Bridge Cottage has stood at the bottom of what was to become Uckfield High Street since the early 15th century – 1436 to be precise.
The Cottage has seen many shops, markets and buildings come and go in the past 582 years. In 1983 the medieval building was saved from demolition by the Uckfield & District Preservation Society and Uckfield Town Council. Thanks to a grant in 2016 from The Heritage Lottery Fund, it has now been extensively restored and today looks much as it would have done in the early 1600s. Since the restoration the building now stands in the High Street as a vibrant Heritage Centre hosting many events and tours. From 24th March until 7th April they will be hosting an exhibition that tells the story of the High Street.
Dr Maria Kirk, Heritage Education Officer at Bridge Cottage Heritage and curator of this exhibition said:
“We have brought together information from our archives and previous publications, along with newly discovered material found by a team of researchers. Using images, adverts, maps and memories, we have brought the history of the High Street into the present to share with everyone at our free exhibition. Come and visit the exhibition and find information and images of iconic shops to medieval trade history, from transport links to demolition and development, there is so much history to uncover.”
One of the many shops featured at the exhibition will be Barford’s clothing store. For much of the 20th century, the shop was a mainstay of Uckfield High Street. The first Barford’s shop was at 184 High Street. Thomas Herbert Barford bought the business in 1899 from Clanmorris Thompson, himself a draper and milliner, for just over £300. In 1907, with the business doing well, Thomas Barford moved his Ladies’ Outfitting Department to 146 High Street, on the North corner of Uckfield High Street and Grange Road (shown in the picture below).
The men’s department stayed at the old shop until 1923 then it was moved to 142 High Street.
(Below: The original shop at 184 High Street in the early 20th century)
The 146 High Street shop later gained a children’s department and a soft furnishing department. Until at least the 1960s the Barford family kept a “country round”, delivering clothes to a large area
stretching from Haywards Heath to Alfriston and Edenbridge to Lewes. As both public transport links improved and personal car ownership became more and more commonplace this practice became less popular, and customers from further afield came to the visit the shop themselves. Barford’s closed its doors for the last time in 1980.
Fast forward to December 2017 and the story of the Barford’s continues long since they closed their doors for trading on the High Street. A donation was taken to the Heritage Centre – this donation was a metal suitcase containing a collection of family momentos: photographs, letters, books and manuals dating from the early 20th Century. The name on the items was ‘Barford’. Bridge Cottage Heritage Centre Education Officer Nicola Stewart met with the donators to discover more about this intriguing suitcase. Nicola said,
“This intrigued us from the moment I met the donators Tony Gerrard & Susan Meadows. The story was full of mystery and was waiting to be solved! Tony and Susan told me they moved into their house ‘Foscote’ on Maresfield Park in 1978. They bought the house from an elderly Mrs Barford. Unbeknown to them an old metal suitcase sat in a hidden corner of their loft. Tony & Susan discovered this many years later and kept it safe in the hope they could one day reunite the contents with a descendant of the Barford family. Hence, where we step in. We put an appeal out to the public to help us trace the Barfords and the response was huge”
The appeal resulted in much information coming forward on the family and the link was made between this suitcase and the Barford family who traded in Uckfield High Street. Subsequently Heritage Centre staff have been able to find the descendants of Thomas Valentine Barford. Some of the items from the suitcase will be on display at their forthcoming exhibition.
For more information on the exhibition go to www.bridgecottageuckfield.co.uk