Friday, May 26, 2006

Hickwells, Cinder Hill, Chailey

Hickwells, situated in Chailey, East Sussex, was used by Sussex 54 VAD as a convalescent home and hospital between March 1915 and June 1916. Dating from the seventeenth century and set in four and a half acres, Hickwells was, and still is, an impressive property.

By the time Britain went to war in August 1914, Hickwells was owned by Joseph Robert Wright and formed part of the Ades estate. In March 1915, he gave Hickwells, rent-free for a year, to the ladies of Sussex/54 Voluntary Aid Detachment who had been looking for a property to operate as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers. As reported in The Sussex Express that month, there would also be “sufficient money… to carry it on for that period.”

In 1915, Hickwells, located on Cinder Hill, was surrounded by park-like enclosures and bounded on the West by Row Heath Common. The Ades mansion lay to the East, on the other side of Cinder Hill, and a few minutes walk away was Chailey Green and the main East Grinstead to Lewes Road. The accommodation was spacious. A large entrance hall gave way to the main drawing room, with windows to the south and west and an open fireplace with a carved wooden over mantel. The morning room, faced south and boasted an oak beamed ceiling and a further fireplace with a tiled mantelpiece. To the rear lay the dining room.

Set away from the main living accommodation in a self-contained area was a long, narrow butler’s pantry, a kitchen (with door to the tradesman’s entrance), a larder, scullery, servants’ room and a back staircase hall. A door from the scullery led down to extensive cellarage beneath the house.

On the first floor there were five large bedrooms each complete with a fire or stove. There was also a dressing room fitted with a wash hand basin. The back staircase landing gave access to a housemaid’s closet with a range of linen cupboards, two further servants’ bedrooms and a box room.

In addition to the main accommodation afforded by Hickwells, there was also a two-bed roomed Tudor cottage situated a short distance from the house which could also be used. Outside, a well-sheltered vegetable garden and glass house could provide the owners with home grown produce, and the remainder of the grounds was well established and attractively laid out with ornamental and flowering shrubs, beech trees, yew hedges and evergreens. For the sports minded there were tennis and croquet lawns. Two small paddocks adjoined the garden with stabling for three horses.

Large enough to accommodate between 12 and 16 men (although somehow, Sussex 54 VAD managed to squeeze in 20), Hickwells officially opened its doors on Saturday 13th March 1915. Less than two weeks later, on Friday, March 26th 1915 the first six convalescent soldiers arrived from the 1st London General Hospital.

For the next seven months, Hickwells operated as a convalescent home, receiving sick and wounded soldiers from the 1st London General Hospital in Camberwell, The Soldiers and Sailors' Family Association, The Soldiers and Sailors' Help Association and the VAD hospital at Tunbridge Wells.

In October 1915, with wounded soldiers by now streaming back from Gallipoli and the Western Front, Sussex 54 VAD was mobilised and Hickwells became attached to the Second Eastern General Hospital in Brighton. From now on, until the end of the war, Sussex 54 VAD would deal with wounded soldiers fresh from the battlefields and would act, effectively, as an annexe to the military hospital in Brighton.

In June 1916, their rent-free lease period exhausted and in need of a property that could accommodate more than twenty wounded soldiers, Sussex 54 VAD said a fond farewell to Joseph Wright and Hickwells and moved their operation to Beechland House in nearby Newick.

Today, Hickwells is a private residence; still impressive and still surrounded by greenery.

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