Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Life in a dormitory town - part 1.

Whew - life's been a bit hectic lately and I kind of lost my 'blogging mojo' for a bit.  Basically I haven't been doing much other than working and then just being at home and pottering about, and I decided that there's only so much of the minutiae of my pottering about that my readers can take.  I've also been spending a lot of time in the hammock,  being gripped by the 'Game of Thrones' books, and I'm afraid to say that I just can't put them down.

Every evening after dinner I take myself off to the garden, complete with cup of tea and cushions, and lose myself in the lives of the inhabitants of Westeros.  I'm loving the books; each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character which means that you are inevitably drawn into an empathetic relationship with even the most Machiavellian characters (and of those there are many!)

I don't really feel as if I've had much to write about lately so today, on my day off, as I had a long list of things to get done, I thought I'd take my camera with me and take some snaps of the small town where I live.  I had been planning to get out of town and go and spend some time in the sunshine going for a walk somewhere beautiful, but I just had such a huge list of things to do and didn't feel I could spare the time.  I hope that you enjoy this little tour around some of the places I visited today to show you what living in a small Sussex town is like.

The term 'dormitory town' is not one I was familiar with before we moved here, but then I was told that Haywards Heath was a dormitory town - a place where people 'sleep' but travel to other places to work.

Apparently this town was first mentioned in connection with the 17th century Civil War, and you can see on the town sign up there, which is just at the corner of the High street, a Roundhead and a Cavalier, being much more friendly and peaceful than they ever were in actuality.  The Cavaliers were defeated here although I don't think it was a huge battle as such.

The thing that really brought this town to life was the building of the railway station in the mid 19th century, and it's from these platforms that over the years ( and until this very day ), many people do the daily commute, either down the line to Brighton or up to Crawley, Gatwick and London.   This picture was taken from up on the railway bridge just near the library and it shows how hilly Haywards Heath is.  I don't think there's a single level road in the whole town - it seems to be built on a series of small hills - not quite as steep as Lewes or parts of Brighton - but nonetheless exhausting when you're on a bicycle!

Our house is really near the railway line, and even as I write I can hear the trains rushing past with their distinctive "ch-ch-ch-chum, ch-ch-ch-chum".  When we first moved here I thought they were too noisy and I'd never sleep but now I find the noise really comforting.  As we are on the main Brighton line they go about once every hour during the night.  On rare occasions you can hear the Orient Express steaming along in the middle of the day.

Unfortunately, when you arrive at Haywards Heath the welcome you get is not very pretty.

The other strange thing is that the train station is very far away from the High Street.  I'm sure that some visitors  (who have probably ended up here by mistake!)  are a bit disappointed when they arrive- - it's all petrol station, car-parks, railway tunnels and dodgy pubs.

There used to be a very large cattle market just near the railway station, right up until the 80s.  Matt remembered it from when he used to live here as a boy and it dominated this large space just to the west of the railway line.  As you can see, it's now a very large supermarket.  We only have the one supermarket in Haywards Heath.  Because it's the only large shop we have, it's always busy and you always bump into lots of people you know there.  I know we are all supposed to be supporting small, local producers, but we don't really have many good small food shops in town.  There is a fantastic, independent bakery in the high street run by a couple who are genuine local artisans,  but we don't have anything like a decent delicatessen or a street market for fruit and veg.  There are some farm shops dotted around here and there once you get out of town

This morning I was off to the library and this was my first  stop. Ever since I was young I've loved libraries - just browsing the shelves and seeing what's new and being surrounded by books.  It's one of those community focused centres which I would hate to lose - when I was there this morning I could hear lots of singing and laughing coming from the mums and toddlers session.  I also really like the design of this library - the tall windows of panelled glass and the octagonal structures.

Here we are at the top of the hill, just where the library is on the left, and we are looking back down towards the train station.  Haywards Heath is a very green town - lots of trees, parks and open spaces.

After I'd spent some time in the library I needed to go up the high street for one or two things.  On my way, and just around the corner from the library, you pass this very dinky Town Hall.  Admittedly there are some larger, municipal offices just behind, but I think that this little building just says it all about our town - small, unprepossessing, and functional.

Heading on around the corner towards the high street, you pass 'Muster Green' which is the site where the soldiers gathered (or 'mustered') during the Civil War.  Not a great deal goes on here for most of the time as far as I can tell.  The A272 runs right through the middle of Haywards Heath and you pass the green on your way into town.

This is the end of the main street that runs up from the train station and just where it hits the High Street it's called 'The Broadway'.  For all its connotations of entertainment and excitement, I'm afraid that our Broadway has a modest selection of eating places and bars, plus a number of barbers, hairdresser and little shops.

This way is looking back down to the train station and you can just see on your left there a large office building.  Towards the train station there are quite a number of offices - I'm not sure if it's quite grand enough to call it a 'business district' but that's how I think of it!  There's obviously something going on at the moment because there aren't usually lots of traffic cones lining the streets.  Often they have markets or music concerts here in the summer and they close off the road, so maybe there's one of those coming up.

The high street is called South Road and in the centre, looking south towards the Downs, is Victoria Park.  It's a lovely green space and there are often things going on here.  When I used to work at Waterstones in the high street (before teaching) I used to come and sit on the grass and have my lunch.

When the boys were small we used to come and play and go the the children's playground that you can just about see through the trees there.  It used to have a fantastic paddling pool but now it's got one of those high-tech water play things - lots of levers and dams to be made.  I went there with my friend's children and it was great fun.

This is St. Wilfred's church which is opposite the park and situated on the highest hill in town.  When you stand on Ditchling Beacon you can just about see the church spire in the distance.

The high street is part of the A272 and is not the prettiest at the best of times and at the moment they are digging it up and laying some pipes, so it's looking pretty unattractive.  This is looking back towards the park and the church.

And this is looking eastwards.  It's a fairly generic high street with all of the usual shops although we do have more than our fair share of charity shops.

This is obviously the best shop in the road (Waterstone's):

We even have a mini shopping arcade - The Orchards:

There was a little bit of a cafe society thing going on today - lots of older people out enjoying the sunshine and having a cup of coffee.

I had my regular trip to the gym today - this is 'The Dolphin Leisure centre' and it's pretty good and always busy.   It has a fantastic swimming pool, a big gym, a health suite and lots of fitness classes.  It's also very close to where I live so it's really convenient.

The other leisure facility we have is called 'Clair Hall'.  It puts on various performances and exhibitions and once a month they show a film.  (I wrote about the Clair Hall cinema experience in another post).

And behind Clair Hall is another green space called Clair Park.  When it snows it's great here for sledging - the boys hurl their sledges off that hill in the background.  I think this is part of the original heath that all those haywards used to drive their sheep over.

Haywards Heath is not the most exciting place in the world to live but it offers enough without feeling that you always have to go somewhere else.  I know that for young people it can be a bit limited, so most of the time they head off to Brighton which is only 20 minutes by train.

And anyway, it doesn't take too long to get to Sussex's beautiful coastline.  I'm doing a course in Eastbourne one day a week at the moment, and last time I drove back via the coast road to Birling Gap.  It was a beautiful day with not a cloud in the sky, so I stopped to admire the view.  (I've recently discovered the panorama function on my camera).

Can you believe that this is Britain?  Look at how clear and sparkling the water is.  I was just standing there, on top of the steps, not believing how lucky I was to live near such a beautiful sight.

Well, I hope you've enjoyed sharing my day with me today.
Talk soon, Judy.


  1. Thank you so much for the lovely tour of your town. I always love to read your travelogues.

  2. Wow, Judy you did a fair bit of walking, can't wait to see part 2. The Broadway shop keepers are up in arms about the cones, apparently its something to do with the South Road being one way and the Broadway being used as the detour! Its all a mess at the moment. Take care.