Mayfield, described by the 17th century poet Coventry Patmore as “the sweetest village in Sussex”, has its origins way back in the Mesolithic and Bronze ages. Our forefathers, attracted by the hilltop site and availability of good fresh springs, soon established themselves and by the time the Romans came they were already smelting iron.
Once upon a time the land was owned by the Kings of Wessex but around 838AD it was crranted to the see of Canterbury and for centuries the Archbishops regularly visited when on their travels – hence the Old Palace, now part of Mayfield School.
For over 400 years Mayfield was the centre of England’s largest iron working area producing goods for domestic and military purposes. (See the Cannon displayed on the High street which was cast at the Mayfield Furnace owned by Sir Thomas Gresham circa
1575. This was excavated in 1824 and was mounted on its present site by the History Society in 1977.) Ironworking comes to an abrupt end when the Industrial Revolution took heavy industry north to the coalfields.
Farming has always been important to Mayfield and some of our farms have records stretching back to the 13th Century. Fifty years ago there were 50 dairy farms in the parish and further back hop picking and coppicing were also important.
It is from this background that the Spring Fair came into being. Fred Lester in his book “Looking Back” describes: “A lot of fun, a bit of fighting, crowds of people, the high street full of cattle and horses, stalls by the Convent selling nuts, gingerbread and home made sweets, coconut shies and horse dealers running up and down cracking their whips and yelling themselves hoarse. One year Tom Collins livened the proceedings by riding at full speed bareback several times up and over the steps of the Royal Oak!”. Needless to say the Police were kept busy handing out on the spot justice to troublemakers.
Eventually the fairs were abolished in the streets but it does seem that a Spring Fair was held in some form or another up to the 1920’s. Thereafter the tradition seems to have faded away. A very large Gala, including maypole dancing was held in 1950 to clebrate 200 Years of Schooling in Mayfield and a May Fair was held in 1959 organised by Mrs Pither whose husband ran the garage – various people in the village can still remember taking part either on floats or dancing. Otherwise apart from the Coronation in 1953
and Silver Jubilee in 1977, the tradition seems to have died away.
You can see a photo of one of the mid-twentieth century Mayfairs (for the Coronation in 1953?) on the Old Mayfield Pictures page of Facebook
The Mayfield Chamber of Commerce in 2007 revived a tradition that had very nearly gone from memory helped by the Mayfield Local History Society. The Society was founded in 1975 to study and record local history before records were lost. Today, although the Society does maintain some records, the County Records Office in Lewes provides a fuller service.
Did you know that:
1. In the 17th Century Mayfield was the centre of England’s iron working with hundreds of people employed. The cannon displayed on the High Street was dug out of the cinder bed in 1824.
2. Some of Mayfield’s farms have records going back to 1200 and before. Even 60 years ago there were more than 50 dairy herds in the Parish.
3. A Mayfield resident, Mr Langley-Owen a retired army surgeon, was a pioneer of organic farming.
4. The original Charter for our May Fair was granted by Archbishop Boniface in 1260.
5. Mayfield’s railway station – on the Cuckoo Line – operated from 1880 till 1965. The by-pass follows part of the original line.
6. The first recorded wooden church in Mayfield was built by Duncan, Archbishop of Canterbury in 960 A.D.
7. The Old Palace was used regularly by Archbishops of Canterbury for over 200 years from 1350.
8. The Middle House was built as a dwelling house in 1575. It became an Inn in 1926.
9. Stone Court in 1800 was the Parish Workhouse. In 1900 it was the home of the Mayfield School of Woodcarving.
10. Mayfield Cricket Club (the real M.C.C,) is one of the earliest clubs
with the first match recorded in 1750.