It was the Saxons who came to the area first, living in small settlements that were spread far and wide. They found a clearing on the edge of Ashdown Forest, decided to settle there and called the place 'Greenstede' ('stede' is the Saxon for a clearing in the forest). During the following years, King Edward created a number of manors around Greenstede and gave this land to his favourite followers. Manor houses were built, farms started and by the time of the Domesday Book of 1086, 12 settlements had been recorded in the area. Later, additional estates were created and before long, Greenstede was completely surrounded by land owned by the upper classes of the time.
As the number of estates grew, so did the town itself. By 1235 the area had become a borough and around this time it also received a charter allowing it to hold a market. The town became the trading centre of all of the large estates in the area; the goods that were produced on the local farms were traded and food for the manor houses was purchased here. Doctors, labourers, shopkeepers and all other services that the landowner might need could all be found in the centre and as the estates prospered, so did the town.
The market, a forge, slaughterhouse, windmill and leather dressing house could all be found in the town and by 1564 there were some 300 inhabitants. As the roads from London to the
South Coast developed, East Grinstead also started to become a stop over point and in 1781, 12 inns provided lodging for the weary traveller.
The old country estates, such as Hammerwood and Standen can still be found today, although the original, simple manor houses have since been replaced with more elaborate and imposing buildings.
Then in the 1850s the railway arrived, fuelling the expansion of the area. East Grinstead was linked to other towns and villages such as Three Bridges to the west, Lewes to the south, Tunbridge Wells to the east and Croydon and London to the north. Although all except the direct links to London and Croydon have gone, East Grinstead is still in easy reach of the larger cities and as such is popular with commuters.
Today East Grinstead is a quiet relaxed place to live and work. The surrounding area has seen a large amount of development, much of it catering for the people who travel to London to work, yet the town centre retains many of its medieval and Tudor buildings and is now a preservation area. There is plenty of interest in the town and a great many things to see and do nearby. East Grinstead is therefore a good place to stay while exploring the surrounding countryside.