top of page

1992: The clearing where the cuckoo came

We are 30 years on from the Cuckfield 900 celebrations in 1992. To mark the centennial occasion this story in verse of the village history was written by local dramatist and painter James Forsyth. Here is a short extract from it:

Because, in the Middle Ages, many abbots became

the powerful wool barons of the time.

But, before our monks of Lewes began

to lose their power over Cuckufelda’s form,

the Bishop of Chichester had been egged on

by the local landowners - Warenne’s men -

to replace the wood church with a church of stone;

and to give it a vicar. Vicars were then -

as they worked with their wardens - the very first form

of Local Government: cobbling local law -

which the King - being no legal nor localised fool -

no doubt would often overrule

through his localised lordships. But now

a new sort of newly-rich land lord

replaced baron and bishop in Tudor times:

Butler, Burrell, Bowyer, Borde.

And our tudorised church's ancient chimes

might still peal out on a rural scene

but those were the truly startling times

when The Weald of Sussex almost became in its day

England’s 'Black Country' before there had been

any Industrial Revolution. Iron was found!

And no mere Celtic relic. Under the clay,

under the sandstone, iron was found.

And, moreover, was found to abound.

So that Iron became the gold in the ground

of the great landowners. Till in the end

people - well, people of Sussex - swore it was true

that 'every nail in England and every horseshoe

came out of Sussex'.

This was the day when one hundred and forty forges lay,

belching fire, within The Weald.

And charcoal burners’ fires breathed smoke

enough on a damp Wealden day to cloak

acres of forest with a fog;

(the Tudor forerunner of our smog?)

while the song some swineherd happily sang

might well be outsung by the hydraulic clang

of a hammer-pond's hammer! And ironmasters began

to share the temptations of Saddam Hussein -

on the possibility of the ultimate gun!

Seriously - new paths now scarred The Weald,

as 'pigs', not of pork but of iron, began

to be dragged through the forest and great iron 'sows',

drawn by great oxen unhitched from their ploughs -

as naval need and ironmaster’s desire,

for profit, dragged them from forge to fire;

in the foundries. Then keen Sussex men

went off as crew with each great gun

to cooperate with the Queen’s Navee;

in the blasting of The Armada off the sea.

But The Weald’s wounds healed and the aftermath

of this Iron Age was not just some new path

progressing towards a good Georgian road,

but a new spirit, of wealth and well-being, abroad

in a developing village where the ironmaster lord

built his great country house; mansions that we

so take for granted. One could now see,

in its ample parkland, Cuckfield Park,

built by Henry Bowyer; and latterly

a Hendley, then a Sergison house;

and grand Ockenden Manor, the Cuckfield home

of Sir Walter Burrell.

Out of our local loam,

the iron of our Iron Age could even be seen

to have launched the great days of Ironmongery

which led to The Victorians who, in their day,

sparked off the great Age Steam; and so on

to 'iron horses' of Watts' andStephenson.

But that's brutally to abbreviate History

and, in the Age of Flight, to let fancy fly

too fast to keep with the cuckoo who came

to the place now a small Tudor town with the name

of Cuckfield.

by James Forsyth 1992

'The clearing where the cuckoo came' was twenty page story of the village written at the request of the organisers of Cuckfield 900 and had its first public reading in June 1992 to mark the foundation of the village and church.

A 500 copy limited edition was published to mark a 900 year long tale. You occasionally see a copy on second hand book websites and Ebay.

James Forsyth

James Forsyth c1961

The Scottish playwright James Forsyth, was born on March 3, 1913 in Glasgow and received his training at the Glasgow School of Art. He was the first playwright-in-residence at the Old Vic, where he became the protégé of Guthrie, Richardson, Olivier and Michael St. Denis. His long and prolific career included 16 plays about historical figures such as Tolstoy and Napoleon as well as fictional characters such as 'Trog'. During his impressive career he wrote ten more plays for television and 18 for BBC Radio. Among his greatest international successes are The Other Heart, Heloise and Emmanuel. In latter years he returned to poetry and painting for his creative outlet. He [latterly lived in Ansty] and died on 16 February 2005.

Item contributed by Malcolm Davison.


bottom of page