original medieval structure when remodelling St Margaret's church.
The Pearsall-Smith family, American Quakers, took
Friday's Hill House. Their son Logan rented Highbuilding. Whilst
their daughter Alys married Bertrand Russell, and lived in the Vann
Bridge Cottage (now Vann Bridge Close) and Millhanger, which became
the meeting place for other noted philosophers. Alys's niece Ray
married into the writer Lytton Strachey's family and built the Mud
House helped by her friends.
Over the years Fernhurst has had many benefactors,
as recorded in the Parish Magazines. The Schusters of Verdley, the
Phillipson Stowes of Blackdown, the Ohlenschlagers, Hollists, Dickinsons
and Dukes all contributed to the wide-ranging activities of a thriving
community. Owen Scripps Tudor leased the site for the Village Hall
in 1909 for an annual 'pepper corn' sum of 5/- (25p), still paid
every year to this day. Nearby he built and endowed the non-denominational
Almshouses, the Hostel Of The Good Shepherd administered for many
years by his daughters.
20th-century -- War, sacrifice, renewal and exciting
Fernhurst sent its men to both World Wars, and
the names of those who gave their lives are publicly recalled each
Remembrance Day. In the Great War the 9th Gordon Highlanders were
quartered at Highbuilding and elsewhere in the village. While in
World War II, territorials camped at Highfield during the D-Day
planning, with American troops also under canvas on nearby Henley
Common. The Cross was bombed in 1941, and two years later one of
the Luftwaffe's Dorniers were shot down in Reeks Wood. Amazingly,
its bomb load remained intact and was only recovered and the explosive steamed out
Not all the incomers during this dark time were
soldiers. Children evacuated from Portsmouth and London were billetted
locally and attended school on The Green and at Ropes.
The shared experience of war further united the
village and the sense of community was expressed in a range of amenities
and social organisations. The traditional May Queen ceremony was
revived in the 1920s and is still a part of today's Fernhurst
Revels. The Grand Coronation Pageant of 1953 was filmed in colour
and now forms part of the village archive.
The sad chapter in the village's recent history
was the tragedy of November 1967 when an Iberian Airways Caravelle
passenger jet crashed on Blackdown.
There were no survivors. Shocked by the terrible loss of life, the
villagers nevertheless rallied to help the bereaved relatives and
provide support for the emergency services.
In 1945 the Verdley Estate was sold to Plant Protection
Limited which became the Plant Protection Division of I.C.I., employing
many people locally. Over the years research and development work
was relocated and in 1993 I.C.I. Agrochemicals became Zeneca Agrochemicals.
This business now operates from an office complex and conference
centre at Highfield. Throughout all these changes the Company has
been appreciated as a willing supporter of village projects.
Although the traditional forestry and farming have
sharply declined since the war, Fernhurst's population has continued
to grow. The roads, rail and now the Internet have ended the village's
long isolation. New houses are being built, new incomers are being
welcomed and this long-established community looks set to complement
its interesting past with an exciting future.