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1929: Eyewitness accounts of the Kingsleys in Cuckfield

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

STORIES OF HENRY KINGSLEY

A lady, who as a child lived with her mother opposite the Kingsley’s house in Cuckfield, and her husband, Mr. Bates, of Gatlands -remember Henry Kingsley well, although they were only children at the time of his death.


Mr. Bates’ description of his ‘as we saw him about the town’ is that of a man very much wrapped up in his thoughts, and preoccupied. He would walk along with his head bowed, his broad shoulders very bent, and suddenly pull up as if shot, stand for a second or two motionless, and look into the distance. He would then pull himself together again, and go on. The contrast between his small, thin figure, and that of his large, masterful-looking wife seems to have been very striking. Indeed, it was commonly said among the townsfolk in Cuckfield that there was very little doubt as to ‘which of the pair really wrote those books!’


Northern Breach - a house standing directly opposite Attrees c1920

Mrs Kingsley was Henry's cousin, her full name being Sarah Maria Kingsley Kingsley, as written on some music given by her to Mrs Bates when the latter was a girl in her teens. Mr. Bates remembers Mrs Kingsley as a very fine reciter at the local penny readings, and a wonderful rendering of ‘the wreck of the Hesperus’ appears to be still a vivid recollection. She seems to have been a public spirited woman, and to have written her views to the Cuckfield Guardians, written with some vigour- and success to-as to the then conditions of the poor old people in the Infirmary. She lived on in Cuckfield some years after the death of her husband, and all who knew her seemed to have been struck with her forceful character.


Of Kingsley himself there seems little that is tangible to relate. He seems to have been, at this time- the last year of his life- very abrupt in his manner. One day, just as the family were getting ready for church, he rang the bell at the house opposite, only to ask very abruptly, on the lady hurriedly coming to him in response to a call from her maid: “what's that shrub called?” The answer was that the lady did not know. No reply, all thanks, from Kingsley; a sort of grunted “oh!” and he was off. He would run in at all hours in a rough colonial way, and borrow anything he happened to want, from garden tools to a corkscrew; one day arriving in dress clothes, asking for the latter to open a bottle of wine for dinner.

He seems to have written an essay, published after his death, on Cuckfield.


Mr. Bates is of the opinion that Attrees, the house in which the Kingsleys, may well be 500 years old. As he is a known authority on old things, it is probable that the house, though very much altered, is, indeed, and exceedingly ancient building. It was mentioned in tax rolls as early as 1340. The date of the house is hidden up in its roof, according to the present inhabitant. Mr. Bates came across it while doing repairs. Unfortunately this is forgotten, although it will, no doubt, be rediscovered when the old tiles want seeing to once more. The name used to be spelt AttRee.


Mrs. Bates’ recollections of Kingsley’s funeral are interesting. She was taken to it by a maid. One rather wonders what Mrs Bates’ mama said to the maid on their return. But that is another story. Mrs Bates remembers perfectly well, not knowing the cause, watching the poor little man getting thinner and thinner as the throat trouble gradually sapped away his strength and power of taking food. He seems to have had a special horror of just such a death. The funeral procession of black coated men was so long that it seemed, Mrs Bates said, to reach from one end of the large old church yard to the other. Almost every man dropped what appeared to be a sprig of myrtle into the grave.

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