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1218: Named 'Cuckfield' for 800+ years

Updated: Dec 9, 2023

Sign and church image created by AI in Bing Image Creator

Over the years there has been much discussion about the pronunciation and spelling of what we now call Cuckfield . But in fact Cuckfield has been pronounced that way for at least 800 - 900 years.

The first reference to the village or hamlet of Cuckfield occurs in 1091, in a charter now in the British Museum. In this document the name is spelt 'Kukefeld', but a copy in the Public Record Office has the spelling 'Cukefeld' - but there are other spelling variations: Cucufeld, Cucufelda and Cock-field which it seems should reallly be ignored entirely.

A discussion in the Mid Sussex Times, 19 March 1889 was started by well known local barrister Twynihoe William Erle (1828-1908). Erle lived in Mill Hall on Whiteman's Green - which some still associate with 'the deaf school' - located opposite the Whiteman's Green Recreation Ground.

'The Selden Society* has lately published the Reports of a series of the earliest recorded Pleas of the Crown, i.e. prosecutions of a criminal nature, for the purpose of illustrating the history of English law. Amongst these I notice one which may be of some interest to your readers…'

* The Selden Society is a learned society and registered charity concerned with the study of English legal history.

Among them he had found an early document that referred to the village by name. The legal manuscript was entitled 'Pleas of Hilary and Easter terms in the 4th Year of Henry 3rd (AD 1220)'. It was written just five years after the Magna Carta was signed. Written in Latin it begins:

'Hugo Hoppeouerbumbr’ appellat Thomam de Dene quod die S. Egidii inter primam horam et terciam anno Regni regis secundo, sicut ipse una cum Willelmo de Legh cognato suo fuerunt in parco de Cukefeld Comitis … '

Loosely translated that says:

'Hugh Hoppeouerbumbr calls Thomas de Dene that on the day of St. Egidius between the first hour and the third in the second year of the king's reign, as he and William de Legh, his cousin, were in the park of the Earl of Cukefeld …'

The story is about a William de Legh who was attacked while guarding the Earl of Warenne’s park. A band of poachers led by a Thomas de Dene were armed with bows and arrows. In the fray William de Legh was shot in the leg and died nine days later.

Anyone belonging to the Ecclesiastical Order was exempt from the jurisdiction of the Civil Courts. A court case followed the murder and Thomas proved his link with the church. Whether a church court followed to consider the case or its outcome are unrecorded.

But notice the word in bold above and the spelling of Cukefeld.

'Lord of Canterbury' Stephen Langton

The Rev Canon James Hughes Cooper, a noted historian and chronicler of the town's history, added in the following week's Middy:

That the Bishop's court would have been that of Bishop of Chichester who in 1220 was Ranulf of Warham; and that Ralph Neville did not succeed him till 1221.

The ‘Lord of Canterbury’ was the great champion of the liberties of the Church of England against the Pope, and of the liberties of the people of England against the King - Stephen Langton*, who spent his last days and died in Slindon [Ed: near Arundel].

The spelling ‘Cukefield’ seems to confirm our usual manner of pronouncing the name, and to throw a doubt on the derivation from ‘Cock-field’.

[* Stephen Langton was an English Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church and Archbishop of Canterbury between 1207 and his death in 1228. The dispute between King John of England and Pope Innocent III over his election was a major factor in the crisis which produced Magna Carta in 1215.]

Although 'Cukefeld' may well have derived its name from the presence of Cuckoos in a field - it seems certain that they were not cockerels!

There will be two further Cuckfield Connections articles related to the story above:

  1. William de Legh lived in what we know now as Leigh Manor. But its origin may have a very unpleasant origin. See '1889: Little Ease - Tower of London link?'

  2. Hugh Hoppeouerbumb - See '1889: Hoppe-o'-my-thumb, the fairy tale'

Image: Plaster maquette of Stephen Langton by w:John Thomas (sculptor). One of 17 maquettes for life-sized bronzes representing the signatories of the Magna Carta. The bronzes decorate the walls of the Lords Chamber at Westminster Palace, London. As of 2013 this plaster maquette is in the Canterbury Heritage Museum, and the rest are unavailable to the public in Westgate Towers, Canterbury. Its original label says 'Stephen Langton by John Thomas'.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.

Visit Cuckfield Museum, follow the link for details



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