Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 08 January 1929
“THE LURE OF SUSSEX.”
To the Editor of The Mid-Sussex Times.
Dear Sir,— I note Mr. Thurston Hopkins's kind remark about my observations on Haywards Heath, and I hasten to assure him that the “alert criticisms” are not levelled in any but the most friendly spirit. We enjoy too many delightful hours with his Sussex books ever to dream of carping. We love these old country tales and traditions (Sussex is saturated with them), the Butler’s Green ghost, the swinging gates of Cuckfleld Park, the phantom horses and the sleeping maid of Marshalls. We know these fragments are not history, but they are the embroidery of history, and the beauty of a fabric is enhanced by the work on it, so our Sussex history becomes more fascinating when interwoven by Mr. Thurston Hopkins with the old tales of our forefathers.
It was, however, with Mr. A. R. Pannett's remark that “the Steeple Cottage might have been a chapel for the Butler’s Green house” that I disagreed. The cottage, although very old, has no appearance of being suitable for a place of worship, and one generally associates a private chapel with houses of greater pretensions than Butler’s Green. I have some recollection that it was always called “Wigperry” in my father’s young days, and so was the road from there down to the “Dolphin’' until some person or persons unknown (quite recently) robbed the old “Wigperry Hill” of its ancient name and grandiloquently called “Butler’s Green Road.” Where was Mr. Pannett when this foul deed was perpetrated? If one stands on the east terrace at Butler’s Green looking over the ha-ha and the meadow, at at once becomes obvious why the cottage is called “Steeple Cottage.” The end wall of the cottage has been squared out, plastered, and carried to meet the gable end of the roof. With the addition of some stucco Gothic moulding on the face has the appearance of little church tower with a pyramidal cap. The illusion is striking.
Butler’s Green House—the home of the ghost—is itself, intensely interesting. The first house built in very early times, perhaps the 14th century, has disappeared, but it is said that some of the foundations can still be traced. Then from remains of oak work, panelling, etc., another house in Elizabethan times was set up. Of this a nucleus remains. Later, still very large “additions were made” in Georgian days, noticeable by a good deal of very fine Georgian panelling. The first Warden came to live at Butler’s Green In 1600, but there does not appear to be any record of when the first house - the home of the old Boteler family was built. Writing in the S.A.C., Canon Cooper ventures the opinion that the name Butler’s is from Botelers, as in the will of a Lindfield gentleman (Richard Tanner) about 1375 “lands to the parish of Cokefleld are left to Millicent, relict of Thos. Boteler Sen., of Cokefield.” The Botelers were a noted Sussex family, and one Henricus le Boteler was M.P. for Horsham during the reign of Richard II., probably about 1380. The meaning of the name is too obvious to need explaining, and ”Boteler’s Green” would later become Butler’s Green.”
I must not further burden your space, Mr. Editor, or I would like to enlarge on many points of interest—the round beacon lights, the great brick piers, the old columbarium masquerading as a Lodge and the fine Sussex ironwork in the gate that holds the curse. The story of the Gray Lady and this gate is well known, and has been so clearly told in The Mid-Sussex Times, that no doubt all your readers are acquainted with it. It is not many houses that have two real ghost stories, but the following is the story I alluded to and which I am pleased to share with Mr. Thurston Hopkins:-
At midnight on New Year’s Eve, almost on the last stroke of the old year, Butler’s Green is visited by a troop of ghostly riderless horses. They do not appear every year, but at irregular and, sometimes, long intervals, and always on a moonlight night. They are said to favour a misty moon, when there is tang in the night wind, and just enough frost to curdle the air into a beautiful white rime. The story says they come across meadows from the neighbourhood of Anstye into the old bridle path and down Copyhold Lane on to the Cuckfield road. Here they turn and gallop madly up the road to Butler’s Green. They enter (literally) through the big gates and rush to the old stables where they scrape the brick paving, paw on the gravel and whinny in most unearthly sounds. If at this moment a sleepy tousle headed groom descends from the loft and opens the stable doors, the phantom horses pass in and no more is heard of them. But if he fails to awake and open the doors, then they wheel round suddenly as if in great terror and tear frantically through the gates down the Cuckfield road and disappear into Copyhold Lane, and return to Anstye, or from whence they came. Then, before another New Year's Eve has passed, some ghastly blight falls on one of the unfortunate individuals who was sleeping on that night at Butler’s Green. No one knows what frightful tragedy lies behind this weird visitation, but the seriousness of the crime is evidenced by all the horses being riderless.
This is the story of the phantom horses as told me years ago by an old lady who had lived some part of her life there. I repeated this story a few years ago to a lady at Anstye, and she told me there was a stable at Anstye where, at times, the horses exhibited evidence of having been hag-ridden in the night. She would not tell me (for personal reasons) whose stable the witches visited, but agreed it proved irrefutably that the story of the Butler’s Green horses was positively true.
Photograph of Steeple Cottage courtesy of John Twisleton