As Cuckfield Connections coeditor Andy Revell recently trawled through local newspapers he made an extraordinary discovery. In a Mid Sussex Times article dated 1883 he learned that the village once had a market house (they are also called market halls) on land now partly occupied by The Talbot. This is the first evidence found of this and sadly no paintings or etchings have survived to confirm this.
'… a square building, partly open on all sides, standing in the midst of the street in which they displayed their eggs, butter, and poultry for sale, and the farmers their corn samples. '
Immediately opposite the market hall was The Old Kings Head (which is today where the buildings facing The Talbot are now situated). It could have been built to take advantage of the passing trade when the London-Brighton turnpike was built through Cuckfield, in 1770. But market halls usually date well before this time to the mid 1600s. Well known examples include:
Amersham (1682), Chipping Camden (1627), Ledbury (1617), Ross-on-Wye (1650-4), Warwick (1694) and Tichfield (1619 shown right) now relocated to the Weald and Downland Living Museum.
Could it have dated back to 17th century?
In the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries Cuckfield was rapidly growing in wealth from its iron-masters and strategically becoming a significant market town. So this date would be entirely in keeping with this.
It also coincides with the renewal, by Charles II in 1670, of an earlier Cuckfield Market charter of 1313 'granting markets on Mondays and a fair for three days on 'the eve, day and morrow of the feast of Holy Trinity'. And while you can have a charter without a market hall, it may be that the villagers initiated the move to raise its profile locally - and the market hall would have been an important part of the functioning of both the market and town governance.
Local expert input on market halls
The Weald and Downland Living Museum's website gives us some useful background on the function of market halls:
… Even small market towns had market officers. We know that in 1535 Titchfield had a ‘clerk of the market’ and other towns had toll gatherers, market inspectors, ale and bread tasters (responsible for checking on the quality and price of ale and bread sold in the town) and leather searchers (responsible for checking the quality of skins and hides).
… Whilst the primary function of a market hall may have been commercial, many included an upper chamber, which provided a meeting place for the town’s governors, effectively acting as the seat of civic government.
Occasionally the upper room in market halls was used as an early court room, and sometimes a pillory or stocks would be nearby the building and sometimes a lock-up (small prison) might also be attached to the building.
The painting of Cuckfield by Thomas Rowlandson of 1789 does show a group of houses but artistic licence has been used in their positioning. The fact that the market hall is not shown is most likely because it had already been demolished.
The Talbot was formerly a small alehouse called 'The Hound' it was later upgraded and became 'The Talbot' around 1800.
The first record of the 'The Hound' was in the 1726 will of William Buckwell of Cuckfield as 'my messuage or tenement … commonly known b the sign of the Hound : in the town of Cuckfield … in the occupation of John Heaseman'.
The Hound was smaller, it is probably seen in the Rawlinson painting in the foreground on the left and may have been north of the former position of the market house - allowing the room for it. One possibility is the hall may have been demolished because it was obstructing a very busy high street - now full of passing coaches.
Did Prinny influence matters?
There is another theory for the demolition. The young Prince of Wales, later George lV, started visiting Brighton (as it was later called) in 1783 and work began at The Royal Pavilion in 1787. He used to regularly stop at the King's Head and was known to enjoy watching bouts of wrestling from an upstairs window with the wrestling ring set up in the road in front of the inn. So the Market House may have been removed to make the necessary space for this sport. Wrestling was also a regular feature at the market fair and held in this location. Removing the hall would also allow the Talbot to expand its building to accommodate the growing number of coach travellers, and make room for coaches to pass and more easily negotiate the sharp bend.
The article that revealed so much!
The article in Mid Sussex Times on Tuesday 22 May 1883 was entitled 'The Demolition of the Old Market House Cuckfield' and signed off 'From a Correspondent' but we have no other clues about its source. But the content of the rest of the piece are recollections of the previous 70 years and are likely to have been sourced from another publication. No doubt the item was used by the editor as a page filler. Here is the relevant section from the article:
Old Mr Charles Jenner, the butcher, who formerly occupied the market-house, that was frequented by the farmers' wives of the neighbourhood (who rode to town on Fridays, on pillions strapped on behind their husbands’ saddles, the country roads not being passable for wheels) was, according to old drawings, a square building, partly open on all sides, standing in the midst of the street (opposite the old King’s Head), in which they displayed their eggs, butter, and poultry for sale, and the farmers their corn samples.
At that period there were no footpaths by the roadside, the houses standing back behind small fenced-in courts and gardens; and there was a row of trees, on the west side, reached from the top to the bottom of the street, a few of which still remain.
The footpaths passed up the centre of the road, with a few crossings; horses, carts, and waggons going up the hill, to avoid confusion taking the left (near) side, and the opposite road going down.
It is very uncertain at what date the old market-house was demolished, the fate of the town pump attached to it being, however, well known; but it probably occurred at about the time when the main London and Brighton road was made*, or when the market room, that flourished for many years, was opened at the King’s Head.
* this probably means when the London-Brighton turnpike through Cuckfield was built, which was 1770. But it seems far more likely that the building was much older, not that we have evidence (yet!) to substantiate this.
Ledbury Market Hall dated between 1617-1668: https://showmeengland.co.uk/ledbury/tourism/market-house-ledbury-herefordshire-england/
Cuckfield coloured etching by Thomas Rawlinson 1789 from Excursion to Brighthelmstone.
About Market Houses, etc: https://www.wealddown.co.uk/museum-news/markets-fairs-felons-story-titchfield-market-hall/
Written by Malcolm Davison