Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 05 September 1893
Picnic at Slaugham. —The “good old-fashioned summer” doubtless had something to do with the revival of the good old-fashioned excursion known as a “picnic,” which sundry Cuckfieldians, to number of 30, indulged in last Wednesday. Having requisitioned various conveyances the party proceeded to Old Park, Slaugham, which, by the kindness of Mr. Brown, they made their head-quarters for the day. On arriving the party immediately made tracks for the “Ruins”, where one of the party, known for his love of Sussex history and antiquities, kindly gave an impromptu address on the Manor of Slaugham, in which he remarked that Slaugham was not mentioned in “Doomsday,” being probably at that time still unclaimed from the great Tilgate forest.
The first mention in history was in the 43rd year of Edward III., when Thomas Lord Poynings used it as a hunting ground, having been granted a right of free warren. Slaugham, he proceeded, was called at that time Slougham cum Crole,” by which it is inferred that Slaugham was a Chapel of Ease to Crawley. The Poynings family built the north chancel of the church and left various sums for masses to be sung, and subsequently the lordship came into the Berkeley family. William Marquis of Berkeley leaving no issue and being offended with his brother made over a great part of his estate to Henry VII., and presented this particular manor to Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby.
Late in the reign of Henry VII, it came some means or other into the Covert family, round which the subsequent history of Slaugham centres, as the manor remained in their possession till 1679. In this year the Lecturer said it passed into the Morton family. Sir John Covert dying in that year left two daughters. The eldest, being married to Sir James Morton, on her father’s death became, as the historians say, “seized of the manor.” This good lady's son, John Morton, sold it to Charles Sergison, probably about 1700, in whose family the manor has ever since vested.
Returning to the subject immediately before them, viz., the “Ruins” the worthy Lecturer informed his hearers that it was not the remains of a castle, as so often called, but was originally a splendid mansion built in the rich and graceful style known as “Palladian,” and allowed to have been one of the finest in Sussex. The Coverts, the builders of it, were a very rich family and large landowners; tradition says that they could ride over their own manors from London to the Channel. Slaugham Park originally covered 1,200 acres, and included the village and church within its bounds. The mill pond is said to have flowed over 40 acres, and it was on the banks of this fine piece of water that the first "Slaugham Place” stood. In James I.’s reign a certain Sir Walter Covert, of Maidstone, becoming “seized of the manor” by intermarriage, took this old house down and built the splendid mansion the ruins only of which are visible to-day.
Proceeding round the ruins the energetic gentleman pointed out the quarterings, &c., of the Coverts, and showed his delighted audience the great hall, 54 feet long, the grand front on the north, and its principal entrance with its fluted pillars with seats in them, and concluded his interesting address by telling them that the fine Jacobean staircase belonging to the house could be seen in the “Star” at Lewes, and a full length portrait of a Covert at the Marquess of Bath’s seat at Longleat in Wiltshire.
Having looked round the church the “picnicers” inspected other places of “interest *' in the neighbourhood. At one of the above “places” the party were fortunate enough to come across a genuine old Sussex man popularly known as a Local,” who being like Tennyson’s oak “garrulously inclined,” told them, to their intense delight, the following real Slaugham tale, which he declared his father had often told him in his young days:—
One dark night the Choir (?) had been practising in Slaugham Church the usual anthem and psalms for the Sunday, when one John Nye proceeded homewards by way of the churchyard. On getting over the stile into the meadow, John found himself carried off his legs across the meadow at a violent rate. Thinking nobody but the Evil One capable of such a trick John shouted out at the top of his voice “Satan, I defy thee, I defy thee, Satan; I’m an upright, godly man and a psalm-singer in Slaugham Church.” Finding himself on the ground he eventually discovered that Satan was only a donkey who had been leaning against the stile as donkeys will, and in the dark got over on to the aforesaid donkey’s back.
Having thoroughly inspected the above “place of interest," and with many a laugh at the old man’s talk, the party wended to the rendezvous, where the ladies displayed the dinner in such a tempting manner as to make an empty man, as Jan Ridd says, thank God for the room there was inside him.
During the afternoon a cricket match was played in a meadow near the house, between 12 ladies and 12 gentlemen, with the usual left-handed broomstick arrangement, the gentlemen winning by 14 runs. The match was remarkable alike for the gallantry of the gentlemen and the good cricket of the ladies.
After another al fresco meal had been duly sampled, and considerable consumption of the “cup that cheers but not inebriates but often originates”, the party adjourned to the house. Here Mr. Brown was again kindly in evidence with the loan of a piano and the lawn for dancing. Thus and thus things went merrily till that hour when “darkness rises from the falling sun,” when heartily thanking Mr. Brown the party returned to Cuckfield having spent one of the most enjoyable days in their lives.