1926: Miss Cooper's talk about Cuckfield

Updated: Feb 2


Cuckfield Women’s Institute

There was an element of mystery About the November meeting of the Cuckfield Women’s Institute, held in the Queen’s Hall on Wednesday week, as the Committee had arranged a surprise programme.


It opened with a part song, the vocalists being Miss Payne, Mrs Bennett, Mrs Conn; Mrs Confer and Mrs Morfee with Mrs Randell as pianoforte accompanist. Mira Payne (President) then announced the award of a second-class certificate to the Institute at the drama competitions at Lewes, the three representatives being Mrs Randell, Mrs Towse and Mira Amy Winder, with Miss Dorothy Winder as the producer. The President also referred to the success of the Institute at the recent local Chrysanthemum Show.


Miss Dorothy Winder then took the chair, and a most instructive talk on Cuckfield was given by Miss Cooper.


The History of Cuckfield

Miss Cooper who said, in opening, that 880 years ago the town was called “Kukefeld.” William Earl de Warrenne had a hunting box in the district, and in process of time Cuckfield came into being. The first known, inhabitant was appropriately named Adam! About the year 1230 the tower and the south side - of the Parish Church were built, and a resident clergyman was appointed at a salary, the remainder of the tithe went to the Monks at Lewes.


In the year 1235 a charter was granted for a weekly market on Tuesdays, and an annual fair in September. Hanlye was the first place name recorded, and this was still in existence. In the year 1226 the names of Leigh, Pilstye, Westup, Knowle and other places occurred, and in 1815 there was a road leading from Staplefield Common to Brantridge, Balcombe.


The dates of many of the old farms went back to before the year 1500. Miss Cooper chose the old houses of Cuckfield Park and Ockenden on which to speak in detail, and beginning with the former she related how it was built by Mr Henry Bowyer, the son of an ironmaster, who owned a furnace in Ashdown Forest and also Bentley Park and other property.


There was documentary evidence that Bowyer took stone from the remains of De Warrenne’s house to build his own, which was erected in the form of the letter “E,” and it was not until 1848 that the windows were altered and gables and chimneys were altered and gables and chimneys added. A screen in the house bore the date 1581.


Henry Bowyer built a large wall, forming a courtyard, of which the gatehouse was all that remained. Mr Bowyer died in 1588. There were two monuments in the church to his memory, one being a brass on the floor in the chapel. Mr Bowyer was succeeded by his eldest son, his widow married Sir John Shirley, of Isfield, but they lived in Cuckfield.


Then followed said Thomas Hendley, who has succeeded in 1656 by Sir Walter Hendley, whose helmet, probably the one used his funeral, still hung in the Chancel of the Parish Church. Sir Walter's daughter, Mary, sold Cuckfield Park to Mr Charles Sergison.


Miss Cooper said that Ockenden at one time belonged to John Mitchell, husband of one Mylicent, whose death took place in the year 1524. There was a brass to her memory on the wall in the church. They lived at Tyes, and owned Maltmans, Inhomes, etc. According to an entry in the parish registers Ockenden was burnt in 1608. Walter Burrell, a great ironmaster, who is the first member of the family to live there, while his father resided at the Holmestead of those days.


Timothy Burrell's Diary

But the Burrell who made Ockenden famous was Walter's fifth son Timothy, who was known as Councillor Burrell, and died in 1717. He kept an illustrated diary which was long preserved, but was eventually destroyed by the fire at Knepp castle. Fortunately portions of it had been printed, and Miss Cooper gave details of the contents, such matters as the wages of Timothy's servants, with comments thereon, the record of an unsatisfactory deal in wheat, and the fact that sixpence has paid for each letter at that time. Then followed a list of substantial Christmas fare, which Timothy provided for his guests, and a recipe for plum porridge.


Had the entire diary been preserved it would have proved a most interesting compilation. In conclusion Miss Cooper referred to an agreement drawn up in the 1723 between the inhabitants of Cuckfield and one George Mace, and apothecary, with regard to the cure of a certain Thomas Bashford's leg and foot.


In thanking Miss Cooper for her interesting talk, Miss D Winder said it had been enjoyed by all lovers of Cuckfield, whether they were old inhabitants more recent comers like herself.


Three charades, arranged by Mrs RH Mitchell, were acted by Miss Knight, Mrs Morfee, Mrs Mitchell, Mrs Randell, Miss Reid and Miss O Turner, the books represented being 'If Winter Comes','This Freedom' and 'Black Beauty'. Tea was served between the charades by the following hostesses:


Mrs Baggs, Mrs Barnes, Mrs Botting, Mrs and Miss Ede, Mrs Elliott, Mrs Puller, Mrs Hobbs, Mrs and Miss Keep, Mrs Lloyd, Mrs Norris, Mrs Price, Mrs Stevens, Mrs Wells, Miss R Winder and Mrs Young.


The concluding item of the afternoon's programme was a most spirited performance of an episode - from George Eliot's novel, 'The Mill on the Floss', adapted by Miss Macnamara and entitled 'The Miss Dodsons that Were'. The characters were cleverly impersonated by Miss A Winder, Miss D Winder and Mrs Bennett.


The Committee were warmly thanked at the close, with the hope that a similar meeting would be included in the programme each year.


Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 23 November 1926


Illustration: from Unknown Sussex, by Donald Maxwell, pub Bodley Head, 1923. Note the monumental mason, with no building adjacent to south in Church Platt.


Notes: Marion Helen Cooper (1874-1951) was the Hon Sec of the Sussex Archeological Society (SAC) in 1929. She was the daughter of a Cuckfield Vicar Canon James Hughes Cooper(1888-1909), Rev James Hughes Cooper who had latterly been Chairman of the SAC. After her father's death she almost certainly helped her younger brother Wilbraham Villiers (1876-1955), who was a journalist and writer, to compile the Canon's learned articles which ahad previously been published by the SAC into book form, as 'The History of Cuckfield '.


Contributed by Malcolm Davison.