The History of Pippingford is inextricably linked to that of Old Lodge and the Ashdown Forest in general.
Up until the civil war, all the land – both that which is now in private hands and what is now forest proper- were one and the same. The whole comprised a royal hunting preserve, with commoner’s rights being held by custom and tradition. With the overthrow of the monarchy and the execution of Charles the 1st the situation was set for “all change”.
The parliamentary survey of 1685, carried out by William Dawes and others, is somewhat scathing about Pippingford. It refers to “Pippingford Lodge, and parcel of Ashdown Forest, late property of Charles Stuart, late king of England”. The occupant was one John Franke, described as a gentleman, and keeper of Pippingford Walke and the West Ward.
The buildings were said to consist of a brew house, Kitchen, Parlour, Larder, and a buttery below stairs in addition to the main house. A stable, Ox Stall and Barn also feature. The land was assessed at “One and Twenty Acres” and the buildings were said to be “out of repaire”. Attached to Pippingford was a “Parcell of open common and waste ground sett for and to the common wealth”. This stretched from Wych Cross, eastward down the gill to the head of a brook called Deep Deane Gill at Stony Brook. down to where it joined the steel forge river, and thence southwards for three quarter of mile to sixty perches below three wards and then back to Wych Cross.
The woods and trees were said to be of little value except “for fiering” and they were valued at forty pounds. In another survey, the land was claimed to be good for little else save growing rabbits. However, all was claimed by the common wealth.
After the restoration of the monarchy, all presumably reverted to Charles II, following this, the enclosures took place.
Pippingford was enclosed by William Newnham, who lived at Maresfield Park. He is said to have set it up in more or less its present configuration, and planted many trees. Pippingford and Old Lodge then comprised 2175 acres. After passing through the hands of Williams’ heirs and successors, the estate was acquired by William Bradford in the early nineteenth century. He built the first Mansion, which was destroyed by fire on the fifth of November 1833. The local legend has it that no one came to help extinguish the flames, because it was thought in the village that it was a Guy Fawkes celebration. The fire is supposed to have been started by a drunken butler knocking over an oil lamp.
Most of the contents were saved, but the house was destroyed, and was not apparently insured, apparently. The estate fell into the hands of the unfortunate Bradfords Lawyer, Henry Shirley.
Apparently the house lay derelict until the estate was acquired by John Mortimer. He was obviously a ,man of some substance, as he had a town house in Hanover Square, and was able to commission the famous French architect, Hector Horeau , to build what must have been an exceedingly grand and expensive country one. Like another of Horeau’s creation, Normanhurst, near Battle , The house was modelled on a French chateau, and was hopelessly impractical. it was completed in 1857, and was three times the size of the present one. As a matter of interest, Hector Horeau won the competition for the design of the great exhibition of 1851, but was not awarded the contract, no doubt because he was a foreigner.
After Mortimers death in 1871, the property passed to a Mr Grey, who is believed to have been his nephew. He was reputed to have been a very pleasant man, and existing photographs seem to bear this out. He was well liked locally. Strangely enough the estate seldom seems to have been handed on from father to son, and after his death it was owned by Captain Banbury, believed to have been in the Royal Engineers. He is supposed to have been Mr Grey’s nephew. Captain Banbury constructed, or perhaps reconstructed the existing Middle Lake, but the Big lake, which now lies empty was reconstructed by the previous owner.
In 1914 Pippingford was acquired by a speculator, a Mr Anderson, who owned collieries. He cut down the vast majority of the trees, once so carefully planted by the previous owners, and effectively devastated the estate. Despite this he eventually became bankrupt, and the property was sold to Haley Morriss. After this the character changed and the same family still run it today.
Haley Morris was a keen naturalist, and with the exception of foxes, wildlife was encouraged, and the existing lakes built. Farming was a secondary consideration, although the farm was run for agriculture. At one time it was reputedly the third largest pig farm in England.
With the coming of World War 2 in 1939, the Army moved in. This is believed to have been to counter any German Paratroop landings in the Ashdown Forest which would have been part of Operation Sealion. This was the code name for their planned invasion of England.
The farm was run by the Ministry Of Agriculture and after the war was let to a fruit farmer.
In 1986 the lease was terminated, and the farm like the rest of the estate is now run with nature conservation as a foremost objective whilst trying to sympathetically derive an income.
The estate is still used by the army with every Sandhurst cadet doing their first week of field craft on the estate.
The earliest reference to the area is in Roman literature where it is referred to as “Esk’s Hill Forest”, the estate was then an important iron working area, the Romans established a hill fort known as “Garden Hill” which was excavated in the 1970’s Garden Hill Fort became very prosperous supplying as it did the iron which was so essential to the Roman conquest of Britain. Expensive imports were found among the remains, including pottery, known as Samian Ware, which was made in the South of France. The only complete pane of Roman glass ever found in Britain at that time was unearthed, and the fort bears the distinction of having the smallest Roman bath house ever discovered. The lead piping is still there. By the end of the sixth century the fort had become derelict with the fall of the Roman Empire. The Roman farmland and gardens became overrun by the forest waiting to take them back, and it passed into history.
The second blast furnace ever built in England was built at Pippingford in 1500. The remains can be seen to this day. At this time Henry the VII was on the throne. Iron was smelted until the end of the Seventeenth Century. During the archaeological excavation of the site a cannon, the only one ever found which had not been bored out, was unearthed along with other objects. These can be seen at the Anne Of Cleeves museum at Lewes.