Sunday 15 January 2023

Save Great Easterfields!



Great Easterfields, 1920/1930

In Fifty Forgotten Books I wrote about the paperbacks my parents kept in a jumbled heap at the bottom of their wardrobe, and how I devoured them, along with others that I bought from the local junk shop, Magpies. These were all read in my bedroom at the family home, Great Easterfields, an historic, tile-hung Wealden farmhouse on Chiddingly Road in Horam, East Sussex.

My two sisters and I had the three bedrooms at the front of the house, reached via a long, dark passage with an uneven floor and exposed timbers. It is a very old house, and my room had exposed posts and beams that hinted not just at its age but its original construction. My bedroom door was made of several old planks with a wrought-iron latch, but my sister Jen had a door that was of even older timber, with a wooden latch. She, too, had exposed beams in her room, wattle and daub walls (too delicate for her to be allowed to put up posters) and a secret passageway to the bedroom of my other sister, (Jo), which was behind another really old door. Was it any surprise that in these historic, atmospheric surroundings, exposed to all kinds of random literature, I became more and more drawn to strange and supernatural fiction?

To be honest, Great Easterfields was not at all spooky. It was a loving, friendly house that had formerly belonged to my grandparents, who added a large extension to its rear elevation (my grandfather was a builder). Perhaps I should have also noted in Fifty Forgotten Books that my grandparents left behind, in the sun lounge, a bookcase full of Companion Book Club thrillers, and I remember enjoying reprint editions by writers like Gavin Lyall.

Great Easterfields, 1972, with my grandparents

I never took Great Easterfields for granted—I loved the house. I lived there between 1974 and 1984, from the age of seven until seventeen—formative years in my life. I have always had family and friends in the area so whenever I return to Sussex (two or three times a year) I always go out of my way to drive past Great Easterfields.

My father died last year. He was a local man and just before Christmas his ashes were interred at Waldron church, in the next parish to Horam. When we left the church, the whole family stopped to take a look at Great Easterfields, which we all remember with such affection. It was then that we saw the planning notice…

Great Easterfields is now the subject of a proposal for nine new houses to be built on the site. The application does its best not to openly mention that this would entail the demolition of the original house. By some quirk of fate Great Easterfields has never been Listed as an Historic Building, which would have given it protection from developers. When I contacted the Head of Planning at Wealden District Council I was told that the owners were at liberty to demolish the house without anything more than a courtesy letter outlining their intentions. The Chief Planner said there was currently nothing they could do to protect the house.

We immediately contacted Historic England, who have agreed to assess Great Easterfields for Listing. However, in the meantime it is still in danger, and it appears that the local planners do not have it in their power to protect the building. After some correspondence, and our setting up of a petition to save the house, they have grudgingly agreed to assess it themselves to see if it can be considered an “Historic Asset”.

Does Great Easterfields deserve to be saved? I accept that I remember the house nostalgically, but I know for certain that it dates back to at least the 1600s, based on architectural features such as the inglenook fireplace and chimney. The layout of the house is identical to that of a medieval Wealden Hall House from the 1500s or earlier, and the timber framing visible inside adds weight to this possibility. Although the house has been much altered (as have most buildings of this age), there is, in our view, enough of the original house remaining to warrant protection.

My old bedroom, c. 1984 with exposed timber posts and beams (and teenage posters, books in the corner, copies of the NME and crash helmet)

Anyone who has an interest in the area around Horam will realise that the local planners seem to have a mania for granting permission for new building, even beyond previously established village and town boundaries, to the detriment of the countryside that gives the area its character. Given the damage already done by new development on Chiddingly Road it may not seem unreasonable to build new houses on the large garden of Great Easterfields, but to demolish the house would seem to us to be an act of historical and architectural vandalism.

If you agree, then would you kindly consider signing the petition that we have started, and which already has a large number of signatures from local residents. (Petition link) Every new signature increases the possibility that we can persuade the developers, and planners at Wealden District Council, not to tear down an historic building of great character.

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