History of the Parish

Any history of the Parish of Worth, however short, is beset by the problem of boundaries. For centuries Worth was one of the largest rural parishes in Sussex. Since the end of the Second World War, however, the growth of Crawley and, latterly, the formation of a separate Parish of Turners Hill, have eaten into that area so that the present Parish occupies little more than a third of the original.

The evidence of the occupation of the Worth Parish area in prehistoric times is confined to occasional chance finds of worked flint, so no conclusions can be safety drawn other than that. Since the Ice Age, early man at least passed through the area Even during the 350 years of Roman occupation what little evidence that exists is related to transport and industry. The major lron Age and Romano-British ironworking sites at Goffs Park and Broadfield lie just outside the former Parish boundary and only the associated site at Southgate, in what is now Crawley, lay within the later bounds of the Parish, in the north-east corner of the Parish, a small iron-working site of the first century AD is associated with a Roman road that passes through the Parish en route from London to the coast near Brighton.

Worth is a Saxon name meaning 'clearing", and the fine Romanesque church of St Nicholas is believed to date from the period immediately prior to the Norman Conquest Early settlements of that pre-conquest period were at Burleigh, between Crawley Down and Turners Hill, and at Hazelwick, now in Pound Hill. Burleigh also figures in the Domesday Book as part of the Manor of Wootton near Lewes; Worth itself is recorded under a Surrey Manor. Much of the Weald was settled in the Saxon period from the more fertile regions close to the Downs, and it was from those early clearings in the forest that the later pattern of scattered farms was to grow.

'Assarting', as this woodland clearance was called, probably reached its limit in the early 14th Century, by which time many place names familiar in the 2Oth Century had come into being. Crabbet, Rowfant, Huntsland, Kitsbridge and Tilgate are a few. At that time Copthorne and Crawley Down were manorial wastes, and Turners Hill, as now, at a crossing of cross country routes. Wooded areas were notable for their independence and lack of authority; their inhabitants being isolated, occupying themselves with taming an inhospitable landscape and eking a living from it and its resources, in common with many woodland parishes, manorial control was often remote. Much of the Parish was part of the Manors of Ditchling and South Malling, both situated at the foot of the South Downs, many miles away, By the mid-l8th Century, the iron industry had returned. A double furnace, owned by the Duke of Norfolk, cast guns in Worth Forest in the 154Os. Within twenty years, furnaces were also to be found at Tilgate and to the north of Crawley Down, while forges converted the iron at Blackwater Green, at Rowfant and at Tinsley Green. Profits from the industry brought wealth to the owners of Crabbet, and of Rowfant where the Elizabethan house is still standing. Many established farms were rebuilt as prosperity spread down the social scale, and many of the old buildings in the Parish date from this time.

A national growth in population created a demand for land in areas like Worth where extensive woodland and waste made expansion possible, and some piecemeal enclosure of the commons along the Surrey border took place in the mid to late 17th Century. Otherwise there is little to suggest that any major alteration had taken place in the landscape since the late Middle Ages. Not until the latter half of the 1700s did changes become perceptible. The iron industry was resurrected in the 1750s, at the Warren Furnace, which cast guns for fifteen years, before closing down like the rest of the furnaces in the Weald.

At about the same time, attention was being paid to the state of the roads. Influenced, no doubt by the nearness of London, the earliest turnpike to pass through Worth was opened in 1770 and, from then on, what had been a quiet, rather backward Parish, lay open to the wind of change which was beginning to sweep through the kingdom. Lying at a crossroads, Turners Hill was ideally placed to take advantage of the needs of travellers for refreshment and blacksmithing and it began to grow as a hamlet.

At the height of the Napoleonic war, the isolated waste of Copthorne Common, partly in Surrey and partly in Sussex, and the haunt of smugglers, was designated as a hiding place for the families of the Sussex gentry in the event of an invasion, and it was that remoteness which attracted to Copthorne, a few years later, the sport of prizefighting. The nearness, both to London and to Brighton, of the common, together with that of Lowfield Heath, and particularly Crawley Down, made them popular venues in the Regency period. It was only some twenty years later that the opening of the railway to Brighton in 1841 heralded change on a massive scale. The station at Three Bridges, around which was a scattered collection of houses, became a junction, when first the line to Horsham opened in 1848, and then the branch to East Grinstead in 1855. Other stations, at Crawley, Rowfant and Crawley Down (Grange Road) were opened. Suddenly all parts of Worth were within easy reach of London and the low cost of land, some of it enclosed from commons only a few years before, attracted a new inhabitant to the Parish; the commuter. Initially it was the wealthy who built impressive mansions such as Worth Park, Paddockhurst and Crawley Down Park, but soon the effect of these large houses on local services and employment caused a swelling population, particularly in Crawley Down and Copthorne.

Development had begun in Crawley Down in advance of both the building of the railway and the enclosure of the common, with the opening of a chapel to Worth Church there in 1844 but it was not until the Station at Grange Road was opened in 1860 that house building began in earnest. Lacking a railway station of its own, Copthorne grew piecemeal following the enclosure of the Surrey common in the 1850s. Houses began to be erected along the road from Felbridge to Three Bridges, and on to Copthorne Bank where the land was better drained. The school preceded the church, which was endowed by the Lampson family of Rowfant. Elsewhere in the Parish, large estates, like Tilgate Park, made their impression on the landscape, and much of the employment in the Parish was directed towards the many aspects of the maintenance of these estates; farming, forestry, brickmaking, gamekeeping, and domestic service. Major land acquisition by the estates was accompanied by the building of numbers of cottages for estate workers and their families.

Formal education in the Parish consisted of one or two small 'dame' schools before the middle of the 19th Century. With increased interest in education, particularly by the various religious denominations, schools began to be established at Copthorne (both non-conformist and Church of England), at Worth and at Crawley Down, Later a school opened at Turners Hill. In the 1930s, the former mansion of Paddockhurst became Worth Priory, later an Abbey and a boys' public school.

The establishment of Crawley New Town after the second World War diminished the size of the Parish but has led to continuing development in the surrounding area, and the subsequent growth of Gatwick Airport has only added to it. Similar expansion in both Crawley Down and Copthorne led to fears that Turners Hill might suffer the same fate and caused the formation of a separate parish in 1986. Since the early 1980s, even the village of Worth itself ceased to be part of the Parish which bears its name.