Alfred Browne

Alfred Browne: Easter Sunday Hero 1917

Contributed by Kate Flemming and Phillipa Malins

One hundred years ago this Easter Sunday, Holy Trinity Church, Cuckfield  hosted its own drama. The congregation had gathered for Evensong and the Verger, Alfred Browne, had one more duty to fulfil before joining the service: he needed to lower the Union Jack flag from the battlements of the church tower at sunset. On arrival he found that the door was on fire and the spire in grave danger of being destroyed. He managed to summon help and extinguish the flames without disturbing Evensong worship.

In recognition of his prompt and effective action the members of the congregation presented Alfred  with a commemorative gold pocket watch. Sadly, he died two years later in 1919 and his widow moved away and remarried.  His grave remained unmarked and Alfred and his brave action were largely forgotten.  That is until now when his step great granddaughter, Vee Willis, brought the watch into Cuckfield Museum and the story of his quiet heroism. 

Alfred Browne
Alfred Browne's grave site - from his plot towards church

1917 was a time of great suffering in the country with the First World War dragging on into its third year.  Over 80 men were lost from the village and the church was at the heart of the community with families gathering to remember their dead and to pray for peace.  If the church had burnt down, the effect on the village would have been catastrophic and it’s likely there would have been a collapse in morale.  Cuckfield Museum is proud to be able to display the watch during April and May, in this the 100th anniversary year.  We are also featuring a copy of Alfred’s ‘List of Duties for the Verger’ which he compiled when he retired in 1918 and which show what a diligent and faithful man he was.  The original is now in the West Sussex Record Office.

Alfred Browne - Watch Face (Denison Watch Case Co, Star, 481787)
Alfred Browne - Watch Inscription


Sisters Kay, Ann and Vee outside Holy Trinity

Three sisters, Kay, Ann and Vee, attended Evensong this Easter Sunday 2017 to recall the courage of their step great grandfather, Alfred Browne, exactly 100 years ago when he saved the church from burning down. 

Lay reader, Clive Simmonds, told the congregation that the village owed a huge debt of gratitude to Alfred, a man whose memory had been lost to the village until now.

If you are interested in this or any other Cuckfield topics, why not visit us in the museum. Click here to see our opening hours.

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