All About Wadhurst

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Perhaps the key historic event in Wadhurst was the Prize Fight which is thought to have taken place in a field next to the Sparrows Green Playing Fields on Thursday 10 December in 1863. This was bare-fisted boxing and was a very brutal sport. This particular fight was between the American John Heenan and the Englishman Tom King. It lasted for twenty four rounds and was won by Tom King. On the day of the fight a special train left London Bridge carrying the two contestants, officials, spectators and punters. Neither Kent nor Sussex police had any warning of this fight and, according to an entry in 'The Story of Wadhurst', it was also a complete surprise to the owner of the field. His tenant, on return from a holiday, was very angry about the damage caused to the meadow and to the breaking of his hedges and gates. This was the last fight of this kind. Canon Michael Insley, a previous vicar of the parish, has written a book about this event.

On 20 January 1956 the face of Wadhurst High Street was changed dramatically when a Meteor Jet aircraft, piloted by a local man, tragically crashed damaging several shops, the Queen's Head Hotel, which was the old coaching inn, and other dwellings in the vicinity. Both the pilot and his navigator, as well as two local residents, died as a result of this terrible accident. The buildings which replaced this devastation did nothing to enhance the character of Wadhurst High Street. Many of the older residents felt that the design of the replacement shops was out of keeping.

This was not the only air crash that occurred in Wadhurst. In 1925 a French plane, on its way to Paris from Croydon, hit a tree and crashed in a field near to Three Oaks. One lady was killed and several people were injured.

While on the subject of plane crashes there were two which took place during the 'Battle of Britain'. They both happened in September 1940 while many families were working in the hop gardens. The first, a Messerschmitt, came down at Great Butts Farm where the pilot survived and was taken prisoner while his fellow crew member died in hospital. The second, also a Messerschmitt, was brought down by members of a Polish fighter squadron and landed in a field at Fox-Hole Farm. The pilot was killed and later interred in Wadhurst Churchyard.

On Thursday 26 July 1979 Wadhurst experienced another catastrophe. The old barn and outbuildings in Washwell Lane belonging to Cheesman and Newington were completely gutted by fire. This event, like the plane crash, also helped to change part of Wadhurst. Now a modern farm-type building stands where once were picturesque farm buildings.

The people of Wadhurst, in common with many others living in the South and East of England, woke up on the morning of 16 October 1987 to much devastation. During the night hurricane force winds had blown through the area causing trees to be uprooted, power lines brought down and roofs of houses and shops seriously damaged. One of the two ancient yew trees in the churchyard was blown down damaging tombstones lying in its path. The market hall was flattened and at Sparrows Green a tree fell on a parked empty bus. All roads were blocked by fallen trees; 14 tree trunks could be seen across the railway track between the station and the tunnel entrance - as a result many people could not get to work. Once again a true sense of camaraderie was shown when many men, armed with chain saws, tackled the problem enabling others to go about their daily routine.

Fortunately this hurricane occurred during the night otherwise far more serious consequences would have been experienced. Roofing materials, greenhouses and other bits and pieces were carried some distances coming to rest in other peoples' gardens. Electricity supplies were cut off as were some telephone communications and took several days to be restored. Electricity engineers were brought from Wales and from the North of England to assist with the mammoth task of restoring supplies; sadly one was killed as a result of a tragic accident.

The wet winter of 2000/2001 did not have the devastating effect on Wadhurst that it did on towns and villages elsewhere in the South East. But even here, water levels rose on the roads and the B2099 by the railway bridge was under two feet or more of water on several occasions. Again, camerarderie prevailed as good neighbours sought to limit the problems - though some motorists felt they had God-given rights to attempt to get through rather than go round, not always with success!

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