And so into Cuckfield, that pleasant old town, which, standing on no railway, having no manufactures, and being on the slightly hillier road of the two short routes to Brighton, is consequently but scantily favoured of your ‘scorching’ cyclist, and nods drowsily in summer sunshine and winter snows, all round the calendar.
It pleased the engineers of the Brighton Railway to bring their line no nearer Cuckfield than Hayward’s Heath, some two miles distant, where they built a station of that name, giving thereby satisfaction, if not to the commercial population of this Sleepy Hollow, at least to the private inhabitants, and to the perhaps selfish tourist, who would rather happen upon such quiet backwaters of life as this than upon the bustling prosperity of a town so situated as to snatch every commercial advantage a sordid and grasping age may offer.
For I don’t think the Cuckfield shopkeepers grow rich upon Cuckfield trade. What of business was left to the town when the coaches ceased running, fifty years ago, has been taken away by the already greater town of Hayward’s Heath, that has sprung up fungus-like round the rail. And Hayward’s Heath is in Cuckfield parish! Ah! ingrate parasite, that kills the friendly growth to which it owes existence. County business has left Cuckfield for the more convenient settlement on the railway. Everything else follows, and, to the tourist’s delight, if to the freeholder’s disgust, Cuckfield is left to its traditions and natural beauties.
At how many places have you seen an inn so redolent of old coaching days as is the ‘Talbot’ here, whose embayed frontage of such height and length looks down upon the High Street with solid primness of Georgian red brick, earnest of the solid comfort obtainable within ? What ranges of stables here and at the King’s Head!
Cuckfield, for all the day being not yet advanced beyond tea-time, was insistent in its claims to be regarded as the end of that day’s journey; so we to our inn for toilette and tea, and afterwards an exploration of the town before the twilight quenched the dull red tone of its red-bricked High Street in an impartial mantle of tender grey.
The Brighton Road, Old Times and New on a Classic Highway, by Charles George Harper, 1892. P132.
Contributed by Malcolm Davison.