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A Bowyer's widow abducted in ironmasters' feud

Monument to Henry Bowyer, 1589, Cuckfield Church

This is taken from an article by Margaret Holt, taken from the Spring 1993, Bulletin of the Wealden Iron Research Group Newsletter, about the very early history of the 'ironmaster' Bowyer family.

Malcolm and Margaret Holt owned the property at Cuckfield Park in the 1970s. Margaret was a keen historian and actively researched the Cuckfield area and was very active in expanding the activities of the Cuckfield Museum.

Cuckfield was the centre of a very important area of the iron industry in Sussex and Henry Bowyer was one of the outstanding ironmasters of the 16th Century.

Henry's father, John, worked a forge at Hartfield in the early years of the reign of Henry VIII and in 1514 supplied 'gunstones for great bambadys' to the King. When John died his widow Denise, a very spirited old lady, leased another forge in Hartfield called 'Parrock'; feuds and pitched battles were common at this period with great tension between rival workmen, usually concerning the supply of water which was essential for the forging of iron.

The 'Proceedings of the Star Chamber' give a vivid account of such a battle between Denise and her workmen against another iron master, William Saunders, whom she said "did expel and avoid her, broke up her ponds and let out the water so that she should not use her forge, and did pluck up her bellows and by force carried them away”.

She rallied her men and 18 of them came armed with staves, butts, bows and arrows to make a counter attack of such ferocity that William complained to the Court that the men struck him on the head, put him in jeopardy of his life, and that Denise, with a staff in her hand, had struck the oxen over the muzzles and tried to turn them away until Saunders picked her up and carried her off in his arms. How disappointing that the outcome of the case was not recorded!

Henry Bowyer inherited the forges and furnaces from his mother and in 1575 decided to build himself a manor house at Cuckfield, just outside the village, in what had been the Great Park of William de Warenne who was created Lord of the Rape of Lewes by William I after the conquest.

In the second part of Margaret Holt's account we read all about Cuckfield Park. Malcolm and Margaret Holt was an owner of the property in the 1970s and actively researched the Cuckfield area and was very active in expanding the activities of the Cuckfield Museum.

by Margaret Holt

From the Spring 1993, Bulletin of the Wealden Iron Research Group Newsletter.

Here is a lovely tribute by Derek Rawlings to Margaret on the Sussex Record Society's website:

Margaret Holt, (1913-1999)

Margaret Holt died on Good Friday (1999) at the age of 86. She joined the Sussex Record Society in 1971 and, for a quarter of a century served on the Council, as an elected member until 1994 and then as a Vice-President. With a lively mind, boundless energy and enthusiasm, she made valuable contributions to our debates and was the first to volunteer to undertake any task that required doing.

Her associations with a number of other Sussex historical organisations gave breadth to her opinions These included: serving on the Council (and later as a Vice-President) of the Sussex Archaeological Society; being a founder member and twice President of the Wealden Buildings Study Group; a member of the Committee of Management of the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum at Singleton; and for a time the Council for British Archaeology representative for listed buildings in Sussex. Besides these she was a trustee of three museums and President of the Danehill Parish Historical Society.

Margaret’s main historical interest was ancient buildings, both timber framed and brick. Taught and encouraged by the late RT Mason, she soon became an expert in this specialist subject. Her great charm and tact gained her access to most of the old houses in mid-Sussex, which she surveyed and photographed, amassing a large collection of slides showing their principal features. She also for a time owned Cuckfield Park, an Elizabethan house with a brick gate house. She opened it to the public, organising everything herself, including the provision of teas (she was a good cook) and the conducting of guided tours.

An excellent lecturer, Margaret ran adult education classes for many years, some times three a week, and was a popular speaker at local history society meetings. One of her specialities was taking groups round villages and such tours were not complete without going inside one or two of the most interesting houses. Not only was she able to talk with knowledge from her own observations, but from the documentary sources she had consulted.

Married at twenty one, her husband, a solicitor, was disabled by a stroke at an early age when they had a young family of five children. She nursed him devotedly until his death seven years later, whilst looking after and bringing up her family. A family that was to remain as devoted to her as she was to them. She said, and in many ways it was true, that her family came before everything. Nevertheless, she always seemed to have time for the many committee meetings that were her lot, for a visit to the Record Office, to survey an interesting house at short notice or to add one more lecture to her itinerary. Her reply when asked was ‘yes, I think I shall have twenty minutes to fit that in’ when most of us would have required several hours and a week’s notice. A remarkable woman whom I was proud to know.

With thanks to Wealden Iron Research Group

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.


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