George Broadley, dapper in his starched collarless shirt and immaculate hair, returned my gaze from a century-old sepia photo held by his great grandson, Simon (pictured above). Simon’s wife, Olwen, took me on a tour through seven centuries of the building’s past, pointing out glimpses of its previous lives and its role in the local community.
Spanning numbers 34-40 High Street, the building’s origins point to four intriguing possibilities. It may have started life as a grand house with a wagon way to give access to the rear, which could have contained significant buildings behind. It could have housed a merchant or burgager, with impressive formal business premises at the front and separate private accommodation, now gone, at the rear.
The fact that it was an inn in 1608 suggests that it could have been a hostelry from the start, with its impressive arched wagon way, and East Grinstead being such a wealthy town for its size. The fourth possibility indicates a guildhall, from where the town’s economy would have been supervised. The fine upper room seems to be tailor-made for meetings with its wide view of the street below. Clues scatter the building like whispers from the past, some pointing to one possibility, others to a different story.
Little is known of East Grinstead before the Black Death; the earliest written record of the building is a Crown survey in 1564, which lists a John Leddes as head tenant. Dendro- dating, which studies sections of wood removed from timbers, dates numbers 36 to 40 back with incredible accuracy to the winter of 1351 and it is thought that the building was complete by 1355. Olwen showed me numerals carved onto a beam; this suggested that the building frame was constructed off site, beams being numbered so that they could be matched up in the correct position. I imagined a 14th century carpenter chiselling the numbers before hauling the great oak timbers onto a horse drawn wagon, perhaps stuffing the drawings in his pocket to act as reference.
“THE THOUGHT OF 700 YEARS WORTH OF OCCUPANTS SUBTLY ALTERING THE BUILDING TO SUIT THEMSELVES IS SOMEWHAT DIZZYING.”
Drawings of the building’s timber frame depict positions of all beams, braces and tie beams, which keep the structure stable. One of these tie beams has been cut through to make room for a chimney and fire place. It’s as though a succession of owners can be felt from their chopping and changing of the building’s structure. Of course, this happens in any building with previous owners, but the thought of 700 years worth of occupants subtly altering the building to suit themselves is somewhat dizzying.
Looking at the building as a whole shows it to consist of two structures: the original numbers 36-40 fronted the road; number 34, added in the early 15th century, stood side on to the street. This was a replacement for an earlier structure; a stair turret indicates there was a stairway, a chimney and a door. The wagon way is unusually high and it’s easy to envisage coaches pulled by steaming horses turning in here, filled with luggage, people and provisions. Olwen thinks there may have been extensive stabling, outbuildings and land behind the building and possibly a courtyard with room for a turning cart or coach.
The cellars hold perhaps the most compelling stories of the building’s past. In 1877 they were said to contain the Dallingridge Coat of Arms. John Dallingridge built the magnificent Bodiam Castle in 1385 and the family married into the Sackville family who owned much of East Grinstead. He left money so that the crosswing or side structure could be added, which took place from 1410 to 1420.
In 1556, the cellars took on the role of temporary prison for the last three protestant martyrs to be burned at the stake. Holed up in the dark, airless cellar for their last night alive, Anne Tree, Thomas Dunngate and John Foreman were burned as heretics outside on the High Street on 18th July because they refused to renounce their Protestant Faith.
The attic gives an indication of the building’s inner construction. Wattle and daub are visible although in other parts of the building, straw was used which was a medieval material. In the darkest corner of the attic, I shone a torch into the gloom to pick out a king post, a main structural element of the central construction.
Back in the bustle of the shop, Olwen showed me a photo taken from a postcard sent by a customer from Norfolk. It shows the shop in 1910 when it was owned by George Harrison Broadley, Simon’s great grandfather, who they think is the gentleman on the right. Under the shop name, ’40 Broadley Brothers’, are the words ‘outfitters’ and ‘hatters’ serving as a reminder of a time when no one left home without their headgear.
“IN 1556, THE CELLARS TOOK ON THE ROLE OF TEMPORARY PRISON FOR THE LAST THREE PROTESTANT MARTYRS TO BE BURNED AT THE STAKE: ANNE TREE, THOMAS DUNNGATE AND JOHN FOREMAN.”
Whatever the original purpose of this grand, prominently positioned building, its importance to East Grinstead is still apparent. Throughout the last 700 years it has served the town and its inhabitants. Certain to remain standing in centuries to come, Simon and Olwen’s intriguing building will continue to evolve, creating stories for a distant future.