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As today, safety on hill and no work were issues 100 years ago

By This is Essex  |  Posted: February 04, 2009

FORMER NAME: Station Road, the old name for Crowborough Hill, before it had a footpath. Little Eliza Pratt was knocked down by a van on this section of the road

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COMING events, they say, cast their shadows before – and certainly, there were the same concerns in Crowborough about unemployment, and traffic on Crowborough Hill, 100 years ago as there are today.

In October 1908 five-year-old Eliza Pratt, a pupil at the Sir Henry Fermor School, was on her way home at dinner time when for some reason she ran out in front of a grocer's horse-drawn van and was knocked down. She died from her injuries.

The inquest jury returned a verdict of accidental death. They added a strong recommendation to Uckfield Rural District Council stressing the dangers of the road "which is very narrow, without a footpath, and used by more than 100 children several times a day".

A week later the parish council discussed unemploy- ment, and Mr William Troy said he did not remember a time when so many men in Crowborough were out of work.

Local clergy and other prominent people, including Mr HE Seppard, were becoming concerned at the situation, and they set up their own relief committee. Soon afterwards the parish council followed suit, and in November the two committees were amalgamated.

The Kent and Sussex Courier reported: "As a result a register of the unemployed has been opened at Mr Cornford's shop in White Hill, and two sub-committees have been appointed, one to ascertain means of alleviating distress by charity, and the other to devise means by which works of public benefit of a permanent character could be carried out by means of voluntary subscription."

This proposed "work of public benefit" was to be a footpath from the railway station at Jarvis Brook up to Crowborough Cross.

Early in January 1909, the rural council, meeting at Uckfield Workhouse, received a letter from Mr JH Neal, the honorary secretary of the then Crowborough Unemployment Committee, asking if work on a footpath along the section of road where little Eliza was killed – from Gurr's Farm towards Crowborough Cross – could be put in hand at once.

"The land in this section has been kindly granted, and this would enable the committee to find work at once for many of the unemployed and relieve the existing distress to some extent.

"It will provide two good approaches to Sir Henry Fermor's School and meet, to some extent, the views expressed by the coroner and jury at the recent inquest."

Mr Troy, who was a member of the rural and county councils as well as a parish councillor, proposed the request should be granted. The intention was to make the footpath in sections, and the unemployment committee had got the money, and the necessary land had been promised. All they asked was that the Highways Surveyor should be instructed to proceed with that section, as the council had a guarantee for the money.

It was the most dangerous part of the road, and if the council gave its sanction a great improvement would be effected.

Mr Troy was supported by Mr Sheppard and Mr Cornford, who said that one man had told him he had five children at home crying for bread – "absolutely starving".

But the chairman, Mr Francis Barchard, said he was very sorry – it was out of order.

Two weeks later the rural council met again to consider a new proposal from the unemployment committee which was unable to obtain all the necessary land. This was that the council should make a 437-yard long footpath in front of the Fermor School at a cost of £119. And this was agreed, provided that two-thirds of the cost was contributed locally. Mr Sheppard offered to guarantee the necessary money.

So Crowborough Hill's first footpath came into being, providing work for the unemployed and a measure of safety for children – and little Eliza's memorial.

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