Where is Blackham?
Whether you use new technology or old, it is still easy to miss Blackham. So let’s see if we can point you in the right direction. If you drive along the A264 from Tunbridge Wells towards East Grinstead you will go under a railway bridge at Ashurst and immediately over the River Medway, which marks the border of Kent and Sussex. You are now in Blackham. As the road sweeps round to the right and up Watch Oak Hill, you might just catch a glimpse of the plain village sign before taking a sharp left hand bend. A few buildings flash past before you speed along a tree-lined road and, within a mile, drive past the Sussex Oak pub on your way to Holtye. You have driven through Blackham. Or rather, you have driven past it because most of the village lies away from the main road, a well-kept secret hidden from view on the other side of the horse’s-head-shaped ‘island.’
One of the difficulties in researching Blackham’s story is that it is just a small part of Withyham parish and most of the written evidence has to be extracted from documents about that village. Many a Blackham resident is listed as being ‘of Withyham.’ Defining the border And the problem is not made easier by the problem of defining where the border of the two villages is. We know the western border of Blackham - the parish boundary with Hartfield. To the north it nestles into Kent Water until that small river joins the River Medway and starts to form the eastern border. But how far south does Blackham go before it becomes Withyham village? Some would say no further than Beech Green House. But there is a case to claim that the village extends as far as the river at Summeford Farm, for surely it must include Blackham Court? Certainly the maps of the Manor of Blackham in the
Buckhurst Terrier, a survey taken in 1597-1598, suggest that was the boundary. The other justification for such a claim comes from the former Withyham vicar, the Rev Sutton’s disparaging remarks that in Blackham ‘Sunday was was entirely disregarded. Idlers were to be seen about the lanes, passing the day playing pitch and toss &c., whilst others were drinking and fighting.’ Part of the reason for that disregard for the sabbath might have been that with Blackham church not
built until 1902, villagers had to walk to Withyham and as the Summerford name suggests, that might not have been easy in winter. It certainly wasn’t in 1951 as the picture left shows. Sutton himself admits in his explanation of why Lord Buckhurst moved to Knole between 1603-5 that ‘Some have thought that Queen Elizabeth wished to have him within easier reach of her Court and Councils, especially as the roads in the neighbourhood of Buckhurst were at times impassable.’ But wherever the border, Blackham is a village that people who know it return to time and again. So if you haven’t been, why not give it a try? Remember, if you are coming from Tunbridge Wells and you pass the Sussex Oak, you have gone too far. Similarly, if you are coming from East Grinstead and see the sign for Ashurst, you need to turn round. If you are coming the back way from Edenbridge, you are intrepid enough not to need any guidance!
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