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History of Heath Common

Heath Common sits to the north of the A283 between Washington and Sullington. It is an attractive area of mainly detached homes in a wooded series of lanes, sitting on a greensand ridge, and bordered on the East by Warren Hill and on the West by Sullington Warren, both managed by the National Trust.

The area has a colourful history. In 1922 Vera Pragnell, the 25 year old daughter of textile magnate Sir George Pragnell, used an inheritance from her father to buy 50 acres of land.
Her aim was to establish a commune, known as “The Sanctuary”, where people of all classes could thrive as a community, and settlers soon arrived from all over England. They included various religious groups, atheists, revolutionaries, and mystics. None were conventional, and all were seeking a different way of living.

Initially some lived in caravans or tents, but Vera, gave them plots of land on which to build wooden shacks, grow vegetables and tend livestock.

Water was drawn from a well or rainwater-collection tanks and there was no electricity. Conditions were Spartan but people gelled, holding community events such as concerts and dancing.

This curious settlement attracted sensational press coverage, and there was great public suspicion about the area’s unconventional residents.

But soon the cracks began to show. People became possessive about their plots and started putting up fences.  As the original settlers died, their relatives started selling off the real estate to outsiders. Some of the original settlers became disillusioned and moved away.
Historian Chris Hare, whose book The Washington Story devotes a chapter to rise and fall of The Sanctuary, said Vera bought the original 50 acres for just £850.

Today, traces of Heath Common’s fascinating past remain. At the junction of Sanctuary Lane with Vera’s Walk, a shelter sits on what remains of the original village green, with an information board relating the story of Vera Pragnell. Almost opposite, by the red telephone kiosk, stands Sanctuary Cottage – Vera’s original home.

The heart of the original Sanctuary is now known as “Sleepy Hollow”. The area attracts many walkers, who can enjoy the nearby woods and heathland, including Sandgate Park – 30 acres of land offering delightful walks.

Credits:
Evening Argus
The Washington Story – Chris Hare