By Richard Bryant, Lindfield History Project Group
Adjacent to Lindfield Common, Beckworth House and grounds stood on the land now occupied by Lindfield Primary School. Taking its name from a medieval field of that name, Beckworth House was built in 1872 for its first owner, Mr William Blaber, by Parker Anscombe, a well-known Lindfield builder. Living with Mr Blaber, a retired merchant, was his wife Elizabeth and their three children, plus a governess and five domestic staff.
By the 1890s the house was lived in by Ernest and Agnes Arbouin, of whom little is known.
From the early 1900s until after the Great War, Beckworth was owned by Mr Mellor Brown. The 1911 Census records that he was aged 72, living on ‘Private Means’ and had been married for 35 years to Eva, aged 56. At that time they employed five live-in domestic staff. Additionally, at least two outdoor staff were employed; Mr Townshend and family lived in Beckworth Lodge, while the other man lived ‘above the stables’. Mrs Mellor Brown was a regular supporter of good causes during the Great War.
Major George Churcher and his wife Aida purchased the property in 1924. A member of the Royal Horticultural Society, Major Churcher was a respected and well-known cultivator of gladiolus, creating new hybrid varieties. He was also a keen grower of daffodils and peonies. An active member of the RHS, he wrote a paper on ‘The Modern Gladiolus’ and was a regular exhibitor at shows. George Churcher died in 1938 and in his memory Aida gave All Saints church the carved oak eagle lectern.
In September 1939 at the outbreak of World War II, the patients and staff of the Hostel of God, a Catholic Hospice in Clapham, were evacuated to Beckworth.
After the war, in about 1946, it became the dormitory house for boys sent to attend an agricultural course at Haywards Heath Secondary School (now Oathall Community School). The house was later used as the East Sussex County Council Youth Employment Service and Area Education office.
A purpose-built children’s residential nursery was constructed in the extensive grounds. Costing £36,000 it opened in January 1966, as St Nicholas Nursery, to provide a home for 18 babies and young children taken into East Sussex County Council care. The matron was Miss Whitmarsh.
St Nicholas is remembered with warmth, as a lovely place by children and staff. The children lived in small groups as a ‘family’ of four or five children in their own self-contained accommodation. Each family was looked after by nurses solely dedicated to them. Children were treated as individuals and would be taken on shopping trips into the village or Haywards Heath to buy their own clothes.
The nursery closed in 1976, being redundant following the realignment of East Sussex and West Sussex county boundaries. The building was demolished and the site developed as St. Nicholas Court.
Beckworth House was demolished in March 2000 to make way for the redevelopment of Lindfield Primary School. However, Beckworth Lodge remains to this day and stands at the entrance to the school.