Newsletter May 2020

We sincerely hope that you have managed to keep well during the last eight weeks and will continue to do so. These are very strange and upsetting times when life as we knew has had to change substantially and may take a very long time to return to what we may think of as normal. Not the least of these changes has been in the way we have had to interact with each other.

This newsletter shares some thoughts about how Cowfold may have responded to pandemics and other virulent illnesses in time gone by, provides a contrasting insight to a thriving and healthy Cowfold in 1911 – the last available census returns so far – and reminds you of our 2020 programme for later in the year, when we hope we will be able to resume our talks at the Allmond Centre.

Cowfold in sickness and health

(and our thanks to Sue Crofts for the information about an 18th century epidemic in Cowfold)

A doctor visiting a Typhus patient

The coronavirus epidemic is not the first that this country has had to cope with and inevitably will not be the last. Just over a hundred years ago, the country and the world suffered the devastating Spanish Flu which killed around 50 million people or about one third of the world’s population in 1918; in Britain 228,000 died (compared to the current coronavirus death toll in Great Britain of nearly 37,000). And before that between 500,000 and 1 million British people died during the Black Death of 1348/9, a plague which returned a number of times subsequently up to the Great Plague of 1665 in London. Obviously, these pandemics were very different to the one we are experiencing today but there are similarities in terms of lack of knowledge (at least initially) of the cause of the pandemic, the outbreak of the pandemic in the Far East (in the case of the Black Death), self-isolation, restricted travel and, in some places in the world, mass burials.

Unfortunately, we do not know how these pandemics affected Cowfold but we do have an insight to part of the impact that another fatal epidemic had on the village in the latter part of the 18th century.

Do a temperature of 39°C, a cough and headache sound familiar as some of the symptoms of coronavirus?

Well, those were also some of the symptoms of what then was called Putrid Fever- Typhus. Historically, Putrid Fever was used to describe a fever that was caused by putrefaction or accompanied by a putrid odour and is now generally considered to be another name for Typhus. This is an acutely infectious disease caused by parasitic bacteria that are transmitted by the bite of body lice and fleas and is a classic sign of deprivation and unhygienic living conditions where lice spread easily. Between 1918 and 1922, Typhus killed around 3 million people, with nursing staff and those aged over 60 having the highest risk of infection and death, again rather similar to the experience today with coronavirus. As with all historical interpretation, however, it is possible that Putrid Fever could also be an old term for Diphtheria, a bacterium that causes fever, difficulties in breathing and a cough.

Authors have used Typhus to illustrate unsanitary conditions in their work. In 1847, Charlotte Bronte in her novel, Jane Eyre, highlighted the unsanitary conditions in the girls’ school, which resulted in an outbreak of Typhus and, in Doctor Zhivago there is an outbreak in Moscow after the Revolution.

Past actual examples of the lethal nature of Typhus that have been recorded include the 1812 retreat of Napoleon’s Army from Moscow when more soldiers died from the disease than were killed by the Russians; and  Anne Frank, along with thousands of others, died of the disease in Bergen – Belsen Concentration Camp during WW2.

18th century Cowfold, like other villages, was not a particularly healthy place to live. Sanitation was very basic, consisting, at best, of a cesspit but more often no facilities at all, housework and house cleaning were also primitive and the combination of these factors allowed lice and other vermin to proliferate. So the outbreak in Cowfold may give us an idea of what life was like in Cowfold’s Poor House (now Margaret Cottages) as the lice would have thrived in conditions of poor sanitation and hygiene and where people lived in overcrowded conditions, were sharing beds and wearing unwashed clothes. Possibly, the victims would be suffering from malnutrition and other illnesses.

In 1773, eight inmates of Cowfold Poor House died in the space of nearly five months in what seems to have been an epidemic of Putrid Fever.

Joseph Turrel

Mary Frinfield 17.2.1773
Ann, wife of Richard Voice 5.5.1773
John, son of John Stasey and Eliz Tree 18.5.1773
Mary, wife of John Mansbridge 12.6.1773
Thomas, son of Edw & Mary Turner 21.6.1773
James, son of John and Ann Willet 22.6.1773
Ann, daughter of Edw & Mary Turner 5.7.1773

We have to feel sorry in particular for Edward and Mary Turner who lost both their son and daughter in the space of two weeks.

It is unlikely that anyone contracting Putrid Fever would have been able to call on any meaningful medical help or treatment. There appears to have been an apothecary in Cowfold in the early to middle of the 18th century who would have dispensed herbs and medicine as well as offering general medical advice but it is unlikely that that person would have been able to cope very well with an epidemic. The village did not have a recognisable doctor before the Gravely family who fulfilled this function from the 1820s to the 1930s.

Today Typhus and Diphtheria are treated by antibiotics, rehydration and oxygen; but while there is a vaccine for Diphtheria, no commercial vaccine is currently available for Typhus.  Nothing like this was available to our poorhouse inmates who would have had to turn to religion or luck in the hope of surviving.

By contrast, Cowfold in 1911 was a relatively healthy and thriving place. In that year there were 509 males living in the village (discounting 65 monks at St Hugh’s Monastery and 17 boarders at Cowfold Grammar School) and 561 females. The average life expectancy for males in England in 1911 was 48 years old. In Cowfold, 108 men were over 50 years old (21% of the male population), well over the national average; this suggests that Cowfold men were generally healthier than the national norm and may have to do with the predominantly rural (outdoor) lifestyle. 18 males were over 70 years old and the oldest man in the village, at 91 years old, was Harry Newham, a boarder living on private means at Little Brook.

40 men aged 60 or over were recorded as being in work, a number doing arduous jobs such as labouring or gardening. The oldest man recorded as working was Henry Walder who was 82 and was shown as a wood merchant, living at Bull’s Cottage.

The average life expectancy for females in England in 1911 was 53 years old. In Cowfold 74 women were aged over 50 (13% of the female population), well over the national average, again probably explained by the predominantly rural (outdoor) and healthy lifestyle led by the villagers compared to those in the larger industrialised and urbanised parts of England. Cowfold’s female community was predominantly young. 46 women were aged between 61 and 85 (8% of the female population). The oldest female villager was Sarah Baytop, aged 88.  The oldest female in employment was Sarah Anscombe (aged 80) who is described as “Letting Apartments”. (Follow this link for more information.)

Commemorating VE Day 8th May 1945

VE Day Celebration Party in Brighton

Many of you may have held or joined in on celebrations earlier this month to commemorate Victory in Europe Day 75 years ago which marked the end of WW2 in that sector of the conflict. Sue Crofts has kindly provided the photograph above of a celebration party held in Brighton on the 8thMay 1945 which included her mother. We would be interested to see any photos you may have, and are willing to share, please either of similar celebrations held on that day, or of celebrations held in May this year. You can let us know via email at

Lockdown photographs

 Still on the subject of memories, West Sussex County Council is keen to capture people’s experiences of the current coronavirus lockdown. In the same vein, we would like to compile a record for Cowfold. So would you be willing to share with us any record/memory/experience/photo of the current lockdown situation? Is so, please contact us by email at the address above. Thank you.

2020 programme

Just a reminder that we have the following talks planned for this year although clearly we will need to see the government’s advice at the time to establish whether we are able to hold these:

18 September (Shepherds of the Sussex Downs) – Ian Everest

16 October (The Story of Swallowfield) – Tony Taylor

20 November (Veteran Car Run) – David Ralph

We will advise you nearer the time whether these are able to go ahead.

In addition, Stuart Overington had planned a gentlemen’s visit to the Monastery in June, but this has had to be postponed. However we are hoping to arrange a new date for the visit when government guidance allows and we will let you know.

CVHS Committee
     May 2020

Newsletter Autumn 2019

Bringing Cowfold’s Hidden History and Heritage to Life

Past events connect us to a particular time, event, place or person – that is what history is all about. It is dynamic, multi-layered, open to interpretation and never, ever boring.

The Cowfold Village History Society is focused on telling the compelling story of the village’s past stretching back over at least 800 years. Two publications, both due out in October, bring part of that story to life.

The first is a new book by Michael Burt, Chairman of the Society, about life in the village during the traumatic years of World War 2. Called “When the lights go on again”, the story is based on the memories of eleven people who were children during the war and who have given a first-hand account of what it was like to live through six years’ of rationing, blackout, overhead aerial dog fights during the Battle of Britain, bombing and, in the last year of the war, the fear of Doodlebugs. Their memories are set against the context of the tumultuous events that were happening at home and abroad. As an appendix, the book has a transcription of the Register that was taken on 29thSeptember 1939 which records for the vast majority of the villagers who they were, where they lived, and their occupation. It also provides the names of many of the evacuees who were billeted in and around the village when war broke out.

In advance of the book publication, Michael Burt will be giving a talk about the village in WW2 at the Allmond Centre on Friday 20 September at 8pm. Orders for the book can be taken at that event.

Over the last six months, members of the History Society have been developing a Cowfold Village Heritage Trail as part of raising awareness and interest in the village’s important heritage. This is part of a wider Lottery-funded project that will see twenty trails developed and published across the whole of Horsham District as part of raising awareness of and celebrating the District’s rich heritage. The Cowfold trail takes in the village’s key buildings and heritage objects including the Village Hall, the newly restored Church Marks (Pannells), the Nelond Brass and medieval stained glass windows in St Peter’s Church, Margaret Cottages, St Peter’s School, and the Commonwealth War Graves.  More information about the leaflet and from where it can be obtained will be provided nearer the time of publication, expected in October.

Also due to be published in October is the book “Horsham District Heritage in 100 objects” that features a number of Cowfold ‘s. This book is being produced as part of the Horsham District Year of Culture 2019 and makes an important contribution to celebrating the District’s heritage. An exhibition of most of the objects is being held at Horsham Museum from 3rdAugust to 12thOctober.

If you would like to know more about the work of the History Society and about the history and heritage of the village, visit the Society’s website at:

And if you would like to become a member, please contact us via