The Warren is perhaps the most picturesque and romantic estate in the vicinity of Crowborough. Part of it is within the parish of Withyham, part in that of Buxted, and part in Rotherfield parish. It comprises a valley one mile and a half long, and the two hills which form its sides.
The hill nearest Crowborough has a more gradual slope than the other, but both have long sweeps of graceful curves, the summits of which are clothed with plantations of Scotch pine, whose solid masses of dark foliage are relieved by the brighter green of the larch and spruce, while here and there the silver birch waves its elegant leafage on the undulating slopes. Several plateaux of fairly level ground are turned into meadows and corn fields, but the dense masses of acreages of the pine are the special feature of the landscape.
Ravines run down to the valley, forming romantic dells of varied beauty, while small streams course along their beds, whispering music to the trees, and helping the mystery and attractiveness of Nature's charms. The long stems of the pine shoot upwards to a dizzy height, in many instances straight as a dart, while the beautiful blue-grey tint on the bark gives a cool mistiness which intensifies the warmer tone of the foliage above. The silver fir, the Weymouth pine, the American oak, the birch and the beech, mingle their varied foliage with the spruce, the chestnut, the alder, and the larch.
In the valley is concentrated the beauty and poetry of the scenery. Fed by springs from the Forest Waste, a stream leaping, rippling, laughing, dances in glee over its stony bed till it reaches one of the large ponds; of which there are five, and here loses itself in the solemn stillness of the mass of water, but, escaping again at the other end, pursues its merry way, glittering and sparkling over the sandstone course from one pond to another, and travels on and on till it falls into the river Medway, to fulfill its destiny in paying tribute to the mighty ocean.
How gracefully the birch and the beech bend their slender branches over the silver-surfaced waters - the little lakes which adorn the valley. The steep bank on one side is topped with the stately pine, which shoots its noble stem like an arrow towards heaven. The timid water-hen swims a little way out from the bank, and, startled, rises and wings its way for a more rapid escape to the opposite side.
Thick is the foliage which covers the base of the hills; the branches interlace - the squirrel trips along from one bough to another as if the arrangement had been planned especially for his delectation.
The path, winding first on one side, then on the other, under the spreading branches, forms a succession of avenues. Glimpses of the sky overhead and of water below are like gems in the leafy canopy and sides, and we wander through a maze of beauty wondering and thoughtful.
How sweet are the melodies which fall upon the ear. Here is the concert hall of the singing-birds. It is the spot they delight to come to, to pour out their sweetest notes
"'Tis love creates their melody, and all
This waste of music is the voice of love."
What fairy-like spots are revealed to us as we pass along, from which there might issue elves and Ariels without incongruity! We are so wrought upon by the combinations of exquisite loveliness that we almost lose the sense of materialism.
Man, in his egotism, thinks that all the profusion of beauty in Nature is created for him, to please and gratify him alone. Vain conceit! Nature takes no notice of him; it regards him not. If he comes in the way of her inexorable laws he is hurled aside or crushed as a thing of little consequence. Let him admire, let him feast upon the charms, and get what enjoyment and pleasure they will yield him. But let him not exalt himself; rather let him bow in humility before them.
In different parts of the Warren there are large cinder beds, evidences that at one time furnaces for smelting iron were at work here, and that the valley, which is now so quiet and peaceful, once resounded with the hum of busy workmen, with the roar of the blast-furnaces and the crash of sledge-hammers.
The cinders have been used extensively for mending the roads, being good material for that purpose; but the beds are not exhausted, there still remaining considerable quantities for future use.
No relic of any interest, as far as I have been able to learn, has been discovered in the scoriae. The large ponds, which add so much to the charm of the valley, were not formed at this period, but owe their origin to a Mr. Howis, who owned the estate over sixty years ago. He contemplated making others, but did not live to carry out his intention.
To him also is to be attributed the erection of most of the buildings, especially the mills, which were once in constant operation, and the scene of bustle and activity, as well as a source of profit. They are now fallen into disuse and decay.
Mr. Howis, keenly alive to the capabilities of all things, fully appreciated the value of the too much maligned donkey. He employed twelve of these plodding animals to fetch chalk from Short Bridge. It must have been an interesting sight. to see this cavalcade of donkeys returning to the Warren laden with bags of chalk, whilst the little brass bells on the harness sent forth a merry peal of music which loitered for a little moment on the ear, then fled to the hollows of the wood, and, twining itself round and round the stems, became lost in the distance.
Then he had a small wagon made, suitable for their stature and strength, to which they were harnessed two abreast, and for a long time thrice a week they journeyed thus to Short Bridge, a distance of between eight and nine miles, for chalk, which had been conveyed by barges from Lewes to that place.
Mr. Howis seems to have been possessed of untiring energy, and to have been a money-making man of business. He was never idle, and permitted no one in his employ to be idle. Everything was turned to account, and the value of time duly estimated. Having a business in London, he continually journeyed thither on horseback, and boasted that he took but three hours on a good horse to get from the Warren to Piccadilly. Had his life been prolonged the further improvements he contemplated would, no doubt, have been carried out.
He appears, by the following story, to have had some peculiar notions respecting life after death. Perhaps he held the dogmas that "everyone's peculiar love remains with him after death; that his love is a man's life, and, consequently, the man himself; that after death he is his own peculiar affection and derivative thought; that the whole heaven is arranged in order according to all the varieties of the affections of the love of good, and the while hell according to all the affections of the love of evil."
The story is this : - It is said that he had a great friend, a Mr Turner, who owned a farm called Summerford, which is situated within sight of Withyham Church. Mr. Turner was known by the sobriquet of " Cast Iron Jack," which was supposed to be indicative of his character; but whether it applied to his body or his heart I have been unable to learn; and whether this cast-iron nature commended him to Mr. Howis is not known; but he was the dearest, closest friend of that gentleman, who wished to be associated with him after death.
He therefore left directions that on his death he should be buried at Withyham, and that in his vault a window or grating should be placed so as to overlook Summerford, that his spirit might have the pleasure of looking through it upon the farm of his very dear friend, and that he might perchance see that friend himself. It does not seem to have occurred to him to arrange with that friend to come occasionally to the grating to visit him.