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1993: Cuckfield - a skilful balance of old and new

The Middy - June 24 1993

A Skilful balance of old and new

‘Cuckfield is an ancient English town which, despite the encroachment of concrete, tarmac and signboards, has managed in the second half of the 20th century to keep its essential character’.

These words introduced a book on the village published by the Cuckfield Society in 1967, and they could just as well apply today in 1993.

But the village is far from stuck in a time warp. While fighting the more tasteless ravages of modern life, Cuckfield is still determined to move with the times.

It is a delicate balance achieved through constant vigilance by the parish council and the Cuckfield Society. They gave a firm but polite refusal to plasticised BT phone booths, preferring instead to get their traditional red phone box listed and therefore protected.

But at the same time they welcome aspects of progress which will breathe life into the village. Low-cost housing is on the cards for the old hospital site and a new Friday market run by the Traders Association aims to attract more people to the centre. The Parochial Church Council has just bought the listed old school building and is currently working on plans to convert it into a church and community centre for the benefit of the entire village. 

Cuckfield South Street c 1916 (colourised)

Set in the heart of the Sussex Weald and looking across towards the South Downs, Cuckfield takes pride in its rural values and way of life.

But woe betide anyone who confuses its traditionalism with blandness. Its history is punctuated by events which range from the racy to the downright bizarre. If you thought life was quiet in this corner of Sussex, considering the following milestones it's in 900 chequered years. 

  • The independent state of Cuckfield has its own Mayor and passports. Since formation in 1966, it has voted in 25 mayors in the most unashamedly corrupt elections in the country, all for charity. Passports were sent out to senior politicians, including Harold Wilson and Alec Douglas Home. All replied with polite thanks.

  • After National press coverage, Colonel Gaddafi of Libya spotted the story and sent Cuckfield a message of support for independence against tyranny.

  • The Independent State spearheaded one of the village's biggest campaigns in 1974 during a six-month fight against plans to use 32 acres of the Upper Sparks Valley as a rubbish tip. 

  • The village has a fair sprinkling of celebrity names among its residents: Angela Fox, mother of the three theatrical Fox brothers, Katie Stuart and the late Basil Boothroyd. Julie Christie's mother lived there in the 1970s.

  • The village is full of ghosts, Ockenden Manor boasts one, known as the Grey Lady, as well as the Talbot and the Kings Head.

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