Cuckfield was an important staging post for coaches in the late C18th and early C19th on the busy London to Brighton road and also on the cross-country Horsham to Hastings route.
By 1822, when the Prince Regent, later King George IV, had made it fashionable to visit Brighton, no less than 60 stage and mail coaches a day made their way through Cuckfield. The Prince Regent was driven from London to Brighton in a carriage and four attended by two outriders, with a second carriage carrying members of his household. He was friendly with Daniel Dench, landlord of the Kings Head at the lower end of Cuckfield High Street, where the horses were changed.
Stagecoaches were given dashing names such as “The Comet”, “Meteor” and “Rocket” with the average journey time to Brighton, measured from Westminster Bridge to the Old Ship Hotel, being some six hours. It required a great deal of skil to drive a coach and four at speed, and especially in preventing the coach from “running on” down steep hills.
A fatal accident occurred in Cuckfield when the coach “Criterion” overturned as it approached the King’s Head. The coaching team of “Vivid” regularly reduced the journey time to five and quarter hours. Passengers nervous of such speed preferred to book in the more sedate “Life Preserver”.
In 1888, when coaching was already seen as part of “the good old days”, a £1000 wager was made that coachman James Selby could not drive the “Old Times” from London to Brighton and back in less than eight hours. The outcome is celebrated in the museum’s coaching display which also contains a linear map of the original route and an 1815 copy of “Carey’s Itinerary”, a detailed book of coaching timetables which advises the traveller of each journey’s landmarks
The building of the London to Brighton railway line in the early 1840s inevitably brought the coaching era to an end and in 1903 the last commercial stage coach passed through Cuckfield.
The Stage Coach, “Comet”, on the Cuckfield to Reigate run, early C19th.