1834: Ainsworth features Cuckfield Park


'Rescue of Lady Rookwood' by George Cruikshank (1792-1878)

In 1831, 26 year old William Harrison Ainsworth, an amateur dramatist and practising attorney, transformed Cuckfield Place owned by his friend William Sergison, into gloomy Rookwood Place for his first serious novel - and it proved a big hit.


The romantic novel was published in three volumes by Richard Bentley in April 1834. In the fourth edition illustrations by George Cruikshank were added. A romance went through five large editions in only three years, making Ainsworth's name and fortune, and leading directly to his having sufficient literary gravitas to assume the post of editor of Bentley's Miscellany (1837) when his protegé, 25 year old Charles Dickens, quarrelling over his contract with the publisher, resigned the post in 1838.


First published by Richard Bentley in three volumes, Rookwood became a single-volume publication when publisher John Macrone (1809-37) acquired the rights, but a chronic cash shortage subsequently compelled Macrone to sell his rights to the Ainsworth novels Rookwood and Crichton (1837) back to Bentley.


Despite its convoluted plot, the book is memorable and even managed to include highwayman Dick Turpin into the inheritance plot.


Rookwood Place, based on Cuckfield Park, was interpreted as a c17th Yorkshire mansion, seen through an archway of lime trees with the plot unfolding in 1737.


The curse of 'Cuckfield Park's' doom tree is nothing more than a legend taken from 'Rookwood'. Thurston Hopkins, a well known writer in the 1920/30s, in an article in the Mid Sussex Times (10 July 1928) was happy to repeat the rhyme and to pour scorn on the legend as we related in an earlier article in Cuckfield Connections.

Sources:

Victorian web: https://victorianweb.org/authors/ainsworth/rookwood2.html

Available to read online at: https://archive.org/details/rookwoodromance03ains/mode/2up

Illustration is based on the engraving of 'Rescue of Lady Rookwood' by George Cruikshank (1792-1878).


Contributed by Malcolm Davison.