A brief history of Loxwood

Introduction

The picturesque village of Loxwood in West Sussex has a fascinating and complex history that began in Medieval England when the Knights Templar rode the lands.

Loxwood History brings the story of Loxwood to life highlighting the villagers and patrons who shaped the village from the earliest records through to the present day. The website covers the development of the village across 775 years, set against the backdrop of the monarchical periods, government laws, the church, major world events and social change. It also pays tribute to the people who recorded vital moments in Loxwood’s history and handed on the key dates and facts, that have ultimately enabled this story to be told.

Below is a brief historical summary covering some of the important milestones that illustrate how the village evolved from dense uninhabited woodland, to become a modern, thriving and independent community.

Browse the tabs to discover a detailed history of the points of interest around the village, funny and interesting stories through time, changes brought about during each monarchical period and historic links to other towns and villages, as we unveil the remarkable, ‘Story of Loxwood’.

“Lox-wood” – The Origins

Loxwood is part of the “Low Weald” of West Sussex, which was once a heavily wooded area of England, that formed on the Wealden clay soil. The River Lox meanders through the village and is a beautiful natural feature, set against the woods and fields.

The modern village name “Loxwood” has its roots in Old English and is derived from a combination of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon words, that were first used to describe the early settlers who lived and worked by ‘the river in the woods’. “Lox” comes from the Celtic word meaning “winding stream” and “wood” originates from “weald” which was Anglo-Saxon for a heavily wooded area or forest.

In those early times Loxwood was a small Hamlet of Wisborough Green at the northeast corner of that Parish, and records of the 13th and 14th centuries show that the area was also referred to as “Grene” or “Loxwood-End” and the name “Loxwood” only became more widely accepted during the 15th century once the initial stages of the village had formed.

The Early Settlements

The first record of Loxwood’s ‘awakening’ was in 1248 when John, son of Walter de la Punde of “lokeswude,” was beneficiary of three acres of woodland, called “La Sparre” in the Parish of Billingshurst. La Sparre is thought to have been between Malham Farm in Loxwood and Five Oaks in Billingshurst.

That transaction was documented on parchment and recognised Loxwood as a place for the first time. The early settlers were attracted by the river which they could harness as a source of power for milling, and the dense woodlands which provided an abundance of substantial oak trees that they used to build shelters.

Drungewick was a manor of Wisborough Green Parish, one mile from Loxwood and a favourite rural retreat of the Bishops of Chichester, the cathedral city thirty miles to the south. The Bishops acquired the manor in the 13th century and built a substantial manor house and chapel for their own use and they enclosed the land with a moat.

At the end of the 14th century Bishop Robert Reade was regularly carrying out his ecclesiastical business at Drungewick Manor and in 1404 he gave permission for a place of worship and a priest house to be built in Loxwood, for the villagers to use. At that time daily life revolved around the Roman Catholic Church and everyone was expected to attend their church on Sundays or face heavy fines. Loxwood was three miles from the Parish church at Wisborough Green through the dense woods and across marshy fields. The route was difficult for the villagers to navigate each week, especially in winter and consequently having a place of worship in the village made settlement easier and increased the speed of development of the land.

The site they chose was on raised ground within the moated farmstead of Loxwood Place, close to the Common of St John. The construction work started in the winter of 1404 with the felling of oak trees which the carpenters used to form the frame of the building. The building had three bays, the centre and eastern bays were the chapel and the accommodation for the curate was the western bay. The chapel was 15ft x 20ft. The roof was supported by two spectacular crown posts, and an impressive oak chancel arch curved up and across the building. The dwelling for the curate measured 15ft x 10ft. The upper floor was accessed via an internal ladder and there was a small loft space where the priest slept.

The chapel served the community until c1447 when a larger Chapel of Ease was built to cater for the growing number of settlers. The original chapel then became the curates accomodation and it remained part of the church property for another 450 years. Remarkably that first chapel still stands in the centre of the village with its original oak frame and internal features largely intact and it is now an inhabited cottage.

The 16th century was a period of major social change in the country, when King Henry VIII became the Supreme Head of the Church of England, abolishing Papal authority and breaking the historic tie with Rome.

Towards the end of the century in Loxwood, a house was built close to the Chapel of Ease for a new Curate and a farmhouse was constructed by the river, with a wooden bridge providing easier access to the village, which until then had relied upon a ford river crossing connecting to Nep Land and then the Rudgwick Road.

Samuel Hieronymus Grimm – The First Glimpse of Loxwood

During the next two hundred years, the village developed to the south of the Chapel of Ease with farms, shops, and houses being constructed down towards the bridge. A turnpike road from Alfold to Newbridge came through the village in c1757, which replaced the early Drove Road, and a Toll House known as “Loxwood Gate” was built next to the bridge. The old farmhouse was converted into “The Bridge Alehouse” and in 1791 the wooden bridge was rebuilt in brick. In June of the same year Swiss artist, Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, arrived in the village and recorded scenes that would prove to be some of the most important in Loxwood’s history.

Samuel Grimm was travelling the country painting interesting places and he had recorded over 3000 scenes by the time he reached Loxwood. His paintings were very detailed, to ensure they accurately portrayed the view and Grimm was rightly acclaimed as a genius by his fellow artists.

Grimm painted Drungewick Manor, Loxwood Place and the Chapel of Ease and those paintings were some of the last of Grimms works in Sussex. From his painting of Loxwood Chapel it can be seen that the oak framed Nave was in poor condition with damage evident on the front walls and in the early 19th century the Nave was removed, and a larger chapel was constructed in its place using bricks from local brickworks.

The three paintings are now held by the British Library and represent the first glimpse of Loxwood, one hundred years before the camera. The importance of Grimms work of recording the Country, cannot be understated and his paintings and sketches of life in the 18th century are one of the historic treasures of that time.

The Significant Strategic Commercial Advantage.

Across the road from the chapel was the Drovers Arms, which was believed to have been the oldest public house in the area. The Landlord John Hemmings was the Clerk to the Trustees of the Turnpike Road and a shrewd businessman. Hemmings acquired The Bridge Alehouse realising the strategic importance of the location, and by 1801 the Alehouse had been renamed “The Onslow Arms Inn”.

In 1816 The Wey and Arun Junction Canal opened as a vital trade link between London and the coast at Arundel and the route brought it alongside the back of the Onslow Arms Inn and then it continued under a new humped-back road bridge. With commercial cargo now coming through the village along the canal and the turnpike road, it was reported that John Hemmings made a fortune from beer sales and with the profits, he acquired Loxwood Place Farm.

With the opening of the canal the area around Brewhurst Mill, and the Toll House became a significant trading point, and for the next fifty years the number of farms in the village increased, and major agricultural shows were held in the fields opposite the Inn. With the coming of the railways in 1865 the Wey and Arun canal could not compete and almost overnight the commercial traffic on the canal ceased. The canal closed in 1869, the trade moved to the nearby stations at Rudgwick, Slinfold, Cranleigh and Baynards and the loss of the commercial traffic must have decimated the village and the villager’s way of life.

The Onslow Arms survived however, and is still serving customers to this day. The scene is now peaceful and serene, but the pub reminds us of a time when this part of Loxwood had a significant strategic, commercial advantage, with the canal and turnpike road intersecting at this point and at its peak the canal alone was handling over 20,000 tons of cargo each year.

John Sirgoods’ Vision of Social Combination

During the years leading up to the closure of the canal, a nonconformist Christian movement known as the ‘Cokelers’ or ‘Dependents’ as the brethren preferred to be called, was attracting a growing number of followers. They were led by shoemaker, John Sirgood who according to legend arrived in the area in 1850 with his wife Harriett, having pushed a handcart packed with their worldly goods from Clapham in London because they were so poor they couldn’t afford the train fare! They initially lived in Shamley Green, however by 1861 they were in a small cottage in Spy Lane and John was preaching his Christian beliefs to the farmworkers and anyone else who would listen.

Sirgoods gentle way of teaching resonated with some of the labourers, many of whom were illiterate having missed out on compulsory education.  Their situation was desperate, but Sirgoods message was liberating, and gave them hope that by following God’s word, working in ‘Combination’, pooling resources, and using their talents for the benefit of the community, they could lift themselves out of poverty and live a simple, yet fulfilled Christian way of life.

Sirgood and his followers were persecuted for their beliefs by some of the village elders and their meetings were often disrupted, but he continued to convey his message and his Christian movement became a serious rival to the Church. The Dependents built a chapel in Spy Lane and then they built a small parade of shops by the village pond which they named ‘The Combination Stores’.

The Dependents encouraged women to become involved in commerce and from its inception the Combination Stores were mostly managed and run by single women, which enabled them to escape the tyranny of a life in Service, that many had feared they would live.

The Dependents grew crops on smallholdings which were sold in the stores, and they gradually increased the inventory to cover a large range of products across several departments. In addition to grocery there was a butcher, draper, ironmonger, home furnishings and a great Steam Bakery. The Combination Stores then added a garage, and sold motorcycles, bicycles, trailers, fuel and even hired out horses and traps.

The Dependents faith always came first but the stores were so successful that over time they had practically cornered all trading activities in the village and by the time the stores were sold in the mid 1970’s, the Dependents had owned many of the farms and large houses in the village, and some had been acquired and sold multiple times.

John Sirgood died of natural causes at The Combination Stores on October 19th 1885, with his vision fulfilled and ‘Brother John’ was buried in an unmarked grave at the Chapel in Spy Lane. In those thirty years his religious teachings had given hope to the poorest in society, lifted many out of poverty and his nonconformist movement of hard-working, unassuming, thrifty Brethren, would go on to leave a delightful spiritual mark on Loxwoods history, which through their stores and chapel is still appreciated to this day.

Forging A Stronger Community

Loxwood became a separate Ecclesiastical Parish on 9th August 1873, ending its tie with Wisborough Green Church and the Chapel of Ease was thereafter called Loxwood Church. The Victorian schoolhouse opened a short distance along the road from the bridge, which brought everyday village life back to the area again and provided the children of the village with the opportunity of an education for the first time.

The villagers needed a dedicated venue for their clubs and in 1896 the owner of Hill Top Stores, John Elliott, donated a parcel of land for that purpose. The “Reading Rooms” were funded and built by the villagers and became the first Library and meeting place. The 20th century started with the opening of a new church on land close to the Victorian school and for the next decade there was a period of stability until the start of the First World War.

It has been said that no English village was left untouched by that conflict and tragically Loxwood was no exception. The local people who lost their lives in the war are remembered on the ‘Roll of Honour’ War Memorial inside the Church and the book “Loxwood Remembered” provides a poignant account of their sacrifice.

Following the end of the war, the servicemen who returned to the village formed a Comrades Club and they used an ex-army hut opposite the church for their meetings. That building was named the ‘Memorial Hut’ and between 1923 and 1937 it was the centre of village events, and entertainment. That was the first time the village had a large hall for live events and those years helped to forge a stronger community which also strengthened Loxwoods identity.

The telephone service arrived in the 1920’s, and a regular bus service started in the 1930’s. In 1937 Loxwood became an independent Parish ending its historic tie with Wisborough Green Parish and in the same year a new village hall opened on the day of the Coronation of George VI and Elizabeth. Mark Frederick North donated the land for the hall and paid for all the building costs and the hall was rightly named “North Hall” in memory of its generous benefactor. The construction of North Hall at the other end of the village, had the effect of placing a new ‘development marker’ at the strategic junction of Spy Lane and Guildford Road and the hall also brought daily life to that part of the village for the first time.

Mains water and electricity were connected to the village in 1938. Door to door milk deliveries started in the 1940’s and new homes were built between North Hall and the village shops and then within the triangle of Spy Lane, Station Road and Guildford Road. The Nicholsfield housing development opened in 1953 which was the first in the village. A new school was built at Nicholsfield in 1964, and the Victorian Schoolhouse closed signalling the end of 200 years of daily activity around the area of Loxwood Bridge and Vicarage Hill.

A Remarkable Historic Circle

During the next fifty years the village expanded and modernised. The Wey and Arun canal was incredibly reopened by volunteers after many years of fund raising and major engineering works by skilled local enthusiasts. This was an extraordinary achievement for a community project and unparalleled in its vision, dedication and scale. The canal continues to be one of Loxwoods foremost attractions and the regular boat trips, enjoyed by villagers and leisure tourists, are an iconic image that transcend the generations, linking Loxwood’s past and present in the most unique way.

Many of Loxwood’s historic properties were restored during those years and in 2012 a spectacular, immersive medieval festival was established in the ‘Kingdom of Loxwood’ which has been widely acclaimed as the best of its kind. ‘The Loxwood Joust’ is now an annual event staged every August near to “La Sparre” the land where some of the early settlers of the 13th century made their home. The Loxwood Joust adds an amazing twist to The Story of Loxwood, and completes a remarkable historic circle, that started 750 years ago with “John”, son of Walter de la Punde of “lokeswude”.

Map showing the historic development of Loxwood

Historic development map – showing the focus and the movement of everyday life from the thirteenth century.

Bibliography of primary reference sources used to create this article:

Ancestry.com
Andy Gammon Art and Design
British Library
Buckwell, J, C. The Stories of Loxwood
English Heritage
Farrant, J. Sussex Depicted
Findmypast.co.uk
National Archives
Lambeth Palace Church Archive
Loxwood Church of St John the Baptist Archive
Loxwood Historical Society Archive
Loxwood History Archive
Oldmapsonline.org
Oxford Dendrochronology Laboratory
Stevens, S. Archaeological investigations at the site of Loxwood Place Farm
Surrey History Centre
West Sussex Record Office

Disclaimer:

This historical summary has been compiled from research using a wide range of sources. The information, dates and details are based on that research, but Loxwood History does not guarantee the original source contained accurate information. While Loxwood History uses reasonable efforts to include accurate and up-to-date information in its articles, Loxwood History makes no warranties or representations as to its accuracy. Loxwood History assumes no liability or responsibility for any errors or omissions in the content of this article and any reliance you place on the information is entirely at your own risk. Please contact us if you believe any of the details in this article are inaccurate, and we will review those details and where appropriate, amend the article accordingly.

Copyright 2023 Loxwood History all rights reserved.

Loxwood Place Farm which was opposite Loxwood Chapel  – Samuel Hieronymus Grimm 1791.
Loxwood Chapel of Ease of St John the Baptist – Samuel Hieronymus Grimm 1791.

Aerial view of Loxwood Chapel and Priest House in 1791 illustrated by Andy Gammon.

Drungewick Manor House painted by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm in June 1791.

The three locations of Samuel Hieronymus Grimms paintings of 1791.

Links to the Historic Points of Interest

Loxwood Place Farm painting by Samuel Grimm 1791
Loxwood Place Farm which was opposite Loxwood Chapel  – Samuel Hieronymus Grimm 1791.
Loxwood Church painting by Samuel Grimm 1791
Loxwood Chapel of Ease of St John the Baptist – Samuel Hieronymus Grimm 1791.
Loxwood Chapel of Ease and Priest House 1791

Aerial view of Loxwood Chapel and Priest House in 1791 illustrated by Andy Gammon.

Drungewick Manor House painted by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm in June 1791.

Map showing the three locations of Samuel Hieronymus Grimms paintings of 1791.
The three locations of Samuel Hieronymus Grimms paintings of 1791.

Links to the Historic Points of Interest

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