Tilgate Park

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Tilgate Park is a large recreational park situated south of Tilgate, South-East Crawley. It is the largest and most popular park in the area.[1]

Tilgate lake,Tilgate park,Crawley. Photo taken facing roughly south east showing what used to be called "Campbells lake" after the former world water speed record holder Sir Donald Campbell, who used to keep his boat here.

Originally a 2,185-acre (8.84 km2) part of the ancient Worth Forest, the park and adjacent areas (including the modern-day Furnace Green, Three Bridges, part of Southgate and Tilgate Forest) were part of the larger Tilgate Estate, first recorded as an economic unit in 1647.

The estate was acquired by Indian-born businessman George Ashburner in 1862, and was inherited by his daughter Sarah, married to the London banker John Hennings Nix. The Ashburner Nix family built a large French-style mansion known as Tilgate House in the 1860s. The estate was split up and auctioned off in 1939. Tilgate House was demolished in 1965.

Although visitor activity is mostly focused on the area surrounding Tilgate Lake and on the adjacent gardens of a former country mansion, a large area of the park is former silvicultural forest. This is now being managed as a Local Nature Reserve called Tilgate Forest. The park also contains the Tilgate Nature Centre featuring captive breeding of some vulnerable and endangered animal species and varieties.[2][3]



The locality emerges into history as part of Worth Forest, the smallest of the four large uncultivated areas of mediaeval Sussex called Forests. It was contiguous with another of these, St Leonard's Forest, but was regarded as distinct from Saxon times. (The other two Forests were Ashdown Forest and the lost Waterdown Forest south of Tunbridge Wells.)

It may be noted here that the Forests were misnamed in the strict legal sense, because they were not owned by the Crown but by private landlords during their recorded history and so were properly Chases.

In the 17th century, property ownership considerations led to the western part of Worth Forest to acquire the name "Tilgate Forest". The boundary was the Stamford Brook (now the London to Brighton railway, closely parallel). Until the early 19th century, Tilgate Forest extended to south of the road between Handcross and Cowdray Arms (the "High Street"). Then, the central part of the forest was converted into farmland. The northern tier remained "Tilgate Forest", while the surviving southern tier acquired the names "Brantridge Forest" and "Highbeeches Forest".

The name "Tilgate" until the mid 20th century referred to a homestead, which moved its location towards the end of the 18th century. Then, in the mid 20th century the name was appropriated for a new housing estate developed for Crawley New Town and so the house became familiarly known as "Tilgate Mansion". Simultaneously, the Forestry Commission bought most of Tilgate Forest except for the park and its gardens, which were bought by Crawley Urban District Council and given the new name "Tilgate Park" (coined for the New Town Master Plan, published by the Crawley Development Corporation in 1947). Only since then have Park and Forest been regarded as distinct.

"Tilgate Forest Row", a hamlet, and "Tilgate Forest Lodge", a large house with a notable collection of rare trees, are south of Pease Pottage and not very near the Park and Forest. The house especially can be confused with "Tilgate Lodge", the predecessor of the late Tilgate Mansion.


Worked flint tools of the Mesolithic "Horsham Culture" have been found in numbers in the park, including so-called "Horsham Point" arrowheads of the 8th millennium BCE.[4] The major find-spot is now on the Golf Course, at TQ28593458.[5]

Geologically the park is on the Hastings Beds, dominated by sandstone with pockets of clay and iron ore.[6] This produces poor, acidic and nutritionally deficient soils which, paradoxically, supported a varied natural plant cover. After the end of the Ice Age, especially after the extinction of the herbivorous megafauna, tree cover began to dominate the landscape from about 8500 BCE which marks the beginning of the Mesolithic Age. However, the vegetation of the High Weald, of which the park is a part, was more vulnerable owing to the poverty of the soils and so supported open woodland shading into grassland and heathland on high areas, with thick woodland confined to the narrow valleys. This landscape was very attractive to hunter-gatherer groups, who might have encouraged grassland and discouraged tree growth by summer burning of the former.[7]

The only evidence of activity by Neolithic (c4500 to c2500 BCE) farmers around the park have been two finds. The Mesolithic site on the Golf Course, mentioned above, also produced a polished flint axe. Also a polished arrowhead and broken polished axe were found in a field to the south of the park -the recorder thought that this evidence had ritual significance.[8]

In the following Bronze Age (c2500 to 800 BCE) a round barrow cemetery was established west of Pease Pottage on the ancient ridgeway running along the watershed above the park (now the set of roads from Horsham to Pease Pottage, Handcross and Turners Hill).[9] This is good evidence that the landscape of the Park was then treeless enough to allow long views. This must have been the result of grazing pressure, most likely by sheep, indicating transhumance of some sort was already operating. Because Neolithic and Bronze Age ploughs were not heavy enough to turn clay soils, the arable activities of the farmers concerned would have been based on the chalk Downs.

Iron age and Romans[edit]

There is now evidence of Iron Age activity in the region, after a recent re-excavation of a major Roman ironworking site at Broadfield, just west of the park.[10] Beginning of activity here, and in Southgate West just north, is considered to be of late Iron Age origin.

However, a recent (2011) archaeological survey of Tilgate Forest found no positive evidence of Roman ironworking activity there. The only possibly Roman feature was a single "mine-pit" found south of the Tilgate Forest Recreation Centre, west of Titmus Lake at TQ269343 and so near the Roman ironworks. "Mine" is Sussex dialect for iron ore, and the feature was a bell pit which might have been dug much later.[11]

It is now accepted that the Romans were managing the entire High Weald as a strategic asset of military significance for the sake of its iron, and so were discouraging civilian settlement. The chain of command involved the Classis Britannica.[12]


The Saxons called the High Weald "Andredesweald" meaning "uncultivated area of Anderitum (now Pevensey)". The word "weald" has been uncritically taken to mean "wildwood", but could include heathland or grassland.

Arable activity on the chalk Downs had already collapsed owing to the impoverishment of the soils, and so the Saxons used them mainly for sheep grazing -this was to be the case especially on the South Downs until the 20th century. As a result, they seem not to have been interested in the future four Forest areas of the High Weald for the purpose. Romantically inclined historians have speculated that Saxon kings used these as hunting grounds, but if so they left no trace. As a result, tree cover was probably better than it had been since the Bronze Age.

Saxon ironworking methods were so low-key and primitive, that only one certain site has been located in the High Weald near East Grinstead and that not from archaeology but from the Domesday Book.

On the other hand, the Saxons were certainly interested in using the thick woodland fringing the High Weald for pannage or transhumance involving feeding pigs on acorns. Local place names ending in -ley or -den indicate woodland clearings, mutating into farmsteads as transient swineherds became sedentary farmers and were joined by other immigrants. Crawley was one of these, and the dense woodland belt north of the sandstone of the Park would have been settled in this way.[13]

The Saxon manor of Worth was recorded in the Domesday Book, but was then in Surrey as part of the Reigate Hundred. The holder of the manor was the brother of the abbot of Chertsey Abbey, and this is the source of the speculation that the impressive late Saxon church was originally monastic, and that the Abbey might have sponsored settlement of the area. By the time of Domesday, the scattered inhabitants of Worth (which was never a village) had established common usages over the Forest to the south, creating the ancient distinction between Worth Forest (claimed by Surrey folk) and St Leonard's Forest (claimed by Sussex folk). So, back then the Park was in Surrey.

Middle ages[edit]

William the Conqueror granted Worth to William de Warenne, who added it to the Rape of Lewes thus transferring it to Sussex.

Public information about the park mentions the possibility that there was mediaeval ironworking here. However, no evidence has been found. The method of the period involved digging up an iron ore outcrop and reducing it in a "bloomery" or clay pot-furnace using charcoal and muscle-powered bellows. This exiguous procedure would leave very little archaeological evidence, especially if the slag was scavenged for road making. Crawley was formally founded in 1202 when it received its market charter,[14] and evidence has been found of ironworking on its first burgage tenements. Iron ore outcropped in the clay around Crawley as well as in the sandstone of the park, and there would have been less work to dig it out of the clay. The latter would have also provided the material for making the bloomeries.

The first possible reference to Tilgate as a place is in 1296, when a tax return mentions one William Yllegate. This is analysed as "Illan Geat" or "entrance into the forest belonging to Illan".[15] Oddly, Illan is familiar as a Jewish name. Whether or not the founder of the homestead was a Jew, he picked a spot right on the geological boundary between the sandstone and the Wealden clay where the soil would be slightly better than that on either side.

A property called Tylegate was bought by Sir Edward Culpeper and Sir Walter Covert, who owned the manor of nearby Slaugham, from Edward Nevill, 8th Baron Bergavenny in 1566. Culpeper went on to build Wakehurst Place as his seat.

Deer park?[edit]

Speed's map of Sussex, published 1610, shows Worth Forest with two enclosed deer parks -Paddockhurst (now Worth Abbey) and Tilgate. Paddockhurst Park still features on modern maps, but there is no discernible traces of a deer park in the modern Tilgate Park. If any deer park was here, it might have been on the site of the present Tilgate Playing Fields, where a random scatter of large, spreading oak trees was recorded on the 1875 large-scale Ordnance Survey map (a few survive).

Tilgate Furnace[edit]

Blast furnaces and forges[edit]

The landscape of the Park area changed drastically when the blast furnace was introduced into English ironworking in the late Middle Ages. The first was erected in 1490, and it transformed the Wealden iron industry.

Unlike a clay pot bloomery, in which the iron didn't quite melt, a blast furnace provided a continuous supply of liquid iron. It was a hollow brick tower, with iron ore and charcoal put into the top and molten iron tapped out of the bottom. A strong blast of air was provided by a pair of huge water-powered bellows (a pair so that the air flow did not pulse). The very important point about the furnace was, it had to operate continuously throughout its lifespan. A shortage of any one of its three ingredients (ore, charcoal, air) would destroy the furnace. The ironmasters had to plan very carefully to ensure a continuous supply of the three.[16]

The furnace produced pig iron, full of carbon and brittle. To turn it into usable wrought iron, it was taken to a finery forge, where it was heated and the carbon beaten out of it with an enormous water-powered hammer. So, Wealden furnaces and forges came in pairs.

The first local blast furnaces were two at "Worth Furnace", erected by one Willam Leavitt in 1547. This was on the Stamford Brook in the present Worth Forest, just to the north of the eastern end of the railway bridge on the Parish Lane from Pease Pottage (the bridle path here crosses the site of the old millpond, south of the dam and slag heaps).[17] "Tilgate Furnace" first appears in 1606,[18] when a lease was renewed so it had already been in production by then. The two furnaces, Worth and Tilgate, were associated with forges downstream at Blackwater (now in Maidenbower) and at Tinsley.

Air and water[edit]

The blast furnace bellows were powered by a watermill. The furnace and millpond of Tilgate Furnace were not in the Park, but on the Tilgate Brook (since diverted), just south of Furnace Farm -now occupied by the town neighbourhood of Furnace Green. The actual furnace was at Laurel Close, but pinpointing the site is not now possible because no archaeological survey or excavation took place before building work.

As mentioned, the bellows had to be in operation 24/7 which required an unchanging water supply to the mill. This made dry spells of weather a real worry, so the proprietors created "head ponds". Tilgate Lake, Silt Lake and New Pond (?) were power reservoirs, with the dams provided with sluices. In a dry spell, the sluices could be opened to augment the flow of the brook to the millpond as needed. So, the Park's lakes exist because furnace bellows needed to be powered. (If Titmus Lake existed then, it would have been a reservoir for Blackwater Forge, not the furnace.)


Charcoal for firing the furnace was too fragile to carry far, so must have been sourced locally. The 2011 archaeological survey found two charcoal oven platforms in the Forest. A steady supply of charcoal was so important that Wealden ironmasters were entering into coppice wood futures, buying supplies before they had grown. The myth is that the iron industry destroyed woodland. This is completely false, but rather the government in the 16th and 17th centuries was opposed to the conversion of timber woodland to coppice woodland for strategic reasons (building ships needed good timber) and what it called "wasted woods" were those lacking timber trees.[19]

A large wood was coppiced by successively cutting compartments (called "cants") defined by ditched banks, pollard trees or both. The present Worth Forest contains the ghost of a grid system of cants with pollards and banks associated with Worth Furnace, but the 2011 survey of Tilgate Forest only turned up one oak pollard (TQ28783396).[20] Despite this, it is certain that much of the Forest was under managed coppice in the 17th century especially the flat area called "Furnace Plain" (now the golf course). Coppice woodland is vulnerable to browsing, so another effect of the furnaces on the landscape was the loss of the Forest as a hunting amenity and the extermination of the roe deer. The latter would not return until the later 20th century.

Iron ore[edit]

Mediaeval iron ore extraction was low-key, with one pit being filled up by the spoil from the next. This left little or no trace on the landscape. On the other hand, the demand for a steady supply of ore for the blast furnace at Tilgate led to more intensive extraction. The wood in Crawley called "The Hawth" contains an impressive resultant set of conjoined bell pits.

End of ironworking[edit]

The last reference to the working furnace dates to 1664,[21] when the furnace was demolished and rebuilt. There is a reference to a road to the furnace in 1685. However, in 1690 "Tilgate Farm" was operated as a tenancy and the tenant farmer was responsible for keeping the lake dams in repair. They had become fish-ponds, so the furnace was gone.[22] From that time, Tilgate began its evolution into a landed working estate.

Landed estate[edit]


After the closure of the Furnace, the Forest was converted to commercial rabbit warrens.[23] This involved creating so-called "pillow mounds" for the rabbits to burrow into, which can be found in the present Worth and Highbeeches Forests. None has been found in the present Tilgate Forest, however, but later improvement works may have removed them.[24]

Tilgate Lake had a corn-mill in the 18th century, first mentioned in 1702.[25] This was still in operation in 1827[26] later a house called "Lakeside" (not to be confused with the later restaurant).

The use of the Forest for rabbits suppressed coppice woodland in favour of short grassland with pollard beeches and oaks, some heathland and also woodland surviving in the narrow valleys. The Yeakell and Gardner 1783[27] map shows the Forest as heath, also the two Park lakes and the surviving Furnace lake next to "Furnace Farm". The lane to the latter from Three Bridges was to become the main drive to the Mansion.

Some of the pollard beeches became enormous, but the Park has lost the ones that it once had. A big pollard oak survives on the left on the way to the Walled Garden, and another was next to the children's play area before it was lopped and killed recently.

The homestead called Tilgate was where the modern private house called "Lower Tilgate" is now. It had its own lane to Crawley, along the line of Titmus Drive then to Malthouse Farm (Beeches Crescent).


The mediaeval farm had probably been rebuilt by 1647, which is the year of the first reference to " Tilgate Manor Estate". A huge Sweet chestnut near "Lower Tilgate" is a relic.

The alleged manor passed with that of Slaugham down the Covert family line, before passing to another family, the Sergisons, in 1702. However, the London Gazette of 1827 referred to it as a "reputed manor"[28] because the estate has never been part of the English manorial system.


Later that century, the Sergisons embarked on a massive set of improvements to the Forest. These included drainage ditches, still to be found in the wooded area.[29] If the 2011 archaeological survey is correct in surmising these ditches to date from that time, then the Sergisons intended to clear the present Forest for farmland. They did clear the central tier along Parish Lane and turned it into four farms -Hardriding (formerly Belle Vue), New Buildings, Starvemouse and Mount Pleasant.

The first farm listed was very odd. It included a set of circular fields surrounded by woodland. These still existed in 1841, as the Worth tithe map of that year shows them, but the woodland took over the northern ones later.

Also, the family moved Tilgate Manor. The first Ordnance Survey map, 1813, shows "Tilgate Farm" (Lower Tilgate) and "Tilgate Lodge" next to the later Mansion.

The massive tulip tree now next to the restaurant is old enough to have been planted when the Lodge was built. To the south of the Lodge was a formal garden, and beyond this to the west and south were small fields cleared from the Forest to create a "Home Farm".[30] A large curlicued wrought iron gate provided the entrance to the garden from the house, and a set of three wide sandstone steps its exit on the other side. The Nix family kept these features when they remodelled the gardens in the late 19th century, but the Council removed them in the Sixties.

In 1827, as well as the Forest the Estate included four farms: Tilgate, Furnace, Maidenbower and "Highwood's" (Malthouse?).[31] Maidenbower Farm was only part of the present Maidenbower estate, which also covers the former Frogshole and Forest Farms.

Crawley's Lost Route to Balcombe[edit]

The 1813 map shows the lane from Crawley continuing on top of the lake dam to Worth Furnace, then through Greentrees Farm and down what is now Crawley Lane to Balcombe. 19th-century improvements suppressed the portions from Crawley to Tilgate and in Worth Forest (the latter has been recently reinstated as a bridle path).

Mansion and gardens[edit]

The Sergisons sold out in 1814. After a succession of owners in the early 19th century, the estate was inherited in 1862 by a wealthy businessman from India, George Ashburner. Back then, as well as the Forest the Estate included all the farmland south of the road between Crawley and Three Bridges. It had acquired Hogs Hill Farm (now Southgate West estate), also the present Hardriding Farm next to Pease Pottage.[32]

The northern tier of farmland was cut off from the rest of the estate when the first section of the Arun Valley railway line was built in 1848. An over-bridge with embankments was provided for the Furnace Farm driveway from Three Bridges and a level crossing (long gone) for the lane to Tilgate from Crawley.

Ashburner's daughter Sarah married John Hennings Nix, in 1865 at St Nicholas' Church, Worth.[33] The groom was partners with his brother Edward Winkelmann Nix in the London bank Fuller, Banbury, Nix & Co (since absorbed by NatWest). The couple took over the estate from her father when he died in 1869.

It was Nix who built a large French-style mansion to replace the Lodge in the later 1860s. The architect was Thomas Henry Wyatt.[34]

Tilgate House, built for the Ashburner Nix family
Great hall at Tilgate House, built for the Ashburner Nix family

The present gardens were laid out between 1875 and 1900 over the previous formal garden and Home Farm fields, with many rare specimen trees and shrubs. The top end of Tilgate Lake was extended to Silt Lake, two islands formed and a Cascade created. Also, the Walled Garden was built with a "Head Gardener's Cottage" on its access drive (now a private house).

A "Keeper's Cottage" (now a ruin) was built in the Forest at the top end of Hardriding Farm.

Confusingly, a deer park was established north of the Mansion, occupying the area of the present neighbourhood south of Shackleton Road and west of Worcester Road. This had Fallow deer.[35] A new farmstead called "Stone Barn" was built at what is now the south end of the latter road.[36]

Drainage work was done on the farmland property north of the Mansion (Hillside, Hogshole, Malthouse and Furnace Farms), involving the diversion of the Tilgate Brook and the loss of the Furnace millpond. Driveways with gate lodges were built to Brighton Road and Three Bridges, and the old lane to Crawley suppressed. The Three Bridges driveway north of the railway over-bridge was provided with two clumps of Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) trees, the one next to the railway being familiar to local children as "Conker Valley".

In the late 19th century, the Park and Forest became nationally known for several botanical rarities (apparently mostly now extinct here) including the Tunbridge Filmy Fern (Hymenophyllum tunbrigense).[37] and Wild Daffodil. A colony of the latter was planted west of the Promenade, and this still flourishes (the plant can still be found in Worth Forest, and there is a large colony on private land in Brantridge Forest). The new Park colony was mixed with Narcissus cyclamineus, a little flower with bent-back sepals from north-west Iberia.

On Sarah's death in 1904, the estate went to her son John Ashburner Nix, who died in 1926, and then to his brother Charles George Ashburner Nix. Together the brothers were great horticulturalists and members of the Royal Horticultural Society. They planted the Pinetum in 1906,[38] and began conifer plantations in the Forest. A sawmill was built on the A23, at the beginning of a forest ride running east to where the pylons are now. This was called The Avenue.


Fossilised dinosaur remains have been recovered from a Mesozoic geologic formation named after Tilgate Forest. The find-spot was a quarry at Whitemans Green near Cuckfield, but the name given to the stratum led to the erroneous idea that the Forest was the find-spot. This mistake has influenced scholarly works.[39]

The finder was Gideon Mantell, who was collecting in the quarry by 1813 and named the "Tilgate Forest Stratum". The dinosaur concerned was the Iguanodon.

Rare orchid[edit]

A very rare orchid was collected at Tilgate from the late 19th century into the Thirties -Small white orchid (Pseudorchis alba). The nearest colonies are now in mid Wales.[40][41]


Charles was in difficulties by 1932, when he leased the Walled Garden and its greenhouses to FW Burke & Co as a Horticultural research Station. This would have marked the end of intensive gardening at Tilgate, and the loss of flower beds.[42]

The Brighton Road (A23) gate lodge was demolished in the Fifties when the road was widened.

Before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Charles put the Estate up for auction. No bidder was found, so the auctioneers split the property into separate lots which were sold off individually.

During the War, as part of the build-up for D-Day Canadian army troops were billeted at a camp in woodland west of Titmus Lake, featuring Nissen huts.[43] After the War, in 1947, the site was acquired by the Crawley Development Corporation and the huts began to be rented out to leisure clubs and societies seeking premises. In this the "Tilgate Forest Recreation Centre" grew up (it was never a public amenity).

In 1950, the Forestry Commission bought the Forest and began to plant conifers over most of it, with areas of beech and American oak.

The biggest lake in the Park, Tilgate Lake, is most famous for its association with Malcolm Campbell, who carried out flotation trials for his boat "Bluebird" but not water speed trials there. It was called Campbell's Lake for some time afterwards, although it was sold to one Mr Baker in 1952. He ran a fishing club.

The Mansion was sold to BT Estates Ltd in 1940, which used it as offices and let the gardens go derelict.[44] Rhododendron ponticum thickets took over large areas, including the lakesides.

In 1950, the Walled Garden became "Tilgate Park Nurseries" which had another site in the Forest south of the sawmill at "Old Stone Cottage Farm". The firm supplied sapling trees for the New Town.

Tilgate neighbourhood was built between 1958 and 1960. The Park project was delayed, however, leading to conflict between the private landowners and trespassers, especially children.

Development of the public park[edit]

Early days[edit]

Crawley Urban District Council (Borough Council from 1974) purchased the Walled Garden in 1962, and the lakes and Mansion in 1964. It demolished the latter in 1965, and replaced it with the striking modern "Lakeside Restaurant".

Also demolished was "Lakeside" (the old mill at the east end of the dam), but "Lower Tilgate" was left as a private enclave.

The lakes were dredged and restocked with fish, rhododendron thickets occupying their banks were cut down and clay spoil dumped on the banks to create fishing areas. Dinghy rowing was introduced on the main lake.

The area below Tilgate Lake dam was used for landfill from building construction, destroying a large colony of Spotted orchid.

In 1968, heavy rainfall led to the collapse of the sluice at Tilgate Lake. The lake dumped its contents into Furnace Green neighbourhood, and the Council was forced to build a spillway. The event was part of the Great Flood of 1968.

Work in the gardens amounted to rescuing them from dereliction and clearing rhododendrons.

In this period, roe deer returned to the Forest.[45]


The M23 motorway was built through the Forest and across the top end of Silt Lake in 1970. This was the definitive separation of Park and Forest. The latter suffered devastating arson attacks at the same time, and when Furnace Plain was burned over the Forestry Commission sold it to the Council which laid it out as a golf course.

The motorway cut off the top end of Hardriding Farm, and the Old Stone Cottage nursery closed. Both areas became derelict, and the trees invaded.

The sawmill became a small industrial estate, now the "Tilgate Forest Business Centre".

Late in the Seventies, the Nature Centre started in a small way with a few animals including rare White Park cattle.

The restaurant failed, and the premises were extended to become a Watneys pub called first the "Inn on the Park" and then "The Bluebird". Local band The Cure played there at an early stage of their career.

The "Peace Garden" was created at the end of the decade, the first large garden initiative by the Council here.

1987 storm[edit]

The Great Storm of 1987 wrecked the Park, with a massive loss of trees. The greatest sufferers were the beeches, and a huge old pollard near Silt Lake came down. Also lost were a large Swamp Cypress (Taxodium distichum) below the main dam, and a rare Brewer's Weeping Spruce (Picea breweriana) in the new "Peace Garden". The cypress was in a large circular depression left when landfill operations avoided its root-bed in the Sixties, and this (now puzzling) landscape feature remains.

The old army huts of the "Recreation Centre" suffered badly, and the Council (which had inherited the "Recreation Centre" from the Development Corporation) had to replace them.

Recent times[edit]

The damage has been made good. The loss of large trees allowed the creation of the "Winter Garden", with a lawn and bedded shrubs. The "Heather Garden" was laid out on the slope down to Titmus Lake. In contrast, the destroyed beech woodland between the Promenade and the main lake was allowed to regenerate naturally.

The Nature Centre has been much extended, and the adjacent Walled Garden opened to the public with a café provided.

The pub failed in its turn, closing in 2009, and is now a restaurant with a Wild West theme called the "Smith & Western" after the Fort Smith and Western Railway.

Owing to worries about flooding, the main dam was heightened from 2011. This created a new wildlife pond on the east side of the main lake.

The former dinghies on the main lake have morphed into a "Watersports Centre".[46] In contrast, "Go Ape" is a new arboreal adventure course.

In 2017, a "Garden of Remembrance" was opened, with a sculpture entitled "Passage".[47]



For historical reasons and because a steep slope separates the park from Tilgate neighbourhood, physical access points are somewhat few. On the other hand, the Park is not gated. Despite this, it is not Open Access land and access is subject to bylaws. The Forest is Open Access, although it is worth noting that boundaries between it and private areas of woodland in the western section (north of the A23) are complicated and not obvious.


Tilgate Park is accessible through two vehicle entrances, converging on the main car park. The main one runs from the south end of Titmus Drive in Tilgate neighbourhood, where a road also runs west to the Lakeside car park and the Golf Centre. Unlike the main car park, Lakeside is free for most of the morning (until 11:00).

The other entrance is at the A23 K2 traffic lights, and runs through the Recreation Centre.


There are buses from Crawley Bus Station, on route 2 run by Metrobus (South East England). This terminates at the main car park on weekends only. On weekdays, it terminates at K2 and the best access is walking from the stop at Tilgate shops which is ten minutes for a young adult.

The journey time from Bus Station to Park is 40 minutes, since the route is circuitous.

Horses and bikes[edit]

Owing to a conflict of interests, the park is not a place for horses or bikes. Riders use the Forest. There is a dedicated bridleway from Rosamund Road across the Golf Course to a motorway bridge into the Forest, and a permissive path from the east side of the Golf Centre bridge at Lakeside through the LNR to the same Forest access.


A path to Titmus Lake runs from Gloucester Road, and a footpath runs from Weald Drive along the brook to Lakeside.

Tilgate Drive[edit]

The original main entrance to the old estate was at Tilgate Lodge – now a bank – near Three Bridges railway station. This was the beginning of a long driveway, which is now an amenity footpath and cycle track. Unfortunately, the path is broken in Furnace Green by Furnace Farm Road which has to be followed.

Coniferous Wooded Part of Tilgate Forest, Nr Crawley, West Sussex. This view shows typical vegetation in much of this part of Tilgate Forest: pine trees (with the odd invading birch) with a fairly clean forest floor. The trees tend to form quite a dense canopy, preventing much from growing beneath them. The ditch is part of the drainage network.
Tilgate Golf Course, Crawley. Grid square TQ2834 is dominated by most of an 18-hole golf course. This fine course is popular and the view here shows three ladies enjoying a round on a Friday afternoon

Park layout[edit]

A view-marker is at the north side of the car park. The south side has a small reception block with toilets.

To the south of this is the massive podium of the demolished Mansion, on which stands the Smith & Western restaurant. Next to this to the west is the old Stables, now a set of private residences called "Tilgate Mansions" (not to be confused with the demolished Mansion).

Due west of the car park is the A23 driveway to the Recreation Centre. South-westwards runs a road to the Walled Garden. Before the latter is the Heather Garden to the right, with a steep path down to Titmus Lake. Next on the right is the Nature Centre, which abuts the Walled Garden on its west side. Next to the Walled Garden to the east is the Azalea Wood and the Garden of Remembrance.

To the east of the car park is a wooded area, containing a children's play area and "Go Ape". Downslope from this is the Main Lawn, running down to Tilgate Lake and the Watersports Centre. A path runs across the dam and down the east side of the lake to Silt Lake.

Round the other side of the restaurant and heading south is the Promenade, with the Winter Garden to the right (west) and the World Garden to the left. Both contain rare trees and shrubs. The Promenade meets a path from the Walled Garden, turns left (east) and runs to the Silt Lake. Before the lake, the Peace Garden is to the right, beyond which is the Pinetum and the Park's motorway bridge to the Forest. The Promenade continues over the Cascade to "Tilgate Forest LNR", a nature reserve. Here a path takes you to the Golf Course's motorway bridge.



The main car park has a fee, while the "Lakeside" overflow car park is free before 11:00, but has no facilities.


The gardens are free.

The Rhododendrons are spectacular in spring along the Promenade, and in the World Garden and Winter Garden. The Heather Garden with its collection of Ericaceae is attractive in late summer, but also contains mature rhododendrons and azaleas. The Winter Garden has no indoor areas or greenhouses, but is designed to be interesting in winter (hence the name).

An old colony of wind daffodils is to the west of the Promenade heading south from the restaurant, and an area of bluebells was planted around the new wildlife pond east of the main lake in 2015.

Tree trail[edit]

Owen Johnson pointed out the importance of the Park's tree collection in 1998, in his "Sussex Tree Book". In response, the Council has produced a guided tree trail leaflet, has labelled the more important specimens and invited sponsorship.[48]

The following are the trees selected for the Tree Trail, including those listed by Johnson as Champions. Unless otherwise indicated, they were planted by the Nix family:

Johnson lists the following Champions which are not on the Trail:

The following trees are also of note:

  • Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani). Two on way to Golf Course.
  • Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum). The Park's second one is hidden in an overgrown area below the main lake dam.
  • Yew (Taxus baccata). The Park's largest yew tree was at the east end of the main dam. When the dam was heightened after 2011, efforts were made to keep it but it took offence and died.
  • Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa). Huge old tree near "Lower Tilgate".
  • Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica var. laxus). A weird weeping Cedar in the Pinetum. Planted by the Council, not happy but growing very slowly.

The Forest lacks specimen trees, but there is a Brewer's Weeping Spruce (Picea breweriana) at the ruins of Keeper's Cottage. The Park lost its specimen in 1987.


The "Smith & Western" is part of a restaurant chain with a Western American theme. In 2018 it was open from 11:00 to 23:00, except on Sundays when it was 12:00 to 10:00.[49] No refund of any parking fee is advertised.

Go Ape[edit]

"Go Ape" is a rather small arboreal off-ground adventure course. There are two routes, one for adults and one for children. A winter closure occurs in December.[50]


A variety of water sports are offered on the main lake by a private company called "Tilgate Water Sports", which runs the "Tilgate Park Watersports Center", and (according to the Council) has management responsibility for fishing on the lakes.[51] The following are available:

Because Tilgate Forest lacks reception facilities, this firm also offers the following which mostly take place there:

There are also special events.[52]


Fishing on the Tilgate and Silt Lakes is under the aegis of two clubs, the "Crawley Angling Society" and the "Tilgate Park Fisheries". There are big carp in the main lake. Day tickets are available.[53]


The Golf Centre has an 18-hole course, a driving range, a shop, a resident pro and a bar open to the public. It has its own car parking.

Tilgate Nature Centre[edit]

Tilgate Nature Centre is a local Nature reserve financed by the local council and features over 100 different species of animals including endangered wild birds and threatened domestic (farm) mammals. Education programs are offered for children, families and schools. There is a small charge.

Walled Garden[edit]

The Walled Garden contains a hedge maze, a café and several craft emporia. Shire horses have been kept here.

Garden of Remembrance[edit]

Ashes can be deposited or scattered at the new Garden of Remembrance, around a dedicated sculpture. There is a charge.

Recreation Centre[edit]

As well as premises of clubs and societies, the "Recreation Centre" has a commercial gym.


The Forest has four named bike trails, with some portions rather casually laid out. They are: "Tilgate Slalom", "Toasty", "The Deer Hunter" and"Noon Ride". There are no reception facilities in the Forest itself.[54]


Butler, Chris et al.: "A Lidar-enhanced Archaeological Survey of Tilgate Forest" 2011. Available online:"Archaeological Survey". Retrieved 6 December 2018.

Sussex Gardens Trust: "Report On The History Of Crawley Parks" 2013. Chapter on Tilgate Park available as a download: "History Report" (PDF). Retrieved 6 December 2018.

Cleere, Henry: "The Iron Industry of Roman Britain" 1981. Available online: "Roman Iron" (PDF). Retrieved 6 December 2018.

Straker, E: "Wealden Iron" David & Charles 1931.

Cleere, H.et al.: "The Iron Industry of the Weald" Merton Priory Press 1995. Available online: "Iron Industry" (PDF). Retrieved 7 December 2018.

Hodgkinson, J: The Wealden Iron Industry" History Press 2008.

Johnson, O: "Sussex Tree Book" Pomegranate Press 1998.

de Crespigny, E. Champion: A New London Flora 1877.


  1. ^ Crawley Borough Council. Accessed 18 June 2007
  2. ^ "Tilgate Forest". Local Nature Reserves. Natural England. Retrieved 26 July 2013.
  3. ^ "Map of Tilgate Forest". Local Nature Reserves. Natural England. Retrieved 26 July 2013.
  4. ^ Wymer: "Gazetteer of Mesolithic Sites in England" CBA Research Report 1977
  5. ^ Beckensall 1963, cf. Butler 2011 p54.
  6. ^ Gallois et al: "Geology of the Country around Horsham" SO 1993.
  7. ^ Yallop et al: "The Extent and Intensity of Management Burning in the English Uplands" Journal of Applied Ecology 2006
  8. ^ Butler, Chris: ""A Polished Flint Arrowhead from Tilgate Lodge" Lithics 2001
  9. ^ Sussex Archaeological Collections, Vols 112-114, p 325
  10. ^ "A Re-Investigation of Late Iron Age and Roman Activity at Rathlin Road, Crawley" (PDF).
  11. ^ Butler 2011 p 54
  12. ^ Cleere 1918 p39
  13. ^ "Briggs, Robert: "Testing Transhumance, Anglo Saxon Swine Pastures and Seasonal Grazing in the Surrey Weald" Surrey Archaeological Collections 2016". Retrieved 7 December 2018.
  14. ^ Cole 2004b, Unpaginated.
  15. ^ Mawer and Stanton: "The Place Names of Sussex Part I" CUP 1929
  16. ^ Cleere et al. 1995 for overview
  17. ^ Straker 1931 p464ff.
  18. ^ "Wealden Iron Research Group Database". Retrieved 7 December 2018.
  19. ^ Straker 1931 p115
  20. ^ Butler 2011 p 56
  21. ^ Butler 2011 p8,
  22. ^ WIRG database
  23. ^ Young, A: "General View of the Agriculture of the County of Sussex" 1808 p 189
  24. ^ Butler 2011 p9
  25. ^ Crawley Borough Council, Nix family archives
  26. ^ London Gazette part 2, 1827, p 1543
  27. ^ Butler 2011 p 43
  28. ^ LG 1827 p 1353
  29. ^ Butler 2011 p9
  30. ^ SGT 2013 p 100
  31. ^ London Gazette part 2 1827 p 1543
  32. ^ Law Times 1861 p 98
  33. ^ John Hennings Nix and Sarah Ashburner, 23 Feb 1865, Worth, Sussex, England England Marriages, 1538–1973 FHL microfilm 0919105-6, 0413753, 0919105-6, 0416753, retrieved 18 March 2016
  34. ^ Butler 2011 p 96
  35. ^ Slaugham Archives photo 1206
  36. ^ OS map 1875
  37. ^ de Crespigny 1877
  38. ^ Johnson, O: "The Sussex Tree Book" 1998
  39. ^ Weishampel, David B.; Dodson, Peter; and Osmólska, Halszka (eds.): The Dinosauria, 2nd, Berkeley: University of California Press. (2004). 861 pp. ISBN 0-520-24209-2. Pp. 517–607.
  40. ^ Lang, D: "Britain's Orchids" 2004 p 98
  41. ^ de Crespigny 1877 p 29
  42. ^ SGT 2013 pp 95ff
  43. ^ Crawley Observer 1 July 2009
  44. ^ SGT 2013
  45. ^ "Game Conservancy Annual Review" Issues 1-8 1969, p 45
  46. ^ "Watersports". Crawley Borough Council. 2016.
  47. ^ "Garden of Remembrance press release". Retrieved 16 December 2018.
  48. ^ Johnson 1998 p 91
  49. ^ "S&W Tilgate Park". Retrieved December 18, 2018.
  50. ^ "Crawley Go Ape". Retrieved December 18, 2018.
  51. ^ "Council page on watersports". Retrieved December 18, 2018.
  52. ^ "About Watersports". Retrieved December 18, 2018.
  53. ^ "Fishing permits". Retrieved December 18, 2018.
  54. ^ "Mountain Bike Trails". Retrieved 16 December 2018.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°5′39.3″N 0°10′40.85″W / 51.094250°N 0.1780139°W / 51.094250; -0.1780139