top of page

One of Cuckfield's most famous former residents, Lord Denning (1899-1999)

Lord Denning is described as ‘the law student’s favourite’ judge - a model of clarity. He was on the side of the ‘underdog’ and was known to show compassion in his decisions. To many - he was simply the most famous and popular judge of all time.

He never held back his views - his judgements certainly make interesting reading. For trainee lawyers some famous Denning judicial decisions are required reading. Better known ones concern the Profumo Affair, and the Freddie Laker airline v British Airways and other's address national security issues. But times move on, and in this PC world, some of the views he expressed today would have to be more cautiously worded..

Born in 1899 he enjoyed living in the country and was a resident of Cuckfield, in Copyhold Lane (for most of the time), from 1935 until 1963. He married his second wife Joan (Stuart) in Cuckfield’s Holy Trinity Church - his first wife Mary (Harvey) died in 1941 from complications after an operation.

Alfred Thompson ‘Tom’ Denning, Baron Denning, OM, PC, DL was one of five brothers only three survived the Second World War - one became a General, one an Admiral while he became Master of the Rolls. His autobiography ‘The Family Story’ can be read on Google Books. There are some interesting memories of his time in Cuckfield - here are a few recollections of the war years in Cuckfield:

Then the war started in earnest. We were in ‘bomb alley’. The enemy aircraft - carrying their bombs to drop on London - crossed over us each night. If they had not been able to use them all, they dropped them on us. We were all ‘blacked out’. But troops billeted near us were careless. They used to leave the door open - so that their light shone out. The enemy dropped their bombs wherever they saw a light. So they dropped them near us. We used to take shelter under the stairs - not that it would do any good. One bomb dropped so close that our front door was forced open by the blast: but no other damage done …

You would hear a flying bomb approaching before it reached you. You would hold your breath - hoping it would not come down on you. You only breathed freely when it had gone past. Sometimes we would hear one coming - rush out and see it being chased by a Spitfire - watch it being shot down in smoke - and rendered harmless.

On one bright summer evening, in the clear sky we saw wave after wave of our aircraft - in regular formation - flying directly over us, going East. There must have been 20 or more aircraft in each wave. In all, hundreds of them sparkling like silver arrows. They took at least half-an-hour to fly over us. We watched and watched. We asked ourselves: Where are they going? And what for? Only afterwards did we learn that it was to Arnhem - where so many young lives were lost - and nothing achieved …

… Such was the last year of the war. It did not affect us directly - but it did indirectly: because of the rationing of food and petrol and so forth. We kept bees for honey. We kept chickens for eggs. We had no car. We went without. We won through.

Latterly, Lord Denning moved to his birthplace, Whitchurch in Hampshire,n and died there at the age of 100.


Source: Google Books gives you online access to Lord Denning's autobiography, ‘The Family Story’, Butterworths 1981. Not surprisingly, it makes a fascinating read.

Portrait: by Clmasson - own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.


bottom of page