A History of East Grinstead

Tim Lambert

Early East Grinstead

East Grinstead began as a Saxon village. Its name means green place. By the time of the Domesday Book (1086), it was quite a large village.

In the 13th century, East Grinstead became a town. In 1247 East Grinstead was given a charter (a document granting the people certain rights). The charter confirmed the right to hold weekly markets. It also granted East Grinstead an annual fair. In the Middle Ages fairs were like markets but they were held only once a year and they attracted buyers and sellers from a wide area. From 1516 East Grinstead had two fairs.

To us, Medieval East Grinstead would seem tiny. It only had a population of a few hundred. Yet towns were very small in those days. By the standards of the time, East Grinstead was a busy little town. From the early 14th century until 1832 East Grinstead sent MPs to parliament.

East Grinstead also prospered because it was on the main road from London to Lewes (the county town of Sussex). In those days travel was very slow and anyone travelling from London to or from Lewes was likely to stay overnight at East Grinstead, boosting the business of the town.

In 1556, during the reign of Queen Mary, three Protestants were martyred in East Grinstead. They were Anne Tree, John Foreman, and Thomas Dungate.

In 1608 Roger Sackville left money in his will to build almshouses in East Grinstead.

By the early 18th century East Grinstead was prospering and it had a population of about 1,500.

From the mid-18th century, East Grinstead became a stagecoach town. Many stagecoaches passed through on their way to and from the growing resort of Brighton. There were many inns in East Grinstead.

A stagecoach

Meanwhile, in 1785 the church tower collapsed and ruined the rest of the building. The church of St Swithin had to be rebuilt by James Wyatt. The tower was finished in 1813.

Modern East Grinstead

By 1801 East Grinstead still had a population of less than 2,700. Even by the standards of the time, it was a small town. However, East Grinstead grew rapidly during the early 19th century. By 1851 the population was almost 4,000. By the end of the century, it had reached 6,000.

During the 19th century, there were several improvements to East Grinstead. In 1855 the railway reached East Grinstead, which also meant the end of the stagecoaches. However, the railway also made it possible for middle-class commuters to live in East Grinstead and so, in the late 19th century, the population of the town grew rapidly.

From 1855 East Grinstead had gaslight. A cemetery opened in 1869. Also in the late 19th century sewers were dug and a piped water supply was created. In 1913 East Grinstead gained its first cinema. 

In 1922 a war memorial was erected to the fallen of East Grinstead. Also in the 1920s, the first council houses were built. More were built in the 1930s.

During World War II 108 civilians in East Grinstead were killed by German bombing.

After 1945 the council built more houses. Many private houses were also built. Also in the late 20th century, industrial estates were built to attract new industries. An inner relief road was built in 1978.

Today East Grinstead is a flourishing town. East Grinstead Museum was founded in 1995. It moved to a new site in 2006. In 2023 the population of East Grinstead was 26,000.