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1926: 'The early days of Cuckfield' - a delightful talk at the W.I. meeting

The Mid Sussex Times November 23 1926

Cuckfield Women’s Institute

Miss Cooper’s talk on the Town's early days


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 song, the vocalists being Miss Payne, Mrs Bennett, Mrs Conn, Mrs Corder and Mrs Murphy, with Mrs Randall as pianoforte accompanist. Miss 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 Randall, Mrs Towse, and Miss Amy Winder, with Miss Dorothy Winder as the producer. 


Queen's Hall c1910

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

who said in opening that 830 years ago the town was called ‘Kukefeld’, William Earl of Warrene had a hunting box in the district, and in the 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, while the remainder of the tithes went to the monks at Lewes. In the year 1255 a Charter was granted for a weekly market on Tuesdays, and an annual fare in September.


Hanlye was the first place name recorded, and this was still in existence. In the year 1296 the names of Leigh, Pilstye, Westup, Knowle and other places occurred, and in 1315 there was a road leading from Staplefield Common to Brantridge Balcombe. The dates of many of the old farms go back to before the year 1500.


Miss Cooper chose the old house of Cuckfield Park and Ockenden Manor 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 iron master, 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 the Warrennes 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 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. They were two monuments in the church to his memory, one being a brass on the floor in the chapel. Henry Bowyer was succeeded by his youngest son, whose widow married Sir John Shirley of Isfield, but they lived in Cuckfield.


Then followed Sir Thomas Hendley, who is succeeded in 1656 by Sir Walter Hendley, whose helmet, probably the one used at his funeral, is still hanging in the chancel of the parish church. Sir Walter's daughter Mary, sold Cuckfield Park to Mr Charles Sergison. Miss Cooper said that Oakington at one time belonged to John Mitchell, husband of one Millicent, whose death took place in the year 1524. There was a brass to her memory on a wall in the church.


They lived at Tyes, and owned Maltmans, Inholmes, etcetera.


According to an entry in the parish registers Ockenden was burnt in 1608. Walter Burrell, a great ironmaster, was the first member of the family to live there, while his father resided at the Homestead of those days. 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 a 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 servants, with comments thereon, the record of an unsatisfactory deal in weight, and the fact that six pence was paid for each letter at that time. Then follows the 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 year 1723 between the inhabitants of Cuckfield and one George Mace, an 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 who love Cuckfield, whether they were old inhabitants of more recent, like herself.


Three charades arranged by Miss RH Mitchell were acted by Miss Knight, Miss Murphy, Mrs Mitchenall, Mrs Randall, Miss Read and Miss O. Turner, the books represented being If winter comes, This Freedom, and Black Beauty.


The concluding item of the afternoon's programme was a most spirited performance of an episode from George Elliott's novel, The Mill on the Floss, adapted by Miss McNamara and entitled The missed Dodsons that were.


The characters were cleverly impersonated by Miss A. Winder, Miss T. 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 next year.

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