Wivelsfield is located in East Sussex in Southern England. Wivelsfield is located approximately 2.8 miles south of Haywards Heath, 3.2 miles north of Ditchling, and borders Burgess Hill to the West and Chailey to the East.
Wivelsfield is an ancient place although this is not apparent to the casual observer. The Celts were here and also the Anglo-Saxons who recorded the name of our village ‘Wivelsfelda’ in an 8th century Charter. The Normans came and William de Warrene, one of William the Conqueror’s men, became the owner of much Sussex land and property. About 1095 he gave our Parish Church to the great Cluniac Priory in Lewes. A deed executed in 1267 names William, one of the monks of the Priory as chaplain of Wivelsfield.
By the mid-14th century Wivelsfield was a civil parish in its own right, a developing rural community of small farms and ancillary trades. As the community expanded over the years there was much work for local craftsmen, builders, carpenters, blacksmiths, harness makers, shopkeepers and a host of others. The important craft of tanning once thrived at the Tanyard in Hurstwood Lane. There was an oast house with a hop garden opposite at Clevewater Farm and a windmill and a watermill within the parish served local needs. Social Security was provided according to the standards of the time – a workhouse in Church Lane, part of which still stands as the school office, and three poor houses for destitute families. Various bequests were made by the well-to-do ‘the poorer sorte of people of the parish’, a Poor Rate was levied and administered by the parish Overseers.
The village was virtually self-sufficient and of an independent spirit. Non-conformity was strong both in religion and politics. Otehall Chapel and Bethel Chapel were built in the 18th century and each had sizeable congregations. At one time there was no formal education for village children, indeed 53% of the young adults were unable to sign their own name in the Marriage Registers during the period 1813-1850 even though several small independent schools of Church of England and Non-Conformist persuasions had been established in the village before then. The old parish workhouse in Church Lane, redundant after the 1834 Poor Law Reform Act, was pressed into service as a school building known as a National School. However, the major part of this was demolished and the school building opened in 1876. It did not close until 2007 when the present day Wivelsfield Primary School was developed on land closer to the centre of the village to cater for today’s larger classroom numbers.
Within the parish, the building and opening in 1859 of the Sussex County Asylum (later known as St.Francis Hospital and recently converted to luxury accommodation as Southdown Park) brought an influx of new people and new opportunities for employment. After the first World War the internationally famous carnation growers, Allwood Bros., who had established their nurseries here, provided employment for many villagers. One of their numerous successful varieties of dianthus was named Sweet Wivelsfield.
Inevitably, with the passage of time, employment and lifestyles have changed. Otehall Switches is now the chief singe employer but the majority of today’s villagers commute to the nearest railway station or directly to their place of work. Buses ply to nearby towns, some children go to primary school outside of the village and we watch world events on T.V.