Historical background

The Uckfield Millennium Green is situated in the southeast corner of Uckfield on the site of clay pits dug to support the activities of the brickworks of Benjamin Ware & Sons. Brickmaking in Uckfield, and at Benjamin Ware & Sons in particular, is more fully described by Molly Beswick in Hindsight Volume 3 published by the Uckfield and District Preservation Society. (www.udps.co.uk)

The Uckfield Millennium Green site totals 21.99 acres and as such is one of the largest of the present 499 English Millennium Green sites. In 1910 it straddled two Parishes; 14.73 acres (enclosure number 698) within the Framfield Parish with the remaining 7.26 acres (enclosure numbers 383 and 8) in the Parish of Uckfield. The Ordnance Survey 25 inch map of 1910 clearly shows this division. The bulk of the area is described in the 1910 Schedule as arable and at that time was grazed by livestock from the adjacent Shipreed Farm. Francis Barchard of Horsted Place then owned the farm.

Molly Beswick describes in her article how the adjacent brickworks of Benjamin Ware & Sons thrived in the early 1920’s under the able management of William Ware. Whilst clay was initially dug from a large pit on the brickyard site, other sources were constantly sought to keep up with the demand for bricks and tiles.

The land of Shipreed Farm was an obvious local source of clay that could be obtained with minimal additional transport costs and, on the 9th March 1922, a lease for the site was granted to Benjamin Ware & Sons. Yellow clay was dug for flowerpots from all over the site whilst clay pits were dug to allow extraction of grey clay for pipes and shale clay for brickmaking. Clay-working machinery was quickly installed and a narrow gauge track laid to allow raw material to be hauled to the brickworks by small locomotives. Although the slump of the late 1920s caused a temporary decline in brick and tile demand, by the mid 1930s business was again booming. With such prosperity William Ware was keen to secure his major local source of raw material and on the 21st December 1937 he purchased the site for £2000. Francis Barchard had died by this time, the sale deeds being engrossed by his widow, Maud Agnes Barchard.

For the next 20 years the land was worked to exploit the available clay. Since its first occupation by Benjamin Ware & Sons in 1922, two deep pits had been dug and two shallower workings created. However, by the early 1960s suitable clay on the site was running out. Although new sources of clay were being obtained from a company-owned site at Holmes Hill in Whitesmith, the introduction of both building blocks and the plastic flowerpot rendered handcrafted items non-competitive and in 1970 the works closed.

The Brickworks site was sold for light industrial development whilst the 21.99 acres were for a time abandoned. East Sussex County Council eventually bought the site with a view to establishing a recycling plant in the disused claypits. Fortunately by this time nature had already started to cover the scars left from the clay extraction. All manner of vegetation and wildlife had now become established on the site such that in 1996 the two deep clay pits were declared a Site of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCI).

In 1997, with help from the Uckfield Town Council, East Sussex County Council and some interested local residents a successful application was made to the Countryside Agency for a grant to establish a Millennium Green on the site and on 30th March 1998 a Trust was established.

If you can add to this history we would love to hear from you; photos, pictures and ephemera are particularly welcomed. You can e-mail us at info@uckfieldmillenniumgreen.co.uk.