Contributed by Kate Fleming and Philipa Malins
On Easter Sunday 1917, 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 2017 when his step great granddaughter, Vee Willis, brought the watch into Cuckfield Museum together with the story of his quiet heroism.
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 was proud to be able to display the watch during April and May in 2017, in the 100th anniversary year. We also featured 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.
Three sisters, Kay, Ann and Vee, Alfred’s step-great granddaughters, attended Evensong on 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.