In 1992 Cuckfield held a week of celebrations to mark the 900th anniversary of the church, one highlight being lunch in the High Street for 1,200! The church was one of many founded by William de Warrenne, a right hand man of the Conqueror, in thanksgiving for a life-threatening crossing of the Channel.
The earliest parts of the present building date from the 13th century, a single cell nave with a rectangular chancel, the same width as the present church, but one bay shorter. The footprint of this plan was exposed in 1927 when a new floor was put in, and again in 2012 when the church was re-ordered.
Later that century the tower was added, and after some 50 years a south aisle was created by knocking through the south wall, giving us the line of round Norman piers. In the late 14th century the church was greatly extended – the nave by one bay, a new north aisle was added with hexagonal piers, and the south aisle extended to match. In addition, a large new chancel was added with chapels north and south to the same length and width.
Tower height increased c1460
All this we can read from the internal stonework and architectural evidence – and it didn’t end there.
The larger church had three roofs hiding the tower (with the east tower window now opening into the church), so the tower was raised a floor higher. Then in about 1460, the change which gave the church its present unique character was carried out, a single-pitch roof was placed over the whole church, with outer walls being raised and the windows altered to suit.
And to keep up with the scale, a spire was added to increase the visibility of the church. All this we can read from the exterior of the church. As Nick Rowe says in his tours, this church tells you its history.
With only the addition of a mortuary chapel (now a vestry) in about 1612, and the present 19th century porches, the church has remained unchanged – except for the rebuilding of the spire following a potentially disastrous fire in 1980.
Dynamic Reverend A Maberley
Inside, the medieval arrangement was replaced by a three-decker pulpit placed centrally at the chancel crossing – wiping out any evidence of a rood screen.
This in turn was swept away in the 1855 reordering of George Bodley, brought in by the dynamic new vicar TA Maberley who shared his Oxford movement ideas for church worship. With open views to the elaborate reredos, every surface of the chancel was to be highly decorated.
But the tour de force was the ceiling. This was and is still the medieval timber ceiling, oak boarding onto the original rafters and ties, with barber- poling creating ‘panels’ with bosses at the intersections.
It was plastered in about 1810 to conceal deterioration. Several bosses have heraldic devices on them, which tell us its history. It was built by Edward 1st Lord Bergavenny, who inherited Cuckfield from his wife, an heiress of the Warrennes. Of the powerful Neville family, his mother was Joan Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt. All this we can read from the ceiling.
Charles Kempe supplied stained glass
Bodley employed his young protégé CE Kempe to decorate the ceiling as one of his first commissions, on which he included a painted panel ending '... qui idem fecit 1865' [who did the same in 1865]. Later in 1886, Kempe was invited to paint the nave ceiling. Now with his own successful studio, he added his wheatsheaf coat of arms to a vacant boss.
The conservation of these ceilings was carried out in 2003 by Hugh Harrison and Ruth McNeilage. The structure of the ceiling was repaired – with stainless steel wire to support plaster panels where the lathes had ‘gone’ – with plaster of paris inserted by vet’s syringes to secure top coat plaster to base coat.
With 2.5 tons of roofer’s pointing removed from on top of the ceiling. and 150 years of surface dirt cleaned off the paint before it could be consolidated and secured. Finally, missing pattern details could be toned in so that, on completion, the design would appear as complete.
One fascinating find under a boss with a Beauchamp gryphon, was a pair of devils’ heads, one facing east, the other west.
Finally, the group walked round the church to see the stained glass windows and the many interesting wall monuments. And in the floor at the crossing, a bronze plaque commemorating the Queen’s Golden jubilee, with symbols of the State, the Church and Cuckfield.
Sussex Historic Churches Trust, supporting the rescue and repair of places of worship
Charles Kempe Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Eamer_Kempe 1837-1907
Born at Ovingdean Hall, near Brighton, East Sussex in 1837 died 1907.
Contributed by Malcolm Davison.