2003: History of Cuckfield Part 3, Stagecoaches, canals, railways and riots

A History of Cuckfield Part Three


The diary of Edward Bates, who followed Henry Gatland as clockmaker and acted as a kind of constable, gives a list of billets for the troops who were quartered in Cuckfield at the time of the French Wars, at the turn of the 18th century: the White Hart, Kings Head, Talbot, Rose and Crown, Ship and the Green Cross at Anstye. The Peace of Paris was celebrated on June 21, 1814, by a fete at Cuckfield Park when Edward Bates writes: "1200 of the poor sat down to dinner and were regaled with roast and boiled beef and plum pudding with plenty of strong beer". The Battle of Waterloo is commemorated by a printed notice, which now hangs in the church vestry.


When the Prince Regent made Brighton a resort for the rich and fashionable, he and his followers travelled there by coach and horse on the road through Cuckfield. It was the last posting stage before Brighton, and its inns provided meals, horses and postilions. In 1756 the first regular coach service from London to Brighton was started and took two days for the journey.


This 1786 cartoon by William Dent can be found on Pinterest and is part of the British Museum's collection. See below (1) for details

By 1780 a Stagecoach, the Brighthelmstone and Cuckfield machine, was leaving London at 5am on three days a week and the fare to Cuckfield was 10s 6d. In 1804 Cuckfield was providing 50 pairs of horses a day for private posting out a few years later 28 coaches between London and Brighton were passing through the town. In 1828 the number was 50 a day including the fast Comet, which did the London – Brighton run in six hours. Many travellers spent the night at the Talbot and the Kings Head which were larger than they are today (the Kings Head is now a private house).


The Talbot, which occupied what is now a terrace of shops, was the centre of social life. Assemblies were held on alternate weeks with Lindfield and public meetings and petty sessions took place in the ballroom until 1888. Mr Best owned the Brewery and was also tenant of Sidnye farm. The Kings Head was rebuilt in 1858.


The great improvement in road making at the end of the 18th century, was accompanied by the boom in the making of canals. A meeting in Lewes to discuss the proposed navigation of the river Ouse resulted in an act of George III "for extending the navigation of the river Ouse from Lewes Bridge to Hammer Bridge in the parish of Cuckfield (Staplefield Road) for boats, barges, lighters and other craft". The capital of the company was £25,000 in £100 shares held by Sir Peter and Sir William Burrell, Francis Sergison, the Vicar Reverend Fearon and others. This canal was in use for about 50 years but it could be said to have brought about its own end when it was used to bring bricks, mortar and stone to build the Balcombe Railway Viaduct in 1841. It was finally put out of business when the railway from Lewes to Newhaven was built in 1847.


Throughout the 18th and early 19th century, Cuckfield like other county towns, with its forges, flour mills and a great variety of trades, was much more self-sufficient than it is today. The Gatland, followed by the Bates, made fine clocks.One of these grandfather clocks by Gatland, purchased by public subscription to the Cuckfield Park sale in 1929 is now in the Cuckfield museum.



The stone quarry at Whitemans green, which supplied stone for the building of the Pavilion Brighton, was an important industry, employing about 30 men. In the years 1820–48, journals of geologist and physician Gideon Mantell, describe many visits to Cuckfield, first by chaise and later by railway, where he purchased from quarrymen, for a guinea each, fossils of the gigantic bones of prehistoric beasts including the tooth and bones of an iguanodon, now in the Natural History Museum, London.


The majority of men in the parish were still working on the land as farmers or farm labourers. The average wage was £25 a year and the rent of a cottage £3. The Poor Law Guardians had adopted a policy of linking the rate of Poor Law Relief with the price of bread and as this rose it paid the firm labourer not to work or marry. This resulted in a marked increase in the number of illegitimate births.


The number of unemployed farm labourers was further increased when the old hand flail was replaced by the introduction of the threshing machine. The ignorant and starving farm workers in desperation broke the Machines and set fire to the corn ricks. They were punished by public hanging for rick burning, and for machine breaking, they were sentenced to transportation for seven years with no free transport back. The champion of the farm workers of Cuckfield was a young shoemaker’s apprentice name Pagden who wrote on their behalf threatening letters signed “Swing” to the local landowners.


A letter addressed to Mr Sergison was traced to him and he was arrested and brought before the magistrates at the Talbot Inn.This led to the famous siege of the Talbot when between 200 and 300 men armed with bludgeons threatened the landowners and the magistrate, barricaded in the inn. A magistrate, Mr Blunt of Crabbett Park, heard of the siege and, with the permission of King William IV (who was in Brighton) came with a squadron of 10 men of the second Life Guards. Mr Blunt came up alone but when the mob demanded Pagden’s release he summoned the troops. They rode up the High Street on black horses, with helmets gleaming and drawn swords, and the mob flared in panic. The guards stayed in Cuckfield for some weeks. Pagden was sentenced at Lewes to 10 years transportation but later returned.


An extract from the THIS IS CUCKFIELD book, written by Cuckfield Society founder the late Derek Wood, published by Cuckfield Society in March 1967


(1) Cartoon shows the Prince Regent and Mrs Fitzherbert (with whom the Prince had a morganatic marriage) en route for Brighton and illustrates the public attitude to what was considered to be the Prince's profligate and extravagant spending and behaviour.

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