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Chain Walk, Place Walk and Spinney Field

c1910 Looking south down Chain Walk - note the carriage, and coachman in livery with top hat.
Same view taken by the author February 2022

The southern part of the village adds a lot of charm and character as the road winds its way through to the High Street. This area, called Chain Walk or Place Walk, has been the home to a laundry, a cycle shop and a ropemaker and other shops too yet few residents know its earlier history. Here are some facts and personal observations I have pulled together from a wide variety of sources.

Origin of 'Spinney Field'

The Spinney Field. Postcard loaned by Fred Wheatland.

Opposite Chain Walk House is Spinney Field or 'Spinning Field'. A spinney is 'a small area of trees and bushes'. But Mrs Emily Wells, born in 1850 and lived to the grand old age of hundred, had a more specific origin for its name recalling:

'A man named Robinson was a ropemaker in a field at the top of Chain Walk. He had a wheel fixed to the path between two poles, a boy turning the wheel, Robby with his apron full of tow, one end of it fixed to the wheel, walked backwards letting it slip through his fingers. That is why it is always called the Spinney Field.'

Another account In 'Peeps into the Past' in the Mid Sussex Times 2 June 1931 (Attributed to a farewell to Cuckfield by Henry Kingsley) put it as follows:

'… and pass into the old Spinning Field. Memory wakes with all her busy train' and we see a baulk of timber on which is hung a huge archaic wheel. A boy is seated on a low stool, ceaselessly turning, turning, and as he turns he ever reads. Ben the spinner (with his short clay pipe) walks backward down the rope walk, silently and evenly paying out the hemp that will presently become well-ropes, halters, etc.'

As no serious spinning machinery was used this confirms that this was not a commercial ropemaker working at scale. And accounts confirm that this was rope sold locally and was a lightweight rope for domestic and agricultural use.

Nurse Mary Stoner (1855-1947) who was Cuckfield’s first District nurse confirms this: 'The field at the top of The Place was truly a spinning field - a man named Ben Gray sat there making rope for Mrs Brigden who kept the shop in the High Street.'

'Other Cuckfield journals refer to the old Rope Walk. The hard footpath beside the iron railing that separates the Burrell lands from Cuckfield Park … ' [From Cuckfield in Old Postcards, by Maisie Wright, 1984]

NOTE: Three or four strands were twisted together to make a rope. A forming machine was used - strands were attached to the same hook. The hook was rotated, twisting the strands into a rope. The rope stayed together because the twists went in opposite directions.

William Edward Mitchell of Annandale, Broad Street, who was born c1858 and died at 93 in 1951 also recalled that there was 'rope making in the Spinney Field and Cemetery Lane'.

Edward Bates in his 'Journal of a Cuckfield Clocksmith' recalled the ropemaker as early as c1814: 'Besides our clockmaker and stay maker there was then a rope maker, candle maker, bootmaker, dressmaker and milliner besides butchers and bakers in Cuckfield town, to supply most of the wants of its people.'

Origin of 'Chain Walk'

c1920 The railings were taken down in the last war.

Chain Walk today looking north taken by the author February 2022

There are two explanations for the name Chain Walk:

'The 'gentry', led by the Sergison family, organised amateur theatricals in the Drill Hall, led the subscription lists for local charities and occupied private pews in the church (a chain was placed across the main road on Sundays to allow the Sergisons and their servants to cross in safety - hence the name Chain Walk House today).' [from 'This is Cuckfield', 1967]

But Maisie Wright thought that a chain was used to separate the road from the footpath:

'Some time in the 1870s the chains were replaced by iron rails and posts painted white with black tops. These iron rails and posts were taken for scrap iron in the Second World War but they have remained in a part of South Street.' [From Cuckfield in Old Postcards, by Maisie Wright, 1984]

Origin of 'Place Walk'

Photo by the author c1970.

Chain Walk taken by Major Cyril Pike c1970

Photo by the author February 2022.

Chain Walk is sometimes referred to as 'Place Walk'. This is because Cuckfield Park, prior to 1900, was called 'Cuckfield Place' and the path by the side of the road takes you down to its main gate.

Alfred Cook stands outside his shop at the top of Place Walk.

The building opposite Chain Walk House seems a little out of place, Maisie Wright explains:

'The weather boarded cottages opposite the White Hart [see the top photo] were demolished and replaced by a block of flats [the picture below top], Park View Court, in 1959. In the foreground an open carriage with two horses driven by coachman in livery with top hat is probably from 'The Place' now called Cuckfield Park.' [From Cuckfield in Old Postcards, by Maisie Wright, 1984]

[Right] Alfred Cook and his confectioners shop, South Street, Cuckfield. Alfred Cook stands in the doorway of his shop on the south east corner of South Street, having recently opened as a confectioner. He had earlier traded as a naturalist and taxidermist from the same premises.

South Street was the poorest quarter of town 1907.

Now that houses command such high prices in Cuckfield it may come as a surprise that some properties had a much more humble occupancy, Maisie Wright paints a very different picture. And could the story of the Sergison family crossing the road with the help of a chain as a barrier also have provided some protection from the less desirable local residents at the lower end of town?

'At this time South Street was the poorest quarter of town. The 17th century timber frame cottages on the right, belonging to the Burrell Estate, were all occupied by large families with children. There was no piped water in Cuckfield before 1893 and at this time the people of South Street was still drawing of water from wells with earth closets in their gardens - but they had good gardens where they kept pigs and chickens. There were shops and industries in the street, a forge, a laundry and a cobbler making boots and shoes. After the Second World War the local authority condemned the cottages and by 1955 the occupants had been moved to the Council Estate.' [From Cuckfield in Old Postcards, by Maisie Wright, 1984]

Can you help please?

If you have any old photographs of Cuckfield - and at the moment we are especially interested in photographs from the 60s and 70s please - please do let the editors know we have the means to copy them, whether slide or print.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.


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