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1922: 'The story of Cuckfield's historic Church Schools' by the Headmaster Mr W. Herrington

Updated: Oct 16, 2020

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 03 January 1922




Below we publish the full text of an interesting paper on the history—covering a period of years—of Cuckfield Church Schools, which was read recently by Mr. W. Herrington, the present Headmaster, to a meeting at Cuckfield the Mid-Sussex Church of England School Managers' and Teachers’ Association.


The facts in the paper I have the honour to present are not mine, but the late Canon Cooper’s. In 1904, little did I think that seventeen years later I should be using his historical information and availing myself of his years of research in preparing another paper. When it was decided to have this meeting at Cuckfield in this year (the 100th anniversary of the death of the founder of the School), Miss Cooper very kindly placed at my disposal her father’s papers relating to the School, and arranged also for the exhibition of the documents. Thanks to these, the paper to be read is longer, more interesting, and vastly more instructive than would have been the case otherwise. It is, of course, “off the beaten track”, for there is no other school near that can point to an unbroken period of four centuries of educational work. While it is being read, think not of the reader, but of him whose untiring industry and persevering investigation enables us today, for one brief space, to “put the hands of the clock on the dial of time” back four hundred years or more. "God buries his workmen, but carries on the work”.

William Herrington, Headmaster of Cuckfield School, 1903


In 1453 Constantinople fell. In Cuckfield, some sixty years later, education commenced. Is there any connection between these two events? Undoubtedly. Before the end of the fifteenth century learning and education in England underwent a great and permanent change, owing to the spread of the great movement known as the Renaissance, or New Learning. From 1453 Greek scholars migrated westward, at first to Italy, bringing with them many manuscripts of authors almost or entirely unknown to the Universities of the West. Many of these manuscripts were in Greek, a language and literature long associated with heresy, and therefore under the ban of the Church—and consequently neglected. They were interpreted to admiring audiences in the Universities of Florence, Padua, Bologna, and Rome. The fame of their lectures attracted scholars from all parts of Europe. Even from Oxford students went to Italy to acquire knowledge of Greek, and on their return imparted this knowledge to their countrymen. Soon many scholars from both Oxford and Cambridge repaired to Italy, and the great literary intercourse came about between Italy and England. Of course there was opposition. With some, anything now is suspect, and therefore to be banned. It is so still. For example, the opposition just raised the habit of taking school children to the theatre to etc Shakespeare's plays, which we teachers know to be of great educational value. Schoolmasters, almost without exception, were hostile to the movement which threatened to revolutionise the prevailing methods of education. At Cambridge. Erasmus (Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity from 1511 to 1514) vainly endeavoured to establish a School of Greek; and at Oxford, in 1519 a Royal mandate had to be issued to obtain, for Greek students, freedom from molestation. Thanks to the exertion and influence of such men Erasmus, Bishop Fisher, Sir Thomas More, and Cardinal Wolsey, the New Learning made constant progress. Wolsey placed himself at the head the movement. When he was a “boy bachelor,” there were not fifty Grammar Schools in the whole of England. Before the close of the reign of Henry VIII over fifty fresh schools were founded; and one these was Cuckfield.


In the museum at Lewes is the Will of one Edmund Flower, the first founder of the school. It is dated 6th July, the thirteenth year of the reign of Henry VIII. After giving full directions about his funeral, very interesting but too long to quote now, there are these words: “I certeyne years past, at my costs and chargys, have caused a Free Grammar School to be maynetayned and kepte at Cukfeld.” Note “certeyne yeres past,” and the date of the Will, 1521. What are ”certeyon yeres past ”. Shall we say “five” and make the date of commencement of the school 1516? At present no one knows the exact date, but it may be discovered by diligent search. For the purpose of this paper a definite date is needed, so with no authority at all except those three words “certeyne yeres past.” let us take 1516. and fit that date into its place in chronology, noting events of great importance in world history; people living at the time; and a few, very few, facts which followed. Then we may have a better idea of the fact that education, in some form, has carried on in this old town without break for four centuries.


Henry VIII was on the throne and Catharine of Arragon was his wife. There was no thought of divorce, for her supplanter was still a baby in the cradle, The title “Fide Defenser” was not yet on our coins but was granted to the King in the year the founder of the school died (1521). Henry was not King of Scotland, which still lamented Flodden, only of Ireland. True, he ruled Wales, which was not yet under English law, nor even divided into twelve counties. He had no overseas possessions, except Calais and the Channel Islands. Even the Isle of Man was not his, but was purchased for the Crown 148 years after the founding of the school. In 1516 Columbus had been dead only ten years, and only twenty-nine years had fled since the discovery of the Cape route to India and the rediscovery of Newfoundland. Magellan had not yet started on that first voyage of circumnavigation, still less Drake, sixty years later. No map, chart, globe showed the Pacific Ocean, although Barboa had seen it from a peak in the Andes three years earlier. No European lived in Canada or the United States, and the exploring Dutch had not yet sighted Australia or New Zealand. The school was founded three years after Fiodden, four years before the Field of the Cloth of Gold, 72 years before the invincible Armada arrived, 178 years before The Bank of England was established, 185 years before London had its first daily paper, and 270 years before the ‘Times’ began publication. When Cuckfield boys first began studying Latijn (in 1516), the following were not born: Edward VI., Lady Jane Grey, Queen Elizabeth, Hawkins, Drake, Spencer or Shakespeare.These were either Infants or schoolgirls: Margaret Tudor (soon to be sent to Scotland), Mary, the first Queen Regnant, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and Catharine Parr. Three schoolboys may be mentioned: Matthew Parker, age 12 one day to be Archbishop of Canterbury; John Knox age 11 who later led the reformation of Scotland; and John Calvin, age 7, now known in history as the “Great Divine.” Of the men living in 1516 mention may be made of Martin Luther, the great reformer, who had just nailed his theses to the door of the Cathedral and began fighting singlehanded his battle against the Pope, for which he was excommunicated; Dr. John Colet, founder of St. Paul’s School In London, just before Cuckfield was started; Thomas Cranmer, then lecturing at Magdalen College, Oxford; Edmund Bonner, student of Pembroke College Oxford; Hugh Latimer, who had just taken his M A ; Nicholas Ridley, at Pembroke College, Cambridge; and William Tyndale, the great translator of the Scriptures. He published his Bible when our school was ten years old. Just ten years later, he was burnt; yet the very next year after his martyrdom (such is the irony of history), Cuckfield schoolboys stood round their Master, before the chained Bible, Tyndale's Bible, in our own Parish Church, as he read to them the Scriptures, not in Latin, but “in the vulgar tongue.” Last, and greatest of then living men, stands Thomas Wolsey He was twenty years older than the King, who knowing his worth, advanced him rapidly. As Chancellor, Wolsey was the head of public justice; as Cardinal and Legate he was supreme in the Church. The King trusted him entirely that all that was done in the land was done by him. When he came to power, England was, and always had been, a second-rate power—over-awed by France and Dictated to by Spain. Before he fell England was in the very fore-front of European affairs, and both France and Spain desired alliance with her. To-day, in the twentieth century, there is—excluding the King-no one in the whole British Empire (not even the little wizard from Wales) that has the power that Wolsey possessed and used when Edmund Flower started education in Cuckfield, in the second decade of the sixteenth century.


Education began in Cuckfield before 1520 with the Free Grammar School, which lasted until 1844 - that is 320 years. Then the school became a National School, and a National School it still is, though outsiders, tinkering with the name, have dubbed it a non-provided School belonging to the Church of England; and as such it has had an innings of seventy years, and is “not out.” No one knows where the first school stood, or what was like (for there were no photographs then), but it lasted nearly one hundred years. Then about 1611 or 1612, in all probability in the same place, a new stone building was erected, the building in which meet to-day; and some of it has stood for three hundred years or more. When it became a National School, being old, it needed repair. This cost £500 (of course non-provided) . In 1851 another £l00 for enlargement. About twenty years later the Rev. T. A. Maberly, Vicar, for £300 purchased and removed some cottages, and on the site spent £1,000—(non-provided of course) —to erect what is still called the Boys’ School, though built for infants - a building as ugly and uncouth as the old one is harmonious and beautiful. In 1888 daylight was let in by the removal of some Church Street cottages to provide a playground. This cost (again non-provided).

In 1901 another £200 went for enlargements, and three years later £150 was used for various improvements. The money was raise by Canon Cooper. Then central heating was provided a cost £200. By August, 1914, another £500 was in sight and Canon Fisher had plans and elevations prepared, but one who is now an exile in Holland stopped this expenditure. Why mention all these figures? Simply to show the stupid fallacy of the term “non-provided.” Nearly £1000 was spent by two Vicars, both of whom are gratefully remembered. They laboured and provided. We enjoy the fruits of their labour. The School had a double foundation; first, Edmund Flower, merchant tailor, of London, 1521; second. William Spicer, parson of Balcombe, 1528. Both gave money and lands. The history of the land is interesting, but cannot be considered today. Suffice it to say that the school still benefits by the endowments of the two original founders.

This paper is based well-nigh entirely on paragraphs taken from Flower’s Will or Spicer’s Indenture. It will give us an idea of their aims recorded by themselves in 1521 and 1528. Of the masters who taught in the school nearly 40 were priests, and the names of thirty-seven arc known. These priests were graduates of Oxford or Cambridge - most being Oxford men. They were followed by seven laymen. The first founder was a merchant who had probably made his money by wool. The second was graduate of St. Katharine Hail, Cambridge, before he became parson of Balcombe, In his indenture one of the three parties mentioned “The Master, Warden and Scholars of St. Katharine Hall, Cambridge.” Apparently they took very little interest in the school, possibly none at all.

In 1895 Canon Cooper in the course of his investigations, received a letter from the Master of St Katharine Hall, containing these words; ‘I have never before heard of any connection between the Cuckfield Grammar School and my College, nor am I aware of any deed in our possession relating to it.” There may be documents at Cambridge still, which, if they exist and are found, would shed light on the early history of our school. Why the first founder, Flower, chose Cuckfield for his school is unknown. Probably he lived here. Certainly he desired to be buried here in the church itself, and left very explicit instructions in his Will for this to be done. But was he buried here? We do not know, for the first volume of the Cuckfield Registers has gone astray. The second volume begins with the year 1598. seventy-seven years too late to be of any assistance. If ever the vaults under the chancel and floor of our church are opened, and access to them is permitted, there is one who would search long and carefully for a casket with a brass plate bearing the name of Edmund Flower.


He was to be a ”secular preste,” and a ”graduate of sufficient cunning and of good conversation; “a sufficient man to tech Grammar after the forme, order, and usage used and taught in the Grammar School at Eaton next Windsor”; he must also be ”willing to take a solemn oath upon the Holy Evangelist, that he, well and truly, with diligence, shall observe, keep, doe, and fufill, all and singular acts, ordinances, rules and constitutions made, ordained, and declared in the indenture given him.” Also ”he must be personally and continually, at the said school for the teaching and erudition of the said scholars and for encreasing of learning and bringing up of scholars in learning to the laud and praise of God.” Finally, “he shall take good heed that his schollers keep good order in the Church, and serve God.” One other qualification, a negative one, whose source cannot now traced, was told by the late Canon Cooper—:with a merry twinkle in his eye;—“he shall not given to much talking, or drinking, or street walking.”


A prescribed form was used when the school was “vacant and void of a Master” and a fresh one had to be appointed. These forms, for two hundred years, that is until 1718 were in Latin Not until 1712 does an English one appear, and that is an exact literal translation of the Latin. It is worth quoting. “The Free School of Cuckfield being vacant by the cession of Mr. James Ingram, I, Daniel Walter, Vicar of Cuckfield, do, by virtue of the power given me by the Deed of Trust relating to the said School, nominate and appoint (then follow the names of three or four inhabitants), of the Parish of Cuckfield, together with myself, and the Rev. John Chatfield. Rector of Balcombe. Electors for the election of a Schoolmaster to the said School for this turn only. (Signed) Daniel Walter. Vicar of Cuckfield “


For two hundred years form of appointment of master was also in Latin. In one instance, when the Rector of Balcombe could not attend the election, he gave his consent in writing a letter also Latin. One appointment in English, is as follows:- “This day, Joseph Francis Fearon was elected schoolmaster of the Free Grammar School at Cuckfield in the County of Sussex, vacant by the death of the Rev. Mr. Hopkins, by the unanimous consent of us, the lawful electors to the same.” Appended were the signatures of the Vicar of Cuckfield; the Rector of Balcombe; and three inhabitants of Cuckfield.


This form, whether Latin or English, is delightfully quaint; —“I, Joseph Francis Fearon, Master of the Free Grammar School in Cuckfield in the County of Sussex, do purely, voluntarily, and absolutely resign the Mastership of the Free Grammar School, with all my rights, title, and possession of the same into the hands the Rev Charles Ashburnham, Vicar of Cuckfield, the surviving Trustee, praying him to accept this my resignation. (Signed) Joseph Francis Fearon, Master."


First, the founder, Edmund Flower himself, for five years, perhaps, that is, until his death in 1521. Second, a religious body, then existing at CuckfieId, called ‘The Fraternity of our Blessed Lady.’ The Master and Wardens of this Fraternity, with three or four discreet and substantial persons for twenty one years. But the Reformation came, over one thousand monasteries were suppressed, and with them went, in 1543, the Fraternity of Our Lady. It went and left no trace behind, unless, perhaps, the base of a column lying on a grave in our churchyard was part of their building. Third, the Vicar of Cuckfield and the Parson of Balcombe, who usually had the assistance of certain discreet persons resident in the parish. This method lasted for 350 years. The present master, appointed in 1891 was told that legally his only Managers were the Vicar of Cuckfield and the Parson of Balcombe. Fourth and lastly, in 1902 some fool in London dubbed school “non-provided ’ (a mad misnomer if ever there were one), and a group of Managers had to be formally appointed, as every one knows. So far, as there has been no vacancy, they have had no opportunity of making an appointment.


The oath taken by the Master on admission to office a very serious thing, and carried with it duties not now demanded of a schoolmaster. There are eight paragraphs;

(1) “That he, well and truly, with diligence, shall observe, do, keep and fulfil, all and singular Acts, Ordinances, Rules, and Constitutions, made, ordeyned, and declared in the Indenture Tripartite, which, on his part, are be kept, observed, done and fulfilled, according to the Tenure of the Indenture, as nigh as he can, and especially these articles that follow.”

(2) “If he will leave his office of Schoolmaster, he shall give half a year warning according the tenour of the Indenture." (One served six months and three days only: he probably soon discovered that he had not “sufficient cunning” for teaching; another did not manage even the six months

(3) “He shall read the Indenture as it shall be delivered to him, in a book, or cause to be read openly on Tuesday, in Easter Week, for the continuall memories of the said Grammar School.” (As he was paid extra to read the Indenture, and the schoolboys and congregation paid for listening it, we may take it for granted that it was done).

(4) If the Wardens of the said school deliver ten shillings to the Schoolmaster, before twelve of the clock on Easter Monday, he is to keep a Solem Obit according to the Indenture (This rule, and numbers five and eight are so important that they will be noticed later).

(5) “If the Schoolmaster be in good health he shall say Masse three times in the week weekly at the least; and pray for the founders, by name, and for the good state of the helpers and mainteyners of the Grammar School according to the tenure of the Indenture

(6) “The scholars of the Grammar School shall say De Profundls daily, and pray for the founders, according the Indenture, by the discretion the schoolmaster." (De Profundis is Psalm 130, that is “Out the deep have I called unto Thee, O Lord." The thought arises, why this psalm? Perhaps its merit lies in Its brevity!).

(7) “If it fortune the scholemaster be sick, he shall cause one of bis schollers to teach his fellows with his information ; or some able man, after the discretion of his controllers, at his own cost and charges for els the schollers should depart, and that should destroy the schoole”. (It certainly would. But it was not kind that the master should have to pay out of his own pocket when he was sick)

(8) “He shall teach after the forme and usage used and taught in the Grammar Schole at Eaton neare Windsor.’


“I, James Sicklemore, elected schoolmaster of the Free Grammar School, promise that I will perform the Office of good Schoolmaster, that is, that I will with such judgment and fitness teach the scholars grammar, that they shall found ready and expert to answer questions in those authors which they read, according the rules of grammar. And also promise with such diligence to attend my place, that I will increase the present number that is left to the number of twenty scholars, within the space of two years of my election; or else I will peaceably surrender place and leave it in the hands of the Overseers. In testimony thereof I have subscribed my name.

James Sicklemore.”


One duty, which to us in the twentieth century seems strange, was that of keeping a solemn obit, memorial service, every year. Both Founders were emphatic on this point, and gave very detailed instructions concerning it. Flowers’ Will has “I wolle that executors, by the space of twenty years, next ensuying after my disease, shall cause a solemne Obit or Anniversary to be kept and mayntayned by the Vicar, Prests and Clerks at Cuckfield, in the Parisshe Chlrche there about such season or tyme of the yere and it shall happen me to disceas. Dirige (that is a Latin Anthem beginning with the words O Lord God in Thy sight my ways direct), to be said evernyght, and Masse Requiem the morrow next ensuying.”

To defray expenses, he set aside ten shillings and threepence “to be expended and disposed for the same Obit to Prests and Clerks for wax, ringing of bellys, and allemesse to be dealed among poor parissh’ers. He also left ten pounds for the Master and Wardens of Fraternity to continue the obit “as long as the same residue of ten pounds will endure.” William Spicer, Clerk Parson of Balcombe, went farther than this. Listen to his words: “The said Schoolmaster, for the time bring, if he be not sick and indisposed, shall say Mass three times in the week weekly, for evermore, at the least; and pray especially by name for the soules of Mr. William Spicer, and Edmund Flower, their fathers' and mothers’ soules, with all their friends’ soules, and the soules of all the helpers and benefactors of the school, and all Christen soules; and for the estate and prosperity of all the good helpers and maintainers of the school.” Spicer did not set apart any funds for this purpose (as the first Founder did). He adds: “The said Schoolmaster shall find himself bread and wine and wax for the same Divine Service at his own costs and chargys.” Yet more; “On the Monday in Easter Week, every year, yearly, for evermore, the said Schoolmaster is to keep a Solemn Obit in the Parish Church: the service to begin on Monday evening with Dirge, by note, and on the morrow Mass or Requiem by note."

For this service Schoolmaster was to receive ten shillings; but after paying expenses there was only two shillings and four pence left for himself. Three shillings went to the Priests, Clerks and Sexton who assisted at the service. Fourpence was offered at the Mass. Three shillings and four pence was given in alms to poor persons who were present (so he was assured of a congregation, and twelve pence to the scholars of the school. At this service too, he was to openly read and Indenture. (We may assume he did not read it all, for it contained over five thousand words; if he did, the scholars certainly earned their twelve pence by listening, and the poor people their three shillings and four pence)


Let us pause for a moment and partly reconstruct this obit, or anniversary service, which the Schoolmaster had to conduct, and the scholars to attend. Of course was in Latin, but here it had better be set forth in English. The psalms used were 444 (I will magnify Thee, O God my King), 445 (Praise the Lord O my soul), and 446 (O praise the Lord, for it is a good thing). In all probability the lesson was taken from that beautiful chapter, Eccleslasticus 44 “Let us now praise famous men and our fathers that begat us.’ Then followed an exceedingly beautiful collect, which ought, perhaps, to be used daily in the School; “O Lord, who art the Resurrection and the life of them that believe, Who always are to praised, as well in these that live, as in these that are departed, woe give Thee thanks for Edmund Flower and William Spicer, Founders of our School, and others our benefactors, by whose beneficence we are hereby maintained for the further attaining of Godliness and learning, beseeching Thee to grant that we, well using to Thy Glory these Thy gifts, may rise again to eternal life, with those that are departed in the faith through Christ our Lord. Amen.”


As the boys attended Church every Saint's Day for thirty years before the first prayer book of Edward VI was issued, it may of interest to note what service was used apart from the Masse. In other words, which of the Uses formed the service book for Cukfield? There was a Use of Chichester, the work of St. Richard, the founder of our Vicarage, but it had been superseded. A Dean of Sarum had been promoted to be Bishop cf Chichester. He canceled the Use of St. Richard and substituted that of Sarum, a more popular and probably a better book. As Cuckfield Vicars have always been loyal, may assume that the Sarum Use was the service book for Cuckfield. Mass was a popular service, and though in an unknown tongue was universally “understanded of the people.” One book. “The Lay Folks’ Mass Book” was an explanation and commentary of the great service of praise and thanksgiving. Another book, “The Primer,” was part English and part Latin. Some early printed copies were entirely English. This book, intended for both public and private devotion, was in the hands of all well-to-do families. The part taken by the boys was probably more passive than active. (To be continued)



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