2003: History of Cuckfield (part two) - Civil War, Restoration, and the threat of an Invasion

History of Cuckfield (part two)


There is no evidence that Cuckfield was greatly disturbed by the Civil War although it is said that the church font was broken by a troop of Cromwell’s soldiers on their way to London, and that a battle took place at Hayworthe Heath where Haywards Heath now stands. In 1653 the Commonwealth Government took away from the clergy the custody of the Parish Registers and entrusted them to a new secular official called the Parish ‘Register’ elected by the ratepayers and sworn before a magistrate. Banns of marriage were published in the Cuckfield market and weddings took place in private houses.


Font at Holy Trinity Church which was reputedly damaged in the Civil War (photograph c2020 courtesy of Trip Advisor)

The Restoration was marked by a reaction from the plain ways of the Puritans. The gentry who had suffered under the Dissenters now aligned themselves with the Church. The Burrells of Ockenden Manor and Hendleys of Cuckfield Park set about improving the old church that had been neglected under the Commonwealth. In 1667 they put up a church clock which kept the time for the next 200 years; it is still kept in the church under the tower. In 1670 they added onto the square tower the beautiful shingled steeple, which is a major landmark today.


In the same year Charles II, who was always short of cash, hit on an idea for raising money by calling in all the Royal Charter is granted by his predecessors for holding markets and fares and reassuring them – at a price. In the new Cuckfield charter he granted a license to six of the principals to hold a market every Friday for the benefit of the inhabitants.


Among the six names in the Charter are those of Sir Walter Hendley, William Borde of Borde Hill, Walter and John Burrell. Sir Walter Hendley was the grandson of Henry Bowyer and had inherited Cuckfield Park. It is his helmet, which hangs from the ceiling in the chancel of the church. The charter lay in the parish chest for over 200 years until quite recently when, through the interest and enterprise of the late Mrs W. Mitchell and Colonel H. Bell it was framed and hung under the tower of the church.


What was Cuckfield like at this time? A map of 1630 shows it as a single winding street from Attrees just above Queens Hall to the White Hart Inn. A book called ‘Britannia’, which might be compare to the AA Handbook, describes Cuckfield in 1673 as ‘an indifferent town and hath a small market on Fridays’. Despite this, at least three tradesmen at that time were issuing their own coins for local circulation. Edward Brinkhurst, John Stone, Thomas Hurst of the Mercers arms produced copper tokens bearing their names.


THOMAS HURST OF CUCKFIELD ('Home made' local half penny coin c1650)

The roads generally were very bad, made worse in Sussex by the traffic of the ironworks. Timothy Burrell’s diaries (1683-1714) gave a picture of social life in Cuckfield at this time. He stayed at home, particularly in the winter months and entertained his near neighbours to dinner parties at which great amounts of food were consumed. Even his coachman, whose wage was £5 a year, was very often drunk. Beggars often came to his door.


During the Napoleonic wars the price of wheat rose but wages did not. Without modern social benefits, the poor suffered much and were harshly punished, as extracts from the ‘Sussex weekly advertiser’ showed on January 19th, 1784: ‘John Morris for running away and leaving his family chargeable to the parish of Cuckfield was adjudged a rogue and a vagabond: recommitted for one week and ordered to be privately whipped’. Also April 18, 1790: ‘Abraham Chatfield was sentenced to seven years transportation for stealing, one bushel of wheat in the chaff from the barn of John Coppard of Cuckfield’.


There was no regular police force at this time but Samuel Waller, who lived at Cuckfield House, (then called Leyton House) was clerk to the Cuckfield Society for Prosecution of Felons. There were stocks in South Street where the Sergison horse trough now stands and the town whipping post and a cat of nine tails are preserved in the Queens’ Hall.


At the time of the French Revolution a number of refugees settled in Cuckfield. Francis Sergison as justice of the peace, examined 29 of their passports in 1793 and the pair of tall houses, now numbers four and six High Street, are said to have been built by the French people at about the turn of the 18th century.


To combat any revolutionary tendencies among the people of Cuckfield the principal residents held a meeting on Friday, February 13, 1792, at the Kings Head with Francis Sergison in the chair. They passed a resolution of loyalty and formed a Society that met monthly.


The French wars provoked an invasion scare in 1804 similar to that of 1940. The men of Cuckfield formed the Home Guard called the Sussex Light Dragoons with a glamorous uniform of red frock coats, white trousers and black Riding boots. Beacons were built on the downs to be lit if the enemy landed on the coast.


One night they were lit by accident and the man on watch in Cuckfield churchyard gave the alarm. The inhabitants of the town packed their belongings and took flight into Worth forest while the Light Dragoons mustered and rode to Brighton.



Extract from 'This is Cuckfield' by the Cuckfield Society 1967

A History of Cuckfield Part II to follow..

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