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1855: Skulduggery at the church

Updated: Dec 9, 2023

The pews that were installed in 1855, the cause of the fuss

In the early 1800s Cuckfield Church had high backed 'stall' pews. Some were assigned to the wealthier local families and sometimes will have rented them. The intention that they would be replaced caused furore in the village, as the news ite in the Brightom Gazette explains:

This subject bids fair to convulse the perish from one end to the other. Mr. Surrogate Scobell is reported in the Gazette of Thursday last to here stated, in granting an adjournment for further considering the matter, that it was quite clear that a vestry could not be called to consider it, unless the Vicar end Churchwardens called it themselves; but it does not appear quite so clear to the Cuckfieid people that that learned functionaries notions of 'vestry law' is correct, as the 1 Victoria, c. 45, directs the notice of vestry to be signed by a Churchwarden of the church or chapel, or by the Rector, Vicar, or Curate of the parish, or by an Overseer of the poor of the parish.

The Vicar, it was well known, was strongly opposed to bringing the matter before the vestry, or to anything relating to religious matters or the church, being discussed at such a meeting. Several of the inhabitants were, however, determined to have a vestry meeting, notwithstanding; but the question was, who should call it? This was a puzzler.

Today's seating at the HolyTrinity Church

The Vicar was absent; and if at home, would have refused; and the Parish Churchwarden was alarmed, and Friday evening last, that the Overseers should the Assistant-Overseer was directed to prepare and begged to be excused. It was, however, agreed at the Market, on call it, and the necessary notices for that and other business. On Saturday morning, however, fresh difficulties presented themselves: the Vicars Curates had been made acquainted with what took place at the market on the preceding evening, and were striving might and main to prevent tho meeting being called.

Mr Hawkins was protesting to the Assistant-Overseer against the meeting being called, whilst Mr Cooper was scouring the parish to remonstrate with other parties. On Saturday evening, however, two Overseers were found who had the temerity to sign the necessary notices for a meeting to be held at the Talbot Inn, this evening, at seven o'clock.

The notices were affixed on Sunday morning at the usual places; but those on the Parish Church were not long allowed to enlighten the parishioners, as some one wishing to burke all discussion of the matter, pulled them down shortly before divine service, and meet with that punishment which the offence deserves. A storm appears to be brewing.

Brighton Gazette, 21 June 1855

It was subsequently reported in the Brighton Gazette - Thursday 30 August 1855:

CUCKFIELD. The Church. The alterations in the church are proceeding, under the superintendence of the Vicar, who is his own architect, assisted by his friend, Holloway, and promise to effect great change in the appearance of that venerable building. We are to have most uncomfortable open benches instead of our comfortable family pews.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.

Visit Cuckfield Museum, follow the link for details



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