Discover the history of Cokelers and their stores

A new book takes a look at Cokelers and their links to Sussex.

Thursday, 24th June 2021, 11:40 am
Updated Thursday, 24th June 2021, 3:19 pm

The Cokelers, or the Dependant Brethren as they were officially known, were a community of Christians who ran stores in villages such as Warnham and Loxwood

Other centres were in Northchapel, Shamley Green (Surrey) and South Norwood (Croydon). They had groups in Chichester and Hove, with small groups in Felpham, Haslemere, Fernhurst, Lodsworth, and Plaistow.

Roger Nash wrote the book - Dependant Brethren of Sussex and Surrey: A History of the Cokelers - after many years of research.

Warnham store

He said: “I have been close to the Cokelers much of my life, as family members worked for them when I was a small child. I spent all my childhood in Loxwood where they were very much part of the community.

“Interest in them from the perspective of writing a book goes back well over a decade, when I gained access to a tranche of photos, and other papers.”

Since retiring in 2004 Roger has been writing local history articles and books mostly about Rudgwick, Sussex.

He said: “It is where I live and Cokeler communities were in two neighbouring villages, Warnham and Loxwood.

Roger Nash

“The book took longer than anticipated because I broke off in late 2013 to write a history of Rudgwick in the Great War, published in 2018, after which I resumed the task, with the text close to completion, and with further research.”

During his research Roger unearthed a number of photographs, documents, letters and testaments of members, which meant he could sort truth from myth.

He said: “Is it true they did not marry? For some that was true, as in each village a group of mainly single women lived over the stores, which they called Combination Stores, where they worked and prayed together.

“On Sundays, they would be seen walking to chapel in old-fashioned Victorian dress.

Northchapel store

“The Cokelers were well-known for their generous help for those in poor health or poverty, some outside their community.

“Some have said they drank cocoa, hence their name, but there is no certainty. ”

Beginning in about 1850, the founder, John Sirgood, a shoemaker by trade, arrived in the area from Southwark.

John said: “Sirgood then hit on the idea of providing for his flock (and the other villagers) in the stores, whilst making it possible for women to avoid service in the big houses, whose owners frequently declined to let them go to chapel. This was radical thinking for the 1880s.

“Sirgood died in 1885 at the embryonic Loxwood Stores. Warnham was the first stores to be opened as a residential building. The buildings still sit in the village street, and part is currently a gym. Loxwood stores were where the butcher’s shop now occupies one end.”

Its following declined rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s.

Roger said: “As the groups aged it became impossible to continue, and one by one the shops closed, the chapels closed, and there was no one left to lead the groups in the 1970s. Warnham (known as Lindfield Luff & Co) had closed earlier in 1948. Loxwood (Aylward, Smith & Co) as recently as 1980.”

The book ‘Dependant Brethren’ is available in Northchapel Stores, Petworth Bookshop, Warnham Stores, Loxwood Canal Centre, and online at lulu.com/shop