An article in the cabinet drew my attention, which may shed some light on the condition of the roads around Henfield, in days gone bye. A very simple device called a Patten consisting of a wooden sole, very much like a clog which attaches to a woman’s shoe. Underneath the sole is a metal frame which raises the wearer up from the ground, the idea being to keep her skirts from the mud, in the days before metalled roads.

There is a letter in the records office from a woman who lived in Nep Town recounting how when she was a child, her father’s dog cart got bogged down in the mud of Nep Town Road and could not be moved for a few months. This road along with Church Street and Furners Lane, would have been little more than dirt tracks, the upkeep would be paid for by the occupiers of the land adjoining the track.

Sussex roads had a reputation for their mire, and in winter were often impassable for months on end. A writer in the reign of Elizabeth 1st sums up Sowseks (Sussex) as ‘full of dyrt and myre’. One wagon load of iron ore travelling through the weald towards the coast was lost for approximately nine months after being abandoned, stuck up to its axles in clay. Once abandoned the owners apparently could not locate it!

A regular visitor to Shermanbury in the 18th century describes as he entered Sussex, he came ‘upon a land so desolate and muddy, and upon roads which were Sussexian’ i.e. an adjective for abominable conditions. Even in summertime he found ‘the deep and sticky mud still lying in the narrow trenchways and liable to splash up so that horses could not keep their feet…so that with all their haste we got on but slowly.’ It was said that Sussex women owe their long legs to the exercise involved in lifting them out of the Sussex mud. Sussex mud was said to be a very friendly type of mud because it always clung to you and would never let you go!

To improve the state of repair of the roads, the 18th century saw the introduction of the Turnpike roads. Road Trusts were formed by Act of Parliament which allowed tolls to be levied on all passengers and traffic, except pedestrians. The money raised was supposed to be put into the repair and upkeep of the road. All of what are now A and B roads were turnpiked with the exception of the A2307 road to Shoreham.

Steve Robotham (Assistant Curator, Henfield Museum)

Taken from the March 2018 edition of The Parish Magazine.
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