This page describes a walk looking at the buildings down one side of Mayfield High Street and returning back looking at the other side. It provides historic background and details of buildings and other items of interest. A leaflet with a map, illustrations and shorter descriptions is available at outlets in the High Street including the Parish Office and can be downloaded here.
The walk is half a mile long and flat. Although narrow, the pavement on the north side is passable for wheelchairs and those with limited mobility. However, the south side has some steep steps and no pavement in one section.
Background – Early Mayfield History
Mayfield was described as one of the parishes “within the wood” in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s medieval estate of South Malling which stretched from Lewes Bridge to Lamberhurst Bridge. This estate is first mentioned in 800 AD but probably belonged to the church long before that. St Dunstan, Archbishop in the 900s, built a wooden church and a hospice here. The name “Mayfield” appears before the village was established, getting its title from the “-feld”, a clearing in the wood caused by early iron workers. The place was not developed until the late 1250s when Archbishop Boniface of Savoy gained papal permission to build a manor in his “forest” at Mayfield, having built the first stone church, the Tower of which remains today. The hilltop manor allowed for fine views and for the church and its bells to be seen and heard throughout the large Wealden parish. Clearings in the forest were made for dispersed small-holdings, a view of which can be seen from the car park in South Street.
The High Street was described by Pevsner as “a striking hilltop position…..with nothing out of place.” The earliest domestic buildings date from about 1400, since there was a serious fire in 1389 which destroyed much of the town and part of the church. Older cellars still survive in some of the buildings on the north side of the street near the church.
Mayfield High Street Walk
Numbers in the text refer to illustrations and points on the map in the Mayfield High Street leaflet which can be downloaded here.
Make your way to the east end of the High Street for the start of the walk. This is at the top of Fletching Street by Mayfield Garage.
1. The house at the top of Fletching Street is Yeomans, an early 15th century Wealden hall house of four bays with an eastern bay added in 16th century.
Opposite it is the village primary school. A charity school for 24 poor children was established in 1750 following voluntary contributions by villagers. In 1814 a new building was erected on the present site for 39 children. The present building, to which many improvements have been made over the years, dates from 1913. Since 1950 it has functioned as a Primary School.
2. Cross over to the north side of the High Street to admire the frontage of Mayfield School, an independent Girls Catholic school established in the 1860s on the site of the archbishop’s Manor or “Palace”. St Anselm (archbishop about 1100 AD) commented that he had to travel to his remote manors in order to feed his large retinue of over 100. Royal visitors included Edward I (three times), Henry VII (three times) and Princess Victoria. The Gatehouse was probably built by archbishop Warham in the first years of the 1500s. He brought the young Henry VIII here in 1510, probably with his new (and pregnant) wife, Katherine of Aragon. The gatehouse was there for security with a porter who locked all the gates at night. It was also for feeding the poor with the remains of the huge meals which the archbishops’ staff expected.
The Great Hall was built around 1310, in Archbishop Winchelsey’s time, by the medieval architect, Michael of Canterbury. He also built St Stephen’s Chapel at Westminster for Edward I and the Chapter House and St Augustine’s Gate in Canterbury. In 1537 upon the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Old Palace became the property of the Crown. Subsequently, Sir Thomas Gresham, financial adviser to Queen Elizabeth, bought it in 1574. The Baker family lived there in the 17th and 18th Centuries. In 1740 the Great Hall was dismantled and fell into ruin. Stone from the Palace was used in building walls and houses around the village.
In 1868 the Duchess of Leeds bought the property and presented it to the foundress of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, Cornelia Connelly. She engaged Augustus Pugin to restore the Great Hall, but much of this Victorian work has now been altered and the appearance of the Chapel is today close to its original medieval style.
The raised pavement on this side of the High Street allowed pedestrians to keep out of the mud on the road. Teams of horses were known to come to a stand in the “deep ruts and mire” in the 1800s. The road was repaired with bundles of faggots and gravel.
3. Walking on past the school, you come to the Mayfield Cannon, made by Sir Thomas Gresham in the 1570s. Much larger guns were made at the Furnace a mile north of the village, where this gun was dug up from the cinder beds in 1824. Making cannons was a profitable operation despite the reputation of the guns as “fitter to kill the user than the enemy”. This rejected gun (a falcon) has a hole in it. The Mayfield Furnace was one of Europe’s major armament producers at this time.
4. Next on your right is Stone House, also known at St Josephs, a grade 2* building. It was built by the Stone family in 1730s using materials from the ruined “Palace”. The windows are framed with Gothic “basket” arches. One of the Stones took his new wife round the garden in 1789 and planted a walnut which she found in her pocket. A large tree was there till the 20th century, giving the name to one of the houses opposite. The couple had twins who were very delicate at birth. They were hurriedly christened, one called Anna Maria and the other Maria Anna. One died, but they did not know which one, so they called the survivor Maria who lived to be 92.
You now come to the old Village Pump and the Village Sign. The sign won a prize in 1920 in a national competition organised by the Daily Mail. Notice St. Dunstan and the Devil on the supporting post and read the inscription suggesting alternative origins of the name Mayfield. The sign was restored in 2017 having been blown down in a storm. Please don’t set your course by the compass points at the top.
5. Walk past a parade of shops until you come to the War Memorial and behind it St Dunstan’s Church. St. Dunstan was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 959 AD until his death in 988. In 960 he built a wooden church in Mayfield which was replaced by a stone building on the present site in the 13th century. In 1389 the village was swept by fire which destroyed the Church, except for the tower and part of the North aisle. By 1420 the church had been rebuilt. The present tower is the original one (the broach spire was added later) and houses a peal of eight bells; the oldest is dated 1602 and the last two 1913 and 1923.
Inside the church, see the font (1666), tomb slabs of iron in the floor of the nave, the chandeliers (1737 and 1773), memorials to the Baker family and the Jacobean monument to Thomas Aynscombe and his family on your right inside the entrance. A printed history of the church is available.
Go round the church to the north side for a view of the archbishop’s deer park (obscured by trees when in leaf). Venison and fish from fishponds was conveniently available to feed the large archbishop’s retinue that might arrive unannounced. The deer park boundary was a massive earthwork and fence visible at ground level and from the substantial viewing tower which you can see to your right in the School grounds over the wall.
Back on the High Street, continue westwards and in 50 metres pass what used to be the Royal Oak, now private housing but still with the holder for the pub sign above the stepped entrance.
6. Where the road forks, you will see in the middle Crossways, early 1800s with a symmetrical façade, on the site of the original market cross. In front is the stone trough which was used to refresh the horses. One old cricketer boasted that standing outside Crossways, he could throw a cricket ball and hit nine pubs.
Carry on into Station Road and reach a long stone wall on your right behind which is Aylwins. It was built by Thomas Aynscombe, whose memorial is in the church. He was a London lawyer whose family was also involved in the iron industry. In 1620 Stephen Aynscombe was caught up in an anti-Catholic scare, unjustly accused of stealing the royal seal and selling guns to the Spanish. All his guns were impounded and his Furnace at Pounsley destroyed. A mainly 1600s house with a central courtyard, originally open to the west, it was owned by the Baker Family. It was restored and developed at the start of the 21st century.
7. Another 50 metres brings you to Colkins Mill Church in front of which is the Martyrs Memorial. This commemorates the four protestant martyrs burnt in 1556 near where they “constantlie and joyfullie yielded their lives”. The burnings took place on the south side of Station Road on the site of the house now called “Mulberry”. Three Mayfield residents were burnt the following years in Lewes. These martyrdoms are celebrated annually in bonfire parades and celebrations throughout East Sussex, including the Mayfield Bonfire Parade that takes place in September.
Now turn back and retrace your steps to the High Street where we will return looking at the buildings on the south side of the street. The old Barclays Bank is a fine example of Arts and Craft architecture from 1905.
After a row of shops and joined houses, the next buildings jut out into the street. Beyond them was the medieval market place, bounded by Star Lane (a Sussex Twitten) and the west wall of the pharmacy. The Star Inn was here until the 1920s, scene of many lively events, including the reading of the riot act from an upper window in the early 19th century Corn Law disturbances.
The other side of Star Lane is Stone Court, a timber-framed building (possibly of Tudor origin). The present stone frontage was added in 1860. It was the village workhouse and in 1752 20 children and 15 old people worked on the looms and spinning wheels with linen and wool. They would be boarded out for as little as £1 per annum. In the 19th century it was the base for the Mayfield School of Woodcarving where church screens and furniture were carved (see the screen in Arlington Church).
Next are Shirley Cottage and Old Cottage, which were originally a Wealden Hall house dating from about 1400.
8. Beyond them you come to the Middle House. This Grade 1 listed building became a hotel and pub after the closure of the Star Inn in the 1920s. It was probably built by John Aynscombe in the last few years of the 1500s. The Baker family owned it between 1669 and 1841 along with the “Palace” which was Upper House and Aylwins which was Lower House. “Justly renowned for its very impressive, richly ornamented timber-framed front facade, a rare feature in the south east of England” (David Martin). The 1575 date on the gable is spurious.
9. The next building is Walnut Tree House which is Grade 2* listed and dates from the 1400s. It has exposed close-studded timber framing, which at some stage was covered with tiles. Note the jettied construction i.e. the upper story projecting out beyond the ground floor. Fred Lester, author of the Mayfield reminiscence “Looking Back”, ran his bakery here, restoring the house in 1949. His builder boasted: “The old place will last for another two hundred years.”
Continuing on beyond the next set of shops, you arrive back at the beginning of your walk.