Cocking is a village and civil parish in the Chichester district of West Sussex, England. Cocking sits at a sort of cross roads in time - where the modern A286 Chichester to Midhurst road crosses the ancient South Downs Way. Cocking lies underneath the South Downs Way in the shadow of Cocking Down and Linch Down - two of the highest points on the Sussex Downs.
In the 2001 census there were 190 households with a total population of 459 of whom 223 were economically active.
From the village you can see the chalk pit where an earthquake induced fatality occurred. On 18th September 1833 Mr William Marshall was killed by falling rock caused by a force 3.0 earthquake which had its epicentre a few miles south at Chichester.
It is not known if the Romans lived here but by the 5th century a Saxon Chief named ”Cocca” chose to settle, his followers becoming known as Cocca’s people, but by the 11th century, Edward the Confessor owned it. The Norman Conqueror William 1 gave it to Roger de Montgomery a friend and advisor who,after the Invasion of 1066 was created 1st Earl of Arundel and granted huge swathes of Sussex lands. The Domesday Book records that at this time there were five mills working in Cockinges all of which have now disappeared except one of their wheels that is now working at the Singleton museum.
The Manor of Cocking belonged to eight generations of the Montague family until bought by Lord Egmont in the 19th century; then in 1909 the Pearson family the current owners bought it. They own the Pearson Empire that incorporates the Financial Times and Penguin Books plus other media. W.D Pearson became Baron Cowdray hence now Cocking is largely owned by the Cowdray Estates. Their properties can usually be identified by the distinctive yellow colour of the window frames and a small street number plaque on or above the front door depicting a “C” surrounding the number.
The present church has a Saxon font, which is said to have come from the original church that was replaced by a Norman construction much of which can be seen today despite there being considerable 19th century work carried out. During the latter alterations an interesting 13th century window was discovered high up on the south wall of the nave. On the side reveal is a wall painting of an angel appearing to the shepherds. Throughout its existence the church had not been dedicated and was known simply as Cocking church until recently one of the church bells was found to have a Latin reference to St Catherine, a 14th century Roman Catholic saint from Sienna. On the 29th of April 2007 the church was finally dedicated - Saint Catherine of Sienna.
From the 18th century to 1999 chalk quarries were the major employer of the area, while a less arduous commercial venture also continued until 1970 – watercress growing that supplied much of its produce to London. Historical transportation history can be hinted at from the design of the Post Office building that was once a Toll Gate for the Turnpike that went through the village during the mid 18th century. This was put out of business by the Chichester to Midhurst railway that provided a daily service to London until 1928 and continued to carry passengers until finally closing in 1935. Although it carried coke cargo for the chalk quarries, its most popular purpose was to carry racing enthusiasts to Goodwood one of whom brought great pride to the line– George V11.
A present day resident, when hearing that some of the local people were planning to create a Millennium map of the village history, influenced them to do something more striking. His name is Phillip Jackson one of the country’s most respected bronze sculptors whose works include the Matt Busby statue at Old Trafford football stadium and an Equestrian Bronze of the Queen in Windsor Great Park. His idea was that the village should create a History Column on similar lines to Trajan’s Column in Rome. The residents were to do everything themselves but he would teach them how, never mind the fact they had no previous experience. His enthusiasm overcame their lack of confidence and they decided to have a go. In all twenty-eight villagers took part, some researching in tremendous depth historical events, others learning to draw and do relief modelling. One gentleman I met told of how he had taken his High School Certificate in Calligraphy but it was so long ago he didn’t think he would be any good. What was even worse once he started he found it had to be done mirror ( back to front) fashion. Each of the modellers had to work at home on a plaque representing an historical scene and carving it in wax. Finally, after five years, in 2004, they were ready for the plaques to be sent to the Morris Singer bronze factory in Lasham to be cast. There was tremendous excitement at this point but, one more obstacle had to be overcome. Where was this 2 ½ metre high column to be sited? They were authorised by the Cowdray Estate to use a corner of the car park beside the church and planning permission was duly obtained, but – the estate withdrew its permission. Eventually another piece of garden , belonging to the Malt House was agreed. Finally on the 15th of April 2005 Lady Cowdray (herself one of the modellers) unveiled the Cocking History Column.