Protection from Witchcraft
Contributed by Phillipa Malins
The Cuckfield Cache is a rare collection of deliberately concealed items of clothing, documents, toys and other possessions found under the floorboards of a house in Church Street, Cuckfield in 2002.
It comprises eleven shoes, none of which make a pair, a man’s leather hat, a child’s dress, a doll’s arm, a set of toy building blocks, a child’s exercise book, two railway timetables, a cigarette packet and two jars. All except two shoes date from between 1860 to 1914 and are thought to have been placed there by the Attwater family who lived in the house at the time.
The Cache has been the subject of extensive research at Southampton University. Experts believe the collection was designed to protect the house from witchcraft, by turning harm away from the owners of the articles and onto the articles themselves, or to trap evil in the bottles. This level of superstition may surprise us, but infant mortality remained high and life was hard for working people in the late 19th Century. Although people went to church, they also sought protection in folk magic.
Other similar finds have been made in the UK, Europe and North America but this collection is particularly large and varied.
The Cache is one of our permanent displays in the Museum where it can be seen in a purpose built case replicating the floorboard hollow in which it was found.
During building work on another house in Church Street in the 1980s, an 18th Century tricorn hat was found hidden in a wall. It’s possible that a builder making alterations to the house hid his hat to protect it as there was a widespread belief that altering a house might open it to harmful influence. This item is also now held by the Museum and is displayed on a rotation basis.
View of the reconstructed cache as found under floorboards. Photo courtesy of the Mid Sussex Times.
The concealed cache found under the floorboards of the attic near the chimney during renovation works at 1 Church Street.
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