50 year anniversary of Cuckfield Sealed Knot and Battle of Cuckfield
It’s 50 years since the Battle of Cuckfield and the formation of the Cuckfield Sealed Knot units. To recall this occasion you can download an illustrated history of the Cuckfield Sealed Knot regiments.*
The local garrison of the Sealed Knot reenactment society, during its nine years in Cuckfield (1971-80), was probably one of the most active organisations that the village has known. It staged seventeenth century, other period displays and took part in staged battles, processions at over 100 events locally and nationally.
It all started when George Stevenson the Cuckfield Mayor at the time, invited the Sealed Knot to stage the ‘Battle of Cuckfield’ on 16-18 July 1971. It was heralded by a huge procession from Haywards Heath to Cuckfield.
George was a retired lawyer, who lived in Tylers Green with his equally enthusiastic wife Alison and family. The event was a huge success and very well supported. In fact, so much interest was shown that it was decided to create a branch in the village. And all this was just three years after the society itself had been formed.
In the space of a few weeks George and Alison, with the support of other SK units, managed to muster up a team and form two Cuckfield regiments: ‘The Queen's Lifeguards’ (Royalist) and the Sussex Weald Dragoons’ (Parliamentarian). They were marching in their newly made uniforms for the first public event - the Cuckfield Mayor’s Show just three months later.
At the time, Cuckfield was one of about 40 regional locations around the UK where the Sealed Knot membership would congregate to prepare for events, train and socialise. The SK mustn’t be confused with other secretive clubs with funny handshakes and initiation ceremonies, it is a history reenactment group - pure and simple.
The Cuckfield units attracted members from East and West Sussex, Surrey and West Kent. Less than a dozen members lived in the village itself. The Cuckfield units became model units - as the other units were persuaded to fall in line with the new rigorous standards of appearance being set. During the winter of 1971 the uniforms were further improved.
Within 18 months of Cuckfield’s garrison starting, it was not only actively taking part in national Sealed Knot reenactments but was inundated with requests to stage events locally.
George later, by kind invitation of Lord and Lady March, also set up a small garrison at Goodwood House. And George's enthusiasm and organisation and management skills led to his promotion to National Chairman and Director General of the Sealed Knot. Other Cuckfield officers were also helping to steer the organisation nationally.
Other notable events included performing in a pageant and week long reenactment at the Tower of London in 1974, they took part in several films, and received staged combat training from film stuntmen and stage fight directors and staged fight sequences close to the audience. There was also activities for the ladies and children, and period dancing demonstrations were staged. The units also supported local charities, notably Cuckfield Hospital and visited local schools and they put on demonstrations at events in the village and local area.
Silver Jubilee at Windsor
In 1977 the Cuckfield units had the singular honour of taking part in the Silver Jubilee celebrations at Windsor. It took part in two battles below the castle walls in Home Park, partook in a splendid mayoral banquet at the Windsor Guildhall and attended the lighting of the bonfire at the Copper Horse.
There was a spectacular torchlit procession, that included the Sussex bonfire societies, down the three mile Long Walk from Windsor Castle to the Copper Horse beamed live onto national TV. And I was privileged, as commanding officer of the Queen's Lifeguards, to lead the way following the police car at the front.
Our regiment formed the royal guard of honour for the Royal Family at the lighting of the bonfire on the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Some of the Cuckfield members were delighted to exchange words with members of the Royal family who paused to chat along the route before her majesty lit the massive bonfire.
The units were disbanded in c1980, and the publication gives a full explanation of how this came about, and more about the amazing events that the regiments attended.
The Sealed Knot today
Today the Sealed Knot is 53 years old (2021) and has several thousand members, making it the largest re-enactment society in Europe. But the Cuckfield units - from being total novices in 1971 - quickly became established and would help to help shape the formative years of a rapidly growing national organisation that is even more professional today.
Inevitably the pandemic has put a stop to all Sealed knot activities for the moment but I can strongly recommend membership to anyone interested. If you are interested do check out their website.
One of the founding village supporters of the Cuckfield garrison was Major Cyril Pike (you can see him by the side of the coach in the top picture) who later went on to become curator of the Cuckfield Museum.
Members' reunion perhaps?
If you know any former Cuckfield members who, when it is Covid-safe to do so, might like to meet up for old times sake, please email us via this website. If you know anyone who was a member of the Cuckfield Sealed Knot units and may not be a member of this Facebook Group, or lives outside the village - please do copy them in.
The village should be proud of what was achieved. Maybe one day another Sealed Knot unit could be formed - it so fits in with the eccentricity of the village.
The Sealed Knot website: http://www.thesealedknot.org.uk
Sealed Knot Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sealed_Knot_(reenactment)
* We greatly appreciate the input and approval of the souvenir pdf by Sealed Knot Chairman, Simon Wright.
Contributed by Malcolm Davison.