Open main menu



Hayward's Heath—Rookwood and the fatal tree—Timothy Burrell and his account books—Old Sussex appetites—Plum-porridge—A luckless lover—The original Merry Andrew—Ancient testators—Bolney's bells—The splendour of the Slaugham Coverts—Hand Cross—Crawley and the new discovery of walking—Lindfield—Idlehurst—Richard Turner's epitaph—Ardingly.

Hayward's Heath, on the London line, would be our next centre were it not so new and suburban. Fortunately Cuckfield, which has two coaching inns and many of the signs of the leisurely past, is close by, in the midst of very interesting country, with a church standing high on the ridge to the south of the town, broadside to the Weald, its spire a landmark for miles. Cuckfield Place (a house and park, according to Shelley, which abounded in "bits of Mrs. Radcliffe") is described in Harrison Ainsworth's Rookwood. It was in the avenue leading from the gates to the house that that fatal tree stood, a limb of which fell as the presage of the death of a member of the family. So runs the legend. Knowledge of the tree is, however, disclaimed by the gatekeeper.

Ockenden House, in Cuckfield, has been for many years in the possession of the Burrell family, one of whom, Timothy Burrell, an ancestor of the antiquary, left some interesting account books, which contain in addition to figures many curious and sardonic entries and some ingenious hieroglyphics. I quote here and there, from the Sussex Archæological Society's extracts, by way of illustrating the life of a Sussex squire in those days, 1683-1714:—

1705. "Pay'd Gosmark for making cyder 1 day, whilst John Coachman was to be drunk with the carrier's money, by agreement; and I pay'd 2d. to the glasyer for mending John's casement broken at night by him when he was drunk.

Cuckfield Church.png

Cuckfield Church.

"1706. 25th March. Pd. John Coachman by Ned Virgo, that he may be drunk all the Easter week, in part of his wages due, £1."

This was the fare provided on January 1, 1707, for thirteen guests:—

Plumm pottage.
Calves' head and bacon.
Plumm pottage.
Roast beef, sirloin.
Veale, a loin.

Plumm pottage.
Boiled beef, a clod.
Two baked puddings.
Three dishes of minced pies.
Two capons.
Two dishes of tarts.
Two pullets.

Plum porridge, it may interest some to know, was made thus: "Take of beef-soup made of legs of beef, 12 quarts; if you wish it to be particularly good, add a couple of tongues to be boiled therein. Put fine bread, sliced, soaked, and crumbled; raisins of the sun, currants and pruants two lbs. of each; lemons, nutmegs, mace and cloves are to be boiled with it in a muslin bag; add a quart of red wine and let this be followed, after half an hour's boiling, by a pint of sack. Put it into a cool place and it will keep through Christmas."

Mr. Burrell giving a small dinner to four friends, offered them

Pease pottage.

2 carps. 2 tench.
Capon. Pullet.
Fried oysters.
Baked pudding.

Roast leg of mutton.
Apple pudding.
Tarts. Minced pies.

It is perhaps not surprising that the host had occasionally to take the waters of Ditchling, which are no longer drunk medicinally, or to dose himself with hieræ picræ.

One more dinner, this time for four guests, who presumably were more worthy of attention:—

A soup take off.
Two large carps at the upper end.
Pidgeon pie, salad, veal ollaves,
Leg of mutton, and cutlets at the lower end.
Three rosed chickens.
Scotch pancakes, tarts, asparagus.
Three green gees at the lower end.
In the room of the chickens removed,
Four-souced Mackerel.
Rasins in cream at the upper end.
Calves' foot jelly, dried sweetmeats, calves' foot jelly.
Flummery, Savoy cakes.
Imperial cream at the lower end.

In October, 1709, Mr. Burrell writes in Latin: "From this time I have resolved, as long as the dearth of provisions continues, to give to the poor who apply for it at the door on Sundays, twelve pounds of beef every week, on the 11th of February 4lbs. more, in all 16lbs., and a bushel of wheat and half a bushel of barley in 4 weeks."

From Borde Hill to the north-east of Cuckfield, is supposed to have come Andrew Boord, the original Merry Andrew. Among the later Boords who lived there was George Boord, in whose copy of Natura Brevium and Tenores Novelli, bound together (given him by John Sackville of Chiddingly Park) is written:—

Sidera non tot habet Celum, nec flumina pisces,
Quot scelera gerit femina mente dolos.
Dixit Boordus;

which Mr. Lower translates:

Quoth Boord, with stars the skies abound,
  With fish the flowing waters;
But far more numerous I have found
  The tricks of Eve's fair daughters.

This Boord would be a relative of the famous Andrew, priest, doctor and satirist (1490-1549) who may indeed have been the author of the distich above. It is certainly in his vein.

Andrew Boord gave up his vows as a Carthusian on account of their "rugorosite," and became a doctor, travelling much on the Continent. Several books are known to be his, chief among them the Dyetary and Brevyary of Health. He wrote also an Itinerary of England and is credited by some with the Merrie Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham. Lower and Horsfield indeed hold that the Gotham intended was not the Nottinghamshire village but Gotham near Pevensey, where Boord had property. That he knew something of Sussex is shown by Boord's Boke of Knowledge, where he mentions the old story, then a new one, that no nightingale will sing in St. Leonard's Forest. It is the Boke of Knowledge that has for frontispiece the picture of a naked Englishman with a pair of shears in one hand and a piece of cloth over the other arm, saying:

I am an English man and naked I stand here,
Musing in my mund what rayment I shall were;
For now I wyll were this, and now I wyl were that;
Now I wyl were I cannot tel what.

We shall see Andrew again when we come to Pevensey.

A glimpse of the orderly mind of a pre-Reformation Cuckfield yeoman is given in a will quoted recently in the Sussex Daily News, in an interesting series of articles on the county under the title of "Old-time Sussex":

"In the yere of our lorde god 1545. the 26 day of June, I, Thomas Gaston, of the pish of Cukefelde, syke in body, hole, and of ppt [perfect] memorie, ordene and make this my last will and test, in manr. and forme folling.

Fyrst I bequethe my sowle to Almyghty god or [our] lady St. Mary and all the holy company of heyvyng, my bodie to be buried in the church yarde of Cukefeld.

It.(item) to the Mother Church of Chichester 4d. the hye alter of Cuckfeld 4d.

It.I will have at my buryall 5 masses. In lykewise at my monthes mynd and also at my yerely mynd all the charge of the church set apart I will have in meate and drynke and to pore people 10s. at every tyme."

The high altar was frequently mentioned favourably in these old wills. Another Cuckfield testator, in 1539, left to the high altar, "for tythes and oblacions negligently forgotten, sixpence." The same student of the Calendar of Sussex Wills in the District Probate Registry at Lewes, between 1541 and 1652, which the British Record Society have just published, copies the following passage from the will of Gerard Onstye, in 1568: "To mary my daughter £20, the ffeatherbed that I lye upon the bolsters and coverlete of tapestaye work with a blankett, 4 payres of shetts that is to say four pares of the best flaxon and other 2 payre of the best hempen the greate brasse potte that hir mother brought, the best bord-clothe (table cloth?) a lynnen whelle (i.e., spinning-wheel) that was hir mothers, the chaffing dish that hangeth in the parlor."

In those simple days everything was prized. In one of these Sussex wills, in 1594, Richard Phearndeane, a labourer, left to his brother Stephen his best dublett, his best jerkin and his best shoes, and to Bernard Rosse his white dublett, his leathern dublett and his worst breeches.

Three miles west of Cuckfield is Bolney, just off the London road, a village in the southern boundary of St. Leonard's Forest, the key to some very rich country. Before the days of bicycles Bolney was practically unknown, so retired is it. The church, which has a curious pinnacled tower nearly 300 years old, is famous for its bells, concerning whose melody Horsfield gives the following piece of counsel: "Those who are fond of the silvery tones of bells, may enjoy them to perfection, by placing themselves on the margin of a large pond, the property of Mr. W. Marshall; the reverberation of the sound, coming off the water, is peculiarly striking."

Sixty years ago this sheet of water had an additional attraction. Says Mr. Knox, "During the months of May and June, 1843, an osprey was observed to haunt the large ponds near Bolney. After securing a fish he used to retire to an old tree on the more exposed bank to devour it, and about the close of evening was in the habit of flying off towards the north-west, sometimes carrying away a prize in his talons if his sport had been unusually successful, as if he dreaded being disturbed at his repast during the dangerous hours of twilight. Having been shot at several times without effect, his visits to these ponds became gradually less frequent, but the surrounding covers being unpreserved, and the bird itself too wary to suffer a near approach, he escaped the fate of many of his congeners, and even re-appeared with a companion early in the following September, to whom he seemed to have imparted his salutary dread of man—his mortal enemy—for during the short time they remained there it was impossible to approach within gunshot of either of them."

The indirect road from Bolney to Hand Cross, through Warninglid and Slaugham (parallel with the coaching road), is superb, taking us again into the iron country and very near to Leonardslee, which we have already seen.

The glory of Slaugham Place is no more; but one visible sign of it is preserved in Lewes, in the Town Hall, in the shape of its old staircase. Slaugham Place was the seat of the Covert family, whose estates extended, says tradition, "from Southwark to the Sea," and, says the more exact Horsfield, from Crawley to Hangleton, above Brighton. Slaugham Park used to cover 1200 acres, the church being within it. Perhaps nowhere in Sussex is the change so complete as here, and within recent times too, for Horsfield quotes, in 1835, the testimony of "an aged person, whom the present rector buried about twenty-five years back, who used to relate, that he remembered when the family at Slaugham Park, or Place, consisted of seventy persons." Horsfield continues, in a footnote (the natural receptacle of many of his most interesting statements):—"The name of the aged person alluded to was Harding, who died at nearly 100. According to his statement, the family were so numerous, they kept constantly employed mechanics of every description, who resided on the premises. A conduit, which supplied the mansion with water, is now used by the inhabitants of the village. The kitchen fireplace still remains, of immense size, with the irons that supported the cooking apparatus. The arms of the Coverts, with many impalements and quarterings, yet remain on the ruins. The principal entrance was from the east, and the grand front to the north. The pillars at the entrance, fluted, with seats on each side, are still there. According to the statement of the above person, there was a chapel attached to the mansion at the west part. The mill-pond flowed over nearly 40 acres, according to a person's statement who occupied the mill many years." The ruins, little changed since Horsfield wrote, stand in a beautiful old-world garden, which the traveller must certainly endeavour to enter.

A mile north of Slaugham is Hand Cross, a Clapham Junction of highways, whence Crawley is easily reached. Crawley, however, beyond a noble church, has no interest, its distinction being that it is halfway between London and Brighton on the high road—its distinction and its misfortune. One would be hard put to it to think of a less desirable existence than that of dwelling on a dusty road and continually seeing people hurrying either from Brighton to London or from London to Brighton. Coaches, phaetons, motor cars, bicycles, pass through Crawley so numerously as almost to constitute one elongated vehicle, like the moving platform at the last Paris Exhibition.

And not only travellers on wheels; for since the fashion for walking came in, Crawley has had new excitements, or monotonies, in the shape of walking stockbrokers, walking butchers, walking auctioneers' clerks, walking Austrians pushing their families in wheelbarrows, walking bricklayers carrying hods of bricks, walking acrobats on stilts—all striving to get to Brighton within a certain time, and all accompanied by judges, referees, and friends. At Hand Cross, lower on the road, the numbers diminish; but every competitor seems to be able to reach Crawley, perhaps because the railway station adjoins the high road. It was not, for example, until he reached Crawley that the Austrian's wheelbarrow broke down.

On the other side of the line, two miles north-east of Hayward's Heath, is Lindfield, with its fine common of geese, its generous duck-pond, and wide straggling street of old houses and new (too many new, to my mind), rising easily to the graceful Early English church with its slender shingled spire. Just beyond the church is one of the most beautiful of timbered houses in Sussex, or indeed in England. When I first knew this house it was a farm in the hands of a careless farmer; it has been restored by its present owner with the most perfect understanding and taste. For too long no one attempted to do as much for East Mascalls, a timbered ruin lying low among the fields to the east of the village; but quite recently it has been taken in hand.

East Mascalls—before renovation.png

East Mascalls—before renovation.

A quaint Lindfield epitaph may be mentioned: that of Richard Turner, who died in 1768, aged twenty-one:—

Long was my pain, great was my grief,
Surgeons I'd many but no relief.
I trust through Christ to rise with the just:
My leg and thigh was buried first.

I must not betray secrets, but it might be remarked that that kindly yet melancholy study of Wealden people and Wealden scenery, called Idlehurst—the best book, I think, that has come out of Sussex in recent years—may be read with some special appropriateness in this neighbourhood.

North of Lindfield is Ardingly, now known chiefly in connection with the large school which travellers on the line to Brighton see from the carriage windows as they cross the viaduct over the Ouse. The village, a mile north of the college, is famous as the birthplace of Thomas Box, the first of the great wicket-keepers, who disdained gloves even to the fastest bowling. The church has some very interesting brasses to members of the Wakehurst and Culpeper families, who long held Wakehurst Place, the Elizabethan mansion to the north of the village. Nicholas Culpeper of the Herbal was of the stock; but he must not be confounded with the Nicholas Culpeper whose brass, together with that of his wife, ten sons and eight daughters, is in the church, possibly the largest family on record depicted in that metal. The church also has a handsome canopied tomb, the occupant of which is unknown.

From Ardingly superb walks in the Sussex forest country may be taken.