This week my wife and I took a day off and visited Borde Hill Gardens near Haywards Heath in Sussex. This is probably one of my new favourite places!!
Afterwards we drove through Haywards Heath and I remembered that my father’s birthplace was nearby in Cuckfield. That led me to do some more family research when I got home, and I came across some amazing information.
My grandmother, who sadly died when my father was only 4, was called Florence Flesher.
As I followed her tree back I found out some amazing facts. Her Grandfather was called Joseph Flesher and this man played a major part in the history of Haywards Heath.
What caught my attention at first was his address in the 1851 Census – 33 Haywards Heath.
Following the story through I found that there were very few house at the time – and I then came across this story in the Mid Sussex Times
With no railway line, two inns, eight farmhouses, one windmill and house and nine cottages, its biggest impact on the history books had been during the Civil War when Parliamentarians defeated the High Sheriff of Sussex and his Royalists there as he headed for Lewes.
In 1841 that all changed with the arrival of the railway and the building of a railway tunnel – and now, 175 years later, there are big plans to celebrate the event that put Haywards Heath on the map. The line to what had become a rapidly growing town opened on July 12 1841, branching off from Norwood.
Initially, passengers heading for Brighton were taken the rest of the way by coach and horses, until the remainder of the line opened on September 21. Funnily enough, if it hadn’t been for villages such as Cuckfield and Wivelsfield declaring they didn’t want the railway coming anywhere near them, Haywards Heath would not be the town it is today. But the route was redrawn and history was made. When it came to the building of the railway tunnel – known as the Folly Hill tunnel – one man’s contribution is literally carved into the stones of history. His name was Joseph Flesher and he was a contractor during the construction of the London to Brighton line. His initials are said to be inscribed into the stone above the entrance to the tunnel south of the station.
In his book ‘Mid Sussex Through The Ages’, published in 1939, Albert E Gregory described Haywards Heath’s transformation with the arrival of the railway. He wrote: “So the centuries old sleep of the Heath was broken by an army of north country navvies and the great change had begun. The railway was completed in 1841. “A north countryman, Mr Flesher, the contractor for this section of the line, took such a fancy to the place that, during the progress of the work, he built a house for himself on top of the tunnel which, under much altered conditions, was called Clevelands, and it was the first house built as a direct result of the railway.”
This story stirs up quite a lot of pride and excitement – it’s great to know my ancestor played a major part in the development of a town.
However – it has also made made me wonder what happened to the family money. The story handed down in my family is that my grandmother (Joseph’s granddaughter) died when my father was 4 because the family was so poor and she didn’t eat enough. She always made sure that the children ate first.
Thank you Florence Daisy Maude Catchlove (nee Flesher) for loving my Dad so much.