A River History and the Rise of Henfield

Enjoy this varied countryside walk by the River Adur, its wildlife and discover how and why Henfield was established on this 2.5/3 hour walk.

Henfield stands on a sandy ridge overlooking water meadows and the South Downs. This 3-hour walk explores the origins of the village through road, river and railway, and takes you past historic buildings, along the Downs Link (a former railway line) and the banks of the River Adur.

From the Coopers Way car park, walk through an alley called Caudle Street to the High Street and turn left to pass the George Hotel

  1. The George Hotel
    • The George dates from Tudor times (1530s) and was recorded as an Inn in 1729. Later it became a coaching inn on what was a main route from London to Brighton. Doors at the side of the hotel car park show the former stabling area. Note the Tudor brickwork on the right side of Greenfield House.

At The George, cross the High Street and continue left past the petrol station and Golden Square to the junction with Nep Town Road. Turn right.

  1. Nep Town
    • Nep Town, meaning "Up" or "High" town, was an ancient settlement before Henfield existed. Note the workhouse on the left, now called Cedar View, built in 1736 to house the destitute of the parish. It closed in 1837 following the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. Nep Town runs along the edge of the sandy ridge. Turn left briefly into Weavers Lane for fine views of the South Downs and water meadows (which we will see later). A route from the settlement ran to a wharf on the River Adur (seen at 8). Early settlers saw the ridge of Nep Town, from the river, as an opportunity to live on secure, well-drained, fertile land.

At the end of Nep Town Road, at Mill End, turn left into Sandy Lane, leaving the high ground and the main village to descend south to the brooks near Blackhouse Farm and towards the Downs Link path.

  1. Market Gardens
    • Fields to the right of the lane are the site of former market gardens. The fertile soil gave rise to many market gardens, including Henfield’s most famous export, violets - emblem of the suffragettes.

The Lane bears left/south on to the former railway line - renamed the Downs Link.

Turn left onto the Down Link

  1. Downs Link
    • The Horsham to Shoreham railway line ran from 1861 to 1966, when it was closed under the Beeching rail reforms. The dismantled track is now the popular Downs Link path. Apart from passenger traffic, the railway was used to provide regular deliveries and exports of fruit, vegetables and flowers - including the famous Henfield violets - to London markets.
    • At the end of Nep Town Road, pass Mill End where the Old Mill blew down with a 'loud crash' in 1908. Passing the listed 16th century cottages, turn left into Sandy Lane, formerly on the edge of much early 20th century sand mining. Leaving the high ground and the main village, descend south to the brooks near Blackhouse Farm and towards the Downs Link path.
  2. The Brooks and Wildlife
    • Walking along the Downs Link in around 10 minutes you will come to a wooden seat. The view from here and other parts of the path looks out over fields which, in summer, is used to graze livestock. In winter the fields often flood, and the regularity of this has led to the fields on either side of the river - the water meadows - being known locally as the "brooks". The brooks support a huge variety of bird species.
  3. Stretham Manor
    • Stretham Manor, the very first settled part of Henfield parish lies close to the junction of the Downs Link and the river. "Stret" was the Roman road, part of a network carrying trade from Chichester to London crossed the River Adur, and "ham" the Saxon house close by. The land was owned by the Bishops of Chichester, whose stewards managed the estates. A circular ring of earth - difficult to see from the Downs Link but clearer from the air - shows the site of the home of Count Warbald and his wife Tilburga in 770. This is the year that the first church was dedicated in Henfield (seen at 12) - a dedication said to be the earliest recorded in Sussex.

Turn right and north to leave the bridge and join the west bank of the river. There are stiles on this section of the walk, some take a little climbing although smaller dogs should be able to go through the bottom of the stile.

  1. The River Adur
    • The River Adur is tidal, and the increased salt content in its more southern section limits the variety of plants that can grow. Many species of butterfly can be seen along this trail in summer months. Flaps are used to control flows of water into the river allowing it to flow freely at lower tides. River trade on the Adur took place until the late 1800s and the straightened section that you walk past here was built in the early 1800s to aid the travel of 40 foot long barges. In the Middle Ages, the river banks did not exist and the area occupied by the course of the modern-day river and the brooks was a wide estuary, with agricultural activity up on the Henfield ridge. In the 18th century, coal, chalk and malt were transported on barges upriver, and timber downriver.

After around 30 minutes walking you will reach Bineham Bridge

  1. The Old Port and Former Inn
    • At Bineham Bridge you can glimpse the ancient farmhouse of New Inn to the right. Now simply a farm, the 17th century house was both a farm and an inn until 1915. Goods were unloaded here and carried along Hollands Lane - the "old port road" - into the village. (Hollands Lane is on the “wet weather" route described in 10 below).

Leave the river here and turn right, past New Inn, to join West End Lane. You now have a choice of routes back to the village.

  1. Crossing the brooks, Rye Farm (“dry weather route”)
    • In dry weather, turn right at the crossways following the track past Harwoods, a farm dating to the medieval period and Frogshole. You are now in the water meadows. A bridge across the stream leads to higher ground.

Turn left on the high ground which takes you past Rye Farm. 14th century Rye Farm stands close to the brooks and, until quite recently, was regularly flooded and isolated in winter months - "rye" meaning 'at or on an island' - with inhabitants often having to row to the village until the modern causeway access road was constructed. (Now go to 11). The OS map shows a few possible paths here so clarity may be needed but it may just be clearer on the ground. It is clear but we also plan to mark the trail direction here.

  1. The Old Port Road (“wet weather route”)
    • In wet weather, when the brooks may be flooded or even impassable, go straight ahead at the crossways on what was the old port road. This is a mixture of lane and footpath, now called Hollands Lane, which takes you past two ancient houses - Leeches and Canons. Leeches, originally Beeches, is first recorded in 1647 and was a yeoman's cottage on a mixed arable/cattle farm. The sloping roof indicates a typical "hall" house - a dwelling with just one main living space - an indication that the building is older than mid-17th century. Canons is a 17th century yeoman farmer's house in the west part of Hollands Lane, and is notable for its timber framing. The house is listed in the 1612 will of Thomas Canon, who left £10 for the poor in his will - a large sum at that time.
  2. The Causeway to the Downs Link (“dry weather route”)
    • Turn left off the Rye Farm lane, along the modern causeway, to join the end of Hollands Lane (the “wet weather route”). Continue to where Hollands Lane joins Lower Station Road at the start of the southern section of the Downs Link. On the right you will see the old Steam Mill. The Steam Mill ground grain from around 1872, using plentiful supplies of coal from the nearby railway. After competition from more efficient local mills, it ceased milling in c1900. Since then it has had various uses and is currently the premises of a furniture makers.

      Walk up the footpath from Lower Station Road to Batts Pond on the left. Take the footpath to the left of the pond`- not up Batts Pond Lane - until you join Faircox Lane. Walk along Faircox Lane and turn right into Upper Station Road, which becomes Church Street. At Church Lane, turn right, with St. Peter's church on your left
  3. St. Peter's Church
    • In 770 (see 6) the Lord of the Manor built a church dedicated to St. Peter. The charter hangs in the foyer. The stone structure replaced the wooden church in c1250 and was enlarged in the 14th century with an 8-bell tower added in 1450. The flint exterior, added in 1871, is one of the most notable in Sussex, Many of the stained glass windows are the work of Charles Kempe or his company, a celebrated Sussex artist and friend of the then vicar.

Continue up Church Lane, past the Roman Catholic church hidden away on your right, to join the footpath leading past the tanyard field to Cagefoot Lane and the former tanyard

  1. The Tanyard, ‘Potwell’ and the village centre
    • The field, now a pleasant wildlife meadow and picturesque pond, was a tanyard from Tudor times until 1844. The leather tanning process used oak bark. The pond was used to soak the hides. Just beyond the post & rail fence were the tan pits where urine and dung were used to soak cattle hides, making it an extremely smelly part of the village. Opposite the pond is ‘Potwell ‘- the birthplace of William Borrer, a famous Victorian botanist and expert on lichens, whose study of lichens and air quality is still valued today.

      Turn left along Cagefoot Lane, used as a rope walk in the 19th century because it is so long and straight. to rejoin the High Street. The name ‘Cagefoot’ derives from “catchfoot” because in the High Street near the entrance were the village stocks and whipping post; a person’s feet would be held in the stocks.

Time for a drink and a bite to eat in one of our many hostelries and coffee shops!

Facilities & Amenities:

  1. Public Toilets in High Street
  2. Tourist Information Centre Village Care, Information touch screens Coopers Way Car Park, Bus Shelter (High Street)

Directing to further resources

  1. Henfield Museum, Henfield Hall next to Coopers Way car park (start and finish point for trail)
  2. Henfield Library BN5 9HN

Millenium plaques: Stretham Manor (needs replacing as currently missing)

Copyright Compliant: for written material and photographs

Safety Criteria

Health & Safety & accessibility information

  1. Suitable for families and fit and able adults but there are some quite high stiles to climb
  2. Not suitable for disabled carriages or pushchairs beyond Stretham Manor. For these a walk to and back from Stretham Manor along the Downs Link is a suitable alternative.

Relevant permissions secured: all obtained

Social criteria:

Suitability for family or individuals: Suitable for families and individuals who are reasonably fit and healthy

Privacy: No issues

Type of walk: 2.5/3 hours minutes a mixture of tarmac, crushed stone and grass

Rights of way: public footpaths and bridleways

Dog logo: dogs on leads please, bicycles, horses, cattle and sheep all feature on this route so care is needed.