Discovering Burgess Hill’s links with cricket

A walk along the London Road

St John’s Cricket ground in Burgess Hill, credit: Mark Foster

Valebridge Common

Nestled in the in the heart of Mid Sussex with the rolling hills of the South Downs and the villages of Keymer and Clayton away to the south, once lay a patch of common land called Valebridge Common around which were a scattering of small farms with their half-timbered farm houses. In the southern part of the Common was an area called St John’s the Baptist Common where from 1342, a Fair was held every year on St John’s Day 24th June. On the north east corner, now called Fair Place, a small church building still stands at the west end of Leylands Road, near Fair Place Hill.

London Rd looking south, Photo credit: Mark Foster

Blacksmith forges and potters’ kilns

Cutting across St John’s Common was the London-Brighton road, thought to be the original Roman road. The London Road was in the 18th and 19th century the main centre of Burgess Hill as it was on this road that many blacksmiths forges and potters kilns were placed with most of the housing sited to the west side of this road and what is now St John’s Park is where many of the terracotta kilns were. From 1828 much of Valebridge Common was sold off although development did not really take off until the railway arrived in 1841. Brickworks and potteries were a feature of St John’s Common from as early as the 16th century but with the arrival of the railway, products were sent all over the country.

A centre of brick making for several centuries

For 100 years from 1830 to 1930 Burgess Hill was predominantly a centre of brick, tile and pottery works. One of the larger companies was the Keymer Tile Works which was in business from 1875 until it closed recently in 2014. Many of the terracotta kilns were located in what is now St John’s Park – the home of Burgess Hill Cricket Club, founded in 1872, and now the centre of cricket in the town with its twenty teams, boys, girls, men and women, an impressive number for any town.

St John’s Cricket Ground, photo credit: Mark Foster

Our tour begins

Our tour begins at the north end of Fair Place Hill where there is a 1990s housing estate in which the names of several well-known Sussex players are remembered including Fry Crescent, Langridge Way, Wisden Avenue, The Gilligans, Lillywhite Close, Cornford Close, Tate Crescent, Cox Grove along with the name of the Eastbourne Cricket Ground, The Saffrons. Not too far away is Vallance Close perhaps named after Vallance Jupp, born in Burgess Hill in 1891 and who went on to play for Sussex and England and was one of the few cricketers who was both a professional and an amateur player. Another Sussex player who began his career in Burgess Hill was Reginald Hollingdale, born in Burgess Hill in 1906 and who played for Sussex between 1925 and 1938.

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Leyland Rd

Walking down London Road we come to Leylands Road on your left. If we travel eastwards along this road past the Pentecostal Christian Centre, housed in the church that was built close to the site of the first church in Burgess Hill c1342, we find another cricket ground bequeathed to the people of Burgess Hill by the late Sydney West.  At the east end of Leylands Road, by Wivelsfield railway station bridge, can be found a tribute to Maurice Tate who lived in Janes Lane for a while with his father Fred.

St John’s Park

Returning to London Road and turning left, we come to Park Rd after a few minutes. The park here is St John’s Park, once part of St John’s Common. The main part of the park is the home of the Burgess Hill Cricket Club with its cricket pavilion and pitch. In the north west corner we can make out the retaining wall that was once part of the open air swimming pool that was built during the depression of the late 20s and early 30s, to give some employment to those in the town that were out of work, now replaced by the Triangle Sports Centre to the West of the Town.

Sydney West Cricket Ground, photo credit: Mark Foster

Vallance Jupp’s former school

Return to London Rd, turn left and walk down through a road that is shaded with once pollarded London plane trees lining both sides of the road.  Go past the entrance to the Victoria Business Park built on the site of the Victoria Pleasure Gardens, opened in 1897 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, and continue down London Road. We pass out of the old town past the site of the former London Road School. This school, the first National School in the area, was opened about 1838 in a disused stable, before moving across the road to occupy the corner of Pottery Lane (Station Rd) and London Rd in 1850. Mr and Mrs Henry Breed and their daughter Esther were the first teachers, and amongst the thousands of pupils who attended the school were Vallance Jupp, the Sussex and England cricketer and Donald Sinden, the actor. They along, with your author, a Burgess Hill resident for the last 55 years, and countless others were introduced to cricket in Burgess Hill.

By Mark Foster, September 2020