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1938: The myths and legends of old Cuckfield and a rambler's route from Horsham to the town.

West Sussex County Times - Friday 22 July 1938




Cuckfield, although over the borders of West Sussex, is well deserving a place in this series of articles, first because its narrow old fashioned Street and the graceful mansions which surround it make it outstanding among the smaller Sussex towns and villages and because the walk from Horsham is one of the most delightful in the district for those to whom 16 miles is not too long a stretch.

It is rich in legends and the tales handed down by our Sussex forebears, one of which suggests that ‘Cuckfield’ derives its name from cuckoo, a bird by which it was much frequented. Local legend credits the town with an association with the old pagan gods, for some distance down the Brighton Road at Anstye, is an ancient cottage, Mount Noddy. Now it is said that where an old mountain or hill called ‘Nod’ was probably the site of an altar to the old Celtish god Nod.

In support of this legend it is pointed out that these mounds always commanded an excellent view of the setting sun, and would therefore be the most likely place to be chosen.


Also at Anstye is a fine old period Sussex farmhouse known as Anstye’s farm. The interior is rich in oak and in one bedroom a stone Tudor arch spanning a wide hearth exists. Anstye is a fine setting for a ghost and is said to be haunted at night by an exhausted and unusual looking male figure which walks up the lane probing in the hedge with a rake in search of lost deeds hidden centuries ago in a hole in the bank by the roadside. He carries a leathern satchel slung across his shoulders. Close by the route taken by this ghostly visitor was the cottage home of Sir Harry Preston, who lies buried in the parish churchyard. Butlers Green House situated a little way out the town has the doubtful honour of being haunted by two ghosts, according to Mr Hubert Bates, whose family have been watchmakers in Cuckfield since 1790. Mr Bates has made a deep study of local history and perhaps no one in the district has such a store of local law as he. He conducted the writer, who is indebted to him for the information contained in this article, to Butlers Green House to point out the beautiful wrought iron gate, said to have been kept padlocked and disused since a curse was put upon it.


According to notes which Mr Bates supplied, although the Wardens held Butlers Green before the Sergisons came to Cuckfield Park, the alliance of the families by marriage led to a close association of the estates and many traditions connect the two domains. One that was rife in Cuckfield and continually repeated – if not believed –asserted that the beautiful vista of trees obtained from the Clockhouse and Cuckfield Park had originally continued across country to Butlers Green.

Butlers Green house

No similar trees, beyond the gorse, are found in any order to suggest that such an avenue existed, until the limes at Butlers Green are reached. Another and more incredible still, was of a subterranean passage between the two houses. This fantastic tale was never really believed and both are now dismissed as old myths, but the 18th century ghost story of the grey lady of Butlers Green has always been given credence. The story runs at the grey lady's husband was a man of wild habits and of an extremely jealous nature – a gambler and given to outbursts of violent passion. In a fit of ungovernable temper he is said to have stabbed his wife while she was endeavouring to protect their child. Whereupon she ran out of the house, down the flagged path, through the now locked gate, and drowned herself and her baby in the pond under the old lime trees. The gate was there after laid under a curse that if anyone should ever passed through it a death would occur in the household within the year….. To prevent such a happening the gate was locked and chained and another entrance arranged for the house. The ghost of the Lady Grey is reported to haunt occasionally the beautiful garden and the ruins, but no one has seen her for many years and no living person has ever seen the gate unlocked. Curious house. The house is a curious mixture of styles. The original building which was of the 14th century has been lost, but the foundations are still traceable. Oak from the house was used in the construction of an Elizabethan residence, of which, also, a small portion remains and a third residence was built in the same site in the early Georgian period.

The first Warden, according to Mr Bates, came to live at Butlers Green in 1600, but there does not appear to be any record when the first house – the home of the old Boteler family – was built.

In the Sussex archaeological collection, Canon Cooper, in his history of the parish of Cuckfield, states that the name butlers is probably derived from “Botelers”, as in a will of 1375 lands in Cuckfield were left to “Millinicent, relief of Thomas Boteler, senior of Cokefield”

The Botelers were prominent in Sussex, one of them Henrious le Botteler was MP for Horsham during the reign of Richard II, and successive members of the family represented Horsham in parliament for years.

The second ghost story is something of a mystery within a mystery, for it has neither beginning nor end. In a letter to the mid Sussex Times some years ago, Mr Bates described it as follows:-


At midnight on New Year's Eve, almost on the last stroke of the old year, Butlers Green is visited by a ghostly troop of grey riderless horses. They do not appear every year, but at irregular and sometimes long intervals and always on a moonlight night. They are said to favour a misty moon when there is a Tang in the night wind and just enough frost to cuddle the air into a beautiful white rhyme. The story says they come across Meadows from the neighbourhood of Anstey into the old bridal path and down copyhold Lane onto the Cuckfield Road. Here they turn and gallop madly up the road to Butlers Green. They enter (literally) through the big gates and rushed to the old stables, and there they scrape the brick paving, paw on the gravel and whinny in most unearthly sounds.

Yet if at this moment a sleepy tousled headed groom descends from the loft and opens the stable doors, the phantom horses pass in and no more is heard of them.

But if he fails to awaken open the doors, then they wheel round suddenly as if in great terror and tear frantically through the gates down the Cuckfield Road and disappear into Copyhold Lane and so returned to Anstye or from whence they came. Then – before another New Year Eve has passed some ghastly blight falls on one of the unfortunate individuals who was sleeping that night at Butlers Green.

No one knows what frightful tragedy lives behind this weird visitation, but the seriousness of the crime is evidenced by all the horses being riderless.


This is the story as it was told to me years ago by an old lady who had lived some exhibited evidence of having been hag-ridden part of her life at Butlers Green House. I repeated the story to a lady at Anstye a few years ago and she told me that there was a stable known at Anstye where the horses in the night. She would not, from personal reasons, Tommy who stable the witches visited, but we both agreed that it proved irrefutably the story of the Butlers Green horses was positively true. There are two legends connected with the powers of darkness associated with the parish church of the Holy Trinity. One records that when the original church was destroyed by fire it was decided after long deliberation to build another on a height whence it would look down upon the town. The site chosen was in the vicinity of what is now known as Whitemans Green and construction was put underway.

Cuckfield Church circa 1910

Then to the general consternation, each night it was found the work of the preceding day was undone and the massive blocks of stone held down the hill. This was said to have been the work of a large and terrible figure of a man, close from head to foot in white garments. For some time, however, the work of construction and destruction was carried on, but at last the villagers got tired of their fruitless labours and desisted and built upon the present church site. The figure in white is said by some people to have given its name to Whiteman's Green.


The second legend is on the same lines up to a certain point. The main difference being that instead of a man in white, the work of destroying the labours of the good people of the parish was that of the devil himself.

The view from the churchyard is perhaps one of the finest in the county. The plane of the Weald stretch is like an immense green and gold carpet from beneath the foot of the old grey walls of the church to the misty blue hills of the downs in the far distance. The panorama is worth the 16 mile journey to see on a clear day.

The Church itself is first mentioned among the donations of that the warrens to Lewis Priory in the confirmation charter of William II (circa 1095). The foundations of a small aisle this church lie under the floor of the present nave, and no doubt represent the original Norman building before its reconstruction in the 13th century.


The history of Inns would make a volume in itself. In the early days the monasteries supplied the needs of travellers in respect of food and shelter at nights. Then as now, times progressed, even if more slowly, and as traffic increased the hospitable monks and Friars found that their accommodation and resources were being overtaxed. This was especially the case when the great barons travelled about the country with their Esquires and men at arms.

These gentlemen were not in the habit of taking refusals or excuses and so there was only one course open to the monks – to provide houses of rest by the wayside for the Bowman and retainers, and these rest houses were the forerunners of the church alehouses, from which our modern ins are involved. As few people, even the nobles- who, indeed would have thought it beneath their dignity to have been scholars- could read or write other than the monks, it was necessary to provide signs by which the houses could be known, and later, when the great nobles followed the earlier example of the monks and build their own rest houses, they generally hang out their coat of arms. That's we get the Burrell Arms, the Norfolk arms, and in connection with the latter, the White horse.

The height of prosperity of the old Kings Head, at Cuckfield, was undoubtedly reached during the dashing days of the Regency, when Bucks and Corinthians passed through in steady procession, and, it is reputed some 50 coaches a day used the Cuckfield Road.


During these staring times, the landlord of the Inn was one Daniel Dench, whose daughter, in her reminiscences in 1880 wrote “my father was host of the King’s Head… The Prince of Wales (afterwards George the fourth) was a constant visitor, for he drove from London to Brighton in a carriage and four, attended by two outriders and the horses were changed at our house. He was very friendly with my father and knew all the postilions. We didn't like the outriders, for many of them could not ride a bit and we were obliged to give them some of our best horses, which were sometimes spoilt in consequence.

About the year 1816 the Hickstead road to Brighton was opened to enable the Prince of Wales to use the pavilion at Brighton as his residence when King, for in those days an act of parliament was in force requiring the royal residence to be within 50 miles of Westminster, and through Cuckfield the distance was 54. My father left the Kings Head soon after this and took the castle in on the Hickstead Road. So poor Cuckfield lost her kings and queens. The old Kings Head disappeared from Cuckfield's landscape, to, in 1858, when it was practically demolished, and the building erected in its place ceased to be an in. One of the most picturesque views of the old town is to be seen from the churchyard, looking through the frame of the Lychgate up Church Street. In this street lived Henry Kingsley, brother of the Charles Kingsley.(1)

Lychgate at the end of Church Street

Route for Ramblers

Horsham to Cuckfield

The distance from Horsham to Cuckfield writes Mr E. G. Apesdaile, in his route for ramblers, is 16 miles The route itself is as follows:-

Leave the town by way of the Causeway and Normandy and into Denne Road, turn in at gate on left and continue under the railway arch and farm Road to Chesworth. Pass pond on left and take the stile opposite, beside a new house, and follow past to a stile on left.

Cross this into the lane and at top follow path straight ahead across two fields to Kerves-Lane, cross this and go in at opposite gate. After a few yards cross the footbridge on the right and follow the path over seven fields to Bull's farm.

Cross Lane and over the opposite stile and across a long Meadow to a stile on the left, which will come out onto a road (Magpie Lane). Turn right on this as far as Sedgwick Lodge, here take the small wicket gate at left of the lodge and follow path caterways south east to the woods and follow on through them until a road is reached. Turn right on this a few yards and then take a path on the left.

Downhill to stile.

This goes downhill to a stile (from here is a fine view of the South Downs), cross over style and follow path, clearly defined, through the Meadows. Near the bottom of hill bear slightly left to the carriage drive, bear left and out onto Nuthurst Street.

Turn right to near the church, then take lane on left which runs at stile of the Rectory. At the bend bear left and onto path by a hedge row and pond cross the style and bear right on a bridal road which takes you through Lodgesale Wood, bear left soon after entering woods. This bridal path comes out by a house known as Hop Gardens. On to road (Newells Lane) turn left just past the cottage and then in on your right and enter an old bridleway which follow.

After crossing a small bridge, path goes slightly uphill, at top of rise bear left through the woods. This comes out at the side of South Lodge on the Brighton Road at Crab Tree. Turn right on this and take first turning on the left (Mill Lane).

Following on this for nearly half a mile, after passing a farm on your left, turn in on left through a gate into Minepit Woods on a cart track downhill, with the old furnace farm below on the right. At the bottom bear right at head of pond, a few yards round the bend, look out for a small path on your right. Take this through a short copse and over an open field and over a stream into the Free Chase Woods. Here turn right and when round the bend take the path uphill on the right, bearing to the left above the lakes. Bearing to right and on to the top of the hill, turn left and follow path downhill through the meadow and uphill to the right of Free Chase House and out onto road.

Three Oaks Green.

Here bear right to Three Oaks Green, bear left on road to cottages known as be houses, here at Cross Road and bend on road, go straight over and take part on left through sprung kits wood, passing at the side of Collingwood house.

Follow on path until a lane is reached, bear right on this to just about Colwood Farm, and take path on your left by a pond. Continuing on this to a lane, cross over and onto path and over two fields, to road. He turned right and down Bonnie Street to the church. Turn into the churchyard and follow path on eastwards, which will bring the rambler to the Brighton Road.

Bear slightly left a few yards and then turn in on your right, the path runs just above the fish ponds of Grevenhurst and comes out on the road at Rowlands Cottage. Turn left on Buncton Lane and on to path just above Pickwell Lodge on your right. The path now skirts the Warren Wood and comes out onto the road by Oaklands, on Raggets Hill. Cross over and in opposite, and follow the path on the outskirts of Long Wood and Westup Wood and out onto road.

Alternative route.

Bear left on this to Pondtail Cottage and take path on right on an old bridle road, which goes by the waterfall and the old mill cottages to road at High Bridge. Turn left to Cuckfield, or as an alternative route from Bolney (the distance about the same), soon after entering Long Wood, take the path running north and follow path out onto the road. Turn right and at the bend turn in on right across field to Westup farm.

Pass through the farmyard and north a short way, then bear right to road, which cross and in opposite and down to Wyllies, bear right and across Cuckfield Park into the town.

(1) This is inaccurate as Henry Kingsley lived in Attrees (now called Kingsleys, named after the writer)


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