Hickwells and Beechlands

Sussex 54 Voluntary Aid Detachment operated two auxiliary hospitals at private residences in Chailey and Newick. Their first base was at Hickwells on Cinder Hill, Chailey from March 1915. They then moved to nearby Beechland House, or simply "Beechlands" in June 1916. The following short narratives give some background to these properties.


Hickwells was, and still is, an impressive property.  Dating from the seventeenth century and set in four and a half acres, in 1914 it was surrounded by park like enclosures and bounded on the West by Row Heath Common.  Ades 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, 20 feet by 19 feet with windows to the south and west and an open fireplace with a carved wooden over mantel.  The morning room, slightly smaller at 15 feet by 14 feet, faced south and boasted an oak beamed ceiling and a further fireplace with a tiled mantelpiece.  To the rear lay the dining room, another large room, 20 feet by 15 feet.

The photo above shows Hickwells around 1899.  The lady in the foreground is believed to be Miss Fanny Ingram who, since the death of her sister Emily in 1877, had occupied Hickwells alone.  By the time she died in 1912, Fanny born four years before Queen Victoria, had lived through the reigns of George III, George IV, William IV, Victoria, Edward VII and George V. The photo below dates to 1915.

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 (the smallest being 14 feet, six inches by nine feet) 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.
If that were not enough, in addition to the main accommodation afforded by Hickwells, there was also a two-bedroomed 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 were 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.
For Sussex/54 VAD, the gift of Hickwells as a temporary base from which to operate was a godsend.  In Margaret Cotesworth, they had a competent and confident commandant and in Mabel Blencowe, an active and able quartermaster.  Dr Orton was their well respected medical officer and Sister Osmund, a trained nurse with many years’ experience under her belt.  The detachment could easily muster a further seventeen nursing staff some, like Edith Oliver, with many years’ nursing experience, and they also boasted a complement of four cooks. 

Hickwells formed part of the Ades estate, a mansion located almost opposite it along Cinder Hill.  Purchased in 1839 by James Ingram from distant relatives, Ades and the properties centred around it had remained in the Ingram family until some unwise investments by a business partner in the late 1890s had led to the then owner, James Crofts Ingram being declared bankrupt.  Everything the Ingram family owned had to go and in 1899, the Pownall family had bought the estate. Walter Ingram, younger brother of James, had thrown his energies into Chailey’s men’s VAD detachment, Sussex/37, which he headed and perhaps it was Walter’s involvement and influence which spurred Margaret Cotesworth to form her own women’s detachment.  Living a short walk away from Ades, Margaret would certainly have known Walter Ingram and she could also count on some influential friends of her own to assist her.  Chief amongst these was Frances Blencowe of nearby Bineham Mansion, whose older brother John had married Walter Ingram’s younger sister Mabel.  
In June 1914, whilst Sussex/54 VAD were preparing for every conceivable eventuality at their annual Stanmer Park Field Day, the Pownall family sold Ades House and the properties centred on it (which included Hickwells) to Joseph Wright.  One of the Pownall daughters was a member of Sussex/54 and perhaps it was her influence that persuaded the new owner to loan them Hickwells for their purposes.  Whatever form the negotiations took, by the end of 1914, the compilers of The British Red Cross Society’s annual report and accounts for the Mid Sussex Division in 1914 could note that as far as Sussex/54 was concerned, a ‘Convalescent Home can be provided’ and so it happened that in March of the following year, Hickwells opened for business.
Sick and wounded soldiers arrived at Hickwells from the 1st London General Hospital in Camberwell, from the Soldiers and Sailors Family Association, The Soldiers and Sailors Help Association and West Hall VAD hospital in Tunbridge Wells.  After the squalor of the trenches, they must have thought they had arrived in Paradise

Beechland House or "Beechlands"

Beechland House was lent to Sussex 54 VAD by Mrs Harcourt Rose when Sussex 54 VAD moved out of Hickwells in June 1916.

Travelling north west along Cinder Hill, past Hickwells, the tree-lined road bends gently uphill to the right, becoming Chailey lane. About a mile south east of this junction lies Newick Park; a mile to the north, the village of Newick itself. In between, much as it was in 1915, the land is sparsely populated; a series of farms and isolated homesteads dotting the picturesque countryside. Today, the properties are independently and privately owned but in 1915, the whole area, comprising around 475 acres and taking in the nearby farms of Tutts, Ridgeland and Ketches, formed Beechland Estate. At its heart was Beechland House, a mansion just fifteen minutes’ walk away from Hickwells and with enough space to accommodate 40 wounded soldiers. Mrs Harcourt Rose would retain just a tiny portion of the house for her own use, the remainder of it would be placed at the disposal of Miss Margaret Cotesworth and her nurses.

The earliest sections of Beechland House date from Tudor times but by 1916 the house had been much improved and extended. William Henry Blaauw whose descendants had settled in England almost a century earlier, had bought the Beechland estate in 1835 and immediately set to work extending and improving the house. A new south wing was added and the Jacobean stone archway was relocated from the side of the house to form a new grand entrance on the eastern approach. A new driveway, with a turning circle for coaches was constructed and a few years later the house was further extended with the addition of a third floor and much enlarged cellars. To complement the impressive new staircase which rose from the centre of the building, oak panelling was installed throughout the house and stained glass windows with the Blaauw family crest were also added.

The offer of ‘Beechlands’, and for an indeterminate period of time, must have seemed like a godsend to Sussex/54 VAD who lost no time in preparing for their move. Everything that could be moved and was still needed was carefully packed into boxes and crates and re-located the short distance to Beechlands. Items surplus to requirements were disposed of at a jumble sale held at Hickwells which raised £10 for The British Red Cross Fund. By the end of the month, patients and nurses had successfully relocated and were settling in. 

It came not a moment too soon. Across the Channel, the Allied forces were preparing for what they hoped would be a decisive strike against the German armies facing them. That strike on July 1st, and the subsequent battles that would drag on until November, would ensure that VAD hospitals and their staffs the length and breadth of Britain would be kept fully occupied.

Above, Beechland House, now dividied into separate apartments, in the 1990s.

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