The Slaugham Archives

Tilgate Mansion
The Slaugham Archive
Tilgate Mansion

The Tilgate estate covered some 2184 acres of which the present-day Tilgate Park is just a relatively small part. Mr John H. Nix purchased the estate in about 1863 and commissioned the rebuilding of the mansion soon after he took over. It was designed by T. H. Wyatt who incorporated features from a number of architectural styles. The exterior was a cross between a French chateau and a Jacobean house, and part of the magnificent interior is shown at picture #365. John's son, John A. Nix, died in 1926 and the younger son, Charles, took over the estate. In 1939 the Nix family moved to Free Chase in Warninglid. Crawley Urban District Council bought a part of the estate which is now Tilgate Park, but, regrettably, the house could not be put to a viable use and it was demolished and replaced by a restaurant. No doubt there was no alternative at the time, but what a magnificent asset the mansion would have been now to Crawley and the surrounding area.
Three newspaper cuttings relating to Tilgate House and Tilgate Park can be viewed by clicking on Open Document.
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Picture added on 12 August 2012 at 09:39
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I think it would have been demolished, whatever, as the Labour-controlled council no doubt had a chip on their shoulder about big houses of the rich and landed gentry classes. They also demolished Worth Park!
Added by Al on 01 April 2013
My father, Peter Tayman, was lucky enough to live in Tilgate Mansion in the late 1950s after it was acquired by the council, who tore it down in 1965.
He lived there with the Tayman family and courted my mother, Elizabeth Robinson, down by the lake & woods. I have some pictures somewhere!
How lovely to see a coloured version of this picture.
Added by Cathrine (née Tayman) on 31 July 2013
I have found three newspaper cuttings relating to Tilgate House and Tilgate Park.
The first is from the Sussex and Surrey Courier in 1936 and tells the story of how my father, 20-year-old Roger Ray, took unconscious 11-year-old Teddy Perkins, who had fallen from a tree, to the doctor.
The second cutting, from 1983, refers to some Canadian soldiers taking a piano from the Brewery Shades pub and playing it in the Crawley High Street in the early part of WWII.
The third cutting of about 1980 describes the finding of three unexploded shells which had lain hidden in Tilgate Park since WWII.
These can be viewed by clicking on Open Document.
Added by Barry Ray on 13 June 2014
I lived in the only surviving wing of the Mansion from 1954 to 1957 when my father was in charge of the Government Horticultural Research Station just up the road behind the Mansion.
We had the first and second floors, and the ground floor was occupied by the Cooke family, who also worked at the research Station.
We moved to Kent and the Cookes moved to, I think, Forest Road, Colgate.
Added by Graham Kingston on 17 June 2014
My great-grandfather, William Cook, was gamekeeper here from 1880 onwards.
He lived in the gamekeeper's cottage on the estate.
I would be interested with any information regarding Tilgate Park (Estate).
As head gardener I think it would be extremely useful to collect together all photographs and comments, perhaps with a view to holding an open day sometime next year, inviting all interested parties to Tilgate Park.
Added by Nick Hagon on 27 November 2014
The Gardner and Gream map of 1795 shows three lakes, the two now there and a third downstream around the street called Rillside in Furnace Green.
This lost lake drove the bellows of Tilgate Furnace, and the present lakes served as reservoirs in dry weather. There's a puzzle about the streams feeding it, however. It seems that the Nix family rebuilt the dams of the Tilgate Park lakes and increased their areas, but drained the third lake by diverting the present Tilgate Brook.
But where exactly was the furnace and its dam? The Wealden Research Group thinks that the feed for the furnace water-wheel was the present ditch along the edge of Long Wood to the south of Rillside, but I think not.
Added by Basil Watkins on 29 July 2015
Is the keeper's cottage mentioned by Shirley Anne Cook, the one which was left a ruin near the motorway heading south from Titmus Pond?
The last time I looked, there was a Brewer's Weeping Spruce growing there which is a very rare tree. The specimen in the park went in the 1987 storm.
Added by Basil Watkins on 29 July 2015
Basil, yes, the keeper's cottage is the same and is discussed at picture #378. It was located some 600 yards southwest of Titmus Pond and it is marked on the map in the PDF file attached to that picture. You may have to use the PDF zoom function.
Incidentally, I used to visit the pond regularly in the 1950s with my aunt and we always called it the Tiddlemas Pond. It may have simply been a pet name for it, but I note that the Nix family also used that name in their photograph albums!
Added by Barry Ray on 30 July 2015
I don't think that the mansion was a "rebuilding". The mediaeval lodge and the 18th century Tilgate Farm were on the site of what is now "Lower Tilgate" (has anybody done a fabric survey of the structures now there?). The Nixes built their new house where they could have spectacular views of the lake and of lots of countryside.
There was an Illan Gate here in the 13th century, and it seems that, before the turnpikes, the easiest way to get to Horsham from Crawley was via a lane along the routes of Malthouse Road, Tilgate Way, Titmus Drive to the Gate into the forest, then along the site of the (originally 17th century) lakes and up a little valley to Hardriding and Pease Pottage. Then through Colgate on the ancient ridgeway. This route was suppressed in the early 19th century in favour of the Brighton Road. The forest landowners then were very successful in suppressing rights of way -for example, why can't you drive from Pease Pottage down Parish Lane to Turners Hill? Because Cuckfield was a rotten borough, and the magistrates there were in the pockets of the Sergison family who were clearing the forest for farmland.
Added by Basil Watkins on 31 July 2015
Some memories of the park in 1964, just before it was open to the public:-
Next to the main lake outlet was a house with a smallholding, now the overflow car park. This had a row of three round-headed tombstones for dogs, all smashed by vandals in the month of opening.
The area below the dam, to the west of this house, was a grassy marsh with old oak trees and thousands of spotted orchids. Dumping of excavated clay from Furnace Green house foundations got rid of all of these.
There was a small decorative wrought iron gate at the western end of the dam.
The main lake had bogbean on its margins, and was full of water lilies, both white and yellow. The Silt Lake had yellow only.
The straight path leading south of the mansion was a promenade, and had a large pair of wrought-iron gates with curly ironwork halfway along it. A little further on was a flight of three sandstone steps with piers either side. The overgrown lawn around here was good for adders.
Rhododendron ponticum was rampant, and the east side of the main lake was completely taken over by it. I found a Canadian Army helmet in one thicket near Titmus Pond.
There were many large old beeches, now almost all gone.
The amount and variety of wildlife in the park has nosedived since then, especially flowers and insects.
Added by Basil Watkins on 31 July 2015
As a young boy, I used to visit in the 1930s.
The Nix family were related to us in some way. My great-great-grandfather, Mark Lemon, lived in nearby Crawley.
Added by Tim Matthews on 01 December 2015
A couple of years ago, Sussex Gardens Trust prepared reports on Crawley parks, including Tilgate Park.
The report, including photos and maps, can be downloaded from this webpage:
Scroll down to find Tilgate Park.
Added by Sussex Gardens Trust on 07 January 2016
My family moved into Constable Road, Tilgate and my youngest brother was born there in 1960.
My father worked for Unigate Dairies and his milk round included delivering to the stable block and other buildings. I remember well as I used to help him at weekends to earn pocket money.
The whole place was very unspoilt then and we were very lucky as kids to have this on our doorstep.
Added by Lynn Page on 09 February 2016
Very interesting comments. My father, Chris Dayman, was a civil engineer with the Dev. Corp. from 1949 onwards. We lived in Southgate Road (then unmade) and, as children (I was 6 then), we would cross Malthouse Road, pass the allotments and play in the Hawth, still showing evidence of bomb craters from the war, or go further on to Tilgate Park and Titmus Lake.
I remember playing in the grounds of Tilgate Mansion, on the raised terrace in front of the house and in the overgrown gardens, full of rhododendons and bamboo. We had friends living in the converted stables close by (Roy and Joy Bland) and often went down to Titmus Lake, fishing and ice skating in winter (dangerous, or what!).
There was wildlife everywhere in those days - owls, flycatchers, bats, kingfishers etc.
We moved to Horsham in 1956 - Dad finishing with the Corp. in 1964, I believe.
You would hardly recognise the original Tilgate Park now. I feel sad that it's all gone but thankful that we had such an amazing playground when we were growing up.
Added by John Dayman on 28 August 2017
We had the same legend about the Hawth at school -"bomb craters". The cavities are actually bell pits or collapsed small mines for iron ore, dating to the 17th century and supplying ore to Tilgate Furnace.
If you go north-east on Hawth Avenue, you pass through the wood including a glade which is where the ore was roasted before being sent down the hill to the furnace.
Tragically, the biggest bell pit was filled in with spoil when the road was built. The two next biggest were "KIngs Crater" and "Queens Crater", both still there although filling up from erosion.
Added by Basil Watkins on 29 August 2017
I was fortunate enough to explore Tilgate Mansion in 1962.
Although internally the mansion had been vandalised, it was still possible to see some of the grandeur in the old building.
Added by Roger Mead on 16 January 2019
Thanks for that picture, Barry - I didn't realise how grand it was. What a dreadful waste demolishing it.
Added by John Dayman on 17 January 2019
There are several "bomb crater" type hollows in Cow Wood/Nymans Wood (Handcross) and one at the top of Deaks Lane (Slough Green).
Are these likely to be bell pits too like the ones Basil Watkins described in the comments above?
Added by Sam Butler on 19 January 2019
Yes. I understand that Strudgate Furnace was in the valley east of Cow Wood, where Old House is now.
There are probably more bell pits in the locality than people realise; be suspicious of little ponds in woods. They can occur singly as well as in swarms, and I've put a reference to a possible Roman one in Tilgate Park on the park's Wikipedia page.
Added by Basil Watkins on 20 January 2019
I have always understood the craters to be from WW2 bombs, V1s in particular. These were destined for more strategic targets but hundreds landed all over Kent and Sussex as a result of false co-ordinates being fed to the enemy by our agents.
I'm sure there is a map somewhere showing where all these V1s fell, which might help to settle the matter!
(There is a map at picture #1357, but it's rather primitive! Barry Ray)
Added by John Dayman on 20 January 2019
Known surviving bomb craters in England are very rare. The only one I know of is on the Stonelees nature reserve near Ramsgate, Kent where I lived for a time. There were plenty of V1 strikes in east Kent, and the blast damage was shallow and broad. They didn't create deep craters.
No, the pits under discussion were for iron ore, and were noted before WWII. Look at the age of the trees growing on them. The Hawth swarm numbers about seventy (I counted them a long time ago) which would have been a lot of bombing for such a small area!
Added by Basil Watkins on 21 January 2019
I stumbled across this page by accident while trying to find something to show a friend of the wonderful specimen trees that I remember growing in Tilgate Park. It is lovely to be reminded of some of the lovely things that have now been lost. I clearly remember the big house, and the promenade leading away to the south. I also recall the boat houses on the west bank of the lake.
Basil makes reference to a house with a smallholding, now the overflow car park. I am sure I can remember my mother buying eggs or some vegetables from the owners.
Before the M23 destroyed the place, my brother and I would catch wild brown trout from Stamford Brook using a worm on a size 16 hook, with a BB shot a foot above. The Ninja-like skills we learned to achieve any success meant that we often got to within a dozen yards or so of little Roe deer hiding under the ferns. We thought we were hardened criminals taking our shoes and socks off to wade under the railway to 'poach' the other side.
My parents moved out of London after the war, and my siblings and I were born in Sussex. As a result any "country" skills we picked up were self taught and have stayed with us ever since.
I know that one can never stand in the way of progress, but I made the mistake of returning to Tilgate and the High Woods 15 or 20 years ago, and found the experience so upsetting. It won't be repeated. Sometimes memories are better left as they are, like the mental picture I have of my grandfather paying one of the Franciscan Friars to let me ride a donkey around the field that is now a large shopping mall in the town centre.
Anyway, enough gloom! I wish the page and its contributors every success, and look forward to reading further updates.
Added by Christopher Glass on 11 February 2019
What wonderful memories, Christopher. I know what you mean about not going back. I hate what has happened to Tilgate Park as I remember it as my grandparents home and the gardens were so beautiful once.
I am even more angry about what has happened to Broadfield estate where I lived. It breaks my heart to go back there and perhaps I shouldn't.
Anyway I am writing a book about Broadfield to try and preserve our family memories.
Added by Shirley Anne Cook on 11 February 2019
I understand how you feel, Shirley - not a good idea to revisit old haunts, no matter how tempting, but we all do it!
My father worked at Broadfield House, taken over by the Dev. Corp. I remember as a boy playing in a much overgrown area that used to be an ornamental lake in the grounds of Broadfield House.
It must have been a beautiful garden in its day. All disappeared now, of course.
I'd be interested in your book when it comes out.
Added by John Dayman on 11 February 2019
John, that is interesting your Dad worked at Broadfield House. Was he an architect?
I am after any photos and info on people who lived and worked there, so if you have any, please let me know. Thanks.
Added by Shirley Anne Cook on 11 February 2019
The brown trout in Stamford Brook were wiped out when a sewage tank failed at Pease Pottage a few years ago. They might be back, but I haven't seen any.
What you have now at Tilgate Park is a very good urban park. What we've lost is, a wildlife paradise. All the wildlife has suffered or vanished, especially the wildflowers. However, the process was underway before the Council took over. I wonder if it was the Forestry Commission which got rid of the wild daffodils and small-leaved limes in Tilgate Forest, or the Nixes before them?
Also, if the Council hadn't taken over in the Sixties the serpent in paradise would have. Ever been lost as a child in a ten-acre "Rhododendron ponticum" thicket? I was, once, at Tilgate Park in 1964. Awesomely horrible experience.
Added by Basil Watkins on 14 February 2019
Re: Canadians in Tilgate Park. Everyone in Crawley knows that Canadians were based in the huts area of the park during the war but further details are hard to find. Which Canadians? When did they come and go? Did the camp have a name and a commanding officer? Is there a sketch of the building layout? I'm particularly interested in the hut or huts which were in the middle of what we currently know as the Heather Garden. Did it have a special purpose? I don't suppose anyone has a photograph of the camp?
Added by Alan Jamieson on 08 March 2019
Hi Alan, Not sure where the Heather Garden is located that you are referring to?
Added by Shirley Anne Cook on 09 March 2019
The Heather Garden was developed in the 1970s by Alf Kitchener. It extends from just above the huts (now used by clubs) up the rise adjacent to the Walled Garden almost to the vehicular entrance to the Walled Garden. The steep path between the Walled Garden and the Heather Garden is known to some as Heartbreak Hill.
Added by Alan Jamieson on 09 March 2019
The Heather Garden is on the slope to the north of the Nature Centre.
What I was told as a child was, that the Canadian Army camp at Tilgate was established only as part of the preparations for D-Day and so was not occupied for long. Thus, it probably had no formally appointed CO or command identity. I don't know if troops were bliletted here awaiting demob after 1945. However, the huts were being used to house workers and staff brought in to start the construction of the New Town after 1947, so I suspect only briefly if at all.
The 1st Canadian Corps advance command HQ was at Wakehurst Place from late 1941, and rear command at Worth Priory (now Worth Abbey). The commander was General Crerar. An early 1942 report sent back home does not mention Tilgate -the Corps were responsible for Sussex shore defence then, and the troops were camped on the coast and in the Downs.
I can't remember any huts in what is now the Heather Garden, but was all overgrown rhododendrons in the Sixties. I would surmise an explosives store, since all the surviving huts were on the other side of Titmus Lake until destroyed by the 1987 storm.
I do remember the excitement at school when Titmus Lake was drained in 1969 in response to the 1968 flood, when Tilgate Lake emptied into Furnace Green (the sluice collapsed). One boy had found a gas mask in the mud, but before a schoolboy mob expedition could be mounted some anti-tank bombs were also found. I found a Canadian Army helmet in a thicket by the lake in the same year, just sitting there like a plant pot.
Added by Basil Watkins on 09 March 2019
Like most decent things that Ifield and Crawley once had; now just a memory, torn down in the name of progress.
Looney lefties and their crazies would do the same with anything nice we have now if they are given a chance.
Let this be a warning,
Added by Paul on 25 April 2019
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Pease Pottage

Crawley School 1901Broadfield Cottage and Broadfield HouseGeorge and Alice Cook at Tilgate gardensFormer Meteorological Office at Pease PottageTester family in WWI tableaux (2 of 2)Tester family (1 of 2)Saillard family at Pease Pottage (2 of 2)Saillard family at Pease Pottage (1 of 2)Jack Cook, caretaker & head gardener at BroadfieldRestored fingerpost at Pease Pottage