Culture and Fine Dining in historic Cuckfield, Sussex
PUBLISHED: 16:58 29 November 2010 | UPDATED: 17:51 20 February 2013
Many people know Cuckfield as a spot on the annual London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, but it is much more than that as we find out here.
The first written reference to Cuckfield is in a charter in the British Museum in 1091. William de Varennes built a hunting lodge and chapel in a Saxon clearing and called it Kukefeld. He gave it as an endowment to the Cluniac Priory of St Pancras which he had founded at Lewes.
The village of Cuckfield grew into a market town and was an important coaching stop on the main road between London and Brighton. It is said that 50 coaches a day passed through by 1820.
However, the towns fortunes took a backward step when local landowners met in the Talbot Inn in 1825 to object to the London and South Coast Railways proposed route through the town. The railway put its new station at nearby Haywards Heath and prosperity followed the tracks. The last commercial stagecoach stopped at Cuckfield in 1845.
The first known iguanodon fossils were found close to Cuckfield at Whitemans Green in 1822 by the Lewes-born doctor Gideon Mantell. The Mantell Monument was unveiled there in 2000 in commemoration of Mantells discovery and his contribution to the science of palaeontology.
Where tofill up
There is plenty to choose from in and around Cuckfield from Michelin starred dining to a cosy cup of tea.
Reeves Pantry in High Street serves a traditional menu with a twist. It prides itself on local produce, for example, tea from Toppers Teas in Ashdown Forest, free range eggs from Turners Hill and apple juice from Fuggles Farm in East Sussex.
The Corner House in High Street serves full English breakfast and meals through the day. It opens on Sundays too.
There is the Cuckoo Restaurant, an intimate 34-seat room, in a 17th century building offering modern Mediterranean and British cuisine.
If you fancy a pint and a bite there are a number of pubs including The Wheatsheaf Inn in Broad Street; The Rose and Crown in London Road; Ye White Harte Inn, in South Street and slightly further afield, the Ship Inn in Whitemans Green. The Talbot Inn, in High Street, where the objectors to the railway met in 1825, was closed for refurbishment as we went to press but promises to be special when it reopens.
There is Michelin-starred dining at the restaurant at Ockenden Manor. It offers a fine dining experience in a charming setting.
From 1951 until 1965 all the money needed by Cuckfield concerns was raised at the annual Donkey Race meeting on the August Bank Holiday. This started in a small way on the land where Warden Park School now stands, but was transferred in 1953 to the land at Whitemans Green, which is now the football and rugby pitches.
Here each year the Donkey Grand National took place and would be attended by some 10,000 people and 20 bookmakers. So well known did it become that is was featured in the British Tourist information brochure, which was distributed overseas.
In 1965, however these fields at Mill Hall Farm were compulsory purchased by the Council for playing fields and a request to stage the Grand National there was refused. The organisers were flabbergasted by this decision, as were the local good causes who relied on raising money there and it was then that Peter Bowring suggested a Mayors Election. In those days each vote cost sixpence. It was billed as a contest between Publicans and Sinners and Cuckfields first mayor was Joe Mitchell, Landlord of the White Hart.
Rhodesia had recently declared U.D.I. so Cuckfield followed suit and the Independent State of Cuckfield was born. Passports were issued, stamps (which were used to deliver mail during the postal strike) and currency (five cuckoos equalled one shilling). This money was accepted in Cuckfield pubs and shops and mostly kept as souvenirs.
To begin with a lot of Cuckfield residents thought the whole idea rather silly, but the Independent State soon proved its worth. In 1971 the High Bridge on the A272 between Cuckfield and Ansty collapsed. Ansty was extremely worried at being cut off from shops, doctors, hospital etc.
The county council refused to consider a temporary bridge and said people must wait for a permanent replacement. However Cuckfields Mayor contacted them and persuaded them to change their mind and a Bailey Bridge was duly put in place.
On another occasion The Independent State of Cuckfield saved Cuckfield from a dreadful fate. In 1975 the Council proposed turning 32 acres of land at Sparks Farm, which is now a golf course into a refuse dump for domesticand industrial waste. Mr Bowring called a public meeting at the Queens Hall and asked the council to attend. A long battle ensued but, at length, the council dropped the idea and Cuckfield was spared.
The aims of the Independent State, when founded, were to ensure the welfare of all Cuckfields citizens young and old and to protect local surroundings
The Mayor is the person who, with the help of his or her supporters, manages to raise the most money in the election. The current mayor until October 15 at least is Ken Gregory. He is the only person in the 44 year history of the Independent State so far to have been the Mayor three times.
Ken, who is sponsored by the Rose and Crown, is proud of everything the State has achieved: Over the years we have raised around 200,000 for good causes in Cuckfield.
We have our own passports that we sell for 2. You too could be a freeman of the Independent State if you buy one!
Cuckfield Museum is a treasure house of local history. One current exhibition is the ephemera of a lifetime from the Jenners. They were a well established local family and under the terms of the will of Mary Jenner, who died earlier this year, the museum were offered some fascinating things. The family lived in their home in Cuckfield for over 80 years, buying the house in 1929 for the princely sum of 507.
They were obviously people who cared for their belongings and threw very little, if anything, away so that we have a unique record of a Cuckfield household which supported the local community, where simple toys were cherished and useful items kept to hand on to the next generation.
Cuckfield Museums regular series of talks continues in the autumn with one on Tuesday September 28th 2.30pm on Archive Films of Mid-Sussex when Alan Readman, Assistant County Archivist at West Sussex Record Office, will present a selection of archive cinefilms from the collection of Screen Archive South East, the Regional Film Archive, which has its repository and conservation centre at the County Record office in Chichester.
The films include professional and amateur footage dating back to the pioneering days of cinematography in the mid 1890s and continuing up to the 1960s. The focus will be primarily on Mid-Sussex and will offer a nostalgic look back at life in the county throughout the 20th century.
On Thursday November 18th at 8pm there is The Secret Sussex Resistance Revisited. Stewart Angell started researching this subject in 1992 and spent four years gathering information and taking many photographs all over Sussex and beyond.
This popular speaker returns to Cuckfield to continue presenting his research findings regarding the British Resistance in Sussex during the Second World War and, as promised, will include the Special Duties Section,accounting for the spying and radio communication aspects of this secret organization.
Contact Ann Went on 01444 450982 for further details or to book a place.