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History of Cuckfield: 1895 - A second lecture given by Canon Cooper

Updated: Feb 2, 2021

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 12 February 1895



On Wednesday evening Canon Cooper delivered his second lecture on “The History of Cuckfield" at the Cuckfield “House of Commons,'' before a large and appreciative audience of members and visitors. The chair was occupied the Rev. G. Irvine (Speaker).

Canon Cooper, in his opening remarks, expressed his obligations to the Press for the report of his first lecture, and the painstaking and accurate manner in which local events were chronicled. He wished, however, to correct three dates as given in his last address; the first mention of Cuckfield should be 1093; the date of the manor leaving the FitzAlans, 1415; and Sir Walter Hendley’s date as High Sheriff of Sussex 1662. Proceeding, he remarked that there was no mention of Cuckfield in the Domesday Book, a most wonderful work, well carried through by the direction of William the Conqueror, and which was a sort of census not only of the towns, villages, and lands, but also of the people, cows, pigs, &c. Such being the case they might be pretty sure Cuckfield did not exist at that time, which brought down the first mention of Kukefeld to 1093, when the Earl William de Warrenne gave the Church and tithes to Lewes Priory. The Canon then touched again on the derivation of the name of Cuckfield, asserting that there were 27 villages and towns in the district ending with “field."

Forty other places were connected with “Hurst,” which meant very thick forest. Thus Hurst-Pierpoint was “the thick forest of the Pierpoints.” The Lecturer once more briefly alluded to the part the de Warrennes took in the founding of Cuckfield, and the remorse which probably led them to build churches and do other religious works. It would have been better for the Normans, remarked the rev. gentleman, if they had acted on the injunction to


but those were not two Norman qualities, and they did what was next best. In 1093 Cuckfield was already existing, possessed a church, and support was given for the maintenance of the clergy. He knew people sometimes thought tithes were given for other purposes than to support the clergy, but if they only looked at early charters they would see they were given for that purpose and that purpose alone. Any historian would tell them the same thing who had looked more into the matter more than he had, and it was certain that tithes Cuckfield were given for those who ministered in it. Continuing, Canon Cooper gave the length of the tenure of the different Lords of the Manor, as follows:-

De Warrennes ... 281 years ... 1066-1347

FitzAlans ... 68 years … 1347-1415

Stanleys …158 years … 1415-1573

Bowyers ... 118 years … 1573-1691

Sergisons ... 201 years … 1691-1895

Total 829

He was quite sure he was expressing the wish of all Cuckfield people when said he hoped the Sergisons might long continue in the place, shewing as they did such interest in all that concerned the inhabitants, and their health and comfort. (Applause). There were not many squires who would allow people to use their parks as Mr. Sergison did. Turning back to the reign of Henry VIII., the Lecturer alluded to Cuckfield great tithes going to Thomas Cromwell, and the manner in which that unfortunate statesman met his death, owing, as the Canon amusingly observed, to the fact that Cromwell had brought the monarch a new wife who was not so pretty as he expected she would have been. (Laughter). Ann of Cleves then possessed the tithes of Cuckfield, with other property of the monastery of Lewes, and when she died in the reign of Elizabeth it reverted to that Queen, who seemed to have given it to the Duke of Dorset. But the history of the great tithes of that parish was very difficult matter to follow up. They knew, however, at the present time that the tithes which belonged to the Priory of Lewes were in the hands of a great many persons, and regretted to say there was only one of the tithe owners of Cuckfield parish who felt it incumbent upon him to


to the purpose of the Church. One of the things Cromwell did was to order a register to be kept in every parish in 1538. The earliest register had unfortunately been lost, and the first register they possessed was dated 1598. They, however, knew of the existence of the earlier register from an entry in the one dated 1598, which had later on been bound by the order of Dr. Burrell (William). Unfortunately, the Lecturer considered, he had had his arms placed on the cover, and had also had the leaves cut. Both of the oldest registers were bound in that way. The following inscription was found at the beginning of the register:—

26th January, 1603 - John Patching, Parish Clerk of Cuckfield in Sussex, began to write in this register book, it being the first year of James, by the Grace of God King of Great Brittaine, France, and Ireland, and 37th year His Majesty’s blessed raigne over Scotland only.

It was singular how many old names they found in that register of people whom they respected and loved at the present day, and whose ancestors had been born, and carried, and buried in Cuckfield. Canon Cooper then alluded to the name of Attwater, which had been mentioned in connection with Cuckfield as early as 1349. It had been recorded of John Attwater that he had bought sixty acres of land in the place. There were two or three other names of similar sort in Cuckfield still. In early days there were no surnames, but people were called their Christian names, with something put after them as a distinguishing mark. Thus John Attwater meant “John (living) at-the-water," while Attewell, Atfield, and Agate, other old names, were similarly derived. Mitchell was one of the earliest names in Cuckfield, and others were Burt, Jenner, Jupp, Burtenshaw, Gaston, Scrase, and Cooper. (Laughter). Passing on the rev. gentleman said that last time he lectured dealt with pre-historic Cuckfleld, and it was to that period that their county owed so much of its fame and wealth.


which had its mouth at Cuckfield, deposited vegetable and animal matter, which decomposing, in thousands of years, led to the presence of iron. The sandstone beds which stretched from Hastings, through Ashdown, Tilgate, and St. Leonards forests, contained great quantities of the metal. When Julius Caesar first visited the land he found their Celtic ancestors had made great progress in iron work, practical evidence being afforded him of the fact by the scythes which were attached to the wheels of the war chariots of the Ancient Britons. They used iron rings for money, gold being scarce in Sussex then, as now. (Laughter). The Romans evidently had ironworks in Sussex, because some Roman coins - he believed of Vespasian—were found in cinders at Maresfield, Chiddingly, and other places.

When the Romans went away trade declined, and there was no mention of the industry in Domesday Book. By the fourteenth century. however, it was in a very flourishing condition, attracting large populations, and enriching the ironmasters of Sussex. From Sussex iron were made arrow heads, horse shoes, and other things use at that time, and they read of the Sheriff of Sussex being ordered to get so many thousand horse shoes. A FitzAlan led many Sussex men to Agincourt, who helped to win the glorious victory of St. Crispin's Day. The first cannon was made in Sussex of iron bars bound together by hoops in the reign of King Henry VIII. The event was recorded in the following rhyme:—

Master Huggett and his man John,

They did cast the first cannon

(laughter) If they went to the Tower of London they would see some of those ancient cannons exhibited amongst the curiosities Iron was also worked for other uses and in more beautiful shapes. He could remember when there was hardly a farmhouse, or many cottages, without chimney back or brand irons. He was sorry to see they were being superseded by modern stoves, at least from the standpoint of beauty. A beautiful specimen of Sussex ironwork had come from the ‘Sergison Arms’ while Mr. Knight possessed a fine piece, which was placed at his office door. Proceeding, the Canon vividly and picturesquely described the appearance of Sussex during the sixteenth century, when the ironworks were in full swing, and said that in the reign of Henry VIII, it became necessary to restrain the cutting down of timber owing to the rate at which it was being


In Elizabeth's reign an even more stringent measure of the same character was passed, which had the effect of sending a great many Sussex men to South Wales, where they started the great ironworks of the Principality. They all knew the tremendous trade of the Glamorganshire ironworks, and it was to Sussex men they were indebted for it, (Applause). Canon Cooper then quoted from Camden's “Britannia” to show the importance of the Sussex iron trade, which in 1650 comprised 22 furnaces and 42 mills, employing 50,000 men. In 1750 there were ten ironworks, and in 1800 only one, situated in Ashburnham. The railings round St. Paul's Cathedral were made from Sussex iron, and cost over £11,000. He then quoted from a list of owners of ironworks made by order of Queen Elizabeth, who was rather afraid that cannon might be manufactured in this country and then sent over to the enemy, and therefore wanted to keep a strict look-out on the iron masters. The list contained the names of Ninian Challoner, Walter Burrell, and Henry Bowyer as possessing ironworks at Cuckfield, while other ironworks were stated be at Ardingly and Slaugham. Walter Burrell was one of the chief ironmasters of Sussex, and had left an account of processes of manufacture from the raw material. It was interesting to find in their parish register how they came across the occupation of forgeman, which showed there was plenty of ironwork going on at the time. Traces of iron manufacture were also to be found in the names of places in the parish, such as Old Furnace, Burnt House, &c. The Lecturer then called attention to the appearance of the ground on the south of the churchyard stretching towards Copyhold, and pointed out how it was all broken up into strange shapes. He attributed the formations to the refuse and material thrown out from ironworks and mines. Notwithstanding the old output of Iron the Canon considered there was


still if they looked at the stone of which the new vestry was built, and which was brought by Mr. Knight from Scaynes Hill, they would see the red marks on it denoting the presence of Iron. Whether Sussex would ever again become an Iron county he did not know, but he hoped such would not be the case. Canon Cooper then dealt with the old state of the roads in the county, partially caused through the ironworks, narrating several incidents connected therewith. When their sewage works were going on the road leading to Whiteman's Green they had an example of what their old Sussex roads really used to be. Two or three feet beneath the surface of the road was a revealed road composed of faggots of wood, &c., which showed that the people of Sussex in the last century had something of which complain. Yet they seemed to not be without advantages, for when the first roads were being made the Hurst people petitioned Parliament against one passing through their village on the plea that it would be the means of bringing London rogues and pickpockets to Hurstpierpoint. (Laughter). Sussex would appear to have been the Black Country of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, while Cuckfield might be compared to the modern Dudley or Wigan. It seemed that the inhabitants did not have good reputation, for a State paper in 1587 urged the appointment of more magistrates as follows:

It is expedient that there were more justices in Sussex than in other counties, ‘for that it bordereth south the sea and north on the Weald, in which two places commonly people be given much to rudeness and wilfulness’.

(Laughter). The Canon then quoted another authority in 1607 to the same effect, and continuing remarked that one result of the ironworks was that Sussex men were the Progressives of their day—(Applause)—and it was in Sussex and Kent the popular movements of the day originated. In 1450 the men of Sussex joined the men of Kent in the famous march on London under Jack Cade, who, although not a Sussex man, came of a Sussex family. The Lecturer then outlined the progress of the rising, and the motives which underlay it, saying that ‘’War with France, retrenchment, and reform’’ seemed to be the motto of the rising. (Laughter). The list of men who were pardoned still remained in records the Tower, but he could only find


His name was one they still respected in the village, and whose house they were often to found on Saturday night—he referred to Mr. Homewood. (Laughter). The name of the pardoned man was Gilbert Homewood, yeoman, Cuckfield. Thinking of the very advanced politics their forefathers naturally brought them to the question of education and schools. In 1523 the Cuckfield Grammar School was founded, but they must not suppose it was the first school in the parish. It was meant to be what would now-a-days be termed secondary school, and it would seem as if the provision for secondary education the Middle Ages was greater in proportion to the population than ever since. The clergy were at least the teachers of the people, and It was to the Church that the people owed education. In those early days every village parson was the elementary school master, every- collegiate church had its secondary school, and every cathedral kept up sort of small university. Canon Cooper then read portions of the deed respecting the foundation of Cuckfield Grammar School, including the following:-

This indenture, made the first day of November, in the 20th year of the reign of King Henry VIII., between Mr. William Spicer. clerk. Parson of Balcombe, on the one part, and the Master. Fellows, and scholars of the College of St. Katharine Hall, in Cambridge, of the second part, and Ninian Burrell, clerk, Vicar of Cuckfield, John Mitchell, the elder, John Chaloner, John Ward, Richard Hever, Edmund Mitchell, Gerrard Halcombe, Stephen Boord, Richard Burtenshaw, and John Mitchell, the younger, parishioners and inhabitants within the said parish of Cuckfield on the third part, witnesseth that whereas one Edmund Flower, late citizen and merchant dealer of London, in his lifetime gave certain lands, to the yearly value of £6 10s., to the intent that the profits of the same lands should be for the keeping and maintaining of a Free Grammar School in the town and parish of Cuckfleld, &c.

Other portions of the deed directed that the schoolmaster should teach after the form and to the usage of the grammar school at Eton, so they saw the school at Cuckfield was to be


(Laughter). The last clerical Schoolmaster was the Rev. Walter Kelly, who resigned in 1844, in which year the matter was brought before the Court of Chancery. As a result of that new scheme was ordered for maintaining the school, and it was no longer required that the master should be priest or that Latin should be taught. Proceeding, the Lecturer said he would like to say a word about another great family to whom Cuckfield owed a good deal, including one of its Vicars—the Burrells. If they looked in the south chancel, near the east window, they would see a rather remarkable monument, which stated that a Vicar by the name of Burrell had come there In the reign Richard III.

A letter still existed among the Harleian manuscripts with request that Gerald Burrell should be preferred. Gerald Burrell afterwards became Archdeacon of Chichester. Canon Cooper then alluded to Ralph Burrell (who married a lady named Sirmosda), Ralph Burrell, Walter Burrell, and Ninian Burrell, who became Vicar of Cuckfield. Ralph Burrell seemed to have settled at Homestead, and he (the Lecturer) wondered what Captain Dearden would say if he could see Homestead as it existed in 1500, with the smoke of the ironworks pervading the beautiful house and gardens. They could see the monument of Ninian Burrell in the Church, between the two windows of the south chancel aisle. Another interesting monument was that of a man and woman with several smaller men and women behind them, in remembrance of Ninian Burrell and his family. Canon Cooper then described several other monuments in the Church, including that of another Ninian Burrell, who appeared to have died at the early age of 27. Walter Burrell, the ironmaster, had two sons, Timothy and Peter. Timothy lived at Ockenden, and wrote a most


fortunately preserved. It gave a capital idea of the price of various articles at the time, as well as other information. The diary was illustrated with little pictures. The Lecturer proceeded to give several quotations, in which Timothy Burrell scolded John Packham for his drunkenness; asserted that his sister was very unkind to him, which, as a consequence, affected his “poor stomach,’’ and had to take Tipping’s mixture; scolded his servant for putting too much salt into his broth; went to Communion and came back determined to live a better life, but next day became irritable and had to pay for the healing of the wounds of John, coachman, owing to the latter worthy’s getting drunk and falling off the box. Other extracts read from the diary included an account of dinner given by Timothy Burrell, with the names of the guests, who, it appeared, included Messrs. Burt, Heasman, Savage, Warde, Gatland, Chatfield, Bannister, &c. The menu was varied and appetising, plum broth, capons, legs of mutton, baked dishes, and other items being comprised in the bill of fare. Peter Burrell married a great heiress, and became the ancestor of the present Lord Gwydyr.

The Lecturer then alluded to a monument by Flaxman, the great sculptor, to be seen over the south door, erected to the memory of Sir William Burrell, antiquarian, who left sixteen enormous volumes of MSS. and drawings relating to Sussex behind him, the rev. gentleman remarking that he was the grandfather of the late Sir Walter Burrell. In conclusion the Lecturer said had received an anonymous letter, which he would read, and asked his hearers if they could throw any light upon circumstances to which it referred. It ran as below:-

Rev. and Honoured Sir,

Having read your interesting lecture ‘’The History of Cuckfield,’’ I find you did not mention about a giant, namely Mr. Henry Blacker, who born near Cuckfield, in Sussex, in 1724. This giant’s height was 7ft. 4in. when was exhibited in London in 1751 If you can give any more light on the subject you will please me very much.

I am Reverend Sir, Your obedient servant,


The Lecturer then resumed his seat amid loud applause.

Mr. J. Tugwell, Sen., proposed a vote of thanks to the Lecturer, saying that it seemed to him they had but just got into the beginning of the subject.

Mr. Lewin seconded, and the vote was carried unanimously, amid applause.

Major Maberley said he believed he could find out something about the giant in the Annual Register, which publication he possessed from its beginning down to 1800. He then described traces in the district of the old Ironworks, especially alluding to a


which he considered was composed to a great extent of slag. He also spoke of a depression in the ground just the west of bridge the road going towards Staplefield, which, in conjunction with other appearances, led, be thought, to the idea that that was the site of the Homestead Ironworks.

Mr Herrington gave a description of iron Works he had found traces of on Ashdown Forest.

Mr Bates spoke of the axe and arrow heads of the men of the Stone Age, which have been found in the district. He believed that more discoveries might be made in the future. After touching on a race of people to be found in the neighbourhood of Forest Row, whom he believed to be descendants all the original inhabitants, he remarked that they were afforded an insight into the price of what in times gone by, by Timothy Burrells diary, who stated that he gave 16 shillings for a bushel of wheat. Mr Bates also asked for information respecting a witch at Hurstspierpoint, who lived in about 100 years ago. She could not die unless someone bought the secrets of her life, and at last a man from Cuckfield bought to them for a halfpenny, and she died in a blue flame (laughter).

Mr Burtenshaw brought up the well-known names connected with Cuckfield history, enumerating Harrison Ainsworth, Eliza Cook, Elihu Burritt, Lord Bowen, Dean Bradley and Emma Jane Worboise.

Mr Bennett alluded to the market which used to be held at Cuckfield.

Mr Newman introduced the subject of the pump, asking for information with respect to its whereabouts.

Mr S. Knight said the surveyor had been unable to find the well; that used to exist opposite Mrs Brigden’s.

The meeting then ended.


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