1. A Brief History of Cross-in-Hand

Cross-in-Hand is believed to be a meeting place for Crusaders on their way to Rye for embarkation to the Holy Land. The public house sign depicts a hand holding aloft a quartered standard. The village provided services to the iron trade, and has had a windmill at the current site since 1868 having been previously placed a quarter of a mile from its current location in 1855.  It was moved on the command of the local squire at the time, Squire Hurth, supposedly because it was too close to his mansion. The mill was still working as late as 1969 when a stock broke, and the sails have not turned since that day.

The village is recorded in historical documents as:
Via Cruce Manus1547
Crosse atte Hand1597
Crosse in the Hand1656

Please click each image to see a slightly larger version

2. The Origins of the Amenities Society

The Society was formed at a public meeting held on 20th February 1970 with the sole object of bringing together a group of local residents to pressure the then Hailsham Rural District Council into taking action to stop several nuisances that were being caused by stock car racing at Isenhurst, Cross-in-Hand, without planning permission to do so. This group was led by Arthur E. Willis, who can be given credit for being our principal founder.

Subsequently, a five day Department of the Environment Public Enquiry was held and the Society was represented by a top class London solicitor and a Queen’s Counsel. The Department of the Environment Inspectorate in charge of the inquiry decided in favour of the Society’s representations and the racing was brought to an end in 1972.

It was then considered that the Society could form a useful body to look after the retention and improvement of local amenities, and its membership thrived. Our brief today, which is laid down in our Constitution is to promote the permanent preservation of lands and buildings of beauty or historic interest, and protect, preserve and maintain the character and amenities of Cross-in-Hand.

In 1976, Mrs Margaret Marr Darch, the owner of Heatherden, donated 40 acres of woodland that formed part of the Heatherden estate to the Society, to be held in Trust in perpetuity, for the benefit and enjoyment of residents. It was at this time that the Committee decided to appoint H.M. Charity Commissioners as the Custodian Trustee. The other trustees were Arthur Willis and Mr S.H. Treadwell, who were members of a committee of nine people. It was as a result of this connection with the Commissioners that the Society became registered as a Charitable Trust.

The Society faced major financial commitments in maintaining Darch’s Wood, which reached crisis point following the 1987 hurricane. The Society only survived with help from Waldron Parish Council, who took over the role of Custodian Trustee. This responsibility was passed to Heathfield and Waldron Parish Council following the merger of the two parishes in 1990. Since that time a representative of the Parish Council attends Committee meetings as an independent representative of the Custodian Trustee.

A History of Darch’s Wood

Originally part of the 70 acre Heatherden Estate, the wood accounted for 40 acres and its maintenance was proving to be somewhat of a burden to Mrs Margaret Marr Darch after her husband’s death. Mrs. Darch tried to donate the wood to a national organisation, but this bequest was refused, and it was eventually suggested that the Cross-in-Hand Amenities Society might be willing to accept ownership of the woodland for use by the public in perpetuity. 

At that time, the Cross-in-Hand Amenities Society, founded in 1970, existed solely for the protection of amenities in the local area, and reservations were expressed by the Chairman, Arthur Willis, and a large number of members of the Society about accepting responsibility for the woodland taking into act the limited financial resources at their disposal. 
Nevertheless, the Society took ownership of the wood in 1976. The bequest included Church Cottage along with its sitting tenant. 

Having taken over ownership of the wood, the Society soon found that it had been very poorly maintained. Boundary fences were in need of repair, all of the bridges spanning the many streams were in a dangerous state, paths were overgrown, and what had once been a pond had become a swamp. Many of the trees were dead, dying or dangerous and needed felling, but the deed of gift accepted by the Society contained a condition “that no tree living or dead could be felled during the lifetime of the donor without her express permission”. Mrs Darch strongly believed that trees should only be felled by the Almighty, and consequently permission to fell trees was seldom granted, even when they were a danger to the public. 

In the following years much progress was made repairing fences, putting in drainage, repairing and installing bridges, and making pathway improvements. This was achieved by a mixture of voluntary labour from members of the Society, students, and for one year, labour provided by under a Government Community Programme Scheme for the long term unemployed. 

The foreman of the gang of workers employed under the Community Programme Scheme Society stayed on as a part time woodsman working two days a week. This arrangement worked well as the work involved continuing the basic maintenance tasks carried out under the scheme. 

In the meantime, Church Cottage was proving to be a drain on the Society’s funds and was subsequently sold in 1982 for £28,000. The sale proved to be a long drawn out process as it required evicting the tenant and obtaining approval for the sale from the Charities Commission. (As a point of interest, the July 2016 Zoopla estimated value for Church Cottage is £629,000 with a rental value of £2,050 per calendar month. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!) 

Mrs. Darch strongly disapproved of the sale as she considered that her original bequest was on the basis that both the wood and the cottage were to be retained by the Society. As a condition of the original bequest was that the woodland should be for the benefit of the community in perpetuity, the Society sought legal advice on the matter of the sale of the cottage, and the opinion given was that the proceeds from the sale had to be treated as preserved capital and used to provide an income that would be used to help maintain the wood in the future. This condition remains in place to this day and any change to the status of the capital has to be approved by the Charities Commission. 

By 1987 the woodland had got to the point of being an acceptable amenity as all the main restoration works had been completed. With assistance from the Rivers Authority the pond had been recovered from the swamp. The silt pond was enlarged and the banks strengthened so that the pond would not suffer from so much silt build up and would need to be cleared for a long period of time. 

Ironically it was not many weeks later that the Almighty did have a major influence on the wood by bringing a hurricane on the night of 16th October 1987 that caused the wood to suffer almost complete destruction with the loss of approximately 80% of the standing trees. 

The situation was made worse because Mrs. Darch’s insistence that no trees should be felled meant that those trees that should have been felled brought down a substantial number of healthy trees that otherwise would have survived. The woodsman was able to cut through some of the fallen trees to enable experts to provide sufficient access for experts to properly evaluate the damage and advise of possible remedial work. 

The immediate duty of the Society was to deal with trees that endangered neighbouring properties, and notices were placed at all points of entry warning the public to keep out owing to the danger from storm damaged trees. Needless to say the notices were frequently ignored. Appealing for help from members was discounted because they would have had their own problems, and in any case there was uncertainty as to how best proceed. Clearing the fallen trees was going to be a major problem for the Society and would take a considerable amount of time with the limited resources available. 

However, with assistance from the Parish Council in the form of a grant, contractors were appointed to clear the storm damaged timber, but the paths suffered badly because of the amount of traffic in the wood involving heavy machinery. 

In view of the scale of the hurricane and the continuing need to use contractor’s heavy machinery to clear the devastation, the amount of useful work that could be done by a woodsman attending two days a week was minimal bearing in mind the equipment he had at his disposal. Regretfully the woodsman was made redundant in September 1989, as his reduced usefulness no longer warranted the continued expenditure of a large part of the Society’s income to fund his wages. 

Money was made available from Central Government through the 'Community Programme Scheme' for the long term unemployed. This provided a team of workers for one year, enabling the wood to be brought back to an acceptable standard. 

The Society also successfully applied for a re-planting grant from the Forestry Commission. However, a condition of the grant was that the re-planting had to be completed before any money was released, and only then subject to certain conditions and annual inspections by Forestry Commission officials. 

The amount of funding required was far beyond the means of the Society, as the replanting programme required 9,000 trees to be planted at a cost of around £17,000. The only course of action open to the Society therefore was to approach Waldron Parish Council for financial assistance. Although the Parish Council had donated smaller amounts, the sum required in this instance was at an entirely different level, and it was decided that the Parish Council should have an official position in relation to the wood. 

With the consent of the Charity Commissioners, the Society provided a legally acceptable scheme under which the Parish Council accepted Custodian Trusteeship. Under the agreement, responsibility for maintenance of the wood remains with the Management Committee of the Society. The following year Heathfield and Waldron Parish Councils merged and the agreement was taken over by the newly merged Parish Council. 

The ornamental bridge was installed at in 1993 to replace a rather dilapidated wooden bridge commonly referred to as the 'Bridge of Sighs' because of all the grief it gave the Society! Although the post-hurricane work to clear trees had been completed, the pond had suffered because there had not been time and resources to clear the silt ponds, which had consequently spilled over into the pond and required a significant effort to clear the pond. 

Mrs. Darch’s restriction on work to trees lasted until 1994, when Mrs. Darch died at the age of 102. To maintain the memory of the donor, it was decided to re-name the woodland Darch’s Wood. Harry Hatcher had been instrumental in taking charge of the Society through this challenging time in his role as Chairman, and he passed the baton to Peter Newnham in 1997. It is fair to say that without Harry Hatcher‘s leadership and drive, we would not be in a position to enjoy the wood today. 

One of Peter’s first tasks was to commission a Management Plan for the wood, which was prepared by experts from Plumpton Agricultural College in 1998. The report surveyed the entire wood, identifying all of the fauna and flora to be found, and made numerous recommendations for its rejuvenation that were needed over and above the basic on going maintenance activities. However, other than the removal of larch trees and their replacement with native species, there is little evidence that much attention was paid to the proposals laid out in the plan and little was followed through. 

For many years, the Society largely left matters relating to the wood to the Parish Council, and although this ensured that the annual maintenance tasks were addressed, there was no long-term strategy to tackle the steady deterioration in the woodland aspect. Nevertheless, the basic maintenance enabled the wood to be accessible to visitors, and other than following the hurricane, the only time that the wood had to be closed to the public was in 2001 when the 'Foot and Mouth' outbreak meant access was restricted for several weeks. 

By 2010 it was apparent that the wood was in a very poor state despite the efforts of the Parish Council, and it was agreed that action was needed to save the wood for future generations. The Parish Council commissioned a survey from English Woodland Services, and the following year they published their report and made their recommendations for the future management of the wood. The task of preparing a 5 year plan fell to the Society and their plan was published in September 2012. 

Sadly, Peter Newnham died on 20th August 2012 after a long illness, just weeks before the plan was published, and John Plant stepped in as Chairman to set about implementing the plan, and work commenced in the spring of 2013. The first priority was to renovate the paths, since most of the paths were thick with mud for much of the year making a visit to the wood a challenging prospect for visitors. Advice on how best to address the situation was sought from the Parish Council’s contractor, and it was determined that small tracks could be covered in wood chippings and the larger rides would be renovated using planings scraped off the roads when they were resurfaced. Members were asked to assist with the laying of the wood chippings but other than Committee members and their children and grandchildren, only two members offered assistance. Nevertheless, two lengths of particularly muddy footpaths were covered. Later that year a stretch of the public footpath was laid using road planings. A couple of volunteers and a dog helped rebuild the badly rutted path, which has stood the test of time. 

It was apparent from these two exercises that even on the narrow paths wood chippings would not be the answer, and over the next two years the Society acquired more road planings to start the long task of rebuilding all the main paths. Much of the two routes to the pond from the church have been renovated using planings from the resurfacing of the A267. As of the date of this report over one mile of all-weather paths have been laid, providing a solid surface throughout the year, much to the joy of visitors to the wood. 

In January 2016, a long-needed programme of work started on clearing the rampant rhododendron and cherry laurel invasions. The woodland surveys identified this as a serious threat to the health of the wood, but the amount of work required meant it would be a long process. The first area tackled has been and much of the valley between the church and the pond. Clearing the Rhododendron took a week for 3 men with power tools, and immediately drew praise from visitors for improved vistas in the wood. The clearance revealed an old brick bridge that had lain hidden for over 20 years, and the Society's hopes to rebuild the path along the valley to the bridge have now been realised. The new shoots had to be chemically treated twice to prevent the new shoots re-growing. Now all we have to do is make sure we keep the new growth and brambles at bay! 

An updated Woodland Plan was written in September 2016, but the focus still remained on paths, the pond and rhododendron clearance. Yet in January 2017, thanks to an unexpected and generous donation of £8,000 from a donor who wished to remain anonymous, the long overdue renovation of the pond was scheduled. The Parish Council contributed a further £3,000 via its discretionary grant scheme, and members of the Society donated over £2,000, which meant that all the work could be funded without drawing on the Society’s reserves. Contractor Chris Davis, from Agrifactors (Southern) Ltd., helped organise the project and engaged the excavation company C.J. Gray to carry out the work. C.J. Gray were chosen because they had extensive experience in similar, and much larger projects, and their floating dredger/excavator meant that it would not be necessary to manoeuvre the excavation equipment around the edge of the pond (with the associated damage to the banks) but rather the floating dredger would drag the silt towards an excavator on the bank and therefore remove it from just one position. 

The work commenced on 27th February 2017 and lasted one week and a video of the project was recorded for posterity. The silt removed from the pond was deposited close to the arboretum. Great care was taken to over the wellbeing of the resident duck and all of the fish were cared for in temporary tanks during the work. There was collateral damage caused by the heavy equipment to the paths around the pond, but this was expected and was remedied once the mud dries out. 

- This History of the village and its woodland was compiled by John Plant, Chairman of the Cross-in-Hand Amenities Society 2013-2019.

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