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1917: A strange tale of love and flight in the Civil War

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 31 July 1917



Here is a quirky tale in verse that is set in Cuckfield; we do not know whether the events are factual, but some of the characters certainly seem to be! Lettice Bowyer 1625-1708; James Picknell 1813-1875; George Webber 1808-1892

"Hello, Mark--are you there ? "—I said,

As I climbed up the steeple

Of Cuckfield Church, to which I'd come:

There stood Mark, looking very glum;

He said "Confound those people!”

" Why, what on earth is wrong ?" I asked;

”Your manner does seem strange!"

Said he "The builders' men are in,

"Which means that I must now begin

My books to disarrange.

"But never mind—just take a chair,

"And we will have a chat ;

"I've got to move those books and bills,

"Which clutter up the window sills"—

I said I could do that.

He laughed. "All right, then, get to work

“There, just dust off that book

"It is an old one, and you'll find

"Some entries there which, to my mind,

"Will well repay a look.

"'Tis my Evelyn, and Pepys too

"You'll find this note writ there :

"George Webber, local Poet, came,

"And old James Picknell did the same,

"With me a meal to share.

"When we had supped, they said to me

"'Now we are going to write

"In your old book that sweet romance— "

'Twas told us when we were in France,—

"' Of Lettice Bowyer's flight."'

" Why, Mark," I cried, in ecstacy,

"I am a lucky chap!

"For I find here that which makes clear

"A story I was told last year

"When down at Birling Gap.

"When nerves are shook, and sleep won't come,

And night is drear and long,

Then get you down to Birling Gap,

And spend a month with Joseph Knapp,

And hear the seas' rough song.

'Tis but an hours walk for a man, Along the Pevensey Beach,—

There stands Joe's homestead, on the shore,

Where coast erosion brings his door

Within the waves' long reach.

Joe's grandsire smuggled silks and tub

Of brandy at the Gap

And if the King's Preventive men

Fell foul of them, It followed then,

They had a lively scrap. -

A quaint, old-fashioned saddle hung

In Joe's small, stone-flagged hall ;

I asked why he had put it there,—

It had a history or, I'd swear,

’T'would not hang on that wall.

"That saddle!—Yes, that saddle has

"A history as you say ;

"'Twas used by one who rode in flight

"To ‘scape to France, and who at night

"Took boat and got away.

"My ancestors were smugglers in

"The days of Charles the First:

"The Puritans had made a stand

"In Sussex, and the Royalist Band

"Had come off much the worst.

"The skipper of the smuggler crew

" Got word one day that he

"Should have his eight-oared lugger manned,

"And when some folk arrived as planned

"At once should put to sea.

"That night, four people, riding hard,

"Came where she lay afloat;

"Two tall, cloaked figures leapt to ground,

"The other two their arms put round,

"And bore them to the boat.

"The sea was choppy—what cared they,

"The crew with horny fists?

"They knew reward awaited them,

"And forged ahead by stern and stem,

"Disdaining storms and mists.

"Next day they landed safe in France,

"The crew got handsome pay.

"And Eli Knapp, the skipper, bought

"This homestead, which for long he'd sought

"And I hold to this day.

"Joe said that he could tell no more

Than what I've told to you ;

I knew some romance lay behind,

And long and vainly sought to find

That which now comes to view.

And here I took Mark's book, and read

The story there set down,

The romance of Old Cuckfield Park,

That happened in those days so dark,

When Cromwell fought the Crown.

Cuckfield Place circa 1900

'Twas on Twelfth Night, one-six-four-four,

Old Cuckfield Place was gay

With lights, and on the old fire dogs

In every room there burnt oak logs

Lit at the break of day.

The noble owner of the Park

Designed upon that night

His only daughter to betroth

To one to whom herself was loth

her maiden troth to plight.

In Major Bamfield could be seen

A soldier strong and brave;

He fought for Charles at Arundel,

And, when that fortress castle fell,

He did for parole crave.

'Twas thus he came to Cuckfield Place

Upon that Twelfth Night tide,

To plight his word for weal or woe,

That side by side through life they'd go,

Till death should them divide.

A throng of Royalist cavaliers

And stately dames were there,

But Lettice Bowyer—where was she ?

Her father thought it scarce could be

To disobey she'd dare!

She came not,—and her tiring maid,

For whom he loud did call,

Could not be found, and soon 'twas plain

The guests might all go home again,— Lattice had fled the Hall.

For 'twas a Roundhead Lattice loved,

The gallant Colonel Morley,—

She'd vowed she'd be no other's bride,

And her stern father bad defied,

Although he pressed her sorely.

She sent her lover urgent word

How cruelly she was placed,—

That now there must be no delay,

And so on that betrothal day

He thither rode in haste.

From his own Regiment of Dragoons

One trusty man he sought,

And they to the Park's northern gate,

Just as the Hall's old clock struck eight,

Four saddled horses brought,

Then from a side door of the house

Two hooded figures ran

They crossed the yard, and then made straight

Towards the lane, wherein did wait

The Colonel and his man.

They galloped till they reached the Coast,

The Colonel knew the map

Of all the country, and he said

In after years that all roads led

That night to Birling Gap.

He took her safe to Normandy,

'Twas there that they were wed;

In after years, when peace had come,

She saw once more her Cuckfield home

Whence she that night had fled.


Norton, London Road,

Burgess Hill.



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