An Introduction to Cuckfield
The origin of the name Cuckfield (earlier spelt Kukefeld, Cucufeld, and Cucufelda) is debated, but it is generally associated with the cuckoo, which is the village emblem. The village grew as a market town; and was an important stop for coaches between London and Brighton, since it lay on the turnpike. In the 1820s, 50 coaches a day would stop at Cuckfield before passing through to Brighton to the south or London to the north.
Cuckfield is a village and civil parish in the Mid Sussex District of West Sussex, on the southern slopes of the Weald. It is situated 34 miles south of London, 13 miles north of Brighton, and 31 miles east northeast of Chichester, the county town of West Sussex. Nearby towns include Haywards Heath to the southeast and Burgess Hill to the south.
In 1825, John Rennie first proposed a ‘direct’ London to Brighton railway. But when the 1840s arrived, the plans were vigorously opposed by the town, landowners and parish of Cuckfield. Cuckfield was not alone – Lindfield also opposed the railway. Eventually, the line passed between Cuckfield and Lindfield, making Haywards Heath the terminus until the railway line opened to Brighton.
Notable Buildings etc
- Queen’s Hall
The Parish Council, Cuckfield Museum and village library reside within the Queen’s Hall, built in 1897 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
- Holy Trinty Church
The parish church, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, has Norman foundations, although the building itself is 13th century. The lych gates are listed buildings, and several of the stained glass windows, as well as the pulpit and the ceiling’s painting, were designed by Charles Eamer Kempe.
- Ockendon Manor
The Elizabethan house, Ockenden Manor, is a Michelin star hotel and an award-winning restaurant. It also has a gymnasium, pool and spa. The hotel has 28 lavishly decorated rooms. The building stands in around nine acres of beautiful grounds overlooking Cuckfield Park. The dramatic, cubist spa structure contrasts and complements the historic Elizabethan hotel. The spa has a wealth of facilities, including an indoor and outdoor pool, a steam room, sauna and outdoor hot tub, and spa suites with serene views of the South Downs. Treatments are courtesy of Elemental Herbology.
Nothing could be more natural about this facility – the spa is fed by the hotel’s own underground natural spring. Pampering at Ockenden’s ultra-modern, luxury spa set within walled gardens is a definite ‘must do’ if you are in the Cuckfield area.
- Cuckfield Museum
Cuckfield Museum opened in 1981. It traces the town’s history from its earliest days to more recent times. The basis of the Museum’s collection is derived from the banker and local philanthropist Richard Bevan (1834-1918), who was the leading instigator of the building of the Queen’s Hall in celebration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. The Bevan family bequeathed to Cuckfield several items from Horsgate, the house built for them in 1865.
The impressive Museum has a Research Room with information on local history, local families, buildings, businesses etc., and a considerable collection of 19th and 20th century books and publications relating to various topics and families in Sussex, including an almost full set of the Sussex Archaeological Society volumes and many from the Sussex Record Society collection. The Museum sells Cuckfield- and dinosaur-related souvenirs and gifts, and there are also several Cuckfield- and Haywards Heath-related books available to purchase. It also has displays about Cuckfield’s role as a coaching station, local farming and plenty about Gideon Mantell and his historic dinosaur bone discoveries at Whiteman’s Green.
- Cuckfield Park
Cuckfield Park is a private Elizabethan house that was the seat of the Bowyers and then the Sergison family, and it inspired William Harrison Ainsworth’s famous 1834 romance novel Rookwood, a story based around the inheritance of an estate involving illegitimacy. The house was said to be haunted by the ghost of Wicked Dame Sergison (see below). Cuckfield Place (its original name) was built around 1575 by Henry Bowyer (died 1589), an ironmaster, who acquired the property from the 4th Earl Derby in 1573. The site was originally a deer park but was ‘disparked’ in 1618. An 1809 Estate Map shows the areas around the house laid out much as in an aerial photograph of 1967. Features include a kitchen garden, deer park, lakes, and a fine lime avenue.
Mrs Ann Pritchard Sergison, a member of a Cuckfield family, died in 1848 in her mid-80s. She was known as ‘Wicked Dame Sergison’ because of her foul temper. After her death, ghost stories began to circulate about her. There are reports of her haunting the avenue to Cuckfield Park and also in the corridors and on the main stairway. Apparently, she was seen as a ghost at the wedding reception in 1890. People said she was too wicked to rest, and her spirit swung on the oak gates at the entrance to Cuckfield Park. After some time, three local churchmen were supposed to have held a service of exorcism in Cuckfield Church at midnight. Dame Sergison was not the only Cuckfield ghost by any means.
I recall that the owner of Cuckfield Park some 20 years ago was Volker Schicht (a Swiss national, I believe), and his company (Novartis) owned the brand name to a well-known night-time drink (I think it was Ovaltine). He managed to beat me in a fiercely fought five-set tennis match. Had I known then about the ghostly Mrs Sergison, I doubt the contest would have taken place.
- Borde Hill
The property and land at Borde Hill were purchased by Col. Stephenson Robert Clarke in 1893 and remains in that family’s ownership to this day. Borde Hill Garden was created in the early 1900s with plants gathered by the great plant collectors from their travels to the Himalayas, China, Burma, Tasmania and the Andes – a legacy that today’s visitors continue to experience and enjoy. Listed as Grade II* importance by English Heritage on its register of Parks and Gardens, Borde Hill contains the best private collection of champion trees in Britain and one of the most comprehensive collections of trees and shrubs in the world. In 1999 the Garden won the South East Tourism Board’s prestigious ‘Attraction of the Year’ award, and in 2004 it won the HHA/Christies Garden of the Year.
- Public Houses and Restaurants
If you want to eat out, there are plenty of eateries in Cuckfield. Here are some to choose from:
- The Wheatsheaf Inn – pub, hotel and restaurant (http://www.thewheatsheafpub.com/)
- Rose & Crown Cuckfield – restaurant, bar and Garden (https://roseandcrowncuckfield.co.uk/)
- The Talbot – restaurant, bar and venue hire (https://thetalbotcuckfield.co.uk/)
- The White Harte – traditional restaurant and pub with separate Thai restaurant: 01444 413454
- No.1 Broad Street – restaurant serving thoughtfully sourced, beautifully prepared food, matched with an elegant wine list served in a relaxed contemporary setting (https://1broadstreet.co.uk/about/)
- TOM’S FOOD (https://tomsfood.co.uk/)
Plus Ockendon Manor, of course – with its hotel, restaurant and spa. The Talbot has an interesting history. In 1800, the Hound, an alehouse, was enlarged and renamed the Talbot. It was rebuilt by 1830.
History of Cuckfield
Excerpted from Cuckfield.org.
- The name Cuckfield is a Saxon ending – field “a clearing where forest trees were felled”.
- Under the Saxons, Sussex was divided into Hundreds – groups of 100 families pledged to keep the peace under the Hundred Court. Cuckfield was in the Hundred of Buttinghill, which comprised what is now Slaugham, Cuckfield, Crawley, Balcombe, Hurstpierpoint, Keymer & Clayton.
- William Conqueror divided the old Saxon Kingdom into six vertical strips called Rapes. He granted the rape of Lewes to William de Varennes (or Warenne), who was succeeded by seven further Earls Warenne.
- William de Varennes built a hunting lodge & chapel in a Saxon clearing and called it Kukefeld. He gave it as an endowment to the Cluniac Priory of St Pancras founded by him at Lewes.
- The Priory archives show that in 1202 an Adam de Cucufeld gave a gift of land to the monks for the church of the Holy Trinity.
- In 1255, King Henry III issued to John, Earl Warenne Cuckfield’s first grant for a market. Markets were held on Tuesdays with a fair on 8th & 9th September. It is most likely that the southern boundary of the marketplace was the churchyard and the Northern one along the line of Ockenden Lane.
- In 1296, the Subsidy Roll recorded 55 householders in Cuckfield and Hurstpierpoint and in 1327, thirty in Cuckfield alone. The 1379 poll tax lists more than 100 people over the age of 13 in Cuckfield, including two tanners, one blacksmith, one cooper, two carpenters, five tailors, one thatcher, 54 married labourers and 34 bachelors or spinsters.
- In 1294, William de Strones (the then Vicar of Cuckfield) was sentenced for poaching deer in Cuckfield Park, and Walter de la Mare was drowned in Cuckfield Park in 1287 while hunting a wounded deer.
- The earliest houses in Cuckfield date back to the 14th century and include Brainsmead cottages and No 1 Church Street.
- In 1483, Gerald Burrell from Devon became Vicar and thus started the family’s connection with the town.
- In July 1521, the earliest record of the grammar school appears in the will of Edmund Flower, which states that “I may be reputed and named the first founder”. He gave instructions on the appointment of the schoolmaster and the conduct of the school. Many years later, when Eton’s archives were destroyed in a fire, they borrowed the curriculum from Cuckfield.
- In 1573, the 4th Earl of Derby sold his quarter of the Manor of Cuckfield to Henry Bowyer, a local ironmaster. Iron was a major industry in the area from as early as the 13th century right up until the early 18th century. Bowyer, along with the Burrells and another local family, the Coverts, all had their iron-making sites at Slaugham and Horsted Keynes.
- Henry Bowyer and his wife Elizabeth dismantled the medieval manor hall near the church to build a new Manor house, (now Cuckfield Park although then known as Cuckfield Place).
- Stephen Borde II inherited an estate in Cuckfield from his father and built the present house at Borde Hill. His initials and the year 1598 can be found on the West Porch.
The 1600s and 1700s
- In 1691, Henry Bowyer’s Great Great Granddaughter, Mrs Mary Clark, sold Cuckfield Place to Charles Sergison
- In 1761, the first direct road from Cuckfield to London was made, re-routing the road to Brighton.
- The earliest notice of London to Brighton stagecoaches was in 1780 when the “Brighthelmstone & Cuckfield machine” left London at 5 am. The fare to Cuckfield was 10s 0d. The Prince of Wales (George IV) stopped at the old King’s Head (then at the south corner of Ockenden Lane).
- In 1804, the stagecoach fare to Cuckfield from London rose to 10s 6d. George IV came to Cuckfield regularly on route to his new seaside residence in Brighton (the Pavillion).
- Tollgates existed at Butler’s Green from 1807 until 1866 and Whitemans Green from 1809.
- Around 1816, the new London to Brighton Road (now the A23) was completed, and although stagecoaches still came through Cuckfield, the volume of traffic was drastically reduced.
- In 1820, the Congregational (United Reform) chapel opened in Broad Street. It was rebuilt as a church in 1869-70.
- In 1821, the then Vicar John Fearon built a two-roomed schoolhouse – the Cuckfield National School on wasteland near the Rose & Crown using a grant from the National Society for the Education of Children of The Poor in the Principles of the Church of England.
- In 1822, Gideon Mantell discovered the fossilised remains of the first dinosaur in England were found at Whitemans Green.
- In 1825, a survey was undertaken for a proposed London to Brighton railway. Concerned landowners, including the Sergisons, met at the Talbot to oppose a route through Cuckfield. In 1841 the London & South Coast Railway opened using heath land at Muster Green in Haywards Heath.
- In 1844, The Cuckfield National School merged with the Grammar School and educated around 75 boys and 65 girls.
- In 1845, the last commercial stagecoach came through Cuckfield. Mail coaches continued until 1905.
- In 1852, the minister of the Congregational Church opened “The British School” in a building behind the church for boys under 10.
- In 1872, Cuckfield Town Football Club was formed – it is the joint 23rd oldest Club in the World.
- In 1879, The ‘Mission’ Church opened at Brook Street (now Picturesque).
- In 1895, the Misses Ready’s private girl’s school opened at Whitemans Green.
- In 1897, the Queen’s Hall, funded by public subscriptions, opened.
- In 1902 the Cuckfield Improvement Association was founded by RA Bevan and operated until the war. One of their gifts to the village was the lime trees at Whitemans Green.
- The old mill stream north of Mackerells Cottage was opened as a swimming pool in 1905, and the Cuckfield Swimming Club was formed for classes and a gala. The pool was enjoyed for half a century until it was closed in 1953.
- The 1914-1918 war drew 463 Cuckfield men away from the village to serve their country.
- In 1925, ex-Cuckfield footballer Tommy Cook was capped by England.
- As World War II broke out, about 100 children and their teachers were evacuated to the village. Cuckfield Park & Ockenden House were both used to house Canadian troops. In 1940, a German bomb fell in the road in Brook Street, and in 1944, the first flying bomb in England fell at Mizbrooks Farm.
- Cuckfield Union Infirmary became an Emergency Medical Service Hospital on the outbreak of war. Temporary huts were built to accommodate casualties. These buildings remained after the War when the National Health Act caused the site to stay as a public hospital.
- After the war, Mr and Mrs Eggers moved to Ockenden House and opened Ockenden “Manor” as a restaurant and guest house.
- In 1989 a new bypass was opened to the North of the village, relieving much of the traffic problem.
- In 1991 the Cuckfield Hospital closed with all facilities moving to the newly-built Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath.
- Also, in 1991, the Primary School ( the Grammar School) next to the Church, closed and relocated to new premises in Glebe Road. The school building was bought by the Church and is now used for community groups and houses the church office and a nursery school.
Cuckfield is known locally for its somewhat unusual (well, incredibly quirky, in fact) system of mayoral voting – unlimited numbers of votes can be purchased for the price of one penny each, with the winner receiving the most votes. The position is purely honorary and the money raised supports local charities.
Cuckfield and the Wars
World War I
In August 1914, after the start of the Great War, a Roll of Honour was placed in the porch of Holy Trinity Church, listing the 56 men who had already enlisted into active service in the Army, Royal Navy and Territorial Force. During the course of that war, 460 men enlisted from Cuckfield. The absence of so many men to the battlefields of Europe meant the women of Cuckfield had to step forward to run the local shops.
The 2nd Battalion of the 8th City of London Regiment Post Office Rifles was billeted in Cuckfield for six months between November 1914 and May 1915 – training before leaving for France.
Cuckfield Compendium records that a Detachment of the Red Cross had been located in Cuckfield from 1913. In November 1914, when the English Military Hospitals were filled to the brim by the influx of patients from Belgium as well as English patients, the Commanding Officer of the 2nd Eastern General Hospital in Brighton accepted the offer of a Red Cross Hospital to be set up in the Queen’s Hall, which was turned into a Voluntary Aid Detachment hospital and local ladies trained as nurses to staff it.
The 10th Battalion Manchesters was stationed in Cuckfield for five weeks in 1915 on their way to Gallipoli in the Great War.
World War II
Albeit sometimes disputed, Cuckfield* lays claim to being the first place in the UK during World War II to be hit by a flying bomb (the dreaded ‘doodle-bug’). The Cuckfield War memorial commemorates the residents of Cuckfield who were killed or missing in World War I (81 names) and World War II (14 names).
* At Mizbrooks Farm near Cuckfield
People of note having an association with Cuckfield include (with apologies for any omissions):
- Daniel Betts (born 1971 in Cuckfield), actor.
- Ross Chisholm (born 1990 in Cuckfield), Harlequins rugby player.
- Tommy Cook (1901–50) – Sussex cricketer and Brighton & Hove Albion and England footballer was born in Cuckfield.
- Alfred Denning, Baron Denning (1899–1999), resident from 1935 until 1963.
- Tara Fitzgerald, actress, born in Cuckfield in 1967.
- Kirsten Cooke, actress, born in Cuckfield in October 1952.
- The brothers Edward, James (both actors) and Robert Fox (a producer) all grew up in the village; their mother died there in 1999.
- Sally Geeson (born 1950), actress, best remembered for her role in the British sitcom Bless This House with Sid James, was born in the village.
- Dominic Glynn (born 1960 in Cuckfield), composer of Doctor Who between 1986 and 1989.
- Mike Hazlewood (1941–2001), singer, songwriter and composer, born in Cuckfield.
- Henry Kingsley (1830–1876), the novelist, lived in Cuckfield for his last two years.
- Nancy Osbaldeston (born 1989), ballet dancer and principal dancer of Royal Ballet of Flanders.
- Charles Sergison (1655–1732), owned Cuckfield Park.
- Katie Stewart (1934–2013), British cookery writer, lived for many decades and died in Cuckfield.
- Thomas Vicars (1589–1638) – 17th-century theologian, Vicar of Holy Trinity, Cuckfield (1622–1638).
- James Vince (born 1991 in Cuckfield) – Hampshire and England cricketer.
Picture Credit: © Copright, Martin Pollins, 2021-2022, all rights reserved
Cuckfield and Dinosaur’s Teeth
The old stone quarries to the north of the village, particularly Whiteman’s Green, are famous for some of the most significant early dinosaur fossil discoveries in the world.
The yellow/brown sandstone, known as Cuckfield stone, was deposited in a river system and contained many fossils including turtles, crocodiles and dinosaurs.
In a former quarry, now the playing-field named Whiteman’s Green, dinosaurs’ teeth were discovered in May 1821.
The discovery is credited to Dr Gideon Mantell and his wife, Mary Ann. The dinosaur was formally named in 1825. At the time, fossil hunting was a popular hobby, but only dimly understood as geology and palaeontology were in their infancy, and dinosaurs were unknown.
You can view Cuckfield from a drone flight at: https://youtu.be/l5zg_l7cBzc
Aumale in Normandy has been a twin town since 1993 and Karlstadt in Bavaria since 1998.
The Jewish Boys’ School at Ockendon Manor
A Jewish boys school, now Ockendon Manor, was founded in 1923 by Percy Cohen and, in the 1930s, took in some of the 10,000 Jewish children from Europe who fled to Britain to escape Nazi persecution.
Many boys, called the Kindertransport children, went to foster families, farms or schools. Others were sent to Macaulay House College, where children had arrived privately since 1933.
Sources and Further Reading
- YouTube Video: https://youtu.be/l5zg_l7cBzc
- Book: A Chronicle of Cuckfield, by Masie Wright, available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Chronicle-Cuckfield-Maisie-Wright/dp/B00EVAXE9E/
- https://nothingbutscience.wordpress.com/2012/05/05/richard-owen-and-gideon-mantell/ · http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-31623397
- https://www.parksandgardens.org/places/cuckfield-parkPicture Credit: “File:Cuckfield (An Excursion to Brighthelmstone) MET DP872030.jpg” by Thomas Rowlandson is licensed under CC0 1.0
- Charles Eamer Kempe, a fellow student with William Morris, was a notable Victorian designer and manufacturer of stained glass.See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Eamer_Kempe ↑
- Sources: https://cuckfieldmuseum.org/museum and https://www.parksandgardens.org/places/cuckfield-park ↑
- See: https://www.parksandgardens.org/places/cuckfield-park ↑
- Source: Cuckfield Compendium at http://cuckfieldcompendium.co.uk/ghosts/ and Mysterious Britain at https://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/hauntings/cuckfield-park/) ↑
- Source: https://www.bordehill.co.uk/history/ ↑
- Full History timeline at: https://www.cuckfield.org/page.php ↑
- See: http://cuckfieldcompendium.co.uk/life-during-ww1/ ↑
- Sources: https://www.theargus.co.uk/news/6759163.ex-refugees-look-back-on-schooldays/ ↑