The History of Hassocks

With glorious views of the South Downs, Hassocks has clearly appealed to travelers and settlers down the centuries.

Currently the home of about 7,000 people, the village’s roots stretch back far into prehistory, testified to by the discovery of Neolithic clay spoons and Stone Age flint tools.

Bronze Age settlers also set up home in the area some 4,000 years ago, followed by the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago. A large Roman cemetery was discovered near what is now the Stonepound Crossroad.

The Saxons decided on the vista at nearby Clayton for the site of St John the Baptist Church, the chancel arch of which is 900 years old, and the church has yielded medieval wall paintings of national importance.

But the arrival which made the most impact on the area came in the 1840s – the railway.The opening of Hassocks Gate as the station in 1841 heralded the beginning of the village as it is it today. This was followed by housing development in the centre to cater for commuters using the railway.

Today, Hassocks combines the quiet rural life with all modern services and communications and its past is too often overlooked. But on closer examination parts of the fascinating history and unique character of the village can still be glimpsed.

The Friars Oak Inn in London Road was used by Sherlock Holmes’ creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as the setting for his adventure tale Rodney Stone. Originally, the pub stood on the other side of the road and had connections dating back 500 years.It was named after a big oak tree beneath which monks from a long-gone monastery handed out food to the local poor.

Fittingly for its railway connections, bygone Hassocks also boasted two famous sons of the railway world – John Saxby, who invented the signals and points system which ended the risk of the man in the signal box changing points just as trains went over them, and Magnus Volk, the German designer of Brighton’s Palace Pier to Black Rock electric railway.

The railway also made Hassocks a handy destination for the pleasure-seekers of the Edwardian age who came to enjoy the tranquil scene in the Orchard Tea Gardens. A strong rival to Burgess Hill’s Victoria Gardens and Hurstpierpoint’s Chinese Pleasure Gardens, Hassocks’ playground, which opened in 1908, had splendid shrubs and planting, a boating lake, and most memorable of all, a massive helter-skelter.

Although the gardens and fairground are no more, the village’s same picturesque surroundings remain today.