Contributed by Carole Hayward

How is this imposing red brick and tile hung house, surrounded by fields and woods, connected to Nymans in Handcross, Ockenden Manor in Cuckfield, the River Ouse and holly trees? The ‘Place Names of Sussex, Vol II’ (Mawer and Stenton) records a property on this site called Holmstede in 1398 and it is probable that the name is derived from ‘holegen’ and ‘stede’ meaning place abounding in holly.

Where the road crosses the River Ouse at the bottom of Hammer Hill is the clue to the river’s connection with Holmsted Manor.  The trees and shrubs conceal the remains of the site of an Elizabethan forge powered by the river and active between 1574 and 1664; black soil in the adjacent field still contains slag and cinders.  In the late 16th century the Chaloner family, in partnership with the Coverts, worked furnaces in Slaugham which provided the ‘sows’ to Holmsted Forge. (Click here for more information on iron working in Sussex).

In 1605 the property passed to the Burrell family who owned Ockenden Manor.  One of the Chief Iron Masters, Walter Burrell, had a son Timothy whose tutor John Ray wrote a much quoted description of Elizabethan iron workings and this is believed to be based on Holmsted Forge.  Alberic, Lord Gwydyr, a descendant of Walter Burrell, pulled down the house in 1833 and sold the site, together with farms at Thorndean, to Andrew Chittenden.  Captain John Dearden bought the site in 1889 and, by 1891, had built the present house.

The manor was bought in 1912 by a Canadian, W.G. Trethewey, who developed the farm buildings sited to the south of the house – now Holmsted Farm.       

1922 saw the first of three families whose homes had been destroyed by fire move to Holmsted:  James Galloway came from Somerset and later moved to the Old Kennels in Staplefield, Mrs Warren came in 1936 after Handcross Park was damaged, and in 1947 Colonel Messell and his family moved here when the house at Nymans burned down.

James Galloway brought with him his gardener, Samuel Alexander (see photo, right) who served as head gardener at Holmsted. He and his family lived in the Lodge at the end of the drive. The results of his labours can be seen in the photo of the rose garden (see above) and the lawn leading down to the lakes taken in 1932.   The garden also later benefited from the attentions of Colonel Messell who brought many special plants from Nymans.

Sold to Sharrow School in 1961, a country club in 1968, the house is now the residence of ‘Youth with a Mission’.

If you are interested in this or any other Cuckfield topics, why not visit us in the museum.