Elizabeth Bysshopp only lived in Henfield from 1590 to 1598 before moving from Parsonage House to Parham House. In 1612 she married Sir John Gresham of Titsey, Surrey and, as was usual for the wife of a knight until the middle of the 17th century, took on the title Dame. Whilst Dame Elizabeth Gresham had no children, her name lives on. 

In 1691 she assigned the rents of seven acres of land she owned off New Barn Lane to help the poor and needy of Henfield. This land is often referred to as Flannel Field. One of the conditions of this bequest was that the income should purchase ‘cloth to be cut into parcels and to be given to certain poor people to make them clothing’ and flannel was a popular cloth of the time. Nowadays, this land, shown as Parish Field on old maps in the Museum, is used for sheep grazing for which the Trust receives an annual rent of £400. In 1705, out of the sale of timber from this acreage, further land was purchased off Grinstead Lane, near South View Terrace - also shown on the old maps as Parish Field. As the Trust is not in a financial position to restore this field to realise a viable rent, it has been let for the time being at a peppercorn rent to farmers who own adjacent land. This notional rent reflects the fact that they are currently looking after the land with the intention of eventually restoring it at their own expense to grazing condition for their pedigree Dexter cattle.

It is remarkable that this small and unique Charity is ‘living’ after 365 years and that the fields still exist that bring in the revenue to fund its aims and objectives albeit that these have changed somewhat to reflect the 21st century. Henfield is now an affluent and wealthy village unlike in 1661 when the Charity was set up. According to the Trust ‘needy’ individuals have become increasingly difficult to identify’, so as well as individual M&S vouchers for clothing in keeping with the spirit of the original bequest, the Trust has made donations to The Henfield Haven, St Peter’s School Headmaster’s Fund and the Youth Club all to be specifically used where ‘need’ is identified by those responsible’. Let’s hope that with the dedicated support of successive Trustees, as now, and the land being well cared for, this Charity will survive for another 365 years!

Vita Barnes, Henfield Museum Volunteer

Image © Henfield Museum

Taken from the July 2017 edition of The Parish Magazine.
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