The beautiful medieval market town of East Grinstead is situated within reach of Gatwick Airport, London, Ashdown Forest and the South Coast. It is an ideal base from which to explore the South East.
Set atop a sandstone ridge there has been a church here for over a thousand years with the town set out in the 13th century alongside the church yard with a wide street designed for use as a market place.
The town was given a charter by Henry III in 1247 to have a weekly Monday market and an annual fair. In 1655 the market moved from Monday to Thursday predominately for the sales of corn, but joined in 1703 by cattle sales. Thursday has remained the day of the popular farmer’s market ever since. The cattle market thrived until December 1970 when the last ‘Fat Stock Show’ was held.
The magnificent Historic High Street, a conservation area, boasts historic half- timbered buildings and open hall houses dating from the Medieval and Tudor times (15th and 16th centuries). There are splendid examples from Georgian and Regency times too with an interesting mix of independent shops, bars and cafes.
Some notable features are the golden sandstone buildings of Sackville College founded as alms-houses. Open to the public through the summer, lyrics to the carol ‘Good King Wenceslas’ were written here by John Mason Neale. Neale’s tomb can be seen within the grounds of St Swithun’s Church along with memorial stones to three Protestant Martyrs, burnt at the stake in 1556; A bronze statue of plastic surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe, famous for his pioneering techniques used to rebuild the faces, hands and lives of badly burned WW2 pilots; A memorial plaque to Pte Sidney Godley the first non-commissioned recipient of the Victoria Cross of WWI 23rd August 1914 lies at the base of the War Memorial; High Street Flower beds, re planted annually to commemorate important events connected with the town and The Bluebell Railway which runs preserved steam trains from East Grinstead to Sheffield Park Station, a return journey covering 20 miles through the beautiful Sussex countryside. It takes about 15 minutes to walk into the town centre from the Bluebell and mainline stations.
Further information and a detailed history can be found in East Grinstead museum.
Through the years buildings such as Sackville College have been lovingly maintained and it still serves as an almshouse providing homes for the town’s elderly. This is where the famous East Grinstead carol ‘Good King Wenceslas’ was written, you can visit the building and take a tour from mid -June to mid-September each year.
Sir Archibald McIndoe; Statue by Martin Jennings
Sir Archibald McIndoe (1900-1960) developed techniques to rebuild the terribly disfigured faces and hands of airman injured during WW2. He realised that these men were badly damaged psychologically too and encouraged the nurses and the residents of East Grinstead to socialise with these airmen and welcome them into their homes during their recuperation. The townsfolk accepted these men as they went about their daily business and East Grinstead became known as the
‘The Town that does not stare.’
The New Zealander, knighted in 1947, was called ‘The Boss’ or ‘The Maestro’ by his patients who became known as The Guinea Pigs, after the animals that were used for medical research. ‘The Guinea Pig Club’ was formed as a ‘drinking and Social’ Club in 1941 and met annually until 2007. The last AGM and 75th Anniversary celebration of the Club was held at East Court, East Grinstead in 2016 with the remaining members, widows and officers of the club along with guests from surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe’s family, the Queen Victoria Hospital where they were treated and members of the ‘Friends of the Guinea Pig Club’ which included past Town Mayors, Councillors of the East Grinstead Town Council and representatives of the Blond McIndoe Research Foundation and the Town Museum.
A seven foot high bronze statue of Sir Archibald by sculptor Martin Jennings stands in the High Street outside Sackville College.
The Greenwich Meridian also runs through the town, in keeping with East Grinstead’s location as a hub for four counties, for this is the only place where East and West Sussex meets Surrey and Kent. The town has celebrated its position on the Meridian Line since 1954 when the Urban District Council, later to become East Grinstead Town Council, commissioned a coat of arms to mark its diamond jubilee. The design incorporated a vertical white line representing the Meridian running through the town. East Grinstead continues to be proud of its place and over the years has erected markers to confirm its existence. Stand astride a plaque on the terraces of the town council offices and receive a certificate to celebrate being in the Eastern and Western hemispheres at the same time.
Chequer Mead Theatre
East Grinstead boasts a luxury 340 seat theatre. A wide variety of live performances, music, drama, comedy and film can be seen throughout the year. The Lodge Cafe is an ideal place to meet friends and relax.
East Grinstead Museum
The Town Council purchased a local building, the former Market Hall in Cantelupe Road for use as a local Museum. The building was then sold to the East Grinstead Museum Trustees, upon which the Town Council is represented, for a nominal sum with full reversionary rights should the Museum cease to operate as such. The new Town Museum in Cantelupe Road, which opened in 2006, is a splendid addition to the Town’s leisure and cultural facilities. Further information on their own web site or telephone 01342 302233.