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The Reverend Silvester Horne provides a glimpse of country life in Cuckfield

Updated: Oct 2, 2020

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 12 May 1914



Through the kindness of Mr. William Stevens J.P. of Garnalds, Cuckfield, we are enabled to publish the following article on Cuckfield from the pen of the late Rev. C. Silvester Horne. It was written many years ago :--

Cuckfield is one of those places that time has dealt generously with. In process of the years it has advanced in dignity from a town to a village. A village is, as a rule, I need not say, a young town, so that while the world in general has been growing older, Cuckfield has been growing younger, and renewing its youth.

The railway has, as its custom is, drawn off the hot, restless, feverish blood to circulate about its system; and relieved thus, Cuckfield pursues the even tenor of its way undisturbed. If you travel thither by the Brighton coach, you may drive royally up to one of the famous coaching-inns of the place, and inwardly pour contempt on railways. Indeed, you may at any hour possess your soul in peace and remain serenely indifferent to the fact that tens of thousands of excursionists are whirling through the the neighbouring station on their way to enjoyment for twenty-four hours of the beatitudes of Brighton.

Yet notwithstanding this severance from one of the main arteries of the British system, Cuckfield does not by any means present an unhealthy appearance, nor suggest Goldsmith's melancholy moan over a deserted village. Indeed, although there is nothing resembling the old fashioned village green in Cuckfield, something of the manners and customs of the green would seem to survive. For certainly in a meadow, where the new-mown hay lay sweet and fresh in August, I myself beheld the lads and lasses gather for games in the cool of the evening, while the sober elder folk sat and gossiped around, and the trees in Cuckfield Park were all crimson and purple in the sunset, and only the laughing voices broke the stillness of the place. Indeed, young Cuckfield is abundantly in evidence, and if ever Oliver's prophecy is to be fulfilled, when

The sounds of population fail

No cheerful murmurs fluctuate in the gale,

No busy steps the grass-grown footway tread,

For all the bloomy slush of life is fled’

it will, to all appearance, be a long time hence. In addition to the Church of England, there is a Congregational chapel, a Baptist chapel, a Wesleyan Methodist chapel. There may be "other religions," but these were all I saw. The vicar, by the convenient law of association which prevails in the Episcopalian Church, unites a canonry of Chester with the living of Cuckfield. As there was a sufficiency of chapels I need hardly say I did not go to Church.

There was a fair congregation at the Congregational chapel on Sunday morning and I am bound to say the singing would have put to the blush many far larger London churches. The precision, the expression, the earnestness, were alike admirable, and greatly contributed to a very good service, and somehow frail human nature confesses it is not easy to have a really hearty service with the thermometer at 86 in the shade. Neither do I hesitate to acknowledge that, desirous as I was of concentrating all my thoughts on what was said and read, the ominous hum of a wasp is to me a distracting element.

When one has had a battle for dear life with these licentious insects, their gentlest murmurs. even in their devotional moods, call up remembrances of the depredations they wrought upon the plums, the sugar and the jam all the secular week through; and it is very difficult to suppress the murderous inclinations that rise within one even in the most sacred edifice. All this is weakness, and will be construed as such, I hope. Augustine did not hesitate to publish his Confessions: and may not we?

Passing up the main street after evening service had begun—for I had tried to find a chapel in a neighbouring village, and had failed—l saw a number of ladies walking placidly to church with apparently some considerable satisfaction in being fashionably late. One could not help wondering whether this is a custom that country people have brought up to town, or that the town has taken down into the country. At any rate, it acted as a touch of nature, to make one feel quite at home in this secluded nook. About the corners of the streets and along the roads knots of young men and maidens clustered aimlessly. laughing and talking, and evidently belonging to that great constituency who, as we say expressively, "go nowhere.” In this way a large section of the Cuckfield of tomorrow ostentatiously proclaims its indifference to the existing forms of Christian worship. It is evident that then is the same need for what we all desire, and none of us understand, and so have conveniently christened a "Forward Movement" in the rural as well as the urban neighbourhoods. The future lies in the hands of that church or denomination that can solve this problem.

I dropped into the little Baptist church which would hold some forty or fifty people, and where I was the twenty eighth member of the preacher's congregation. The preacher had a good face. He was an old man, with a curiously quaint old fashioned vocabulary. The seats at the pulpit end of the little chapel faced each other, like the House of Commons but at the other end they faced the pulpit. Another old man sat by the table. which was in front of the pulpit, and read out verse by verse some of the most ancient hymns I ever heard in a strange, chanting voice worthy of a church clerk of fifty years ago. What hymns they were, to be sure! How rhythmically we informed the Almighty the exact number of years which had passed since Adam appeared upon the earth But the science, as well as a good deal of the theology, of the hymns was out of date. In that little chapel we resumed the thoughts of the eighteenth century. There was a refreshing simplicity and quaint humour about the preacher. The long prayer—which deserved the adjective -was full of bright and homely petition and meditation. There was a great deal about righteousness “wrought out" for us in Christ, but the prayer was not forgotten that it might be “wrought in.” Hymns were freely quoted in the prayer.

God was reminded of how "the poet" had put it, but I could not help thinking that, had the poet been there he might well have protested against the liberties that were taken with the text. With Scripture phrases and illustrations the venerable preacher was more at home, and they lent a picturesqueness and beauty to his language that was very charming. The sermon was quite original. The preacher told us how he had intended to preach on "Liberty to the Captives." but it was no use. The text would not divulge its secret, and so he had to take the whole passage in which it occurred. The preaching of good tidings to the poor provided him with a satisfactory subject, on which he talked for some forty minutes quietly, and with many touches of pathos and power.

Covetousness he especially denounced, not in the millionaire—oh. no! he was too wise to hit out at those who were not there; no, he had a word for the poor man who was grasping and greedy. He defended the churches against the taunt that they cared only for the collection, but in a saving parenthesis he bade us remember that next Sunday was the quarterly collection day, and he hoped we should be generous. Towards the end the old chapel keeper moved about lighting the gaslights, and was requested by the preacher to pull down the blinds, and so this curious unconventional sermon ended - ended, quite abruptly and characteristically, by the minister saying he had talked long enough and would sit down. We sang another indefinitely ancient hymn, and then the minister came down to the door and shook hands with his twenty eight auditors, and we went forth into the night. In my own heart there was a very grateful and affectionate feeling for this good and faithful pastor, of a very old school, whose words had been so helpful and so wise.

I might be tempted to write much of certain institutions in Cuckfield for brightening the winter evenings. One lady has built a music house, where she trains any among the villagers who care to come in playing and singing. There may be heard from time to time the strains of her string band or some full chorus an oratorio. The institution is perfectly unsectarian, and designed simply to cultivate in the youth of Cuckfield the love and practice of music; from which my readers would guess that the lady in question is probably a Congregationalist—and they would guess right. It is hard to tear myself away from Cuckfield and its woods and meadows and sweet country air: but you will probably conclude, kind reader, that there is nothing remarkable about this little place, and that, after all, it is only like ten thousand other country villages in this old England of ours. Yet do not speak contemptuously, kind reader, but thank God, as I do, that what you say is true.


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