The Society of Dependents or Cokelers

Among those claiming exemption from military service during the First World War were members of a small religious sect, the Society of Dependents, more commonly known as Cokelers. The Surrey Advertiser, 26 February 1916, reported a case of a Cokeler who claimed exemption on conscientious grounds on a divine standpoint at Hambledon Rural Tribunal held at the Guildhall, Guildford. The applicant was Ralph Edgar Arnold, aged 28, a journeyman baker of Shamley Green, and he was accompanied by several of his fellow believers. He succeeded only in obtaining exemption from combatant duty.

The Society of Dependents was started in Loxwood, Sussex, by shoemaker John William Sirgood (c. 1822-1885) from Gloucestershire. Sirgood moved to London in the 1840s and became a disciple of William Bridges, founder of the Plumstead Peculiars. He married Harriet Coxhead (originally from Godalming) at Lambeth in 1845, and preached around south London. In 1850, Sirgood and his wife decided to move to the countryside and settled in Loxwood, Sussex, where he started to preach on common lands on the Sussex/Surrey border, his evangelism taking root among farm workers.

The Dependents or Cokelers believed in people’s ability to exercise free will and thereby achieve salvation. They were staunch pacifists, were encouraged (but not required) to remain unmarried, and did not allow wild flowers to be brought into the house. The origin of the name Cokeler is uncertain, although it may have derived from John Sirgood’s preference for drinking cocoa over alcohol. Unsurprisingly, the Cokelers were a source of curiosity in the local press.

Cokelers Surrey Ad 1 Mar 1916

Title: Cokelers Surrey Ad 1 Mar 1916
Description: 'Strong attendance of Cokelers' report in the Surrey Advertiser, 1 Mar 1916 by-nc

The first Cokeler chapel was opened at Loxwood in 1861, and communities grew up in other parts of Sussex and Surrey, including at Shamley Green and Haslemere. The Surrey Advertiser, 29 May 1915, records the “Death of a Cokeler”, William Newman, aged 60, of Valewood Farm, Haslemere. The funeral took place in the chapel belonging to the sect, situated in King’s Road, Haslemere.

The Cokelers were active in Shamley Green from 1865 to 1967, building homes and establishing a combination (co-operative) store at Lords Hill Common. In Pevsner’s Surrey, the entry for Shamley Green states: “More minor cottages around the green at Lordshill Common to the W. (These were built by a local Nonconformist sect, the Cokelers; hence the name Lordshill).” The 1881 census records John Sirgood, by then a widower, living in one of the cottages at Lords Hill. He died in Loxwood four years later.

The Cokeler store at Lords Hill Common survived until the 1960s and, during the First World War, it traded under the name of Bradshaw, Foster, Street, and Co. Among the cases heard at the Hambledon Tribunal in May 1916 was that of Raymond Croucher, aged 30, foreman bread baker, employed by Bradshaw, Foster, Street and Co, Lords Hill Stores, Shamley Green.


Marion May, The Story of the Cokelers (Shamley Green History Society, 1987)

Donald MacAndrew, The Sussex Cokelers: A Curious Sect (1942)

Edward Turnour, Cokelers, a Sussex Sect (1931). Also available at

Shamley Green: a History of the Village (Shamley Green History Society, 1993)

‘The Cokelers’ letters in Sussex County Magazine (1931)

Warlingham, Chelsham and Farleigh – Parish responses to World War 1

Researched and written by Katrina Corth

In August 1914, Warlingham, Chelsham and Farleigh were parishes that came together at a time of uncertainty. Immediately after the outbreak of war, they began to ask what should be done, and a committee was assembled ready to deal with the matter if need should arise. Relief from the distresses caused by war became top priority along with the need to attend church. The feelings of anxiety were felt by all and war sent the parish to its knees before God Almighty. With this need to attend church congregations grew, sending up a hopeful plea for their strength to last as the days went by. A short service was held every Thursday with special remembrance of those serving by sea or land, which was also widely attended. The vicar maintained that the congregation would continue to increase as the numbers of those on the list to be prayed for grew.


Title: 1743 Farleigh church
Description: Farleigh Church, from the south west, 1905 Photographic Survey and Record of Surrey no. 1743 by-nc

Particular attention was paid to families of married men in the care of the Soldier Sailors Family Association. The district was self-sufficient and wanted to have something to contribute to the county fund, to support needier districts. However, unemployment grew in the parishes and the best way to prevent this was to find people willing to be employed. A needlework group was set up and it was important for them to find out what comforts the troops needed. The needlework group also helped Belgian refugees and their families at home. They had no official position and no power or wish to interfere but just a desire to help and offer their services. Schools also soon became involved and Chelsham School started collecting silk materials in order to make handkerchiefs for the sick and wounded soldiers.

The parishes quickly realised that it was involved in a life or death struggle and within the parish magazine men were asked to come forward willingly. This was known as the double wish: the wish not to go to war and remain with their families and the wish not to lose their place on the roll of honour for those who offered themselves knowing the risk to their life. Few men came forward but those who did were unburdened by anxiety for the provision of their nearest and dearest. These men were accepted and the hope was that they would set an example which might be followed by the young single men of the district. West London Rifles started to meet as a goodwill gesture to train young men, with every faculty at the range for instruction in the use of the rifle given by the club members. Openings then started to become available for men unable to join the fight, and Special Constable Positions filled to aid the police if necessary.

The parish community appeared to fear the lack of employment more than the effect of war during November 1914. However voluntary groups such as the Mission Room Working Party provided urgently needed flannel shirts. Parcels were sent to the British Red Cross and distributed to the sick and wounded soldiers. As the number of troops increased it started to become difficult to supply outfits for every man. Appeals were made by officers on behalf of recruits and in response to two particular appeals from different parts of Surrey, parcels of shirts and socks were sent off by the Needle Work Committees.

The British Red Cross eventually started issuing weekly lists of needs, which gave a useful guide as to the direction in which best to employ energies. Young girls from the age of 14 upwards offered their services to support the war along with the women of the village by knitting warm socks.  Soldiers’ needs were not forgotten and many items went off to the hospitals for the sick and wounded. Although many needs continued to be met, money started to run out and contributions asked for as materials purchased up until Christmas were exhausted.

A great amount of people everywhere made a point of sending up a short prayer at 12pm every day for the soldiers and sailors.  However after a short burst of church-going at the beginning, people started to lapse back to their old ways, and the winter months made service attendance a test of endurance. Over the Christmas period the committees slowed down and refugees started to be sent away from depots as there weren’t any garments left to give. However, the committee continued to cut out shirts for Belgians, having to give up making garments for soldiers. In view of the continued demand for clothing both for Belgians and for the soldiers the committee opened a fresh appeal for funds.

On Thursday, January 14 1915 at 8pm the first of a series of lantern slides of the war illustrated the character on both sides with scenes from the battlefield in France and Belgium, battleships and aeroplanes. The expected attendance was high and these lectures continued to keep everyone updated with the progress of the war. The roll of honour continued to fill with losses and the first batch of exchanged prisoners returned to the parishes. Thoughts of the soldiers continued and tea without milk was announced because many of the men at the frontline and in the hospitals often had to go without. A collection was made for 200,000 of Nestle milk on 25 March 1915. Warlingham and the district clearly did not let themselves get behind with helping their men who were doing so much for their country. However, due to illness the work party was closed but women still continued to work at home.

The church quickly recognised the magnitude of the war and immediately looked to galvanise its parishioners into contributing in any way they could. It also realised that people’s faith at this time would be very important given the large loss of life, and it looked to offer as much support as possible to keep up morale at a time when, as individuals, it would have been easy to give up. This sense of increased community and the understanding that they not only wanted to be self-sufficient but they also wanted to contribute in any way they could, only served to cement their commitment to the cause. With dwindling supplies and increased demand both at home and on the front line, they continued to find other ways to contribute and finally even when they were unable to continue as a working party, the members still looked to carry on under their own steam. The level of community spirit centred round the church cannot be underestimated and ultimately led to victory both here and abroad.



SHC 7742/4/3 ‘Farleigh’ (August 1914) in: Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazines (1914-20) (vol 262)

SHC 7742/4/3 ‘The War and Prayer’ (September 1914) in: Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazine (1914-20) (vol 263)

SHC 7742/4/3 ‘War Relief’ (September 1914) in: Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazine (1914-20) (vol 263)

SHC 7742/4/3 ‘Needle Work’ (September 1914), in: Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazine (1914-20) (vol 263)

SHC 7742/4/3 ‘The Country’s Call’ (September 1914), in: Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazine (1914-20) (vol 263)

SHC 7742/4/3 ‘War Notes’ (October 1914), in: Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazine (1914-20) (vol 264)

SHC 7742/4/3 ‘Relief Committee’ (October 1914), in: Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazine (1914-20) (vol 264)

SHC 7742/4/3 ‘Mission Room Working Party’ (October 1914), in: Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazine (1914-20) (vol 264)

SHC 7742/4/3 ‘Girls and the War’ (November 1914), in: Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazine (1914-20) (vol 265)

SHC 7742/4/3 ‘War and Prayer’ (December 1914), in: Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazine (1914-20) (vol 266)

SHC 7742/4/3 ‘Mission Room Working Party’ (January 1915), in: Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazine (1914-20) (vol 267)

SHC 7742/4/3 ‘Lantern Lectures’ (February 1915), in Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazine (1914-20) (vol 268)

SHC 7742/4/3 ‘Needle Work’ (March 1915), in Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazine (1914-20) (vol 269)