Broadleys, Celebrating 125 Years in East Grinstead

Celebrating 125 Years | Special Article

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Celebrating 125 Years in Business

We are delighted to be celebrating 125 years in business in East Grinstead High Street. Family run since the very start and now in ownership of the fourth generation Simon Broadley. We would like to express a massive thank you to all our customers for their support over the many years and especially the past 18 months which has been extremely challenging and forced us to channel our business online as well as in store. We hope you enjoy reading this special article, as part of our 125th year.  

Broadleys of East Grinstead was founded when George Herbert Broadley was given £500 by his mother Charlotte to set up his own business. While at Victoria Railway Station he saw a poster of East Grinstead and he liked the look of it and so took the train to the town and after seeing a ‘To Let ‘ board decided to start the business in the 14th century premises 38-40 High Street. George and his wife were prominent Methodist and were one of the first people in East Grinstead to have a car, Ford Talbot. When George died a large brass plaque was erected in the church and also for their son Thomas a Bristol Fighter pilot  who was reported missing and presumed killed in action in 1918. Thomas’s name is also on the war memorial in the High Street. The business expanded with branches in Hove, Portslade, Haywards Heath (1900-1931) Horsham ( 1907-1915)  and briefly in Eastbourne and Worthing. In 1949 they bought the adjoining premises 34-36 High Street. Now in 2021 Broadleys operates just its East Grinstead.

Over the past few years Olwen Broadley has conducted tours of our building raising several thousand pounds for various local charities St Catherine’s Hospice, Bluebell Railway and most recently Kent Surrey & Sussex Air Ambulance. The tours were originally based on the 1995 research by Mr Peter Gray of Lingfield. Olwen has continued to delve into various archives, census returns and deeds to discover more of the rich history of the family and the building.

34-40 High Street is an exceptional medieval building and was of considerable importance in the town at the time. It is one of the original burgages that constituted the borough of East Grinstead from its foundation in the 13th century. It is unlike any other building in the town it is far larger/grander occupying a 4 rod plot rather than the normal two of most other burgages.

The original owner it is thought was Sir Walter de la Lynde until his death when John Dallingridge assumed the title. They were prominent in the town enjoying privileges and were elected members of parliament. The family also owned Bodiam castle and interesting to note our building is at least 30 years older than the castle which was built in 1385.

(Images above supplied by Peter Grey)
The timber framed building needs to be considered in two distinct periods pre 1350 the Black Death during the reign of King Edward 3rd and then in the early 15th century with the construction of the Cross Wing. This Cross Wing dates from 1410-1420 and was the result of a bequest from John Dallingridge.

The frames of this timber framed medieval building, roof and floors were prefabricated by a carpenter on the ground to ensure each piece would fit with the others and then transported and assembled on site to form the complete building. Some key beams are numbered in roman numerals and also have the carpenters marks. These frames were always two dimensional and our building is made up a series of such frames.

The building is centred round the Great Open Hall and was built on a box frame with oak beam construction. Since the 15th century it has comprised of two open hall type structures from barely seasoned oak quite possibly ships timbers. The main range is 36-40 and no 34 being a range  end onto the street of at least 4 bays over cellars cut into the natural rock. A bay is the distance between two pairs of principal posts. It is quite possible that there was a courtyard arrangement at the rear with the present building forming the front range.

The Great Open Hall was open to the roof where smoke from the open hearth gradually found its way through gaps in the thatch which was the most common type of roofing material at that time. Though on this building it could well have originally had Horsham stone slabs which it still has today on the front. The fire was used to heat the hall, to cook the food suspended above it either in a cauldron or on a spit. Up in one of the attics you will find soot deposits on the roof timbers from decades of an open fire and is a firm clue of the existence of an open hall. Chimneys were inserted at a later date .

The Open Hall’s first floor was created in the late 16th or 17th century though there is no specific evidence to date. A second floor /attics it is thought were added in the 18th century. 

There are various possibilities as to why it was built .

  1. A fine house in traditional form parlour open hall and service quarter .Separate entrance for the servants and the merchants with a wagon way at the rear .
  2. It could have been a merchants house with its  impressive formal room at the front and private range at the back which has long since disappeared.
  3. It  could have been built as an inn with some accommodation at the rear 
  4. As a civic building or  guildhall particularly as it has such a fine upper room  in the Cross Wing 

The spaces between the timbers were originally filled with wattle made from woven sticks or split laths and sprung into place covered thickly with daub which was a mixture of clay, animal hair or straw and water. A coat of lime wash would probably have covered both the timber frame and infill on the outside

There are two cellars under the entire building the rear part of which is cut out of the natural Ardingly sandstone which is about 137 million years old and was at the time of Iguanodons. It has long been thought that the last martyrs to be burnt at the stake as heretics in the High Street on Saturday 18th July 1556 were held here the night before. On the tour you will see the cellar and experience what it was like for the three martyrs Anne Tree ,Thomas Dungate and John Foreman.

Over the past eighteen months further research has established that an Ironmongers business was here before Broadleys and  the fact they lived in the upper floors. The two families associated with the building for the longest time were  the Coopers and Steers. James Cooper’s family lived at 36-38 and William Steer at 34-38 .

The  ‘wagon way at the east end of the building, it is particularly high and gave access to the rear when in 17th century it was a rather grand hostelry called The Lyon and later  renamed The Red Lion.

To the  rear of the building were a series of 11 portlands - a portland is a long narrow strips of land for agriculture that were behind each building in the high Street paying rent of 3d for an area of 1/4to 1/2 an acre. Here they have long since disappeared .

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