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The Cuckfield siege concludes

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 08 May 1888


No. XII.

Leaving their friends, who had volunteered to mount a guard till morning, to be ready to receive them, should any of the malcontents return, the two scouts started for Cuckfield, where they arrived unmolested, and found the posse of defenders still assembled at The Talbot, waiting to learn what steps it would be advisable to take, which was decided on by a note from Mr. Cherry, directing them to despatch a messenger to Brighton, where Mr. F. S. Blunt, of Crabbet Park, also a magistrate, was staying, giving him full particulars of what had occurred and requesting his presence in the morning where Mr. Cherry had promised to meet the mob and decide on what was to be done with the prisoner, a courier, well known as a hard rider, being mounted and sent away at once.

Mr. Blunt was a man not to be trifled with, having been a cavalry officer under the Iron Duke during the Peninsular campaign, in which he received a wound from a musket ball that established a lameness from which he never recovered. On receiving the report he proceeded directly to the barracks, where during the stay of the King (William the Fourth) at the Pavilion, the 2nd Life Guards were lying, and procured an order for squadron of ten men to accompany him to Cuckfield, and very soon they were on the march.

In the meantime, the invaders had not been idle, having started early in the morning to obtain reinforcements, persuading some and obliging others with threats to leave their work and join them, so that by the time when Mr. Cherry arrived, from 200 to 300, mostly armed with bludgeons, had taken possession of the town. Dire were the threats and loud were the cries demanding the release of the prisoner, but The Talbot was barricaded, and the posse comitatus defenders within the citadel calmly awaiting the threatened attack.

Tradesmen hastily closed their shops and put up shutters, and the siege, with the enemy in possession of the outposts, loudly clamouring and ostensibly preparing to storm the castle, now had a serious aspect.

But suddenly Mr. Blunt, having left the soldiers at the bottom of the town with orders to advance on a certain signal being given, rode at a quiet pace into the midst of the crowd, and pulling up, demanded what they wanted. In instant he was surrounded, a score of clamorous tongues vociferously proclaiming their determination to break open the house if the prisoner was not at once set at liberty. Sitting on the saddle as calmly as if the cover side watching the “gone away” of the fox, he deliberately informed them that the demand could not and would not be complied with, ''for,” he added, “the lad has been committed, and to prison he goes.”

This only increased the clamour, bludgeons were flourished, and a move made to attack the house, but the signal was given and round the corner came the squadron at a brisk trot, with their drawn swords and helmets glistening, halting on reaching the confines of the rebellious and noisy army of invaders. Never before was seen a victory so easily won, or a rout more complete.

Panic at once seized this mighty horde, that only a minute before were about to carry all before them, who defied the magistrates and spurned the law, and all they now cared for seemed to be to escape from being trampled on by the big black horses the soldiers were riding, or cut down by those formidable weapons they held in their hands, some clambering over the low wall opposite The Talbot, making their escape across what was then a school playground, the main body taking off as fast as their legs could carry them by the handiest roads that led them into the fields,and in two minute the whole force having skedaddled and the town being no longer in a state of siege, peace was restored, the military quartered at the King’s Head, the Talbot garrison dismantled, the shops re-opened, and business proceeded as usual.

The prisoner, young Pagden, being now brought forward, was soon after placed, with a constable, in a post chaise, and it not being certain that some portion of the “army” that had made so rapid a retreat might rally at Whiteman’s Green, and attempt a rescue, four of the Life Guards were ordered to accompany the chaise to Slough Green, which was done, and he was taken safely to Horsham gaol.

The country still remaining in an unsettled state, incendiarism continuing at an alarming degree, and mobbing being frequent in other quarters, the squadron of Guards were retained at Cuckfield for several weeks, and over 100 special constables sworn in; the winter assizes in course of time occurring, and as numerous arrests had been made throughout the country were unusually heavy, the sentences passed were extremely severe, and among those condemned to death for arson, none were spared, young Wren, hanged at Horsham, of whose case I shall treat presently, being of the number.

But to follow the sequel of the siege. The lad Pagden was tried at Lewes and sentenced to be sent over the seas for a term - l think 10 years - but after a year or two, order and quiet being restored, his prosecutors and many influential parties petitioned for a commutation of the sentence, which was granted and he returned. During his voyage home his father who was an innkeeper at St. John’s Common, died, and on his arrival he found himself possessed of considerable property, upon realising which he invited all those to whom he sent his threatening letters, as well as several he intended to favour in a like manner, and those who had been instrumental in his capture, to meet him and partake of dinner at his expense at The Talbot, the scene of his captivity, not omitting his old master, William Lewry, and the constable.

At the dinner he expressed his gratitude for their stopping him in his boyish freak and checking for good a career that might have ended disastrously, and related his experience in the land to which he had been sent, humorously adding the jubilant sensation he felt on the road to Horsham, on his committal, at riding with an attendant in a comfortably cushioned carriage, escorted by His Majesty’s Body Guards.

He afterwards migrated into some part of East Sussex, and, I understood, flourished in his trade as a shoemaker. This brings my history of the Siege of Cuckfield to an end, and now a brief recital of the fate of Wren, who was executed on mistaken evidence.

He was a native of East Sussex, and working near Battle for a farmer named Alderton, lodged at a cottage on the farm. One night Mr. Alderton’s corn stacks were set on fire, and burned down. Wren was arrested the next day on the statement of the woman where he lodged, her evidence being to the effect that he and another man slept in the same room, and on the night in question both were in bed early.

During the night, being disturbed, she went to the window, and it being moonlight distinctly saw Wren, dressed in his working clothes - that differed very materially from those worn by the other lodger—leave the house, get over the garden fence, and cross a meadow to the stackyard, returning quickly, when the flames burst out. In addition to this it was proved that the footprints in the garden and across the field exactly corresponded with his half-boots, the consequence being that he was condemned, and hung at Horsham, asserting to his last moments that he was innocent.

His fellow lodger, who seems to have had a dissolute character, was afterwards convicted and transported for some crime he had committed, and being sentenced to death for horse stealing at the penal settlement, confessed that in the night, finding Wren, who had been drinking, fast asleep, he put on Wren’s clothes and boots, went downstairs, over the fence, and across the field, as the woman described, fired the stacks, and ran back, finding Wren still sleeping his return. But this confession was too late, the culprit saying he could have saved Wren’s life had he chosen, but it would have placed his own in danger.




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