Nostalgia: The cross and cockerel which survived a tower inferno

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With its tower in flames and its cross and weathercock plummeting to the ground, things looked bleak for Cuckfield’s Holy Trinity Church in 1980.

The fire broke out on May 1 and only a piece of good fortune prevented the damage from being worse than it was.

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Instead of collapsing into the church itself, the burning tower fell into the churchyard. Even more miraculously, the Reverend of the day, Eric Hayden, managed to retrieve both the cross and the weathercock.

These pictures were provided by Phillipa Malins, curator of Cuckfield Museum, and form part of a new exhibition which will run until December.

Called Ringing The Changes 1815-2015, the display explores the history of Holy Trinity Church in the 200 years since the Battle of Waterloo.

Regarding the fire Phillipa said no official cause was ever found – though one theory blamed a passing bird.

Reverend Michael Maine is the new Reverend at at Holy Trinity Church, Cuckfield. Pic Steve Robards SUS-150224-162127001

Reverend Michael Maine is the new Reverend at at Holy Trinity Church, Cuckfield. Pic Steve Robards SUS-150224-162127001

She said: “There was one theory that a jackdaw carried a lighted cigarette in through an air vent. The dry medieval timbers caught immediately, fanned by a brisk north easterly wind.”

The battered and singed weathercock, which used to sit atop the cross-shaped finial, was straightened out by pupils at Warden Park School in their metalwork class. It was then sent away for regilding and now sits on top of the new steel framed tower, resting on a black orb to symbolise its having risen like a phoenix from the ashes.

The frame was lowered onto the tower by means of a huge crane with the whole village turning out to witness the event.

Phillipa said the weathercock was made by a local plumber, Thomas Knowles, in 1818 and replaced a much older bird. Knowles’ bird was made in memory of a church warden, William Clutton.

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A postcard dating from 1912 shows the cockerel after it was taken down for regilding. It is pictured with the steeplejack who would later put the bird back in its place.

The cross-shaped finial was repaired and now hangs inside the bell tower.

Speaking about the exhibition, Phillipa said: “We were inspired by our new vicar, Michael Maine, who told us that two new bells had been added in 1815.

“They were dedicated at the time of celebrations after the Battle of Waterloo and are known as the Waterloo Bells. They are still there, ringing out every Sunday and for weddings.

“This got us thinking about other changes to the fabric of the church in the last 200 years.”

For more about the bells, see next week’s Memory Lane.

Cuckfield Museum is in Queens Hall, Cuckfield RH17 5EL. For more information call 01444 473630, email info@cuckfieldmuseum.org .

The church will be holding an open day for the bell tower on October 10 from 10am-noon. The address is Church Street, Cuckfield, Haywards Heath, West Sussex RH17 5JZ.

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