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Cuckfield ... or should that be Cuckeffelde?

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 26 December 1939



We have received the following interesting and informative contribution from Mr. A. R. Pannett, Hvilestedet, Haywards Heath:

With reference to your interesting remarks in The Mid-Sussex Times of December 5th on the old spelling of place-names generally, and Cuckfield in particular, there are some curious examples of this in the Cuckfield section of extracts from Sussex wills published by the Sussex Record Society, and which shows a considerable number of variants in the spelling of the name of this town between the last half of the 15th century and the first half the 16th.

Most of the testators at this period, when making their wills, appear to have had four main objects in their minds: Their place of burial, about which they were very precise; religious observances at their burial and after, for the good of their souls; bequests : and, finally, provision for the entertainment of their poorer neighbours at the funeral. It is in the careful instructions given with regard to the first of these that the following spellings are found : 1451 Henricus Caldei, Cookfelde : 1474, J. Sherman. Cokefelde; 1507 James Homwood, Cokefeld : 1508. Thomas Homwood, Cocfelde ; Edmund Flowre, Cukfeld and Cukfelde : 1513. Emlyn Waterman, Cuckfelde : 1527, Lewys Chaloner, Kokefelde and Kokefeld ; 1530, William Awod, Koeffold and Kocffeld : 1535, Thomas Kynge, Cookeffeld and Cuckeffeld : 1541. Thomas Stanbryge, Cukefeld ; Amos Cumber, Cuckefeld : 1551, Edward Hyde, Cockfeld 1553. Thomas Gynner, Cockefeld : 1556. Richard Cowper, Coockfelde : 1558, William Faekener, Cokfeld : 1558. Roger Vynall, Cuckfyld 1558, William Affeld, Cuckfeld 1558, Henry Bridger, Coockefeld : 1559, John Garston, Cwekfeld : 1559. John Savege, Cookfeld.

This is a quite respectable list of variants, and it may be noticed that the final "field" does not yet seem to have come into use. Three-quarters of century ago the common pronunciation was "Cookfull," and the old folks used to say : "Merry Bolney, Rich Twineham, Proud Hurst and Poor Cookfull."

Most of the testators wished to buried in the churchyard, but in 1558 John Hever, who was apparently under the influence of an inferiority complex, directed that his "wretched Carkes" should buried wi’hin the “parrish Churche of Cuckefeld.”

In 1559 the name of John Mytton occurs, and it may be conjectured that both he and Lewys Chaloner were the original owners of the properties in the parish still bearing their names to-day. At this period and for some time later it was usual for many of the well-to-do London merchants and others to acquire land and build houses for themselves in Sussex, and although they died out, leaving little or no record of themselves, it is a remarkable thing that, with the possessive apostrophe omitted, their names persist in many cases on the properties that they owned. In most cases the original house has disappeared, but many are still standing, as Lucas's and Hayward's at Haywards Heath. Cuckfield has many of these names remaining, and beside Mytton's and Chaloner's may found Wyllie's, Chowne's, Deake's, Mizbrook’s, Brockett’s, Braine’s, Harradine's and Butler's. In addition to the two mentioned, Haywards Heath has Petland's, Stanford's and Frankland’s, and at Lindfield may be noted Finch's, Buxshall’s, Kenward's, Cockhaigh's, and Massett's.

These testators were all of the old faith, and that their religion meant much to them is shown the minute directions given by many of them for the observances used at their funerals, and in many cases for long afterwards, for the good of their souls. For instance : Lewys Challoner (1528) : I will that a preest doe singe for me via yeres and that he be paid of my rents of London the rentes the which is xiiijli by the yere.” and under certain given conditions “goodes and landes to be solde to find a preeste to singe and pray for me as ferre as the money will goo." John Michell (1546) : I will that at my buryeng there be celebrated w’in the church of Cokefeld x masses, every prest to have for his payn viijd." Thomas Kynge (1535) gives his property to his son “uppon yis condycion that he kepe an honest preste to synge in the parish church of Cuckeffelde for mysowll, my frendes sowlls, and all crysten sowlles as longe as he schall thynke best."

A notable exception to these elaborate provisions is furnished by Edmund Michell (1546), who willed “that my bodie be buryed without any pompe in any wise." The bequests quoted in these extracts are mainly confined to those for church reparation and upkeep as: 1512 John Scott : " I bequeth to the High Awter of Cokefelde iijs. iiijd." 1627, John Bord ‘Lego Summo Altari de Cuckfeld xijd." 1528, Lewis Chaloner: “I bequeth to the High Awter of Kokefelde iijs. iiijd. 1541, Thomas Stanbryge : I bequeth to the Hye Alter of Cukefeld xijd.”

In 1530 it appears that a new aisle was added to the church, and William Awod leaves “to the new Yle a cow and a calf.” Possibly it was at this time that the bungling finish was made to the column at the chancel end of the southern arcade.

Other bequests of interest are: 1546, John Michell : I will that the rentes and profetts comyng in and growyng my tenement callyd Walters wt the barne and orchard yerto belongynge shall be gevyn and distributed yerely during the space of xx yeres next and immediately after my deceasse amonges the people wh'in the parishe of Cokefeld aforesaid so far as the rent yerof will amount by the discressyon and distribucion of my executrix.” 1547, John Beche : ” will and bequeth toward the repayring of the cawsay in the high waye of Cokefeld towns ijs. and to the repayring of bakers lane vjd." : and in 1548, probably as the two shillings spent on the “cawsay ” proved to be insufficient to make a good job of it, Joan Beche bequeaths an additional ” iiijd.” for the causeway of Cokefeld.”

Many bequests, which vary in value according to the means or generosity of the donors, are made for the entertainment of the poor on the funeral day, and as illustrative of a prevalent custom of the period one or two may be noted : 1558 William Affeld : “I will at my buryall .... a bushell of wheate and a sheep be taken and bestowed among the people.” 1559, William Fryman: “ At my buryal breade and drynke and ij or iij, shepe be bestowed amonge the people as nede shall requyre.” 1545, John Bechely: ” I will that there shalbe at my burynge dirige, song and vij masses, and breade and drynke for all the poore people that shalbe at my said buryall.” 1558, John A’More : And as toching the charges and expenses of my wyll have two busshels of wheate and one shepe with malt sufficient for the expending thereof to be bestowed among the poore people that shall cum thither.” 1546, John Michell: “I will have bestowed at buryall ij bullocks .... if my executrix thynke it mete to be hadde.”

Anyone interested in these matters would do well to join the Sussex Record Society, and particulars may be had from the Secretary, Barbican House, Lewes. The annual volume issued is full value for the subscription.

Another example of obsolete spelling is that in Faden's map of Sussex, published in 1795, Ansty spelt ” Handstay” which gives it quite a “refaned" pronunciation.


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