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1899: De Warrenne, Gundrada and how Cuckfield came to be ...

Updated: Oct 31, 2021

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 24 January 1899


Cuckfield Parish Room—which is being brought into almost daily requisition and use, and which is therefore fulfilling the object of its erection—was well filled last Tuesday evening, when, under the auspices of the Parochial Organisation, the Rev. Canon Cooper, Vicar of the parish, delivered a lecture on “Cuckfield—Past and Present,” with special reference to the lords of the manor. The rev. gentleman treated his subject, which was illustrated by several of Mr. Herrington's lantern pictures, in an easy, conversational style, but owing to the exigencies of time he was only able to touch the fringe of the same. The Rev. F. M. D. Mertens occupied the chair. The Vicar commenced his lecture quoting a remark of Mr. Erle’s, that there were two classes of residents in Cuckfield—those who loved Cuckfield and those who did not. The speaker belonged to the former class, and it was a labour of love to learn what he could about the parish, although the more he learned the more he found there was to learn.

Cuckfield men had occupied a proud position in the past through the famous statesmen, soldiers and sailors who had come from her, and the Canon expressed the fond hope that present-day Cuckfieldians, bearing this noble heritage in mind, would strive to do as much for Cuckfield as the men of the past. A map of Sussex as it appeared in the year 1100 being thrown upon the screen, the Lecturer explained that the upper part of the county consisted at that time of woodland, the Forest of Anderida, whilst the southern part was full of towns end villages, including what are now called Hurstpierpoint, Clayton and Keymer. Where Cuckfield now stands was then wholly forest, but further north was the village of Worth.

The Lecturer then mentioned that in the south-west corner of Sussex, near Chichester, was a place known as Bosham, and told the amusing fraud by which Earl Godwin gained possession of it from the Archbishop of Canterbury of the day. It is related that Godwin went to the Archbishop, saying “Da mihi basium” (“Give the kiss of peace”) only instead of saying “basium” he used the provincial pronunciation for Bosham. On the prelate answering “Do tibi basium ” (“I give thee the kiss”), Godwin cried “ Thou hast given me Bosham,” and proceeded to take possession of the Sussex lands, the Archbishop having no redress.

Following this anecdote, over which the audience heartily laughed, the Canon, by the aid of pictures of the celebrated Bayeux Tapestry, traced the journey of Harold, the last of the Saxon kings and son of Godwin, from Bosham to France, where he promised William of Normandy not to follow Edward the Confessor on the throne. The company were shown also a modern view of Bosham Church, in which the site of the burial-place of a daughter of King Canute is pointed out. Harold’s visit to France was followed by reference to the landing of the Norman William at Pevensey, Cuckfieldians being recommended, as a matter of interest, to go and inspect its ancient castle, which contains Roman, Norman and other work.

With William was William de Warrenne, one of his generals, who was also his son-in-law, having married his daughter Gundrada. The Conqueror proved his good generalship at the battle at Senlac, and the loser, Harold, the brave Saxon king who did his best to save England from the Normans, found a grave in Waltham Abbey, Essex. Battle Abbey, the existing fine gateway of which was illustrated on the screen, was erected on the site of the battle. Returning to the subject of the first picture—the county map—

Canon Cooper then pointed out how William of Normandy divided Sussex into six rapes, a partition shared by no other county, and reminded his hearers that until recently there was a Parliamentary constituency known as Shoreham and the Rape of Bramber. Each rape had a castle, a port and a forest within it. William de Warrenne had the Rape of Lewes (in which Cuckfield was situate) given to him, William de Bracse that of Bramber, and the Earl of Eu that of Hastings.

The Conqueror also ordered Domesday Book to be written, but there was nothing about Cuckfield in it. A path ran from St. John's Common through what is now Cuckfield, doubtless a pleasant place, with wolves, bears and stags, but having no people. The page of Domesday Book referring to Bristelmestune (Brighton) was reproduced and quoted in illustration of the way in which the record was compiled, and then followed series of pictures of the costumes and agricultural pursuits of our forefathers. Having disposed of these the Lecturer followed the succession of the De Warrennes as it affected Cuckfield. William and Gundrada, on their deaths, were interred in the Priory Church which they had founded at Lewes, and in 1845, when the railway was constructed, inscribed leaden boxes containing their remains were discovered in a cutting for the line, which ran across the site of the priory. Such was the interest taken in the matter by Lewes and Sussex people that they built a chapel at Southover Church to receive the remains of the De Warrennes, who were the first people to make Cuckfield what it is now.

Two leaden cists containing the remains of Gundrada, the daughter of William the Conqueror and her husband William de Warren. Chalk lithograph by F.W. Woledge after a drawing by R.H. Nibbs, 1845.

The grave-slab of Gundrada, telling how she was like Martha and Mary combined, was removed to Isfield by one of the Shurleys to make a tomb for himself, but it was recovered from thence by the eminent Sir William Burrell, whose monument might be seen over the south door of Cuckfield Church.

Another De Warrenne became a crusader. His daughter married a son of King Stephen, and on his death a brother of Henry II. Sussex people subsequently assisted, by gifts of wool, in raising the ransom required for the brave Richard I. Another De Warrenne figured at Runnymede, where King John signed Magna Charts. He took King John’s side for a long time, and was witness to the document (to be seen in the British Museum) by which the monarch gave England to the Pope, but he afterwards went over to the side of the Barons against John. His son built Lewes Castle, which in having two keeps was unlike any other in England.

In 1245 John de Warrenne got a charter for a market and fair at Cuckfield; the market was held every Friday, and the fair on Trinity Sunday—(Laughter)—the day before and the day after. As they all knew, their Church was dedicated to the Holy Trinity. This charter was renewed by Edward III. and Charles II. Next came a mention of the Mise of Lewes (1264), by which Simon de Montfort forced Henry III to keep the promises of Magna Charts. It was most important that the battle was won by the Barons.

Proceeding, the speaker told, amid laughter, how one of the first Vicars of Cuckfield had to go to prison for poaching, adding that he was not the only Sussex parson fond of sport. Edward I., when seeking to ascertain by what right Earl de Warrenne hunted over Cuckfield was met by the answer that his ancestors gained their right by the sword and by that weapon would the Earl defend it. This De Warrenne afterwards became Governor of Scotland, but was beaten by Wallace. Having brought his audience to this point Canon Cooper concluded his remarks by pointing out that at this date Cuckfield had become an important place and centre of industry, and that all should feel proud of her and do their best to preserve the heritage they had received.

The Chairman tendered the thanks of the audience to the Vicar, and the proceedings concluded, a promise being given of another lecture, dealing with further instalment of the history of Cuckfield, early in February.



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