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1855: Assault In Cuckfield Church

Updated: Mar 19, 2021

Morning Chronicle - Saturday 18 August 1855


At the Cuckfield County Court, on Thursday, a curious case came on for hearing before Mr. W. Furner, and a jury.

Miss Sarah Upton sought to recover the sum of £5 5s. for an assault committed upon her by Mr. Samuel White, in the parish church at Cuckfield, on the 3d of June. Mr. Penfold (of Brighton) appeared for plaintiff, and Mr. Langham (of Uckfield) for defendant. Plaintiff carries on business as a dressmaker in Cuckfield; defendant is clerk to Mr. Waller, the magistrates' clerk.

Plaintiff and her sister had occupied a particular pew in the church for the last seven or eight years. The practice in the church is to allot the pews to the respective houses in the parish. The pew in question was not allotted to the house occupied by the Uptons; but the one that was allotted to them was situated in a part of the church where they could neither see nor hear the minister.

Then the pew in which plaintiff had seated herself was allotted to Mr. Robert Tyler, a native of Cuckfield and by trade a blacksmith. Mr. Tyler, being a Dissenter, did not often attend the church, and he gave the Misses Upton leave to occupy his pew when he was absent, himself only going once or twice a year to assert his right. The pew was capable of holding five persons. Three of the seats were allotted to Mr. Tyler, and the other two to another house.

Within the last few years defendant had jointly occupied the pew; and, not satisfied with that, he wanted the seats the Misses Uptons had occupied so many years, and accordingly requested them on the 3rd of June to move out of it. The plaintiff, thinking this was an infringement of her delegated right to the pew, refused to do so, whereupon defendant brought matters to a crisis by violently dragging her from her seat.

Interior of Cuckfield Church before the pews were removed

She now estimated the damage done at five guineas, including l0s. for the tearing of her dress. For the defence witnesses were called to prove that plaintiff had no right to the pew, it being allotted to defendant, Mr. Bates, and Mr. Field.

The case was heard before the Cuckfield magistrates shortly after the assault, when they decided that their jurisdiction was ousted, as defendant set up a right to a particular pew in the church in which the assault was committed. On this occasion Mr. Langham raised the same point, and urged that as defendant had such a right, it placed the matter entirely out of the jurisdiction of the Court.

His Honour, however, ruled that he was not trying the question of right-only a case of assault. The defendant justified himself by saying that the plaintiff was in a pew to which he had a right against all the world. Now he (the judge) must say that he had yet to learn that the mere word of a churchwarden could determine rights between parishioners to pews in the parish church.

Mr. Langham said the right of the churchwardens to allot I pew had never been questioned, nor had any appeal from it been made, and therefore the churchwarden's fiat was final.

His Honour said what defendant had done was not justifiable, and the jury returned a verdict for £1 with costs.

Photograph with thanks to ICS Church furnishing



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