Acacia Cottage

Acacia Cottage

Acacia Cottage is located at 151, Crawley Down Road, being built on two acres of land that was enclosed off Hedgecourt Common by the manor of Broadhurst and granted to Thomas Smith on 13th September 1807, at a rent of 2/- per year. On 13th September 1812, John Vallance, a lath cleaver, succeeded Thomas Smith as tenant for the sum of £27, and by 1816 had built a small cottage on the plot, still paying 2/- per year rent. The cottage was a timber framed building with lath and daub walls under a tiled roof and consisted of two rooms on the ground floor, one with an inglenook fireplace, and two rooms on the first floor accessed by stairs leading from a central hallway. On the 17th September 1816, John Vallance secured a loan of £35 at 5% interest from Robert Heath, a farmer, on the land and the newly erected cottage, but it is not known for what purpose. Two years later on the 19th March 1818, he secured another loan, this time for £25 at 5% interest on the same property, and yet again on the 24th February 1820, he secured another loan from Robert Heath, this time for the sum of £100 at 5% interest. Again the reason for the loans is unclear but it may have been to extend the property or possibly purchase a second tenancy as in 1840 the Worth Tithe links him to the cottage and grounds on Hedgecourt Common, plus another cottage in Copthorne. Robert Heath died on the 3rd September 1834, and on the 19th November 1834 John Vallance repaid his loan to the executors of Robert Heath. Having repaid his loan, John Vallance then secured another loan against the property on Hedgecourt Common from James Batchelor, a gentleman of Lingfield, on the 20th December 1834.

In 1839-40, the Worth Tithe apportionment listed John Vallance as occupying plot E200, the Worth part of Walnut Tree Meadow, the field to the West of what is now Acacia Cottage, and he was listed as living in a cottage in plot M70, in the Copthorne area, near Kitsbridge Farm. In the 1841 Census, the Vallance property on Hedgecourt Common was occupied by Thomas Simmons aged 62, whilst in the East Grinstead Tithe apportionment of 1842, a John Simmons was recorded as occupying plots 2122 and 2123, with a building in an enclosure, to the South of John Vallance’s property. The East Grinstead Tithe records that the Vallance property was occupied by James Vallance who was recorded as occupying plots 2125 and 2126 totalling 1 acre 12 perches. Plot 2125, located to the West of the cottage, was a meadow of 3 roods 8 perches, part of Walnut Tree Meadow, and plot 2126 consisted of the cottage and garden

On the 2nd March 1843, John Vallance surrendered his property on Hedgecourt Common to George Franks, a cordwainer of Folkestone, although originally from the Felbridge area, for £147. On the 18th December 1844, George Franks renewed the tenancy on this property and secured a loan from William Pearless on 26th December 1844, which he repaid three years later on 27th May 1847. After repaying the loan on the 28th May, George Franks secured another loan of £80 at 5% interest, this time from a Maria Jackson. Again the reason for the loan has not been established, although it may have been for enlarging the property or maintenance, as at some point the cottage was enlarged and half clap boarded.

The 1851 Census records that William Weller, a candle maker journeyman, with his wife Ann, née Tidy, and children, Tabitha born in 1837, Mary Jane born in 1842, Elizabeth born in 1845 and William born in 1848, were occupying the property, although their daughter Ann, who was born in 1839, was not listed. The Weller family were still there in 1861, and the cottage was by then known as ‘Franks Cottage’. Later in 1861, George Franks repaid his loan to Maria Jackson and secured another loan, this time for £100, plus interest, from Eliza Pearless and George Hart, which he repaid to Eliza Pearless, widow of William Pearless on the 11th October 1862. A year later, on 13th March 1863, George Franks surrendered Franks Cottage to James Terry. As a point of interest, George Franks returned to Folkestone and was living at 24 Queen Street, aged ninety, in the 1881 Census.

James Terry was born in May 1823, the son of Thomas and Mary Terry of Park Farm, Crawley Down, where Thomas was the tenant farmer for John Bone. By 1863, James had taken on the tenancy of Park Farm and had married Anne Hill, his former domestic servant, and they had one son named James Terry born on 25th March 1854. Anne was born in February 1832, the daughter of William and Elizabeth Hill of Worth. Park Farm was a farm of twenty acres and James had been employing two men, but the copyhold of Franks Cottage and two acres of land would have been a significant step up from tenant farmer. It was under the Terry ownership that the cottage was renamed ‘Acacia Cottage’, after the acacia trees that were planted along the track.

It is unclear why acacia trees were planted along the trackway being that they are generally found as species trees in parkland, a fine example can be found in what were the grounds of Chartham Park, now in the middle of the golf course, and at Harts Hall, now the site of Felbridge Court off Copthorne Road, where they were planted as an acacia avenue. The tree is not a true acacia being known as the Common or False Acacia, Robinia pseudoacacia, which grows to a height of more than 80 feet (25 metres), with a spread of about 10-15 feet (3-4.5 metres). It has light green, ovate leaflets and sharp thorns. The bark is dark brown becoming grey and deeply furrowed in older trees, and the branches become twisted with age. It has creamy white fragrant pea-like flowers that are borne in June in pendulous clusters of 4-7 inches (10-17.5cms) long. The tree produces both seeds in pods and numerous thorny suckers that form small thickets around the parent tree. The thorny nature of the suckers makes it ideal for keeping animals out and the wood is harder than oak when aged, two possible reasons for planting them along the trackway at Acacia Cottage.

In 1870, the Electoral Roll records James Terry as occupying the copyhold of Acacia Cottage, which is confirmed in the Broadhurst Rentals Book of 1882, and the Electoral Roll of 1898. The 1871 Census records only James Terry and his wife Anne occupying Acacia Cottage, as by this date their son James was employed as a carter for The Grange estate in Crawley Down and in 1881, was lodging with Thomas Trussles, a gardener at The Grange estate. The 1881, 1891 and 1901 Census’s record James Terry as either a small farmer or farmer, among other things, they were growing fruit, particularly apples, pears and plums, that were sold at Croydon Market. Shortly after the Census of April 1881, their son James Terry left the employ of The Grange and moved to St Leonards-on-Sea as a coachman. A year later on 7th August 1882, he married Jane Langford from 1 Fir Tree Cottage, Crawley Down Road, a near neighbour back in Felbridge, setting up home at St Leonards-on sea.

James and Jane had nine children, Winifred born in St Leonards-on-Sea in 1884, Albert born in St Leonards-on-Sea on 13th April 1885 but unfortunately only surviving until 31st July 1887, Margaret, known as Meg born in 1888, Ernest known as Ernie born about 1889 and who tragically died in a cot fire as a baby, Alice, known as May born 1891, Alfred born in East Grinstead on 10th August 1893, Horace born in East Grinstead on 1st August 1896, Harry born in East Grinstead in 1900 and Catherine Annie, known as Kit born in Halsford Croft Cottage, North End, in 1903. The Hill family moved to Halsford Croft Cottage, North End, some time around 1890, before moving back to Acacia Cottage around 1908. They then care for James’s aging parents, James and Anne Terry, by then aged eighty-five and seventy-six respectively, by taking over the running of the farm at Acacia Cottage. At this time, records show a dairy was being run from Acacia Cottage that was still operating during World War II. On the 25th May 1911, James Terry Hill extended the farm by purchasing Ruben’s Land opposite Ascotts comprising of 1 acre, 1 rood, and 2 perch, where he established pig farming. There had been a cottage in the field known as ‘Rubens Cottage’, which, according to Jane Hill, was named after Boabit Ruben who had once lived there. As a point of interest, James Batchelor, who had financed a loan on Acacia Cottage to John Vallance in 1834, was listed as owning and occupying the cottage and land that was known as Ruben’s Land in the Worth Tithe apportionment of 1839-40.

In December 1913, James Terry died at the age of ninety, and was buried at All Saints Church, Crawley Down, and then nearly three years later in October 1916, Anne Terry died aged eighty-four and was also buried at Crawley Down. 1914 saw the out break of World War I and the surviving three sons of James and Jane Hill all signed up for war duty, including the youngest, Harry, then aged only fourteen, who lied about his age and actually returned home after the war and celebrated his 18th birthday at Acacia Cottage. Unfortunately, Alfred was not to return home, being killed in action on 1st June 1917, and buried at Sunken Road Cemetery, Boisleux-St Marc, Calais, France. Jane also lost her sister Sarah Langford, in August 1918, who died at Acacia Cottage and was buried at St. John’s Church, Felbridge.

Everyday life at Acacia Cottage in the early part of the 20th century remained vivid to Catherine, the youngest daughter of James and Jane, who in 1998, at the age of ninety-five, recanted:


The area near Acacia Cottage was called Felbridge Waters, and Acacia Cottage had been owned [tenanted] by Mr. Weller before my grandparents moved there. My grandfather, Mr Terry, regularly went to Croydon with fruit etc., as there were a lot of apple trees and one delicious pear tree and a walnut tree. He travelled by horse and cart to Croydon. Then the farm was taken over by my father, James Terry Hill. Later, the pear tree referred to above was a great favourite with my daughter, Margaret and her friend Mavis Hopper, who threw sticks to get as many pears down as possible and eat them.



When I was young Wilson & Moon came by horse and cart from Crawley Down and delivered bread and cakes, and on Sunday afternoons the Muffin Man called and rang his bell. In hot weather, Mr. Rayfield sold ice cream while pedalling around the village known as 'Stop me and buy one'. Mr. Elphick came in a small van selling shoe polishes, paraffin etc. and on Monday mornings Mr. Arnold the shoe mender called. Also, Mrs Bacon arrived occasionally on her horse and cart, selling household bits, china, mats, etc. and bought rabbit skins from us. For letters you had to go to the Star.


In 1929 the Broadhurst Rentals Book records the copyholder for Acacia Cottage as James Terry Hill, and on his death in December 1945, his sons Horace and Harry took over the responsibility of the farm, Horace taking care of the cows and Harry the pigs. By the 1930’s Catherine had married William Pentecost, known as Tom and had built their family home ‘Kosi-Cot’, almost opposite Acacia Cottage. Living so close to Acacia Cottage meant that their daughters Margaret and Edna frequently visited Acacia Cottage and like her mother before, Margaret recants some happy memories of Acacia Cottage during the 1930’s and 40’s:


As a child I vividly remember there were rhododendrons either side of the front gate with a straight path leading to the front door flanked by flower borders each side consisting of cottage garden flowers. On the right hand side vegetables were grown and on the left there was a quince tree and a plum tree called Harvest Plum, which were delicious and jam was made from these fruits.



Turning to the right at the front door you proceeded to the back door at the side of the house which was a very old wooden door, with about an inch gap at the bottom, which let in a considerable draught. The kitchen was fitted with a very shallow stone sink, which I now use for flowers and with a quarry type tiled floor, there was a kitchener on the end wall later to be replaced by an open brick fireplace built by Tom Pentecost. There was a very old dresser on the wall facing the window and the lighting was a gas mantle that I liked to watch being lit. In the centre of the room was a large scrubbable wooden table with a drawer for cutlery, and there was another door situated opposite the back door with 2 steps leading down to a very cold larder, which had a small window facing the back garden. You then walked through to the dairy where there was a cooler fitted on the left hand wall for the milk. Milking time must have been about 3.30 – 4 pm and I can remember the local village ladies coming with their milk jugs every afternoon, as there were four milking cows, two of which were named Mona and Daisy. They had a Cowshed at the bottom of the back garden where Horace sat on a small three-legged stool. I did try to milk them one day but I think my hands were too small and my grip not firm enough.



The sitting room was small with an open fireplace and a small cupboard on the wall, which appeared to have no purpose. The floor was wooden and had a small iron window with a writing desk below and a very old dresser. From the sitting room you were led into the stairwell, there was no door but very old panelled walls. This led to another room, which didn’t seem to have any specific use but always smelt very damp and musty. There was a bedroom above this, and on the right was the main bedroom with one very small window and a cupboard. This then led to a third bedroom up a step and above the kitchen with another very small window, which overlooked the Lane as it was known, and also the orchard.



In the Lane by the orchard was a particularly good pear tree, not Williams, but green and crisp. Apples of all sorts were planted in the orchard and a walnut amongst the Acacias. At the road end of the orchard was a pond with a Sloe tree and large chicken runs amongst the apple trees. Behind the orchard was a meadow and when the cows calved, from time to time, this was where they were kept.



In the yard by the back door was a well, and a little further into the back garden was a soil closet/WC. The Lane can still just about be seen as there is a five bar gate to the right as you face Acacia Cottage, then to the right of that was the orchard and then the meadow.


Jane Hill died December 1956 and was buried at St John’s Church, Felbridge, and Acacia Cottage passed to her two remaining sons Horace and Harry. Unfortunately, Horace died nearly three years later in February 1959, leaving just Harry to run the farm. By now Margaret had a son, Stephen, who like his mother and grandmother before him, spent a great deal of time at Acacia Cottage when he was growing up in the 1960’s and early 70’s. Stephen recants:


As a child, I spent many a happy hour at Acacia Cottage with my [great] Uncle Harry. He was a very quiet, almost shy man, who preferred to keep himself to himself. The cottage itself was already in quite a state of disrepair. There was no electricity, a cold tap in the kitchen with a gas oven and gas lighting downstairs. During my early years the area referred to as the dairy gradually crumbled and collapsed. In fact the whole cottage was suffering badly from lack of general maintenance.
The front garden still had the rhododendron entrance with shrubs in front of the cottage, having become very overgrown. The front path was still flanked by overgrown borders from the past, with the area to the right as you entered, planted with an annual potato crop. Between ‘Rose Cottages’ and ‘Acacia Cottage’, close to the tumbled down dairy, stood a magnificent Yew tree, in fact it was probably the roots from this that brought the dairy down.
The back garden was mainly grass, which Harry kept down with a scythe. The small building just past the well at the back was the WC, which in fact was an earth closet with a small tool shed adjacent. The cowshed still stood at the bottom of the garden but was now used to store hay. The well, just across from the back door, was kept covered with corrugated iron sheets and I was always told to stay away from this area, although I did get to see down it with my Grandfather, Tom Pentecost, and understood it to be some 60 foot [18m] in depth.
Opposite the back door there was a small gap in the hedge which led onto what was called the Lane, this had a five bar gate either end, one giving access from the road which can still be seen today, leading past the orchard, hay barn and meadow to the field beyond which Harry rented and grazed cattle on. He also rented the field opposite (now beside Wheelers Way) and if a field wasn’t being used for cattle it was used to produce hay. I remember every summer holiday as a child helping with haymaking. Harry would cut all the grass with a scythe, which was then raked into lines using a large wooden rake and this would be left for a week or two to dry out. Every day it was necessary to turn the hay and this in itself took hours, but for me as a lad it was great fun just being able to run around with a pitchfork. Finally either Mick Cleverly or Mr Pelling from Crawley Down would arrive with tractor and bailer which would pick up the lines of dried hay turning out bails as it slowly moved up and down the field. All that had to be done then was to cart the bailed hay to the barn and stack it which was a mammoth task if you imagine picking up one bail of hay on a pitch fork and walking it across the field to the hay barn.
There was also Rubens opposite Ascotts where we had the pigs, these had to be fed and watered twice a day, as well as the mucking out, so there was always plenty to do. There was no mains water at Rubens and all the water required was carried by buckets up a very steep incline from the stream at the bottom. The stream of course was always very good for paddling and exploring on warm summer days.
September time was apple picking and there were apples of all shapes and sizes to be picked and this went on for several weeks all being carefully laid out in wooden fruit boxes for storage and my Grandfather picking out the very best, for entry into the village flower show. We would also have several sessions of blackberry picking and I always returned home with purple fingers, which took days to wash off.
My Grandfather would take me out at early evening to bag a rabbit and other times, pigeon or pheasant, so at a very early age I knew how to gut and clean game ready for the table which all seemed so natural and normal at the time.
I would spend hours with the cattle and knew each one individually and they were kept for a couple of years before going off to market. I remember being told off for trying to ride one, which I had encouraged to stand beside a five bar gate, and then climbed onto its back only to be tossed straight off, fortunately no damage was done but I never tried it again.
As I grew up, Harry gave up keeping pigs and eventually the cattle as well, from this point everything began to deteriorate at an even more rapid pace than before. I remember being told to be careful if I went up stairs as the wall facing the top had fallen out and all there was between the small landing and the outside were a few old polythene animal feed bags nailed up to keep the rain out. He had given up growing anything and seemed to spend a lot more time sitting at the kitchen table listening to the radio.
It was sad for me when Harry passed as it also marked the end of an era with the sale of Acacia Cottage, which had been in the family for such a long time and a place that had given me so many happy childhood memories.


Harry Hill died in January 1982, and the property passed to Catherine Pentecost, his sister and the last surviving child of James and Jane Hill. On the 22nd September 1982, Acacia Cottage and Ruben’s Land were put up for auction. Tony and Penny Nelson of Ascotts purchased Ruben’s Land prior to the auction and Mr Broughton Tompkins purchased Acacia Cottage, with Walnut Tree Meadow being retained by Catherine Pentecost. At the time of sale the property consisted of a lounge with the inglenook fireplace, a dining room, and kitchen on the ground floor, with three bedrooms on the first floor. By this time the cottage, which had been half clap boarded over the years, was in a fairly bad state of repair and the roof of the dairy had collapsed, although several of the outbuildings remained including the washhouse and former cattle shed. There was no mains water, only a well for water, and still had an earth closet. There was no electricity but there was mains gas, the source of lighting but only on the ground floor. Mr Broughton Tompkins bought the property and set about extending and modernizing the cottage to include a double garage, four reception rooms and a kitchen on the ground floor and five bedrooms on the first floor. The clap boarding was replaced by tile hanging and the roof was re-tiled. In 1991, after modernisation and an extension, Acacia Cottage, was put up for sale with an asking price of £250,000, and was purchased by Stephen and Kay Powell.

In 1999, Catherine Pentecost died and Walnut Tree Meadow passed to her two daughters, Margaret Owden and Edna Webber. The plot can no longer be called a ‘meadow’ as over the years many trees have grown up and it has become impassable during the summer and autumn months due to the brambles that have taken over the area. A workshop that once stood at the southern edge of the plot is no longer standing but the old hay barn is still erect, although it has seen better days. Most of the fruit trees in the orchard have fallen although one or two still bear fruit, including a couple of Forge Apple trees that were once common in the Felbridge area, taking their name from a forge on the Surrey/Sussex border (location not yet identified). The acacia trees that run along the Lane are still there and are very impressive when the white flowers are in bloom in early June. As for Acacia Cottage, it is now in a good state of repair retaining many of its original features, including the iron framed windows and sprung iron catches, the inglenook, the well, and even a section of the original outside timber framed wall at the top of the stairs has been preserved, behind Perspex, for generations to view the construction techniques of the early 1800’s, and could possibly be showing laths cleaved by John Vallance, the person responsible for having the cottage built between 1812 and 1816.

Draft Ordnance Survey map, 1805/08, FHA
Worth tithe Map and apportionment, 1839-40, FHA
East Grinstead Tithe Map and apportionment, 1842, FHA
Ordnance Survey Map, 1876, 1911, FHA
Felbridge Place Sale Catalogue, 1911, FHA
Acacia Cottage & Ruben’s Land Sale Catalogue, 1982, FHA
Step back into the seventeenth century, local newspaper article, 1991, FHA
Rental of tenants in Horsted Keynes, Fletching and East Grinstead, GLY/1093, ESRO
Customs and rental, renewed 1846 and 1854, GLY/1112
Broadhurst Court Book, 1781-1818, GLY 1083, ESRO
Broadhurst Court Book, 1818-1850, GLY 1084, ESRO
Broadhurst Court Book, 1850-1881, GLY 1085, ESRO
Broadhurst Court Book, 1881-1912, GLY 1086, ESRO
Rentals list, A5767/6/19, ESRO
Electoral Roll for East Grinstead, 1850-98, ESRO
Worth Parish Records, ESRO
East Grinstead Parish Records, FHA
Crawley Down Parish Records, FHA
Felbridge Parish Records, FHA
IGI Records,
Census Returns, 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, FHA
War Memorials of St John the Divine, Felbridge, Fact Sheet SJC 07/02v, FHA
Documented memories of Catherine Pentecost, Margaret Owden, and Stephen Owden, FHA

My thanks go to Stephen and Kay Powell for their help and hospitality when compiling the recent history of Acacia Cottage.

SO 07/03