Brighton Gazette - Thursday 31 December 1903
‘Cuckfield Church is especially interesting, as being in all probability a monument of the pastoral labours of our Sussex Saint, Richard, Bishop of Chichester, 1245-1253’, says the writer of an interesting article in "Church Bells." The earlier portion—the tower and the piers of the south side of the nave—are of his date; and one of Mr Kempe's most beautiful windows lately placed in the tower bears witness to his belief. At any rate, it is to St. Richard that we owe the foundation of the vicarage.
There had been a church here long before his time. When the Earls of Warrenne had the Rape of Lewes as their share of the spoil of the Conquest, they founded before the end of the eleventh century the Ecclesia de Kukefield, and endowed it with the tithes gradually accruing from their cultivation of the feld, or clearing, in the great forest of Andredswald. They gave these tithes, and the charge of the new parish they were forming to their Cluniac Priory at Lewes. The church was dedicated to God's worship under the name of the Holy Trinity. A charter of the Priory records that in 1202 William, Earl of Warrenne gave some land to the “church of the Holy Trinity," and his son John obtained a charter from Henry III. for a fair on the eve and day of the Holy Trinity.
St. Richard, perhaps finding that the monks were not very careful of the spiritual interests of the Cuckfield people, made an agreement with them that a Vicar should be appointed by him and his successors, "to bear the burden and heat of the day”; for this he was to receive a portion of the tithes, the greater part of which were still to go to Lewes. A. copy of this agreement is to be found in Bishop Rede's Collections. The proportion between the Rector's tithes (now in the hands of several laymen) and the Vicar's, thus settled by St. Richard, is maintained to the present day, The Bishop appointed his own chaplain, Walter de Warnecamp, as the first Vicar; and the patronage has been ever since exercised by the Bishop of the Diocese.
The early English tower has battlements and a trefoiled corbel-table of unusual character, and is surmounted by a spire covered with 24,000 oak shingles; it has unhappily been disfigured by the necessary addition of lofty butresses on the west and south sides. There are three early English bays, with round piers, on the south side of the nave. About 1350 the nave was enlarged, and the decorated north and south arches with quatrefoil openings in the clerestory, and the aisle walls, were erected; a charming little window of this period high up in the east gable, in the shape of a double triangle, refers to the dedication of the church. Chancel aisles were added in perpendicular times: that on the south side was "restored" by Mr Erie, and its windows filled with stained glass, in the year 1850. The roof appears to have been added late in the fifteenth century, and may have been the gift of a Lord Bergaveny, who at that time possessed a third of the manor of Cuckfield: it is divided into plastered panels by moulded ribs with bosses on which are the staples, rose, and bull, the badges of the Nevilles. The colouring has been reproduced by Mr Kempe, and some designs added on the panels. The pews, which were brought from St. James's, Piccadilly, and made high enough to prevent "the gallants from ogling” the younger ladies of the congregation. were replaced by low open seats by a Faculty in 1855; the three decker and the galleries were removed; the chancel was fitted with oak seats; and the sacrarium was richly adorned with tiles and marbles from the designs of Mr Bodley. These improvements were effected principally by the munificence of the then Vicar, the Rev T. A. Maberly: it is to his memory that the chancel screen was designed by Mr Bodley, and erected in 1880 by the parishioners, to testify their affection for one who was their "faithful Vicar for thirty-six years." The north and south porches, which are excellent specimens of decorated woodwork, are from Mr Bodley's designs. The south has two stoups back to back. The font is a circular bowl worked out of a single stone, supported by five pillars which seem to have been "restored." The pulpit, designed by Mr Kempe, was given in 1892 by the late Sir C. L. Peel, G.C.B. for the public preaching of God's word, and in loving memory of his wife. A mortuary chapel, of which the history cannot be ascertained, on the north side of the chancel, was restored to be used as a vestry in 1888, as "a token of affectionate regard" for Archdeacon Mount on his leaving the parish.
The oldest monument is the brass of Gerard Burrell, who was presented to the living by Bishop Storey at the special request of Richard III. in 1484. He induced other members of his family to settle at Cuckfield, where they set up and carried on for a century and a half the principal ironworks in the county. The long line of their monuments on the south wall extends over 300 years, and includes, that of Sir William Burrell, the Sussex archaeologist, by Flaxman. There are two brasses in the south chancel to Sir Henry Bowyer, the builder of Cuckfield Place. In the sanctuary is the large monument of Charles Sergison, who was a Commissioner of the Navy under William III. and Anne, and who bought in 1691 Cuckfield Park from the Hendleys. and Slaugham Place from the Coverts. On the north wall of the church are some monuments of the Sergisons: one over the north door is by Westmacott. Every window is filled with stained glass in memory of the Sergisons and others. Most of them were erected some thirty years ago, before the art had made the progress it has of late; fortunately, however, there are four windows by our Sussex artist, Mr Kempe, most beautiful in drawing and colouring. The eight bells were re-cast in 1815, by Mears, of Whitechapel.
A tablet has been placed in the tower, inscribed with the names and dates of the Vicars from St. Richard's chaplain. It is noted that one was ejected in 1643, to make room for his curate; and another was a non-juror in 1688. It may be added that a third, Roger, brother of Bishop Andrewes, was one of the Old Testament translators of the Authorised Version.
The Rev Canon J. H. Cooper, M.A., has been Vicar of Cuckfield since 1888, and it is interesting to recall the fact that the place was the scene of his first labours as a curate. Canon Cooper was for more than twenty years-1865-88—Rector of Tarporley, in Cheshire.