East Grinstead

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East Grinstead
East Grinstead High Street
Grid reference: TQ395385
Location: 51°7’44"N, 0°0’25"W
Population: 23,942  (2001)
Post town: East Grinstead
Postcode: RH19
Dialling code: 01342
Local Government
Council: Mid Sussex
Mid Sussex
Website: East Grinstead Town Council

East Grinstead is a town in northern Sussex, very close to the borders of Surrey and Kent. Its northern suburb of Baldwin's Hill lies across the border in Surrey. It lies 21 miles north-north-east of Brighton, and 38 miles east-north-east of the county town of Chichester. The civil parish covers 6,035 acres and had a population of 23,942 at the 2001 census.

The town stands on the Greenwich Meridian. It is located in the Weald, and the Ashdown Forest lies to the south of the town. The town itself is not overall famed for its beauty, but it has several historic buildings in contrast to its suburbs.

Nearby towns include Crawley to the west, Tunbridge Wells to the east and Redhill and Reigate to the northwest. The town is contiguous with the village of Felbridge to the north-west.

The town

The High Street contains one of the longest continuous runs of 14th-century timber-framed buildings in Britain.

Other notable buildings in the town include Sackville College, the sandstone almshouse built in 1609 (where the Christmas carol "Good King Wenceslas" was written by John Mason Neale). The college has sweeping views towards Ashdown Forest.

St Swithun's Church adjacent stands on the highest ground in the town and was rebuilt in the eighteenth century (the tower dating from 1789) to a perpendicular design by James Wyatt; its imposing building dominates the surrounding countryside for many miles around. In the churchyard are commemorated the East Grinstead Martyrs; and in the south-east corner is the grave of John Mason Neale.

The East Court mansion, built in 1769, is home of the Town Council.[1] The Greenwich Meridian runs through the grounds. The mansion stands in a parkland setting.

About the town

On the outskirts of the town is Standen, a country house belonging to the National Trust, containing one of the best collections of arts and crafts movement furnishings and fabrics. Off the A264 towards Tunbridge Wells, there is a 1792 historic house called Hammerwood Park (the first work of the future architect of the United States Capitol) which is open to the public twice a week in summer.

The Queen Victoria Hospital stood in the town, where Archibald McIndoe treated burns victims of Second World War and formed the Guinea Pig Club.

The town is well located to visit Chartwell the country home of Sir Winston Churchill, Hever Castle home of Henry VIII's second wife Anne Boleyn, and Penshurst Place home of the Sidney family. Kidbrooke Park (today Michael Hall School), a home of the Hambro family, was restored by the noted Sussex architect and antiquarian, Walter Godfrey, as was Plawhatch Hall.

Gatwick Airport is 10 miles from the town. Redhill Aerodrome and Biggin Hill Airport are both within half an hour's drive. Hammerwood Park has a helicopter landing site for visiting pilots (3½ miles from the town).

Local attractions include Ashdown Forest and the Bluebell Railway, a preserved heritage line with steam locomotives.


St Swithun's Church

A broad range of Christian denominations have churches in the town. Protestant Nonconformism has featured especially prominently for the last two centuries, in common with other parts of northern Sussex.[2]

St Swithun's was the original parish church. It was founded in the 11th century, and the architect James Wyatt rebuilt it in local stone in 1789 after it became derelict and collapsed.[3][4] Near the entrance to the church, three stones mark the supposed ashes of Anne Tree, Thomas Dunngate and John Forman who were burned as martyrs on 18 July 1556 because they would not renounce the Protestant faith. John Foxe wrote about them in his 1,800-page Foxe's Book of Martyrs.[5]

Churches in the town include:

  • Church of England
    • St Swithun's Church
    • St Luke's Church
    • St Barnabas' Church (the present wooden structure of 1975 replaced an older church built in 1912.[6])
    • St Mary the Virgin (built over a 21-year period beginning in 1891, established by adherents of the Oxford Movement.
  • Baptist: West Street Baptist Church (founded as the Zion Chapel in 1810 for the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion a small evangelical Calvinistic group, who owned the church until 1980
  • Independent evangelical:
    • Kingdom Faith Church
    • Full Gospel Church.[7]
  • Methodist: Trinity Methodist Church
  • Newfrontiers Ministries: New Life Church
  • United Reformed Church
  • Roman Catholic: The Church of Our Lady and St Peter, founded in 1898

Cults and minor religions

East Grinstead has an unusually diverse range of religious and spiritual organisations for a town of its size.[8][9][7]

  • Mormons: The United Kingdom headquarters, the London England Temple, is just over the Surrey border at Newchapel;[10]
  • Scientologists: The United Kingdom (and former world) headquarters of the Church of Scientology is at Saint Hill Manor on the southwestern edge of East Grinstead. Scientology's founder L. Ron Hubbard bought the Georgian mansion and its 59 acres of grounds from the Maharaja of Jaipur in 1959, and lived in the town until 1967.[7] The Mormons have a meeting house on Ship Street.
  • The Opus Dei Prelature have a conference centre at Wickenden Manor near the town [11]
  • Jehovah's Witnesses worship at a modern Kingdom Hall; the community, established in 1967, previously used a former Salvation Army building.
  • Rosicrucians also have a presence in nearby Greenwood Gate.[12]

In 1994, a documentary entitled Why East Grinstead? was produced for Channel 4's Witness strand of documentaries. It sought to examine and explain the convergence of such a wide variety of religious organisations in the East Grinstead area. The documentary, directed by Ian Sellar, reached no definite conclusion: explanations proposed to him ranged from ley lines to the more prosaic idea that religious leaders had settled there because they liked the views.[7][13]


Second World War

In 1863, the then cottage hospital, Queen Victoria Hospital, was built on its current site in the 1930s. During the Second World War the hospital was developed as a specialist burns unit by Sir Archibald McIndoe. It became world famous for pioneering treatment of RAF and allied aircrew who were badly burned or crushed and required reconstructive plastic surgery. Most famously, it was where the Guinea Pig Club was formed in 1941, as a club which then became a support network for the aircrew and their family members. The club still provides assistance for Guinea Pigs, and meets regularly in East Grinstead. The Duke of Edinburgh is the current President of the club. Queen Victoria Hospital remains at the forefront of specialist care today, and is renowned for its burns treatment facilities and expertise throughout England.[14]

During the Second World War, the town became a secondary target for German bombers which failed to make their primary target elsewhere. On the afternoon of Friday the 9th of July 1943, a Luftwaffe bomber became separated from its squadron, followed the main railway line and circled the town twice, then jettisoned seven bombs. Two bombs, one with a delayed-action fuse, fell on the Whitehall Theatre, a cinema on the London Road, where 184 people at the matinée show were watching a Hopalong Cassidy film before the main feature. A total of 108 people were killed in the raid, including children in the cinema, many of whom were evacuees; and some twenty Canadian servicemen stationed locally, who were either in the cinema when it was hit, or arrived minutes later to help with rescuing survivors. This was the largest loss of life of any single air raid in Sussex.

The town was devastated almost everyone in the town knew someone who lost or had a child injured. As such the townspeople became very supportive of the patients at the Queen Victoria Hospital. Even though horribly disfigured often missing limbs, and in the worse cases faces made up of burn tissue the townspeople would go out of their way to make the men feel normal even though they were horribly disfigured. Families invited the men to dinner and girls asked them to go on dates. Patients of the burn units remember the and cherish the charity received by the townspeople of East Grinstead.


  • East Grinstead Town Museum[15] in the historic centre of the town
  • The Chequer Mead Community Arts Centre[16]

In addition to the nearby Ashdown Forest, East Grinstead is served by the Forest Way and Worth Way linear Country Parks which follow the disused railway line from Three Bridges all the way through to Groombridge and which are part of the Sustrans national cycle network. To the south of the town lies the Weir Wood Reservoir which offers sailing[17] and a nature reserve which attracts an interesting assortment of birdlife. It is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Bluebell Railway

A part of the Lewes line is being re-constructed by the Bluebell Railway,[18] a nearby preserved standard gauge railway. The extension work is being carried out in stages, and work on what will be the northernmost section of the line (which connects to the main national network at East Grinstead) is nearing completion. This includes the construction of a new Bluebell Railway station at East Grinstead, just to the south of the existing main-line station. However this does not mark the end of the project as a significant gap in the line remains in the form of the land-filled Imberhorne Cutting, which the Bluebell Railway aim to excavate. Fundraising and engineering work on this project are ongoing.[19]

East Grinstead in literature

  • The Norman Conquests, Alan Ayckbourn's trilogy of plays, has East Grinstead as the destination of the adulterous lovers Norman and Annie in. It was chosen because Norman, after some effort, couldn't get in at Hastings
  • Psychoville (1995) Christopher Fowler's novel: East Grinstead features as harbouring the fictional Invicta Cross, as well as the eventual New Invicta. The town of New Invicta was later used by Jo Amey in Heist as a safehouse
  • Listening To The Higsons, a song by Robyn Hitchcock has the line "The Higsons come from Norwich, but I prefer East Grinstead"
  • "Lucky Stiff", a musical comedy by Flaherty and Ahrens has East Grinstead as the home of Harry Witherspoon, one of the lead characters
  • Monty Pythons Flying Circus mentions East Grinstead a couple of times in. It was mentioned that several letters come from the "East Grinstead Friday"
  • Torchwood Children of Earth mentions East Grinstead and has scene set in the town

Big Society

The East Grinstead Society[20] was founded in 1968 as an independent body both to protect the historically important buildings of East Grinstead and its environs and to improve the amenities for future generations.

East Grinstead is well served by local sports and social clubs. Municipal facilities include the King George's Field, named as a memorial to King George V. The King's Centre leisure centre, currently owned and operated by the local Council, is on this land, which was left to the town by a local benefactor.

There are floodlit tennis courts and bowling green at Mount Noddy and also tennis courts and a variety of pitches at East Court.

Other active sports clubs include East Grinstead Hockey Club, East Grinstead Lacrosse Club and the Super Adventure Club.


The local weekly newspaper is the East Grinstead Courier & Observer, published each Thursday.

The local community radio station is 107 Meridian FM, found on 107 FM and also online.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about East Grinstead)


  1. East Grinstead Town Council
  2. Harris 2005, pp. 16–17, 19.
  3. Elleray 2004, p. 23.
  4. Harris 2005, pp. 13, 17.
  5. Collins 2007, p. 39.
  6. Leppard 2001, p. 139.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Bridgewater 2007, pp. 48–49.
  8. "Context: East Grinstead Town Centre" (PDF), East Grinstead Town Centre Master Plan (Supplementary Planning Document) (Mid Sussex District Council): p. 12, August 2006, http://www.midsussex.gov.uk/Nimoi/sites/msdcpublic/resources/EGmasteraug06_03context02a.pdf, retrieved 2 March 2010 
  9. "East Grinstead Snapshot" (PDF), East Grinstead Action Plan (Supplementary Report) (East Grinstead Town Council): p. 7, 2 February 2003, http://www.eastgrinstead.gov.uk/actionplan/supplementaryreport2.pdf, retrieved 2 March 2010 
  10. Bridgewater 2007, pp. 50–51.
  11. Wickenden Manor
  12. http://www.nthposition.com/joyofsects.php
  13. "Witness: Why East Grinstead?", British Film Institute film database (British Film Institute), 2010, http://ftvdb.bfi.org.uk/sift/title/520179, retrieved 5 March 2010 
  14. E.J. Dennison (1996-06-30). A Cottage Hospital Grows Up. ISBN 0952093391. 
  15. East Grinstead Town Museum
  16. Chequer Mead Community Arts Centre
  17. Weir Wood Sailing Club , Sailing Centre website
  18. Bluebell Railway extension
  19. Bluebell Railway extension plan
  20. East Grinstead Society


  • Bridgewater, Peter (2007). An Eccentric Tour of Sussex. Alfriston: Snake River Press. ISBN 978-1-906022-03-7. 
  • Collins, Sophie (2007). A Sussex Miscellany. Alfriston: Snake River Press. ISBN 9781906022082. 
  • Elleray, D. Robert (2004). Sussex Places of Worship. Worthing: Optimus Books. ISBN 0-95-331-3271. 
  • Leppard, M.J. (2001). A History of East Grinstead. Chichester: Phillimore & Co. Ltd. ISBN 1-86077-164-5. 
  • Neillands, Robin (2004). "Towards a Combined Offensive, August 1942–January 1943". The Bomber War: Arthur Harris and the Allied Bomber Offensive, 1939-1945 (2004 ed.). John Murray. ISBN 9780719562419.  - Total pages: 480