A pleasing tree lined highway leads from Muster Green, Haywards Heath, westward to Cuckfield, whose delightfully old High Street was once part of the coaching route between London and Brighton.
Cuckfield, with its magnificent parish Church of Holy Trinity, charming old school and lovely surroundings, is one of the market towns that grew up in the Weald in mediaeval times, being granted its charter as early as 1254. It gave its name to the new local government area which resulted from the reorganisation of the district in 1934. Its market does not now exist, but in the quaint High Street and excellent shopping centre has old-established businesses of all descriptions which cater for the everyday needs of residents. The main commercial and railway centre of Haywards Heath is within easy reach, Cuckfield being on several bus routes providing frequent services throughout the day.
Holy Trinity Church is one of the county’s finest, and from the churchyard, where there are memorial crosses to the South African War and the Great Wars of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945, as well as a Garden of Remembrance, is obtained a particularly fine view of the Sussex Weald and the long line of the South Downs beyond. The church tower and three piers on the size south side of the nave are remains of the Early English era. The remainder of the nave and chancel and the aisles date from the Decorated period. The restoration of the Church was commenced in 1855, during the vicariate of the Reverend T.A. Maberly, to whom the rood screen in the carved oak is a memorial. Inside the building are a large number of fine old brasses and interesting memorials, and while the chancel and nave roofs are richly decorated with paintings, those of the North and South files have been oak panelled. At the East End of the church, the ancient Sergison Chapel is converted into a vestry, and in the tower is a list of Vicars going back to 1250. There are lych-gates at both entrances, and picturesque cottages in the churchyard, approached by a rather quaint street, are believed by some to have been the “Church Ale Houses” of olden times. Mission churches serve the Hamlets of Ansty and Brook Street, and Cuckfield also has its Congregational and Strict Baptist Churches.
One of the largest and most fascinating local residences is Cuckfield Park, a fine Elizabethan mansion with a stately avenue of lime trees leading to it. It was built in 1580 by an old Sussex ironmaster, Henry Bowyer, and for hundreds of years was the seat of the Sergison family. No one should fail to take advantage of the delightful walks afforded by footpaths across the park, in which there are large lakes. Another ancient and interesting dwelling is the 17th century “Ockenden”, the old home of the Burrell family - the venerable Dr D.G. Burrell became vicar of Cuckfield in 1483, and history is also recalled by the old “Ship” tavern where an upper room was once the “lock-up”, “Northern Breach,” where there was a candle factory a hundred years ago, and “Attrees”, which was the home of a 14th century Cuckfield family of that name. “Attrees” was also the home of the late Henry Kingsley (the novelist and brother of Charles Kingsley), whose grave lies on the south side of the Cuckfield churchyard.
The Cuckfield Voluntary Primary School is situated close to the parish church, the building being the oldest school in the district. Education in Cuckfield goes a long way back. It is recorded that a Grammar school was founded there in the reign of Henry VIII and that that the Congregationalists of Cuckfield ran a day school as far back as 1852. The Domestic Science School is established to Cuckfield Park, and there are a number of private schools, but the largest and most modern building is the fine County Secondary School on a site south of Broad Street, taking a large number of senior children from Cuckfield, Haywards Heath and the district. Local children of primary school age will remain in the present building until another primary school is erected on the Glebe Road site. This is the school which is proposed shall be a Church of England (Aided) school, and for which the managers have been appealing for funds.
Another building which is a feature of Cuckfield is one in Ockenden lane until a year or so ago occupied by the Men's Club. It was once the local Poor House and has been an inn, the place where county courts were held and the Headquarters of the old Cuckfield Volunteers.
The social life of the town is mainly centred at the Queen’s Hall, a commodious building modernised to meet present day requirements. The hall was built by public subscription in 1897 as a memorial to Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, a Public Library being added in 1901 to mark the close of the same reign. Subsequently the whole building was conveyed to the Urban District Council for the use of the inhabitants. There are several ante-rooms and a reference library and reading room, and a large number of ancient treasures are preserved in the hall. Smaller buildings available for public use are in the Church Hall and a Women’s Institute Hall.
Cuckfield Women's Institute, who hold their monthly meetings on Wednesday afternoons, were responsible for providing an attractive place name sign at Whitemans Green in thanksgiving for the victory in the 1939-1945 War. There is also an Ockenden Women's Institute, holding evening meetings. There are Men's and Women’s Branches of the British Legion (with a Horticultural Section), while a Dramatic Society and a Young Farmers’ Club are among other organisations. In Ardingly Road is the old West Hylands Institution and former workhouse, now the Cuckfield Hospital under the administration of the Mid-Sussex Hospital Management Committee, where great developments have taken place in recent years. Beyond the hospital will be found an entrance to Borde Hill, now the home of Colonel Sir Ralph S. Clarke.
Cuckfield is well paved, lighted and main drained, and possesses all the institutions that go to make up a pleasing country town.
*I am indebted to Elizabeth Wickstead for loaning and permitting me to share an impressive range of local history material collected over many years by both her sister Rose (a rigorous and inspirational local historian) and herself.
Elizabeth has selflessly contributed many historical documents to archivists recently and through this site I hope to ensure the stories are easily accessible to all......