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1917: Hero verger saves Cuckfield Church from destruction

Cuckfield Church in 1903

A verger who helped prevent a church from being destroyed by fire was remembered in 2017 for his heroics 100 years on.

Alfred Browne was preparing to join an evensong service at Holy Trinity Church in Cuckfield at Easter in 1917. The congregation had gathered and Mr Browne had to lower a flag at sunset from the battlements of the tower. But he discovered the door was on fire and the church spire was in imminent danger of being engulfed in flame. Mr Browne managed to get help to put out the flames, and didn't even disturb evensong.

Alfred Browne

In recognition of his rapid reponse the verger received a commemorative gold pocket watch from a grateful congregation.

Alfred died two years later, in 1919, and his widow moved away and remarried. His grave remained unmarked and the brave actions that saved the church from catastrophe slipped from memories.

But Vee Willis, Alf's step great-granddaughter, took the watch to Cuckfield Museum and told the team the story. The team were so impressed they decided to feature Mr Browne’s story at the museum

A spokesman said: ‘1917 was a time of great suffering in the country with the First World War dragging on in to its third year. More than 80 men from the village were killed in action and the church was at the heart of the community with families gathering to remember their dead and to pray for peace.

‘If the church had burnt down the effect on the village would have been catastrophic and it is likely there would have been a collapse in morale.'


Source: Evening Argus, article by Siobhan Ryan, 9 April 2017 and with thanks to Cuckfield Museum.

Photos: This postcard shows Cuckfield Church in 1903, note the ivy-clad tower; image of Alfred Browne courtesy of Cuckfield Museum Contributed by Malcolm Davison.


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