From 1951 until 1965 there was an annual Donkey Race meeting held on August Bank Holiday which was used by Cuckfield groups and organisations as an opportunity to raise much needed funds.
The Bank Holiday meeting started in a small way on the land where Warden Park School now stands, but was transferred in 1953 to the fields at Mill Hall Farm at Whiteman’s Green.
Some 10,000 people and 20 bookmakers would attend the race meeting, where the highlight was the annual Donkey Grand National.
The meeting became so well known that is was featured in the British Tourist information brochure, which was distributed overseas.
However, in 1965, the farm fields used for the races were compulsory purchased by the Council so that they could be converted into the football and rugby pitches now located at Whiteman’s Green.
A request was made that the Donkey Grand National be allowed to continue but to no avail.
This left the organisers with a problem, as the local good causes had come to rely on the money they raised at the annual Donkey Races, and it was then that Peter Bowring suggested a Mayor’s Election as an alternative way to raise funds.
But over what should the elected Mayor preside? Rhodesia had recently issued a unilateral declaration of independence so Cuckfield followed suit and the Independent State of Cuckfield was born.
The Early Years
When founded by Peter Bowring, his wife Phyl, and a dedicated group of volunteers, the aims of the Independent State were to ensure the welfare of all Cuckfield’s citizens, young and old, and to protect local surroundings.
The early Mayor’s Elections were billed as a contest between “Publicans and Sinners” and each vote cost “sixpence”. These early elections also featured a contest to select Miss Cuckfield, this being before political correctness.
Cuckfield’s first Mayor, elected in 1966, was publican Joe Mitchell who at that time was landlord of the White Harte.
The Mayor’s Election was followed the next day by the Mayor’s Procession when the newly elected Mayor paraded in the State Donkey Carriage around the streets of Cuckfield, accompanied by Miss Cuckfield, and by imaginatively decorated floats representing many of the Cuckfield groups and organisations.
As well as electing a Mayor, the newly Independent State issued Passports, stamps (which were used to deliver mail during the 1971 postal strike) and currency (five Cuckoos equalled one shilling). The currency was actually accepted in Cuckfield pubs and shops but was mostly kept as souvenirs.In the beginning many Cuckfield residents thought the whole idea rather daft, but the Independent State and the Mayor’s Election soon proved their worth in terms of fund raising and involvement in the community.
For example, in the days before the Cuckfield Parish Council, our Mayors and previous committee members helped with some of the major challenges of the day:
- In 1971, persuading the Council to erect a temporary “Bailey Bridge” on the A272 between Cuckfield and Ansty, following the collapse of High Bridge which cut off Ansty residents from local shops, doctors, Cuckfield Hospital and other amenities
- In 1975, organising the community in the long battle to object to the Council’s proposal to turn 32 acres of land at Sparks Farm into a refuse dump for domestic and industrial waste. This is land where the Cuckfield Golf Centre is now sited
There was an early unavoidable change for the Mayor’s Election when the United Kingdom converted to decimal currency. As a result, the cost of each vote at the election changed from “sixpence” to one new penny.
Today, the aims of the Independent State are achieved mainly by supporting the wide and varied groups and organisations, based in Cuckfield and the locale, through the distribution of the money raised at the Mayor’s Election. The Independent State also seeks to reinforce the sense of Cuckfield community through the participation of Cuckfield residents in the organisation of, and attendance at, the various Independent State of Cuckfield events.