Welcome to the Cowfold Village History Society website. We hope that you enjoy browsing through the material collected about the history of our village and will find the records of our past as fascinating as we do.
We are always pleased to receive comments on the website itself (good or bad!) and will also be grateful for any additional material for inclusion on the site, or for help on our various ongoing projects. You can contact us by completing the form here.
On the assumption that things will get back to normal sometime during the summer, we are planning to get back to holding face-to-face meetings in the Allmond Centre later in the year.
We propose to hold a social event on Friday 17 September and thought it would be a nice idea to have a few light refreshments and to share a little history of our own. We are hoping that some members will bring along a treasured item and answer questions about it; it could be something of local interest, a letter from a famous person, an old agricultural implement, a costume, or a memento of an historic event witnessed by a family member. (We are not seeking items of great financial value and we respect that you may prefer to keep the ownership confidential.)
To help with the planning, if you would like to bring something along, please contact Stella Bianco as soon as possible so that we have a short programme of about ten items on the day. We look forward to receiving your ideas……
On Friday 29 October, we have invited David Ralph to give an illustrated talk on The Veteran Car Run, which began in 1896 and was cancelled in 2020, but it is hoped it will happen on Sunday 7 November 2021.
Picture of Brooke Farm House (Brook Place)
We were recently contacted by a visitor to our website who came across a picture of Brooke Farm House (now Brook Place) whilst clearing out an elderly relative’s belongings. They also contacted Westbourne Local History Group.
The painting had belonged to a Mary Ann Comber and her brother Henry. As children, they had lived at Brooke Farm House, Cowfold with their parents and in later life they lived in Westbourne. Their father was Thomas Comber, who was born in Ardingly in 1839, worked in Hurstpierpoint before eventually moving to Cowfold where, on the 1871 census, he was a tenant farmer of 50 acres. He unfortunately died in 1878 (when Mary Ann and Henry were still young). Their mother, Lydia Packham, was born in Hurstpierpoint in 1837 and her family were local millers. (Her brother, Charles, ran Cobb’s Mill in Sayers Common, Hurstpierpoint for a number of years.)
By the 1891 census Lydia and a number of her children, including Mary Ann and Henry, had moved to Westbourne, a village west of Chichester. The census records Lydia’s occupation as Grocer, Mary Ann’s as a Booking Clerk and Henry’s Butcher’s Assistant. Lydia and Mary Ann moved back to Hurstpierpoint and were reported in the 1901 census to be residing at St Christopher’s Home, with Mary Ann the Matron. Lydia died in 1905 and Mary Ann remained in Hurstpierpoint for a few years and then, at some point, returned to Westbourne, where she died in 1951.
We have not been able to place a date on the picture of Brooke Farm House but do know that, from the1870s to 1880s, paintings of houses in Cowfold still exist and some have handwritten notes on the back indicating that they may have been produced for a local art circle, for example, ‘Subject for May 1881 – Village Scenes’, together with a list of names, each in a different handwriting under a heading ‘Votes’.
As the current owner no longer wanted the picture, along with Westbourne Local History Group, we contacted the present owner of Brook Place, who would love to have it.
We are very pleased that the painting will now be reunited with its home and has returned to Cowfold!
Lewes Priory to zoom back 900 years
“The Priory Trust is presenting a line-up of expert speakers in four evening symposia on Zoom. We’re proud to offer an appealing programme for anyone with a love of Lewes history, telling the story of how our magnificent monastery became one of the top ten in England 900 years ago. Its Great Church was bigger than Chichester Cathedral.”
“We shall tell the tale of how the Cluniac order of monks was a huge power across Europe 150 years before they even came to Lewes”, Sy continues. “For 300 years our Priory made a major and lasting mark on England, especially in Sussex, Yorkshire and Norfolk”.
“Then its huge buildings were unceremoniously blown up by an all-too-expert Italian engineer on the orders of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell. We’ll show you some of the bits of it that were re-used in masonry around the town”.
The four symposia, each containing four short talks, begin at 7:30pm and, with time for questions, should finish at around 9:00pm.
Symposium 1: “What did the Cluniacs ever do for us?” Tuesday 4 May 2021
Aims to show what was so special about the pathway to heaven offered by Cluniac monasticism, and how its great scholars and administrators put Lewes firmly on the European map.
Symposium 2: “The destruction and rediscovery of the Priory” Friday 7 May
Is the story of its demolition – which, thanks to the engineer’s reports, tell us much. The evening also tells how the driving of the railway through it, 300 years later, in 1844-6, led to more discoveries and the founding of the Sussex Archaeological Society.
Symposium 3: “Caring for a heritage site into the future” Tuesday 11 May
Discusses the present day’s conservation. Speakers include the Lewes Town Clerk – the Council is the latest of the many dynasties of Priory owners and benefactors – as well as the Trust’s architect, and local flintman, David Smith.
Symposium 4: “What the latest research is telling us” Friday 14 May
Has new insights into the lavatorium where the monks washed their hands before meals, and its associated but still mysterious tunnel. There will also be encouraging news of possible new excavations on the Priory site that would be scrutinised by Historic England. The lectures finish with evidence of the preservation of the Priory’s first small church for centuries, with its service as a shrine to Canterbury’s Saint Thomas Becket.
The series is rounded off on Saturday 15 May with a guided tour of the Priory remains by two of the Trust’s experts.
The symposia are free: email email@example.com to receive the full programme. “We welcome all Lewesians and lovers of Sussex”, says Sy Morse-Brown.
Here is a selection of books, either published by the Society or covering local topics that should be of interest to our members.
Cowfold: The History of a Sussex Village
Author: Michal Burt
Cowfold: the history of a Sussex Village is a detailed account of the over 780 year life of the village, from the very earliest times to the present time. It is the story of the people who have lived in and around the village and have made it what it is today. Cowfold village has never been the subject of startling or momentous historical events.Rather, it is a typical Sussex village where life has followed a well-defined, familiar and easy pattern over the centuries of its existence; that is the village's charm and its legacy. This book records Cowfold's history through text, pictures, photographs and the recent charming memories of a number of those who have witnessed, as school children and adults, the changes to village life over the last 90 years. It chronicles the development of the village from a small settlement in a clearing in surrounding dense woodland through the emerging village growing up around its Church and heavily influenced by the surrounding farms and nearby manors, to the self-sustaining community of the 19th and early to mid-20th century, and to the diverse and thriving village of today. This book is a tribute to, and legacy of, that development and those people, past and present.
The book can be purchased from the author, Michael Burt; he can be contacted by email at:
When the Lights Go On Again
Author: Michael Burt
Here is a review of the book by Kate Schuler that was published in Sussex Life:
Based on the recollections of 11 Cowfold residents who were children during the 1940s, this book details a community keeping calm and carrying on against a backdrop of war, blackouts, food shortages and rationing. It includes some lovely details – a comical Home Guard training exercise, a child who picked out his returning father on the station platform, despite never having met him – but what comes through is that, for children, the war brought some longed-for excitement. Posing for photographs beside bomb craters, attending variety shows put on by billeted Canadian soldiers, and even dog fights overhead were thought thrilling. While the details may be specific to Cowfold, this book will certainly resonate more widely.
The book is available from Matador (troubador.co.uk/matador) at a price of £12.99.
Or contact the author, Michael Burt at:
to purchase a copy of the book.
Rose Luce has had an unusually varied and interesting life. Her early family life and jobs in parliament and America, later including a leading role in the English-Speaking Union and much charitable work in the UK and Gibraltar, were buttressed by her love of music and singing in choirs. Above all, as the wife of Richard Luce, she supported his long and varied career over 60 years as an MP, Minister, Vice-Chancellor, Governor and Lord Chamberlain to The Queen’s Household. Richard writes in his memoirs Ringing the Changes: “I cannot describe adequately in words what her support, love and companionship throughout our marriage have meant to me. I could not have managed my work in Africa, the struggle to get into Parliament, politics, being a Minister, a Vice-Chancellor, a Governor or Lord Chamberlain without her. ”In this book, Rose describes in the most vivid, entertaining and human way her life supporting Richard in all his many and challenging tasks.
Amazon Books 23 November 2020
The Heritage of Horsham District in 100 Objects
The Heritage of Horsham District in 100 Objects
Author: Jeremy Knight
Edited by: Michael Burt
Jeremy Knight has distilled thirty years of knowledge and understanding into a concise and accessible format. The book provides a superb companion and guide to a journey of discovery around Horsham District and its rich heritage and includes a number of objects found in Cowfold.
Learning, agriculture, industry, retail trade, domestic life and the military are just some of the topics covered by this remarkable book in a series of historical vignettes told through the objects.
The superbly and beautifully illustrated book is on sale at the Horsham Museum, Waterstones and the Steyning Bookshop.
Causeway House: a biography of a Horsham landmark
Causeway House: a biography of a Horsham landmark
We look without seeing, walk past without really noticing. The past is often hidden in plain sight waiting to be discovered. How many of us have walked past 9 Causeway and thought “that’s an old building” without any deeper consideration? In order to rectify this oversight, Jeremy Knight has told the story of the building in a new, exciting and visually interesting book; Causeway House: a biography of a Horsham landmark.
Known today as the home of Horsham Museum, our historic building has been on this site for 600 years and, as the book Causeway House: a biography of a Horsham landmark reveals, it has had an eventful life! From being the home of the Tudor equivalent of a celebrity, giving its occupants the right to vote for 6 MPs, to having a fake past deliberately created, Causeway House has been the home of merchants, lawyers, a royal tutor, a tailor’s daughter who went from being the subject of a scandal to a wealthy heiress, and much more.
Causeway House became home to the Museum during the Second World War, and as late as 1983 it stopped being a residence. The book, written by the current Curator, is a visual delight. Entertaining without being heavy going, it is packed full of interesting stories. Published to mark the 600th birthday of the building, Causeway House: a biography of a Horsham landmark reveals a building hidden in plain sight. Priced at £7.50 plus postage. To order your copy please email: firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the museum on 01403 254959. Also available to purchase at Waterstones in Horsham.
Here are links to recent magazine articles that feature the Society and its activities.
Antiques Trade Gazette 9 January 2021
Horsham Museum and Art Gallery has bought a presentation watercolour for three stained glass windows in St Peter’s Church from London dealers Abbott and Holder with a contribution from the Society. The full article is here:
All About Horsham August 2017
In 2017, members of the committee took part in a group discussion for All About Horsham. This included a lot of information on the history of our village, as well as the activities of the History Society itself.
The full article can be viewed here.
What’s New on the Website
The following items have recently been added to the website. Please click on the images and take a look!
Heritage of Horsham District in One Hundred Objects
The book launch of “ Heritage of Horsham District in One Hundred Objects” was held on Monday 7 October 2019 at Parham House, hosted by Lady Emma Barnard and attended by over fifty guests, including representatives of Heritage Forum member organisations and Jonathan Chowen, Horsham District Council Cabinet Member for Community and Culture.
The book has been written by Jeremy Knight, Curator of Horsham Museum and Art Gallery, and edited by Mike Burt, Chairman of Cowfold Village History Society and Coordinator of the Horsham District Heritage Forum, with contributions from Heritage Forum members and the rest of the Horsham Museum team.
It was made possible through a grant awarded by the 2019 Horsham District Year of Culture and distils thirty years of knowledge and understanding into a concise and accessible record told through the one hundred objects. Transport, agriculture, local politics, the retail trade, domestic life and warfare are just some of the topics covered by this beautifully illustrated book, which provides a superb companion and guide to a journey of discovery around the district and its rich heritage.
The book, priced £19.99, is on sale at the Horsham Museum and a number of local bookshops, including Waterstones and the Steyning Bookshop.
“Cowfold” Tank Locomotive
The Society has recently acquired a postcard showing a D Class 0-4-4 tank locomotive that was named after our village!
The engine, No. 394, was designed by R J Billinton and built at the Brighton Works of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LBSCR) in March 1894.
The D Class tank locomotives were used for working passenger trains along both country and main lines and some would have operated from railway sheds at Brighton and Horsham. It appears that a number of the engines were named after stations within the LBSCR region.