On the Beacon Road, near what is now the entrance to the Warren, stood a small house called Beacon House, containing about six rooms. It belonged to Sir J. Shelley, Bart., and was occupied by a small farmer. There was also the old Mill House, near the mill, on the road to the Cross; and where Prospect House now stands formerly stood a farmhouse. Between this and the Cross was a small wood and a cottage. On the other side, standing back from the road, was a small inn, which has now developed into the larger building of the Red Cross Inn. There were two small shops at the Cross, the larger of the two occupying the site of the present Post Office; the other, on the opposite side, where now the London House stands, was a very small shop, at which were sold herrings, snuff, candles, tobacco, bread, and sweets. Upon these sweets the good dame who kept the shop invariably impressed her snuffy thumb, thus imparting to them a flavour alien to that with which those sugary temptations usually delight the palate. But this, though not thoroughly relished, was not sufficient to restrain the longing child from investing its mite in the purchase of the luscious confection.
A blacksmith's forge existed near the site of the present one, but without a cottage or house attached to it.
Between the present Post Office and Pilmer Lane was a small plantation of trees called a "shaw."
There were no buildings or cottages in this lane, but at the further end of it stood a cottage called Pilmer House, and here the Pilmer Wood commenced.
Going back to the Cross, on the spot where the villa called Fern Bank has been erected stood a small house or cottage, and from this up to the mill on the Beacon Road the ground was covered by a wood called Mill Wood.
The road leading from the Cross towards White Hill was and is still known as the Roundabout Road. The only building by the side of this road was a cottage, which stood on the site of the one now occupied by Mr. Sands, and called Postern Cottage.
There were no buildings on White Hill, which was then called Coldharbour, and the lower part of it was known by the name of the Bowling Alley. Along High Street, past South View to the Common on the left, stood only one building, Haircombe Farm House, belonging to Sir J. Shelley, Bart. On the opposite side was a long narrow thatched building, divided into compartments. This belonged to the parish, and was connected with the Poor House then existing at Rotherfield. It was used as a dwelling for the aged poor, and being built of slabs of wood, went by the name of Slab Castle. The ground around this building, consisting of several acres, also belonged to the parish.
The next building on this side of the way was placed where there are several fine yew trees. These trees still thrive, and are magnificent specimens of their species.
A very old thatched building yet remains near these trees. It marks the spot where the ancestor of one of the Crowborough families, between 200 and 300 years ago, first pitched his tent. He came from the North, and selecting this spot for his encampment, proceeded to cut down trees to build a wooden hut, which, on completing, he called Collier's Lodge. All around this spot was a thick wood, which, as he was a charcoal burner, supplied him with material for his work. The charcoal he sold to the ironmasters in the neighbourhood for their furnaces, and sometimes carried it to the London market.
There seems to have been no objection made by the Lord of the Manor at this period to anyone using the wood or settling upon the Forest, but at certain times the bailiff came round and demanded a small quit-rent as an acknowledgement of the Lord's manorial rights from those who had established themselves on the forest land. Subsequently, however, settlers, whenever they attempted to locate themselves on this waste ground, were summarily dislodged.
There appears to be little doubt that Crowborough Hill was well wooded at one period, and that the trees were all felled to make charcoal for the numerous furnaces in the vicinity. An old inhabitant recollects her father stating that he had seen seven furnaces at work at the same time around Crowborough, and that he remembered an oak tree being dug out of the Broom Bog, near Broom Farm, which was as black as the bog in which it was found. Her father was born in 1780, but there are also traditions from the grandfather and others going far back in time, and some of my statements are made from these traditions.