EAST Grinstead is, to all intents and purposes, a very lovely Sussex town.

Surrounded by luscious greenery and gently rolling hills, bustling with quaint pubs and restaurants, it ticks all the boxes of a staycation haven for Brits looking for a quiet weekend away.

But it is the things you might not see at first glance that make the town an irresistible mystery.

It is home to Saint Hill Manor which has been the base of operations for Scientology in the UK since 1959 after being bought by the founder of the “belief system”, L Ron Hubbard.

Actor Tom Cruise reportedly stayed in a luxury wing of the estate during lockdown.

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More recently, the town has proved to possess an irresistible allure for other groups with alternative belief systems including Mormons, paganists and druids who are said to shed their clothes and dance in nearby forests at night.

It is these factors that attracted Nick Hilton to start a podcast dedicated to the

lesser-known goings on in East Grinstead – The Town That Didn’t Stare.

The 27-year-old grew up in nearby Turners Hill and went to school in the town.

CLICK HERE>>>To listen to The Town That Didn't Stare

He still remembers the first time word of East Grinstead’s underground activities reached his ears.

Nick said: “I think the earliest whisperings I heard about East Grinstead were when I was playing rugby, as a boy, at the club which is right next to Saint Hill Manor, the home of the Scientologists.

“It was just offhand comments, the way you’d talk about very eccentric neighbours.

“But it’s led to a lifetime of curiosity about what was going on in there, behind those immaculate maintained gates.”

The Argus:

It was this intrigue, twinned with the travel constraints which lockdown placed upon the nation, which sparked the idea for a podcast dedicated to unravelling the town’s many mysteries.

And the series has been well received by listeners, eager to hear more about the town with the unusual past –and present.

Nick said: “I’d written previously for [magazine] Vice about the town and had always been attracted to a more expansive project.

“When lockdown came along and a lot of my business and social life slowed down, I decided that it was the perfect time to just knuckle down and get it made.

“The response has been incredible, especially considering this was predominantly made from my bedroom.”

The podcasts, each book-ended by Stranger Things-esque theme music, delve into the depths of the East Grinstead area’s generous helping of obscurities.

They range from the discovery of a shin bone belonging to the Boxgrove Man – thought to be the oldest human fossil ever discovered in Britain – in 1993 to the ley lines, straight alignments drawn between various historic structures and prominent landmarks, which lie beneath the town.

It is these things which make the town so interesting, Nick said.

He also outlined how he might go about approaching the prospect of introducing a complete stranger to the town’s “double life”.

The Argus:

“East Grinstead is a lovely historic town, a bit quaint but very friendly,” Nick said.

“I think if you’re new in town then you could go years without realising there’s anything unusual about the place.

“That’s what makes it so fascinating, it’s all under the surface.”

“For me, the strangest thing to happen in the town was that moment at the end of the 1950s when both the Scientologists, led by L Ron Hubbard, and the Mormons, led by David O McKay, opened major religious centres in it.

“McKay was president of the Mormon church for 19 years, so you’ve got two of the most influential figures in American new religious movements of the 20th century converging on this little town in West Sussex.

“Everything that’s happened to the town since has centred on those two years, 1958 and 1959, which changed everything.”

Nick said he never had any intention of putting anyone off living in the town.

He said: “Chances are, you’ll never encounter any of the alternative belief systems and, if you do, they’ll likely be incredibly friendly and offer you a cup of tea.”

While the podcasts discuss a huge range of topics, the sixth and final segment in the series answers a question which has likely been on listeners’ lips since the first instalment.

The Argus:

“Why East Grinstead?”

The reason, Nick believes, might not be as mystical as many might have hoped.

He said: “The banal reality is that it’s largely coincidence, combined with the fact that the town is just an hour on the train from London and close to Gatwick airport. A number of country houses, which had been in decline for years, had been requisitioned by the Army during the war and that expedited their fire sale.

“So I think it was a case of right time, right place, where these beautiful country houses came up for sale just as America was increasing its global reach.”