We have just discovered that Cuckfield was the birthplace of a Lord Mayor of London who became a highly influential and respected individual in the City. His name was Sir Thomas Scambler Owden. He was Lord Mayor for the years 1877-8 at the ages of 69/70.
Thomas, most likely, was born in his home of the Talbot Inn and spent the first three years of his life there.
But this is a strange coincidence! This is where the Mayor of Cuckfield traditionally collects the keys to the ‘Independent State of Cuckfield’ as a ceremonial recognition of his new position in office - at the October's Mayor Show since 1966. When the idea was conceived, nobody was aware of the significance of the location and its connection to a real Mayor - let alone a Lord Mayor of London.
Andy Revell found the vital clue that led us on this trail. It came from a Mid Sussex Times article on 22 May 1883 ‘Demolition of the Old Market House, Cuckfield’. Here is the relevant text:
‘The change of ownership in the case of the King’s Head came about this way: Mr Falkner Best, in the early part of this century, having purchased The Talbot Inn of Mr Owden, father of Sir Thomas Owden, a late Lord Mayor of London, there was, of course, a rivalry between the two houses, and Mr Best, on the vacation of Dench, closed the Kings Head about 65 years ago , and removed the market and the posting work to the Talbot, which gave rise to the building of the present King’s Head Hotel. Mr James Webber, who died abroad; Owden, Scott, Best, and Dench all sleeping among the dead in the Cuckfield churchyard. From a Correspondent.'
But what the source of the original Middy's text was - we don’t know. We have been able to corroborate the basic facts, and much more besides. Census records from Thomas's birth date onwards confirm that he gave his birthplace as Cuckfield and many other City records confirm this.
Historian and academic Stephen Coote was commissioned to write ‘The Innholders - a history of the Worshipful Company of Innholders’ and in it he gives a good profile of the character of Thomas Owden:
'He was a twinkling, heavily bearded diminutive figure possessed of great natural authority, a vigorous admiration for Disraeli and the Tory party, and a nature which modestly delighted in doing good deeds by stealth.'
More to come!
But this article is just the first instalment in a series of articles. We will look further into Thomas's early life, then his career and his good deeds as mayor, and the 'Jingo Demonstration' in London's Guildhall with which he became associated and led to his knighthood. We will also tell you how the Talbot became such a successful business and grew from a small alehouse into a large successful hotel business.
Then there are the pub's links with the Cuckfield brewery and how, to diversify through loss of business the Talbot incorporated shops into the building. Also how the hostelry, with the hotel closing down it was converted into a successful and popular high street pub . Stay tuned!
Mid Sussex Times article on 22 May 1883 ‘Demolition of the Old Market House, Cuckfield.’
‘The Innholders - a history of the Worshipful Company of Innholders’ by Stephen Coote, 2002 Collectors Book.
Thomas Scambler Owden portrait: photograph by the London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company (out of copyright).
Cuckfield High Street photograph taken at an October Mayor's Show from the Independent State of Cuckfield website https://cuckfieldstate.org
Contributed by Malcolm Davison.