John Thorp – Ironmaster in the Weald

My MSc dissertation completed earlier this year looked at the subject of Ironmasters in the Weald and discussed their origins and their wealth.  One of the six families chosen as part of the study was the Thorp family, who happen to appear in my own ancestry and the reason I became interested in the subject in the first place. To see where they fit into the family tree please visit my tribal pages family tree.

John Thorp lived during the Tudor times.  His origin and date of birth are as yet unknown.  He died in 1607 and was buried 25 March 1607 at Lingfield in Surrey.  He married a daughter and heiress of _______ Bowett and they had 8 children.

Through the course of my study I found a whole host of different records that helped to build a picture of John and his business even though he lived some 500 years ago and by reading a number of documents such as wills, leases and mortgages I discovered the extent of the property he had leased, from the Gage family, rich landowners in Sussex and the property he was eventually able to buy.  The map below shows the three ironworking sites that were associated with John Thorp and his sons in the Crawley area.

Map of John Thorp's ironworking sites
Map of John Thorp’s ironworking sites

I spent a number of days transcribing a variety of old documents at The Keep (the East Sussex Record Office) which proved very fruitful and interesting.  I discovered that unlike the other ironworking families I studied, the Thorp family leased their furnaces and forges from the landowners along with the woods to supply the fuel for the furnaces.   John was described as a yeoman and did not own any land or property of his own but by the time his will was proved in 1609 he left property and leases to his sons.    The will  clearly states how he left his lease of Hedgecourt (his home) and that would have included leases of his ironworks which went with the estate of Hedgecourt to his third son Thomas, overlooking his eldest son, John. (A story for another day perhaps!)

A later lease for 31 years dated 2 February 1629 between Sir John Gage of Firle and Richard Thorpe of Hedgecourt  (a grandson) included ‘and all the iron forge or iron workes called or knowne as Woodcock Hammer or Woodcock works And all buildings upon any pte.’

Cudworth Manor
Cudworth Manor, one of John Thorp’s properties

I discovered documents that described agreements of sale and sale of timber giving exact instructions of which trees were to be cut down and how.  I even discovered a draft bill that described how John and his son Thomas had been ‘enjoying’ since the death of John Gage the cutting down, stibbing and rooting up of most part of the woods to the value of £3000 they did not have permission to cut.

For more information about the Iron Industry of the Weald visit the Wealden Iron Research Group website which has a wealth of information about the archaeology carried out on the industry and the people and places involved.

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World War 1 heroes – Henry Baldwin and Percy Harmer

This year, 2014, with it’s big anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, I have thought a lot about my own ancestors and their own involvement in the war. Research into the available records have revealed that a number of my ancestors fought.  For instance I found service papers that revealed that Albert John Terry, my great grandfather didn’t enlist until 1917, and unfortunately he forfeited 7 days pay for leaving his kit hanging up in the kitchen!

It would appear that most of my ancestors who were involved returned from the war except for two great great uncles:

Gravestone of Henry Baldwin
Gravestone of Henry Baldwin

Henry James Baldwin born 30 September 1885 in Hoxton, Middlesex.  He was my great grandfather, Reuben Baldwin’s eldest brother.   From service records found so far it would appear that Henry and his brothers were sent from London at an early age to train at the naval base of Portsmouth.  Henry became a regular soldier and he appeared on the 1911 census in Hong Kong as a Gunner with the 87th Company Royal Garrison Artillery.  From the little I have managed to learn so far they were called back to Europe at the beginning of WW1 and he died at the 4th siege battery at Ypres on 16 June 1915.  His informal will leaves all his personal belongings to his mother.

Gravestone of Percy Harmer
Gravestone of Percy Harmer

Percy Harmer on the other hand was born on 28 January 1899 in Dallington, Sussex and he was only 15 years of age at the outbreak of war.  The 1911 census had him living at home with his family and he was still attending school, no doubt at Dallington village school.  It is likely that by 1914 he had followed his brother’s example and was working as a farm labourer on one of the many local farms nearby.  I haven’t managed to find his service record but from information found on the web it appeared he was probably one of ‘Lowther’s lambs’ and enlisted early 1916 at the age of 17.  He was in the 11th batallion of the Royal Sussex Regiment, one of the Southdown Batallion.  More information can be found at

Unfortunately he died on 3 March 1918 in the Somme during the last great push by the Germans.  He was 19 years of age and his name appears on the memorial in the Town Hall in Eastbourne.

With both these young men dying, any potential family lines ended and when their close family died they became forgotten.  Through my family history research I have resurrected their existence and through telling their stories once again they can be honoured for fighting for their country.

For more information about the war dead from Dallington check out the Dallington village website.  Roy Iremonger has researched the names of the young men from Dallington who fought and his book can be found here:

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My ancestors of the Weald

I work at the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in a Unit set up to help conserve a very special landscape.  Long before I started working there or even before I had heard of the High Weald or AONBs, the Wealden part of Sussex was a special place to me.

Grandparents at Punnetts Town
Grandparents at Punnetts Town

My grandparents lived in Punnetts Town and my childhood was punctuated with holidays there, exploring the woods, gills, fields and footpaths around the area between there and Dallington.  I always felt a strong affinity with the landscape and have always felt drawn there as if I was at home despite living some 10 miles away.

It was not until 2004 when I embarked upon my family history that I realised why, for 500 years and more my family have lived in that part of Sussex.  Burwash, Dallington, Warbleton, Wadhurst, Heathfield are all names embedded in my family tree and now I know why I feel so at home.

So what has this got to do with working at the High Weald AONB, well this is a special landscape, and as quoted on the homepage of the website ‘A medieval landscape of wooded, rolling hills studded with sandstone outcrops; small, irregular-shaped fields; scattered farmsteads; and ancient routeways.’  I feel an immense pride in the fact that this landscape was shaped by my ancestors along with many other local families who helped to farm the medieval landscape, fell the woods and create the sunken routeways.  I have been carrying on that tradition for 15 years by ‘doing my bit’ at the Unit.

Dudwell Valley, photographer Janina Holubecki for the High Weald AONB Unit
Dudwell Valley, photographer Janina Holubecki for the High Weald AONB Unit

The Weald is not a wild place like the Lake District or the Peaks, its beauty to me at least, is in the fact it has been managed over centuries by people making a living for themselves in a number of landscape based industries such as farming and the Iron industry, which was so prevalent in the Weald during the Tudor times.

Through this blog I will tell the human stories of some of those who lived and worked in this landscape and why this landscape is so important and why we should care today.

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