On 21 March 1944 a special meeting of the East Grinstead Urban District Council was held to consider an approach “by a resident of the town regarding the possibility of the acquisition of the East Court estate in connection with the following purposes :
- the major portion of the estate to designated a war memorial,
- the mansion and a small agreed area of land for use as new Council offices
It soon became known that this astonishing offer had been made 17 months before the eventual end of the war by Alfred Wagg, a merchant banker and philanthropist living at The Hermitage, Hermitage Lane. After lengthy negotiations between Mr Wagg, the Urban District Council and the Ministry of Health, the estate was purchased for £17,000 by the Manor Charitable Trust (founded by him and four others in 1929) on the understanding the U.D.C. would purchase the mansion and five acres for a little over £6,000. The U.D.C. duly completed their purchase and took over the mansion, which had been requisitioned by the Army during the war.
Following a public meeting in 1946, a War Memorial Committee was formed, made up of representatives of many local organisations, sports clubs and churches. It recommended that:
- a portion of the estate be laid out as a public park, and
- if finance was available, a community centre be provided in agreement with the U.D.C.
A London architect, Louis Osman, was commissioned to design a development scheme for the estate. The result was a development that included a county-size cricket ground, football pitches, tennis courts, running track, swimming pool, paddling pool and formal gardens. A new road layout, school and housing were also included. The whole scheme was costed at £70,000 (without the housing and presumably the road layout), which was to be raised by public subscription.
An Appeals Committee was formed, but by 1948 only £7,646 had been raised. It was recognised that the scheme was far too ambitious for a small market town of 10,500 souls, particularly in a post-war era. It was decided to concentrate on two items – the Garden of Remembrance, for which £1,000 had already been set aside, and the playing fields. A new target of £30,000 was set (but never reached) and arrangements made to provide a rugby pitch and two football pitches and two cricket squares.
Eventually, on 13 May 1949, East Grinstead War Memorial Limited was established, being a company limited by guarantee and not having a share capital. It was incorporated under the Companies Act 1948 and registered as a charity. The War Memorial and Appeals Committees were wound up and all assets transferred to the new company, including the title deeds from the Manor Charitable Trust. The company had an initial capital of £10,857. The objects of the company (which were modified slightly in 2017) are two-fold:
- To provide and maintain, as a memorial to the men, women and children of East Grinstead who lost their lives in the 1939-45 war, a public park with playing fields, recreation grounds, or other recreational or educational facilities for the people of East Grinstead.
- To encourage and promote any form of public recreation or education or any other charitable object, including by the making of grants for the benefit of the people of East Grinstead.
There are ten other objects and these are classified by the Charities Commission as “functional objects” and may be pursued to achieve the two primary objects. Overall, the company must be managed in accordance with Charities Commissioners’ requirements as laid out in the Charities Act 2016.
Apart from Alfred Wagg, there were six other subscribers who formed the company – two surveyors, an accountant, a local government official, a widow and a tailor. These seven met on 18 July 1949 and elected Mr Wagg, J.H. Taylor and L.R. Bennett as directors of the company. The business of the company is the responsibility of the Council of Management, and at the first meeting Mr Wagg was elected Chairman together with 13 other local worthies including a Secretary and an Assistant Secretary but, surprisingly, no Treasurer. Mr Wagg gave up the chairmanship in 1951 and for the next 44 years the role was shared by senior partners from either Turner, Rudge & Turner (now King & Chasemore) or Whitley, Hughes & Luscombe (now DMH in Crawley).
By 1950 the Garden of Remembrance had been completed at a cost of £1,548 on land owned by the U.D.C. It was paid for by East Grinstead War Memorial Limited and leased to it by the U.D.C In order to maintain it and do other duties about the estate, a gardener was employed full-time, living in the Lodge rent-free. The Garden was dedicated by the Bishop of Lewes on 4 June that year. The playing fields were also laid out in 1950 with the help of a grant from the Ministry of Education.
The original capital of £10,857 was put in the hands of Schroder Wagg and was soon added to by the sale of cottages near the northern entrance (no longer there) in 1951. In 1960 the land on which the Police Station and former Magistrate court now stand, was sold to East Sussex County Council. In 1964 the company sold its remaining land to the west of the main drive to the U.D.C. Meanwhile, the sports pavilion had been built, mainly through a contribution of £25,000 from the company.
In 1959 a lease was agreed with East Grinstead Football Club (now East Grinstead Town F.C.) for the football ground off Holtye Road, and in 1964 the company met with Felbridge Rifle Club (now East Grinstead Target Shooting Club) for discussions about the provision of a rifle range. Both clubs now have well-established facilities, and the football club in particular has received considerable financial assistance from the company for floodlights and clubhouse improvements.
In 1973, following the national Local Government boundary changes, the company purchased the Garden of Remembrance from the defunct U.D.C. and leased the playing fields to the newly-formed Mid Sussex District Council. In 1992 a 2m-wide strip down the centre of the track from Holtye Road to Ashplats Wood was dedicated a public footpath. The Garden of Remembrance was sold to the Town Council in 1997 for £1,000, and the services of the full-time gardener were dispensed with. The company now retains no employees, either full- or part-time, and the Lodge is let unfurnished on a short-hold tenancy that makes a substantial contribution to the company’s incoming resources. Two parcels of land were sold to M.S.D.C. in 1999 for the construction of a balancing pond to alleviate occasional flooding in the Gleave Close area.
The company now retains some 100 acres of the land originally conveyed to it, including Ashplats Wood which is now designated as an S.N.C.I. (Site of Nature Conservation Importance). Much work has been done in the wood by the Ashplats Conservation Group (local volunteers), for which the company is extremely grateful. A public meeting was held in 1998 and a Steering Committee formed of local residents and representatives of all parties with an interest in the estate. It acts as a local sounding-board and adviser on the maintenance and usage of the estate. In agreement with M.S.D.C., in 2000 the company engaged a consultancy, Parklife Ltd, to produce a master plan for the whole estate with a view to the company making a bid for lottery funding.
A good history of how East Court has developed over the years is given on the Parks and Gardens web site
In 2015 the Company signed a new lease with Mid Sussex District Council for them to manage the Estate, at no cost to the Company, for a period of 125 years. In return for this, MSDC agreed to levy new developments in the area and use that income to support and improve the Estate.
In 2017 the Members voted to change the name of the Company to East Grinstead Memorial Estate Ltd to better reflect what we do.