East Sussex

Type:Towns & Villages

Fletching Street, Mayfield, East Sussex, TN20 6TB


Mayfield is a large village in north-east Sussex, 9 miles south of Tunbridge Wells off the A267. It has a beautiful high street with raised red brick pavements. The village sign shows the figure of a young woman and children in a flower covered meadow, illustrating the Saxon origin of the village name, Maghefeld, or Maid's Field.

Mayfield is famous for the legend of St Dunstan. The saint, formerly a blacksmith was working at his forge when the Devil paid him a visit, disguised as a beautiful woman, with a view to leading him astray. However St Dunstan spotted the cloven hooves beneath the dress, and grabbed the devil's nose with his red hot pincers! thus foiling Satan's evil intentions.

According to another legend, Satan returned again as a weary traveller in need of a horseshoe, Dunstan saw through the disguise once again and beat the Devil until he pleaded for mercy, and swore never to enter any house with a horseshoe above the door.

Not surprisingly the church is dedicated to St Dunstan.

It is set back from the main street, and was largely rebuilt after a fire destroyed it, along with most of the village , in 1389. It was damaged again in 1621 when it was struck by lightning. The importance of the iron industry in the area is seen again inside the church, where 2 cast iron tomb slabs are set in the floor of the nave.

Dunstan became Archbishop of Canterbury from 960 - 988, and is credited with founding Mayfield Palace near the church. It was one of the great residences of the medieval Archbishops of Canterbury. It ceased to be an ecclesiastical residence and was sold off in 1567.

It was bought by Sir Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange, and he entertained Elizabeth 1st there.

In 1864 it was purchased by the Dowager Duchess of Leeds and presented to The Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus.

It was converted into a Roman Catholic boarding school, and remains so to this day. Visitors to the convent may see the famous tongs of St Dunstan, and his anvil.

Like many places in the area, Mayfield prospered at the height of the iron industry, and much of its finest architecture dates from that time. "Middle House", in the High Street is a splendid oak beamed Tudor Inn.

The date 1575 is carved into the barge boards. Eighteen years before the inn was built during the reign of Queen Mary , four Protestants were condemned here and burned at the stake in Lewes . The martyrs were not forgotten by the community, which has a thriving bonfire society. In fact Mayfield's Bonfire Boys and Belles, are one of the oldest bonfire organisations in the country.

1710's brought major smuggling into the area with the Mayfield Gang and their leader Gabriel Tomkins, a bricklayer from Tunbrige Wells, bringing relatively non violent owling (Wool smuggling). The gang consisted of local farmers and others , who smuggled their own wool abroad, and brought in brandy and silks by return. They usually made well organised trips to the coast with 20 - 30 armed men.

They were not cruel, and usually tied up people who crossed them, but released them later, rather than killing them as per the later Hawkhurst Gang and Groombridge Gang . In 1721 Gabriel was chased from Burwash to Nutley and arrested , the gang without its leader broke up. The Mayfield Gang had wide support from the local population as they only used violence if it was used against them, and the profits they made went into the local community.

The area was affected by the swing riots in the autumn of 1830 with the land workers demanding reasonable wages, these were put down forceably by army on 15th November. A number of local workers were imprisoned or transported to the colonies.

Nearby Argos Hill features an unusual post mill. It has been a feature of the area since 1834. Restored now, it was almost demolished during the First World War when it was considered too good a landmark for German Zepplins! In September 1880, the steam train line was built from Eridge to Hailsham , stopping in Mayfield . The single line track became known as the Cuckoo Line after the Cuckoo Fair held at Heathfield .

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