top of page

The significance of Inn signs and comment on past landlords at the King's Head

Updated: Dec 30, 2022

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 10 March 1931





With the great stream of traffic up and down the country, flooding the great turnpikes, proceeding in all directions, probing the old parish roads and lanes, the ancient “inns,” with all their wealth of history, legend and curious old signs, come again into the light of day.

Strange though it may seem, inns are a legacy from the monks. In the early days, perhaps from the Saxon to Plantaganet times, the only house on the road for rest and refreshment of travellers was the monastery. As travel grew and the movements of the powerful Norman Earls with their retinues and large bodies of men-at-arms increased, it became more than the monasteries could accommodate. Consequently the monks retained a private “rest house” in their neighbourhood. It was then customary for the monks to entertain the nobles, their knights and esquires, while the men-at-arms were sent on to the "rest house.” As none of the common people could read in those days.


fixed a sign on the “rest house" to denote its use, and it became the “Golden Cross,” the “Mitre,” the "Pope’s Head" or the “Abbot’s Head.” Thus we have the origin of inn signs. The old “Star” at Alfriston is said to have been one of these rest houses,” and it belonged to Battle Abbey. In later years the rich families established “rest houses” for themselves, and the sign they generally set up was their own coat of arms, and here we have the beginning of heraldic inn signs In Sussex; where the Earls Warrenne held sway, we find the “Chequers” ; where the Nevills were lords of the manor, at Cuckfield and Ditchling, we have the Bull Inn. The Cuckfield “Bull” stood on the site occupied by the Old Union and now the Cuckfield Club. The sign of

The 'King's Head' in South Street Cuckfield


with which we are interested, came into fashion in quite another way in Tudor times. Mr. H. P. Maskell, in his book on Inns, writes that when Henry VIII. seized all the Church property and ‘turned the cowls adrift,’ publicans, not wishing to lose their own heads, speedily turned the sign of the ‘Pope’s Head’ or the ‘Abbot’s Head’ into the now familiar ‘King's Head.’ This, he declares, is the history of most of the “King's Heads.” The Cuckfield “King's Head” comes on the scene to most of us in the print, after Rowlandson's drawing of “Cuckfield Town on Market Day,” which was published towards the close of the 18th century. Although the drawing is open to some criticism, the old “King's Head” is correctly placed at the corner of Ockenden Lane, and there its sign hung for another fifty years. This famous old hostelry was no doubt at the height of its prosperity in the Georgian coaching days, when local history states that


passed through Cuckfield. The first landlord we can place is James Lintott, whose name appears in the Universal British Directory as proprietor of the King’s Head Inn in 1791. His name is also found in a list of Cuckfield people who, in 1793, were housing a number of French refugees. We get on firmer footing with the next landlord, Joshua Scott, who in the first few years of the 19th century both owned and occupied the King's Head Inn, which was then valued at £32 per annum, including the stables. I wonder what the present landlord, genial Dick Snow, would say to being rated at £32—stables and all? The most famous landlord that reigned at the sign of the “King’s Head” was Daniel Dench. He held the house the days of George III and in the hectic times of the Regency. He was the son of a former Daniel Dench, also an innkeeper in Cuckfield. He was born in 1775. and married a Mrs. Jane Packham, widow, in 1801, so


of that date. It is not quite certain when he took the “King’s Head,” but he was firmly established there in 1808 and held the house until 1817, when he left Cuckfield and took the Hickstead Castle Inn on the new Brighton Road. His daughter, Miss Dench, came back to Cuckfield in later years, and ended her days in her native town. In some reminiscences which Miss Dench has fortunately left us, she writes in 1880: When George the Third was king Cuckfleld was an important town and great place for coaches. To my mind it was almost prettier than now, for an avenue of trees bordered all one side of the town; now there are only a few left opposite the Attrees. My father was host of the ‘King's Head,’ which stood where Mr. Langton’s house now is, and many is the royal guest the old inn has welcomed … The Prince of Wales (afterwards George Fourth) was a constant visitor, for he often drove from London to Brighton in a carriage and four, attended by two outriders and a second carriage and four in which were his pages, and the horses were changed at our house. He was very friendly with my father. and knew all the postillions. We didn't like the outriders, for many of them could not ride a bit, and we were obliged to give them some of our best horses, which were sometimes spoilt in consequence. About the year 1816


was opened to enable the Prince of Wales to use the Pavilion at Brighton as his residence when king: for in those days an Act of Parliament was in force requiring the royal residence to be within fifty miles of Westminster, and through Cuckfield the distance was fifty-four. My father left the ‘King's Head’ soon after this and took the Castle Inn on the Hickstead road. So poor Cuckfleld lost her kings and queens.” These were really busy days in the old town, and old people used to say that they had been told Dench kept 30 pairs of horses at the “King’s Head.” Miss Dench said she had known 46 pairs to be out in one day at the Hickstead Castle. The “King's Head” stables then and for some years after occupied the whole of the ground where later stood the Cuckfleld Brewery. It is interesting to note what it cost to “post” from the “King's Head” in those days. Here are some of Daniel Dench’s charges in 1808 :—4 horses to Brighton for the day, £2 9s.; 4 horses to Crawley, £1 4s. 6d.; pair of leaders to Brighton, £1 4s. 6d.; pair of horses to Horsham,10s. 6d.; pair of leaders to Horsham, 19s 6d.; pair of horses to Balcombe, 16s. The Georgian days were days (and nights) of eating and drinking, especially drinking, and


Host Dench put on the table at the old “King's Head.” His accounts of one such in 1812 show: —23 dinners, £3 9s.; beer and porter, 10s.; negus, £1 3s.; punch. £5; tobacco, 5s.; waiter, 10s.; boots and servants, 6s.; chambermaid, 2s. 0d. When Daniel Dench left Cuckfield in 1817 and took the Hickstead Castle,” he was succeeded at the “King's Head” by James Webber. Mr. Webber must have been a Cuckfield man, as I find under date of 1810 In the diary of my grandfather (E. Bates): “James Webber began to repair his house at the comer of Church Street.” From further entries in the above-named diary of business and money transactions that passed between them it appears that James Webber must have been in business in the town previous to his becoming landlord of the “King’s Head.” We do not hear so much of the fame of the King's Head a posting house as in the days of Dench. The new Hickstead road was very popular, and no doubt a great deal of Dench’s connection followed him and the Prince Regent to the ”Hickstead Castle.” There does not appear to have been so many big dinners at the “King’s Head” in Webber’s days as formerly, but his accounts still show the disproportion between the cost of drink and food. For a modest supper in 1817 Webber charges 3s., but there is 5s. for brandy and negus, while a bed is only 1s. 6d. In 1826


porter 4d., but grogs 11s. This was probably at an auction sale in the “King’s Head Great Room,” as my grandfather describes it, which had always been famous for sales of toll gates, tythes, underwood, &c. James Webber carried on the inn until 1830 or a little later, when S. Wiieman became the next landlord. I can find little of interest during his tenure, but I believe he belonged to the old yeoman family of John Wileman, who in 1803 owned and lived at the Tanyard Farm, Brook Street, and owned other small properties in the town. The only incident I can find is a copy of a letter in my grandfather’s diary which Mr. Wiieman evidently requested him to write and which I give as an example of the language of the times (1830-40); ”Madam. Mr. S. Wiieman of the Kings Head Inn beg’d that I would do him the favour to inform you that he can accommodate you with two or three rooms in this Inn which have been occupied by gentlemen and ladies of the first estate and that he will do everything that lays in his power to make the rooms comfortable which he keeps for the purpose of letting to ladies and gentlemen. Yours faithfully.” Up to the present we are safe in assuming that the King’s Head is still in its old situation at the corner of Ockenden Lane, but it is generally agreed that it was moved down to its present position during Wileman’s occupancy. My father used to say it went to the South Street comer about 1840, but he was not certain of the year. We do know, however, that Wileman had been established in the new house some years before he gave up.


by Mr. T. W. Best in 1858, when he built the house which is now Mr. Pace's shop. Mr. Wileman had built a house adjoining the “King's Head,” which we now know as Mr. Askew's, and when in 1846 he sold the King's Head to Mr. Edward Jenner, he retired to his own house and lived there some years. He died in 1858. Mr. Edward Jenner had been the Cuckfield baker, and occupied the house and shop immediately opposite the “King's Head.” In 1846 he sold his bakery business to Mr. Thomas Bunting, crossed the road, became the landlord of the King's Head and the Uncle Ned of history. Ned Jenner was one of the old regime: a polite and obliging landlord, but an autocrat in his own "house.” A true Sussex man—he could not be pushed and was difficult to persuade. He died in 1881, the last of the old-style landlords. After Edward Jenner the landlords became a procession. The first was Charlie Callow, butcher from the opposite comer of Church Street, who thought he could make as much money by selling beer as he had done from selling beef. He found it was not so and speedily went back to beef. Then followed Mr. Ford, Edwin Dumsday (of the “Talbot”), H. P. Mears and Mrs. Morfee, who now resides at Bolney. After Mrs. Morfee gave up the house it was under management and short-time landlords for several years, until it came into the hands of the present proprietor, the willing and eager Dick Snow, whose history has yet to be written.

bottom of page