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The History of Cuckfield: 1895 - A lecture given by Canon Cooper (part one)

Updated: Feb 2, 2021

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 29 January 1895


Canon Cooper (Vicar of Cuckfield) gave a deeply interesting lecture on “The Past History of Cuckfield” at the usual weekly meeting of the “Cuckfield House of Commons." Members were present in good force, and there was a large attendance of visitors in the Strangers’ Hall Gallery. The Rev. G. lrvine (Speaker) presided.

Canon Cooper
Canon Cooper

Canon Cooper, in his introductory remarks, alluded to the recent lecture by Mr. Mackenzie on the future of Cuckfield, and he would try to tell them something about its past. They were told that happy were the people without history, but he was afraid if such was the case Cuckfield could not hope for much happiness. His opinion rather was that the very fact of knowing the history of their town would make them more happy and proud of the place in which they lived, and in whose interest they were so deeply concerned.

If they went back thousands years they found that as of the largest rivers in the world seemed to have had its mouth where Cuckfield now stood. They knew it must have come immense distance and from warmer climates, from the remains of animals and trees washed down and stranded in the sand banks. Cuckfield was famous for having brought to the notice of geologists a most wonderful creature called the iguanodon, an enormous lizard, whose head would reach high as their church tower, while its tail would extend to the Vicarage. (Laughter). If they went to the museum in Cromwell Road, attached to the British Museum, they would find some bones of the animal found at Cuckfield, and also drawings of what it was supposed be like when alive. If they read Punch they had doubtless seen pictures of an animal very much like the iguanodon engaged in gobbling up a pre-historic map, but there was this little drawback to the accuracy of the picture that the creature referred to was herbivorous, and only ate trees and that sort of thing.

At a later date the delta seemed to have been submerged in a great sea. Thus when they walked to Haywards Heath they would notice on the sandstones which composed the pavement the marks of ripples, and should remember that they were walking on the sands which thousands of years ago bordered the sea.Then after a time came an upheaval, and the land was raised in its present shape.

On coming to historic times they found the country was covered with a great forest called the Andredales or Andredweald, extending for 150 miles in length and 30 miles in breadth. It reached from Sevenoaks in Kent to Liss in Hampshire. That was the reason why Cuckfield was, comparatively speaking, a modern place, it being situated in what was very nearly the centre of the forest.

Canon Cooper then described the effects of the forest in keeping back Christianity and civilisation from Sussex, also the fine wheat grown on the sides of the Downs, the roads which traversed the county, the invasion of the Saxons and their fearful massacres, the subsequent wiping out of Christianity for a time, and the stranding of St. Wilfrid on the coast and his return as a missionary.

Passing on he dealt with the etymology of the word Cuckfield. and stated that the latter portion showed a Saxon origin, field meaning a clearing in the wood. It meant where trees had been felled—fold meaning an enclosure made by felling trees. There was a difficulty about the word “Cuck." (Laughter). A little while ago it was talked of as Cockfield, and there were ridiculous suggestions about cocks and hens. (Laughter). Some strangers even went as far as to pronounce “Cuck “as if it rhymed with “chuck." (Laughter). The oldest way of spelling was “kuke,” and he had found it thus spelt in manuscripts he had looked at in the British Museum. The “C" was always pronounced hard like “ K," In the fourteenth century it became “Coke” and afterwards “Cook." It went through several changes, and in the last century was spelt ‘’Cock,” which he thought dreadful. He ventured to think that probably the word was derived from cuckoo, and that the place was situated on a spot in the forest where cuckoos were often heard. Thus Cuckfleld was Kuku-field—the clearing of the cuckoo. In about the thirteenth century the word was ‘’Kuku," which was similar to the earliest way of writing the name of the town.

Proceeding, Canon Cooper spoke of the Norman invasion and its effects on Sussex in general, and Cuckfield in particular. William the Conqueror would not allow a single Saxon landowner to remain in Sussex, but gave the land to his warriors and favourites. The Rape of Lewes was given to William de Warrenne.

The Lecturer then traced the actions of William de Warrenne and his wife Gundrada, especially alluding to their journey to Rome and the visit they made to the monastery of Cluny in France. He described the effect the monastery had on the couple, and the manner in which William de Warren succeeded in inducing the Prior to let him have four of the monks, who came to Lewes and founded a monastery in that place. If they went to Paris they could still see the original charter for the foundation of the Lewes monastery.

The first mention of Cuckfield was in the year 1121, when a wooden church was built, served by the monks of Lewes. In the British Museum were four or five charters belonging to the monastery of Lewes, in which Cuckfield was mentioned.

William de Warren (1035-1088)

During the time of the fifth Earl de Warrene they came across the name of the first Cuckfield man—Adam de Cukufeld—which the lecturer thought appropriate. (Laughter). Canon Cooper then alluded to the de Warrenne who signed the Magna Carta, and spoke of his sporting proclivities. Some of them might remember a letter Mr. Erie wrote to the Mid-Sussex Times with respect to an assault in Cuckfield Park, in which Hugh Hoppeoverthumb was concerned, who was the second man named in Cuckfield history. They thus saw that even in 1218 there was a well preserved park.

One of the de Warrennes was married when only twenty to Henry III’s half-sister, who died soon after the union. This de Warrenne carried his love of sport to a great extreme and proved very annoying to the people of Cuckfield and neighbourhood. He would not allow anyone to hunt but himself and imprisoned people in his castle at Lewes for disobeying him. His preserves were so full of game that they damaged the crops all round. Even when the sheriff sent his horse to be shod it was stopped when going through Cuckfleld by a keeper. Eventually the Earl was summoned to Guildford to answer for his offences. He was asked what warrant he had for claiming the right of free chase at Cuckfield, Worth, Clayton, &c, and his reply, taking out his sword and waving it, was ‘’By the same warrant that my fathers won these lands I defend them." The Canon continued that he was sorry to say the jury seemed so struck by his sword that they let him off. (Laughter).

Another sporting incident which occurred in Cuckfield Park had a fatal termination. A deer was wounded by an arrow, and the sportsman jumped into the water after the deer. He swam some distance, when he became entangled in some weeds, and was drowned.

The second Vicar of Cuckfield, William de Stranes, also got into trouble through his fondness for sport. He was found guilty of taking deer in the Park, and was sentenced to imprisonment for three years. He did not stay his time, however, being put in prison in February and released at Trinity of the same year. The Lecturer then dealt with the life of Bishop Richard of Chichester, and his method of progression through the diocese. This prelate seemed to think that Cuckfield was not very well looked after by the monastery at Lewes, and therefore made an agreement with the monks by which the first Vicar was appointed in 1250, being endowed out of the tithes, as ‘’he bears the burden and heat of the day." The first Vicar was William Waumetap—(Laughter) the Bishop’s own chaplain. Then came William de Stranes, of whom he had already spoken.

Proceeding, Canon Cooper gave the history of the Cuckfield markets and fairs, stating that the first charter was dated 1313. The fair was appointed to be held the Saturday preceding Trinity Sunday, Trinity Sunday, and Trinity Monday. The market was held every Monday.

The lecturer traced the way in which the Manor had been transferred to various families, and stated that it belonged to the Earle of Arundel up to 1439, in which year the last Earl died, leaving four daughters and no sons. The daughters married into the families of the Nevills and Stanleys, whose property it remained for 130 years. They found traces of the Nevills in the roof of the church just over the lectern, and in other places. One portion of the Manor had only just passed from the Nevills, Laine Farm being acquired by the Sergisons in 1866.

In 1573 the property was sold to Sir Henry Bowyer, who enlarged if he did not erect the present mansion at Cuckfield. If they looked they could see his monogram here and there, and sometimes those of his wife, with the date 1579. The house was built in the form of an E, like so many mansions of that time, as a compliment to the reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth. If it had been built in the reign of Henry VIII, it would probably have been built like an H for the same reason. The second Bowyer had an only daughter, who married Sir W. Headley, whose monument was to be found in the church. They would notice the helmet and banner poles of Sir Walter Headley, High Sheriff of Sussex in the chancel. The last of the male Headleys died with only one daughter, and it was a singular thing to notice how often that had been the case with the owners of the property. The daughter married a man named Clark, by whom it was sold in 1691 to Charles Sergison. He thought they had a very good history, but it was too late that night to go further into the matter. If he had had time would have liked to have dealt with the ironworks, and touched upon the great ironmasters of the district, the Burrells.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer briefly proposed a vote of thanks expressing the hope that Canon Cooper would continue his history while the first part was still fresh in their memories (Applause).

The honourable member for Leicester seconded, alluding to the age of Cuckfield when compared to other places in the neighbourhood. He could remember Haywards Heath when there were only about 20 houses in it, and when Sydney Road was but a footpath across the heath.

The honourable member for Battersea supported the vote of thanks, saying that although Grant Allen had said the history of Sussex ended with the Norman invasion, Canon Cooper had proved to them such was not the case.

Questions were then asked and answered principally respecting the church, the points raised including the markets, the heraldry displayed in the church, the roof timbers and the ornamentation.

Major Maberley explained the heraldry, and the meeting concluded by Canon Cooper promising to come again in a fortnight's time to continue the history.


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