William Bellingham was born on 29th January at Moorden Farm at Leigh near Penshurst into a long line of farming folk. Both his parents had died by the time he was twelve and he was an only child. The family seems to have been wealthy as, when a lad, William was privately educated. A farmer’s son at this time would usually have had little or no education and be put to work at a very young age. In his will William’s father made several small bequests but left all the remainder of his estate to his son to remain in the hands of trustees until his 21st birthday when he would have control of it himself. Of interest, the will particularly empowers the trustees to allow the boy to take up an apprenticeship for which a payment of perhaps £25 would be made to his master.
William went to live with his father’s brother, also William, one of the trustees, at Lower Parrock Farm where in 1861 he is described as a miller. It is likely he served his apprenticeship at Bolebroke Mill and was working there at this time.
In 1864 he married 20 year old Elizabeth Maria Bingham and in 1871 was working at the mill at Newbridge, where they lived in the adjoining Mill House, all of which belonged to Earl De La Warr. A decade later they were at Dunnings Mill near East Grinstead, but records show that he still had an interest in Newbridge which possibly he had sub-let. In 1891 William was the tenant of the 260 acres of Ashdown Farm, which is adjacent to Ashdown House School in the parish of Forest Row.
The census for 1891 covering Hartfield High Street is very revealing, as between the entries for Chestnut House and Sackville Cottage (now Pooh Corner) where Salisbury house now stands (the Barn was not there then) are written the letters “I.B.”, which denote “in building”, giving us an accurate date for this monster. Lord Salisbury was the Conservative Prime Minister at this time and William was a staunch supporter. On the other hand the De La Warr family at Buckhurst were then firm Liberals. The story goes that William was made aware of a casual remark made by the 7th Earl that he owned everything he could see from his home, so William built this huge edifice so tall that it would be visible by the Earl and named it after the Prime Minister. The story further tells how it was a tradition at Buckhurst to fire off a cannon to celebrate family birthdays. This exciting, but harmless, pursuit was carried out some time earlier on the occasion of the birthday of Lord Cantelupe, the Earl’s son. We are told that someone was over enthusiastic with the powder and a cannon ball landed in Hartfield. If all this is true it would nicely explain why William incorporated in the design of the house the muzzles of cannons with the balls about to emerge and directed at Buckhurst.
Attached to the house was a commodious stable for two horses and two carriages with a groom’s room above, together with a hayloft. When the post office at Vine House closed in 1949 the stable became the new post office with the sub-postmaster’s accommodation above until it too closed in 1999. It is now a private house.
William Bellingham died at Ashdown Farm on Christmas Day 1900, so Elizabeth would have had to move – but not immediately to Salisbury House as the 1901 Census reveals that it was occupied by Nicholas Wright and his wife. It is certain, however, that she lived there from 1903 until her death in 1922 aged 78. It would seem that William himself never lived there. During his lifetime he acquired many small properties in Forest Row, Jumpers Town, the High Street and Chuck Hatch, including the writer’s. As Elizabeth had no children they were put to auction, the auctioneer’s catalogue stating that vacant possession of the principal part of Salisbury House was available, while the remaining rooms were let to Mrs Knight at 5/6d (27p) a week. The catalogue is noted in pencil with the figure 950, which is probably the selling price in pounds. (My house together with the house next door fetched £395).