From the Archives - Henry Kingsley and the poetry of Cuckfield Park (1931)

Updated: Oct 2, 2020

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 02 June 1931


PEEPS INTO THE PAST

HENRY KINGSLEY AND CUCKFIELD.

No lover of Cuckfield can pass down the Church Street without giving a grateful thought to those who carefully and faithfully restored the beautiful old houses whose ancient lineaments lead us gently into the churchyard.


There lies the grey old church, calm, placid and imperturbable under its enduring stone roof; almost as unchanging as the faith it stands for. centuries have scarcely fretted the stones of its great square tower. Referring to Cuckfield church. Henry Kingsley, in a volume of essays written at Attrees (Cuckfield) during the last year of his life (1870), and which was probably his last published work, says : —“The church is one of the most beautiful in England, cared for like a jewel, and the wondrous old houses abutting into it would be remarkable elsewhere. In short, there are few places like Cuckfield churchyard.”


We leave


THE SILENT OLD CHURCH,

with its years of unwritten history, cross the Place Walk, and pass into the old Spinning Field. “Memory wakes with all her busy train.” and we see a balk 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. &c. This is one of the old country industries which have, alas, gone for ever. A cold touch of the ugly iron park fence brings us back again, and with a sigh of regret for the passing of the old oak deer fence which was beautiful with its green and grey colouring, trespass across the Little Park, lured to the great avenue by many happy memories. Nothing in Cuckfield at this time of the year is so strikingly beautiful or grandly eloquent of


THE NEW LIFE OF THE SPRING

as the Park avenue of limes. We dare not appeal to Tennyson or Browning - they have been quoted so often —but if we again dip into Henry Kingsley's essay we shall find him writing :— “But more remarkable than church or churchyard is Cuckfield Place close by, with the finest lime avenue of its length in England.”

It is not only fine but irresistibly appealing to all who cherish a love for trees. Those who have ever stood beneath the limes in this grand old avenue on a May morning, with the bright spring sun filtering through the delicate, translucent young leaves and making a soft patter of light and shade on the turf and drive beneath, and with still softer whisper in the air, must have felt thankful in their hearts to the Great Giver of nature and grateful to those who planted the trees. History is silent as to who did plant the avenue, consequently we can only speculate on its age. The feet of there being another avenue of lime trees, identical size, age and variety, at Butler’s Green, and that the Sergisons and Wardens of Butler’s Green were closely related, lead our thoughts in that direction. Those who are


EXPERIENCED IN FORESTRY,

and know trees, suggest that the probable age of the limes in both avenues is from 170 to 180 years. Turning to the annals of the families, we find that in 1732 Thomas Warden, of Butler’s Green, inherited Cuckfield Place and estate of his great-uncle. Charles Sergison. He then assumed the name and arms of Sergison and came to live Cuckfield Place, where he died in 1766. It is a tempting suggestion that, having planted, or seen his people plant, the limes at Butler’s Green, he determined to have a like avenue leading to his new home at Cuckfield. At all events, the ages of the trees approximate to the above dates. At the end of the avenue stands the beautiful old Gate-house,

much older than the limes, and, next to the church, the most interesting historical building in Cukfield. There it has stood, perhaps, for 300 years, with its Stuart brickwork, its gun-slit and stone-mullioned windows, and although


PERPETUAL PEACE

now pervades it, we are told it was built for defensive purposes. It has a considerable room over the gate-arch, which cold-blooded historians declare was the “guard room.” but we will keep the faith of our childhood, when we believed it to have been the old “priest's room.” Under one turret is the original stone' fireplace. At the corresponding turret corner is a slight recess which we loved to picture as the priest’s little oratory. In those days the room was lined breast high with fine oak panelling of the period. This panelling has been taken out and fixed in the Park house, but the historic old clock still in its own turret, ticking out the lives of the lords of the manor. How many years it has done this is not known, but from certain features in its mechanism the clock was probably made about 1700—and that would have been in the time the first Sergison who purchased the estate in 1691. It is a nameless clock, but the sweet though sad toned bell it strikes is more fortunate, having its founder’s name, “Edward Dybder,” cast on the sound bow. Where or when he lived we have never been able to discover. The first known mention of the clock is the will of the above Thomas Sergison, dated 1706, when he wills “The clock standing in the clock-house, &c., to such person as shall be entitled to possession under the settlement aforesaid.” S.A.C. vol. 49.

We cross the rustic bridge and gain the Upper Park—or, as Harrison Ainsworth has it in “Rookwood,” the Chase. It is not surprising that


AINSWORTH CHOSE CUCKFIELD PARK

for the scene of his great novel, “Rookwood.” as he was great friend of the gentleman who was Mrs. Sergison’s husband, and known the Rev. St. Pritchard Sergison. Ainsworth, who then lived at Hurstpierpoint was frequently at Cuckfield Park and in company with the rev. gentleman, took long tours on the Continent. Here, where the mighty Earl Warrenne chased the fallow deer some 800 years ago—with great groups of elm and walnut trees about us, huge beech and oak almost smothering the old deer pond, and the red trunks of the tall Scotch firs glowing in the sunlight we may yet feel we are in a real hunting park untouched by modernity. Here, too, are wide lawns of young, dewy grass, green as anything that grows under heaven, and acres of bracken unfolding their brown-tinged crosiers over the little tufts of doddle grass, while the tiny yellow tormentil creeps beneath. We must pay visit to the oldest inhabitant Cuckfield,

THE "OWL OAK".

the friend of our youth, when, Tennyson says


To yonder oak within the field

I spoke without restraint.

And with a larger faith appeal’d

Than Papist unto saint.


This ancient tree is said to be haunted, and figures largely in “Rookwood.” It is also reputed to be a thousand years old, which is doubtful, but we have personal testimony handed down from three generations of Park keepers (two Tullets and a Stoner) that, for the last hundred years, it has been just as we see now, with its trunk nothing but a shell. May it continue so for another hundred years. The wild apple is in blossom ; Walks Wood is full of song ; Spring is over all the Park, and if our ears are attuned, we can hear her singing:-


In April when the birds sing out.

And gaily praise the Lord,

For making all the bursting buds.

The green and dewy sward.

The lark sings, as he ever sang

(The birds’ own Israfel)—

A chorus follows from the wood

That fills the wak’ning dell.

Across the old Earl’s hunting park.

As light as springs the deer.

Miss Joan comes singing, shouting, most:

" O Spring, dear Spring, come here .

Come here and kiss thirsting lips ;

Blow roses o’er my face.”

But ah ! another comes this way

With swifter, surer pace.

Then Joan and he of surer tread

Went bounding like the Spring,

And where the scented orchids grew

They both began to sing:

“I am your Spring—you are my Spring-

Then we are two alone:

O, Joan, you dear, do just come near—

Say can two make one?"

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