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Published on April 7th, 2015 | by Perrin


The Forgotten Church of Ashdown Forest

By Michael Taylor – Crowborough

The great mansion that sits near Wych Cross under the name of Ashdown Park Hotel was not actually purpose built as a high-end guest house.
In fact, the building is not even the original house that stood on the site. In 1822, records show a Thomas Bradford being registered as the first owner of the house which he had just built in the Ashdown Park area of Wych Cross. The exact history of the house is uncertain, but it subsequently passed into the possession of Admiral Jacob Henniker, just after he had retired from service in the Royal Navy.
Admiral Henniker died in 1843 and the grand house passed to his son, Edward Henniker, who also owned a nearby dwelling called the Old Lodge. Then, in 1867, Ashdown Park was sold to a religious entrepreneur from Durham, Mr Thomas Charles Thompson. It was Mr Thompson who razed the house to its foundations and rebuilt a slightly smaller Gothic mansion in its place.
Mr Thompson also added a farm to his 186 acre plot and that enterprise went from strength to strength. Indeed, he soon employed some labourers to tend to his business and built them cottages to live in and even a school to educate their children. Every week the employees and their children would walk the four miles to Hartfield to attend the village church. Mr Thompson, being the pious man that he was, decided to build his workers their own church in the grounds of Ashdown Park, so they could worship with ease. The building was finished somewhere between 1867 and 1877 and he named it the Church of St. Richard de Wych, after the 13th century Bishop of Chichester.
Mr Thompson died in 1892 and left the whole estate to his grandson, C.K.T. Fisher. Fisher was a well-known painter but he was sadly killed whilst serving for his country in the First World War. As he was too young to have had any children, Ashdown Park had to pass out of the family and Fisher’s will left it to be used as a hospital for Belgian military officers. After looking after injured servicemen, the mansion was then sold in 1920 to the Sisters of Notre de Namur. A new chapel was added to the house and the church began to become disused and fell into disrepair. Seven years before, the popular Church of St. Richard at Colman’s Hatch had been erected and soon the Ashdown Park Church was rendered obsolete.
Sadly, the church became a target for vandals and was demolished stone by stone in the seventies. Bizarrely, the house itself then spent a very brief time as a wing of the University of California, before being bought by Barclays Bank and converted to a staff training centre. Most recently, in 1993, the estate was bought by a hotel group and renovated into the luxurious Ashdown Park Hotel that still stands today.

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