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1931: Architectural historian's detailed observations on Cuckfield's ancient Church

Sussex Agricultural Express - Friday 04 September 1931



Cuckfield Church, which is dedicated to the Holy Trinity is situated about 13 miles due north of Brighton, and about two miles west of Haywards Heath, its nearest station.


This large church, which is referred to both by Pope Nicholas’ Taxation List and the Nonae Poll, was commenced in E.E. style about the middle of the 13th century. The work of this period now remaining is the greater part of the tower and the western three bays of the south arcade of the nave, and from this one may surmise that this E.E. church (1) contained a nave and south aisle at least as long as these three bays, and also a chancel.

About a century later, in the middle of the 14th century, it seems the nave was prolonged to the east by one bay, a north aisle was added, or rebuilt, to the nave, and the chancel, with north and south aisles to jt, was completely reconstructed, since all this part of the church is in Dec. style.

About a century later, in Perp. times, late in the 15th century, the chancel aisles appear to have been restored or partly reconstructed, and the roofs of the nave and chancel and their aisles rebuilt in the rather unusual form in which they still exist.

The church was considerably restored in 1855-6, when to the additional buttresses and the belfry stairway were added to the tower, and the north and south nave porches were rebuilt. The north-east vestry, which was formerly used as a mortuary chapel of the Sergison family, was rebuilt in 1888.


Cuckfield Church, as it now stands, is symmetrical in its ground plan. It consists of a nave with north and south aisles, and a chancel, also with north and south aisles along its whole length, these six parts of the church forming a complete parallelogram just over 100 feet long and just over 50 feet wide, an unusual form in Sussex. At the west end of the nave is a tower about 25 feet square, containing the oldest work the church; on the north and also the south of the nave is a porch to the main public entrances to the church; while to the north of the north aisle of the chancel is the rebuilt vestry.

The symmetry of the ground plan is further increased by the north and south walls of the tower, the nave arcades, and also the chancel arcades and side walls being all in line. The large chancel aisles have their east end walls in line with the east wall of the chancel, and the east end of the vestry almost coincides also.


The E.E. west end tower is large, square, and heavily built of stone. Although the walls are in line, at about two thirds its height is a heavy string-course chamfered on its upper surface only, which thus divides the run of the tower walls into two parts, the upper part above this string course projecting above the nave roof. This upper portion appears to be built of rather different material, to have been restored at a later date. The top of the tower is surrounded by a heavy battlemented parapet of unusual character, being in the form of a trefoil corbel table having eleven trefoil headed recesses on each side. Inside the parapet the roof is covered by a tall and slender octagonal steeple, having a much expanded base, covered with the usual wood shingles and surmounted by a weather vane.

Cuckfield Holy Trinity Church

The outer corners of the tower are supported by large and heavy oblique angle buttresses, which were added to it at a later date and in modern times, in the 19th century, two additional buttresses were added to the west side. At the same time a large buttress-like addition was made to the south wall to contain the stairway to the belfry. This external addition is finished with a plain gabled top just below the string course referred to, and the small lights to the stairway are in the south side of it.

At the bottom of the west wall, between the two added buttresses which flank it closely, is a west doorway of plain form, with pointed head, of two orders, plainly chamfered, but with impost-like projections at the springing line which are almost obliterated. Above this doorway is a fairly large single-light window, with pointed head, and plainly chamfered all round. Above that again is smaller E.E. lancet light of plain form; and at the top, above the string-course, is a rather larger louvre opening of similar form. All these four in the west wall are in line above one another. On the north side are two E.E. lancet windows above one another, while above the string course in the upper stage are two similar shaped louvre-openings, one being in the centre line of the wall, and the other placed, unsymmetrically, to the east of it. These two top openings are repeated on the south side where the (presumably similar) lower windows have now been obliterated by the addition of the modern stairway turret. In the east wall, immediately above the ridge the nave roof, is a single similar louvre opening placed in the centre line of the wall.

The whole of the main part of this church, all contained within the parallelogram mentioned in the plan, and comprising the nave and both its aisles, and the chancel and both its aisles, are covered under one roof, which is continuous over all the six parts, an unusual arrangement for a doubly aisled church this size. This plan of roofing was evidently not that of the rebuilding of this church in the Dec. period, since it will be been in the interior that the clearstory lights are now covered in by this all-over roof. The off-set vestry alone has separate roof.

The windows around the church are fairly symmetrical but do not altogether correspond, and have practically all been restored at later dates than the building of the walls, and in several instances in modern times. Westward of the centre of both the north and south nave aisles is a large and well built timber porch with gabled tiled roof, and these are opposite to one another.

In the south aisle the west-end window is a three-light Perp. one with pointed head, having cinquefoil heads to the three main lights, and supra-tracery above with distinct Perp. mullions. On the south side are three heavy single buttresses of original work, one at each end of the nave and one in the middle, all to the south. In the south wall, west of the porch, is a threelight Perp. pattern window with cinquefoil heads immediately under a low four centred arch, which therefore does not allow of supra-tracery, and east of the porch is a similar one. Beyond this, eastward, are three windows of another pattern, one in the nave aisle wall and two in the chancel aisle wall. These are of three lights, each mullion bifurcated into low ogee arch, giving a flattened inverted triangular light above, all under very low four-centred containing arch, and with a hood moulding above.

The east end light in the south aisle of the chancel corresponds to the west end window in the nave aisle, and on the north side of the church the windows practically correspond with those on the south side, except that the east end of the north wall i» occupied the rebuilt vestry and the west end window in the north wall of the nave aisle is of a plainer character than the others.

The large east end window of the chancel appears be a modern reconstruction with a pointed head, and hood-moulding above it. It consists of five main lights with pointed heads, the centre light being slightly wider than the side ones, which are in pairs on each side. The mullions of the centre light are prolonged upwards and outwards to form a single pointed headed space above containing a round light with six-foil moulding on its interior. Above and between these two is a larger round window containing five smaller circular lights, within it. Above this main east end window there is a small round window in the gable.


A view of the interior will confirm the feature of the ground plan, previously mentioned, that the side walls of the tower space, the arcades of the nave, and also the arcades of the chancel are all in line.

In the nave the three western bays the south arcade are different from any the others. This part of the arcade consists three pointed arches, of two orders, both plainly chamfered. They are supported on two free round piers, with round capitals and bases E.E. style, and two half-round responds to correspond. The western respond rests against the west end wall without abutment, while the east end respond rests against a slightly elongated pier with corresponding respond on its eastern side. This unsymmetrical pier appears to mark the eastern end of the original E.E. nave, and to include the abutment wall, the eastern respond it being merely a copy of the western one.

Interior of the Church

The nave seems to have been prolonged one bay eastward in Dec. times, and the eastern bay in this south arcade is otherwise similar to those in the north arcade. This last, unlike the south one, is symmetrical in its building, and consists of four bays having pointed arches similar to those on the south side, but more heavily chamfered. These are supported hexagonal piers, unusual pattern which is followed in the chancel and its arcades which were evidently also part this rebuilding work the 14th century. The piers, and also the responds, at both ends of the north arcade of the nave, which latter have no abutment walls, have moulded hexagonal capitals and bases.

The chancel, which is the same width as the nave, has arcade two bays on the north, connecting it with its north aisle, with an abutment wall at the east end, and similar arrangement on the south side, while the large chancel arch, of similar pattern to the north arcade, is supported on responds set right back on the side walls. Both the free piers and all the responds, including those, of the chancel arch, follow the form the north arcade in being of this unusual hexagonal form.

The nave aisles are each connected with the chancel aisles by a pointed arched opening in which, while at the outer end the arch dies away into the outer wall, the inner end is supported on semi-hexagonal responds similar in form to those supporting the chancel arch.

The eastern part of the north aisle of the chancel now occupied by the organ, and north of this is the doorway leading into the semi-detached large vestry, which was rebuilt in 1888, and therefore does not require further description here.

When the alterations and rebuilding of this church took place in the Dec. period, clearstory lights were made in the nave walls, and there are still three plain quatrefoil lights this style on each side, set in splayed recesses. The three clearstory lights on the north side are symmetrically placed one over each pier, but not so the south side where the west one is over the pier, the middle one placed rather eastward of its pier and the east one still further over the arch. It seems evident that when these lights were inserted the nave and its aisles had roofs at different levels in order that they might fulfil their function of lighting the upper part of the nave. The building of an all-over roof at a later date, however, destroyed their function and they are now useless for this purpose.

During the latter half of the 15th century the nave and chancel were reroofed in a manner unusual in Sussex. 'This roof described and well illustrated in S.A.C. xlii, 242-3. It is supported by two tie-beams in the chancel and five in the nave which are moulded and embattled. The tie-beams, which have no uprights above them, are supported by moulded wall-posts, and at the foot of each wall-post a carved figure of an angel's head and wings has been placed in modern times. each angle between the tie-beam and the wall-post is an angle-brace which is curved on its outer edge and has pierced tracery in the spandril. The roof above is ceiled with plaster work, divided into panels by moulded ribs having bosses at the intersection. The highest panel is fiat, and there are three, unequal in size, on each side it down to the wall-plate. This roof was built without regard to the clearstory windows which were thus rendered function less and some of the wall-posts come in front of these windows. Most of the bosses are carved with designs foliage, but some bear the badges of the Nevills, which also occur in the spandrils of the tie-beam brackets against the tower. (See S.A.C. xlii, 243.) The colouring of the beams and bosses is modern restoration work.

The tower arch is comparatively low and wide, having a pointed arch of two orders, plainly chamfered. This arch is supported on semi-octagonal responds with moulded capitals and bases, and therefore this archway does not correspond with those in the other parts of the church. Above this arch, in the west end of the nave, high up under the plaster ceiling, is a rectangular window looking down from the tower space into the nave. In the lower part of the tower space the interior of the windows is plainly splayed and above is the wooden floor of the belfry loft with plain square panels on its under side. This loft is reached by the added newel stairway on the outside of the south side of the tower previously referred to.

At the east end of the chancel, in the south abutment wall, in the usual position, is a piscina of considerable size and placed low down. It has a trefoil head and appears to have been considerably restored. Just west of it is a recess, which is now covered with detached wooden bench, which may have been a sedilia. In the south chapel of the chancel on the other side of the same wall, is another recess backing to the previous one, while the opposite, or south, side of this chapel is piscina with a plain square opening flush with the wall. In the south wall of this chapel is a small doorway having a plain pointed head on the outside and inside a plain depressed four centred arch.

In the chancel, the restored east end window previously described, has, on the inside, side shafts with moulded capitals and bases, while above it can be seen the sixfoil small light which in the gable of the east end wall. There is a carved wooden chancel screen dividing the chancel from the nave and wooden parclose on each side railing off the side aisles from the chancel. All these three are of a good but plain character.

The font is of fairly large size and of unusual curved tub shape, supported on a central shaft with four supporting smaller shafts round it. This font is late Nor. but has been restored.

The south doorway, which is covered by the modern porch, has a plain pointed head, on plain jambs, of two orders, simply chamfered. Just inside it, to the east, is what remains of an old stoup which had a large bowl which is now so mutilated that the outer half has disappeared. Outside this same doorway is a small stoup of a later date with a square shaped bowl. The north doorway, covered by the other modern porch, is of a plain character, of one order with inner jambs dying into the arch above, both being plainly chamfered.


There are several brasses and monuments in this church, the details of some of which are given in M.M.E.S., pgs. 54 and 55. The most important are a figure brass, 21 inches high, to Henry Bowyer (1588) in the south chapel floor and another to the same man and his wife affixed to the north wall of the same chapel. Above the priests’ door is a mural marble monument to Ninian Burrell (1628) which has been executed in a handsome and artistic manner.

(1) E.E meaning Early English



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