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1904: A glance back at the writings of sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth century Cuckfieldians

Extract from Highways and Byways in Sussex by E.V. Lucas 1904

Hayward’s Heath would be our next centre where it's not so new and suburban. Fortunately Cuckfield (pronounced Cookfield), which has two coaching inns and many of the signs of the leisurely past, is close by, in the midst of very interesting country, with a church standing high on the ridge of the south of the town, its spire a landmark for miles and from the churchyard a wide view of the downs.

Cuckfield Place (a house and park, according to Shelly, which abounded in bits of Mrs Radcliffe) is described in Harrison Ainsworth Rookwood.

Harrison Ainsworth c1840s (photograph courtesy of Wikipedia))

It was in the Avenue leading from the gates to the house that that fatal tree stood, a limb of which fell as the proceeds of the death of a member of the family. So runs the legend. Ockenden house, in Cuckfield was for many years in the possession of the Burrell family, one of whom, Timothy Burrell, an ancestor of the antiquary, left some interesting account books, which contain in addition to figures many curious and sardonic entries in some ingenious hieroglyphics. I quote here and there, from the Sussex archaeological societies extracts, by way of illustrating the life of a Sussex squire in those days, 1683 to 1714 :–

1705. “Pay’d Gosmark for making cyder one day, whilst John Coachman was to be drunk with the carrier’s money, by agreement; and I paid 2d to the glasyer for mending John's casement broken at night by him when he was drunk.

1706. 25th of March. Pd John coachmen by Ned Virgo, that he may be drunk all the Easter week, in part of his wages due, £1

This was the fare provided on January 1, 1707, for 13 guests:-

Plumm pottage Plumm pottage

Calves’ head and bacon Boiled beef, a clod

Goose Two baked puddings

Pig. Three dishes of minced pies

Roast beef, sirloin Two capons

Veale, a loin Two dishes of tarts

Goose Two pullets

Plum porridge, it may interest some to know, was made thus –: “Take of beef soup made of legs of beef, 12 quarts; if you wish it to be particularly good, add a couple of tongues to be boiled therein. Put fine bread, sliced, soaked, and crumbled; raisins of the sun, currants and pruants two lbs. of each; lemons, nutmegs, mace and cloves are to be boiled with it in a muslin bag; add a quart of red wine and let this be followed, after half an hours boiling, by a pint of sack. Put it into a cool place and it will keep through Christmas”.

Mr Burrell giving a small dinner to 4 friends, offered them

Pease pottage

2carps, 2 tench Roast leg of mutton

Capon, Pullet Apple pudding

Fried oysters Goos

Baked Pudding Tarts, Minced pies

It is perhaps not surprising that the host had occasionally to take the waters of Ditchling, which are no longer drunk medicinally, or to dose himself with hierae picrae.

One more dinner, this time for four guests, who presumably were more worthy of attention:-

A soup take off.

Two large carps at the upper end.

Pigeon pie, salad, veal ollaves,

Leg of mutton and cutlets at the lower end.

Three rosed chickens.

Scotch pancakes, tarts, asparagus.

Three green geese at the lower end.

In the room of the chickens removed,

for souced mackerel.

Raisins in cream at the upper end.

Calves foot jelly, dried sweet meats, calves foot jelly.

Flummery, Savoy cakes.

Imperial cream at the lower end.

In October, 1709, Mr Burrell writes in Latin: “from this time I have resolved, as long as the dearth of provisions continues, to give to the poor who apply for it at the door on Sundays, 12lbs of beef every week, on the 11th of February 4lbs more, in all 16lbs, and a bushel of wheat and half a bushel of barley in 4 weeks”.

A glimpse of the orderly mind of a pre-Reformation Cuckfield Yeoman is given in the following will:

“In the yere of our lorde god 1545, the 26 day of June, I, Thomas Gaston of the pish of Cukefelde syke in body, hole, and of ppt [perfect] memorie, ordene and make this my last will and test in manr and form following.

Fyrst I bequethe my sowle to Almyghty god or [our] Lady Saint Mary and all the holy company of heyvyng my bodie to be buried in the church yarde of Cukefeld,

It. (Item) to the mother church of Chichester 4d.

It. to the hye alter of Cuckfeld 4d.

It. I will have at my buryall 5 masses In lykewise at my monthes mynd and also at my yerely mynd all the charge of the church set apart I will have in meate and drynke and to pore people 10s at every tyme”.

The high altar was frequently mentioned favourably in these old wills. Another Cuckfield testator, in 1539, left to the high altar, “for tythes and oblacions negligently forgotten, sixpence”.

The same student of the calendar of Sussex Wills in the district probate registry at Lewes between 1541 and 1652, which the British Record Society have just published, copies the following passage from the Will of Gerrard Onstye, in 1568: “To Mary my daughter £20, the ffeatherbed that I lye upon the bolsters and coverlete of tapestaye work with a blanket, 4 pairs of shetts that is to say four pares of the best flaxon and other 2 payre of the best hempen in the greate brasse pot that hir mother brought, the best bordeclothe (table cloth?), a lynnen whelle (I.e.spinning wheel) that was hir mothers, the chaffing dish that hangeth in the parlor”

In those simple days everything was prized. In one of these Sussex wills, in 1594, Richard Phearndeane, a labourer, left to his brother Stephen his best dublett, his best jerkin and his best shoes, and to Bernard Rosse his white dublett, his leathern dublett and his worst breeches.

Henry Kingsley is buried in Cuckfield churchyard, after living for some time in the fine old house called Attrees.

Henry Kingsley c1850 (photograph courtesy of wikipedia)

For further particulars concerning this interesting village the reader is referred to the history of the parish of Cuckfield, edited by Wilbraham V. COOPER.

Extract from Highways and Byways in Sussex by E.V.Lucas (1904) Macmillan

For more details on Harrison Ainsworth follow the link.

For more on the Burrell family...

For more on Henry Kingsley...


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