The following was found in ‘The Penguin Book of Ghosts: Haunted England’ by Jennifer Westwood, Jacqueline Simpson, 2008 detailing the local folklore tale of Dame Sergison:
‘In 1848, a rich old lady named Mrs Ann Pritchard Sergison died at the age of 85 at her home, Cuckfield Park. She had been notorious for a bitter lawsuit in which she wrested ownership of the estate from the woman commonly thought to be her niece by proving the latter was not really her brother’s daughter but had been bought by him as a baby in a Dublin pub in order to provide himself with an heir.
‘Mrs Sergison was also notable for her harsh treatment of her tenants, and for a vindictive temper, which led her into feuds with her neighbours and relatives, even with her own son. She was locally nicknamed ‘Wicked Dame Sergison’. She had not been long dead when country people claimed her ghost was walking, for she was too wicked to rest in her grave.
Jennifer Westwood in her 2008 book ‘The Penguin Book of Ghosts: Haunted England’ adds that she haunted the Ansty to Cuckfield road past the Sergison estate by swinging from the oak gates to the Park. This would terrorise passing horses.’
But the author goes on to explain how the matter was resolved: ‘… the vicar and curate of Cuckfield, together with the vicar of Balcombe, held a service of exorcism in the village church at midnight and drowned the ghost in the font. At about the same time, her son replaced the old oak gates by spiked iron ones, and the haunting stopped.
Iron was used to ward off evil spirits. If sharpened, it was supposed to give greater protection against witchcraft.
‘The Penguin Book of Ghosts: Haunted England’ , by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson,2008.
Illustration: by Charles G Harper, 1906 in The Brighton Road, edited by Malcolm Davison for dramatic effect.
Cuckfield Stage Coach, painting by J Pollards, engraved by Duboury
Contributed by Malcolm Davison.