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Bedlam Cottage, 2005
Bedlam Cottage; the First Sussex Home of the Cleavers

The family connection with Bedlam Cottage in Cuckfield, West Sussex, began when the Cleaver family arrived there in around 1894. Their arrival was between the birth of my great uncle Horace in Ascott, Oxfordshire in 1893 and my grandmother Edith at Bedlam Cottage in April 1895.

My great grandfather John Cleaver was, according to the 1901 Census, a coachman / domestic and it appears that at the time of the family's arrival at the Cottage, it was owned by the Sergison family who also owned Cuckfield Place. However, the story of the Cottage begins much earlier than 1894.

The earliest known residents of Brichkhost (or Brickehoast) as it was originally called were Thomas and Eleanor Kinge and following their "surrender" of the property, they were in turn succeeded by many residents, detailed here.

A list of events involving the many and various occupiers of the Cottage is here.

It has been suggested that at some point in its history, Bedlam Cottage was used as home for the mentally ill, hence its name and location which was usefully well outside the town of Cuckfield!

An Act of Parliament in 1780 granted "an aid to His Majesty" by a land tax to be raised in Great Britain at four shillings in the pound. The list of owners and occupiers for the period 1780 to 1832 is shown here. In each year, the rent for the Cottage was shown as £2 and the tax; 4 shillings.

In 1800, a survey of Butler's Green Estate was conducted for Sergison and drawn in 1810. Bedlam Cottage was shown to border Old Park Farm to the north and west and Upper Garnolds to the south and east. The adjacent land was owned by the Earl of Abergavenny.

On 30 November 1843, the tithe apportionment for Bedlam Cottage was drawn up. The landowner was confirmed as "Devisees of Warden Sergison" and the occupier was James Packham who also owned land to the north of the Cottage. Bedlam Cottage and garden contained an area of "1 rod and 4 poles".

On 13 July 1926, Bedlam Cottage was sold to H G Turner. Presumably, by this time, the car had replaced the horse-drawn coach as the first choice of travel for the Sergison family and there was consequently no need for stables and accommodation.

A number of other pictures of Bedlam Cottage have emerged over the years:

  • A hand-coloured postcard from (probably) the late 19th century
  • My grandmother Edith's picture of "My birthplace" taken in August 1932
  • An estate agent's photo of the Cottage at the time of its sale in 2005

I was very pleased to meet the current owner of Bedlam Cottage in Summer 2006 and to have the opportunity to visit the Cottage and take photographs inside and out. The visit did solve one mystery for me. Although I knew that at the time of the 1901 Census, John Cleaver was employed as a "Coachman / Domestic", I had no information about where and by whom he might have been employed. The fact that the Sergison family owned the Cottage suggested that he worked at Cuckfield Park, but as can be seen from this picture, the interior layout of Bedlam Cottage shows that it would have been used as both a house and also a high-roofed stable. John would therefore (presumably) have looked after the horses in the same building he lived in with his family and then taken the coach and horses to Cuckfield Park each day to drive the Sergison family as necessary.

Bedlam Cottage is now a beautiful and tastefully decorated home, but fortunately, many of the features that my grandmother would have known are still in evidence. For example, the tiled hall floor, the fireplace, structural features and the wooden doors are all aspects that would be recognised by the past occupants of Bedlam Cottage. The rear of the Cottage now has landscaped gardens and a patio, although the building itself from this vantage point is probably very similar. Planning permission has been granted for a conservatory to be built at the rear. I wonder how the Cleaver family would have viewed such a concept back in 1894?