Education has been at the heart of community Life in Cuckfield for centuries. Today Holy Trinity CE primary school – which has direct links with the church – has settled into the modern splendour of its new building in Glebe Road by maintaining a fierce pride in a heritage stretching back more than 400 years.
Staff and pupils alike delight in their historical roots, manifested in class exhibitions, photographs and cherished archive material. A board just inside one of the entrances displays a unique roll call of headteachers dating back to William Molineux, thought to be responsible for 12 boys in 1512.
The present headteacher recalls tales of predecessors with a mixture of affection and fascination – not least the redoubtable William Herrington, at the helm from 1891 to 1923.
It was Mr Herrington who gave Mid Sussex Times readers the full flavour of the school’s history when the paper reprinted his talk to the Teachers’ Association in January 1922. It is a history hallmarked by the vision and commitment of countless individuals – churchmen, trustees, landowners and, of course schoolmasters. But first on the list is founder Edmund Flower, a Merchant Taylor of London, whose will dated sixth of July 1521 stated:
"I, certeyne years past, at my costs and charges, have caused a Free Grammar Schole to be maynetayned and kept at Cukfeld".
What are “certeyne years past?” As between 1502 and 1508 at least two other members of his company had founded grammar schools in other parts of the country, it seems possible that the Cuckfield school was founded soon after 1504 – although the original site, as well as the exact date is uncertain.
On the 1st of November 1528, the Rector of Balcombe, William Spicer produced another founding document because "whereas Edmund Flower gave and granted certain lands, which aforesaid lands to be not of sufficient value and ability to keep and find the school master to continue to teach scholars in the school."
Mr Spicer, a member of Saint Catherine's College, Cambridge, became the second founder and benefactor of the school to his indenture which rewrote the conditions of Flower’s will into a new and detailed constitution for the school.
Instructions about the schoolmaster were unequivocal. He was to be "a secular Preste being a graduate, having sufficient cunning and being of good conversation to be a schoolmaster." Also "he must be personally and continually at the said school for the teaching and erudition of the said scholars" and "a sufficient man to tech grammar after the form, order and usage used and taught in the Grammer School at Eaton next Windsor."
The Indenture made increased financial provision for the school – and listed contingency plans for emergencies, including the onset of plague in that event, the master had to depart for a convenient place within 10 miles of Cuckfield taking as many of the scholars as would go with him.
Mr Herrington took the story up in the Mid Sussex Times "the school still benefits by the endowments of the two original founders. The Free Grammar School lasted until 1844, that is 320 years. Then the school became a National School.
“No one knows where the first school stood or where it was what it was like, but it lasted nearly 100 years. Then about 1611 or 1612 in all probability in the same place, a new stone building was erected in some of it has stood for 300 years or more”.
One regret is that early documentation is very scarce. However the School is in proud possession of its 19th-century logbook and the admission register opening in 1904 with the name ‘Ada Tucker’, a four-year-old from the workhouse.
One extract from the logbook describes how, during the First World War, the quarter acre school garden produced a good crop of “earlies” to relieve the potato famine. They were sold at 2d a lb thanks to the initiative of assistant master Mr Arthur T. Rapley and his 30 boys. The effort made the pages of the Evening Standard – and was reported to the food committee because they were undercutting the local price of 3d a lb.
Logbook entries during the Herrington reign also prove a constant source of nostalgic amusement –the walloping of choirboys for misdemeanours, the glee over good attendance records. One extract from 1902 reads: "a perfect week, 84 boys. Ran out to tell the vicar who immediately gave a half days holiday."
Now the school is set to continue its educational traditions through future generations who will no doubt celebrate Cuckfield 1000. But perhaps it is fitting to leave the last word with William Herrington, who in 1921 produced his own vision of the possible.
Concluding his talk, he said: “Let us leave the beaten track, and venture for a moment on the boundless sea of romance. It will serve one purpose, namely to show that 400 years is a very long time.
“Just suppose that Edmund Flower had banked £5 in a Venetian bank at 6% compound interest. Assume also that this was left to accumulate for 400 years, that is until this year 1921 and then the vicar of Cuckfield, the Parson of Balcombe and the treasurer and schoolmaster of the Grammar school were to withdraw and use the accumulated sum.
“What could be done with it? Every church school in the land could be rebuilt; every poorly paid vicarage or parsonage be sufficiently endowed; every hospital rescued from its state of bankruptcy; and to dispose of the rest, a visit might be paid to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the national debt not simply reduced but entirely, absolutely and altogether cancelled. "
from 'Cuckfield 900' Souvenir programme 1992
Thank you to Jo Roche for a list of the School Headteachers