My Family History
Ancient recipes and dinosaur teeth
I am Andy Revell and my family’s links with Cuckfield stretch back over several generations.
During the years of that long association, my ancestors accumulated a great variety of materials which, it turns out, tell some compelling tales of family and contemporary life. That so much material should have remained stored intact and untold for well over a hundred years seems extraordinary to me.
A bit of backstory
In 1995 my father and stepmother ‘downsized’ and decided to dispose of generations of stuff that had been collected and stored for posterity; I was offered the stuff - and for ‘dumping it’ on us my wife was offered an apology. A cursory glance in the bulging ASDA bag passed unmindfully to me revealed a treasure trove of letters dating from the early nineteenth century; similarly an old cardboard box held numerous handwritten booklets from the same era…..
A cache of unique primary sources from a distant past time appealed immediately to the local historian in me; I was delighted! Since then, whenever time has allowed, I have researched, transcribed and tried to contextualise the material. I also trawled through many contemporary articles to learn more about life in old Cuckfield; I hope you will find the end result as fascinating as I do.
I begin with the context and transcribed contents of an antique recipe book begun in 1822 and a historic event that occurred during the same year.
My mother’s great grandmother, Bridget Williams was born in Newcastle Emlyn, Carmarthenshire, Wales in 1795; in 1819 she married Cuckfield solicitor Samuel Waller in the local Holy Trinity Church and the couple settled into their ancestral home, Leyton House (now called Cuckfield House). Over the period from 1821-1828 they had five children who survived infancy. She died on December 3rd 1867 aged 72.
According to her obituary in the Sussex Advertiser December 14 1867, “Mrs Waller, whilst resident in Cuckfield, was universally beloved and to the poor and those who were in trouble and affliction, she was ever a kind and generous friend.”
Bridget Waller left handwritten recipe books that have survived over
190 years. I have transcribed some of them, and you can see them here. A few of the dishes will be recreated by our family friends (and culinary experts!), Jane Barker and Norma Buckle, and I include photographs to suggest how they might look…
A landmark discovery was made half a mile from Leyton house at Whiteman’s Green, Cuckfield in 1822, the same year Mrs Waller started her recipe book.
As this extract from the Mid Sussex Times extract shows, Mrs Waller was right there with her friend Mrs Mantell (wife of the celebrated ‘dinosaur hunter’ Gideon Mantell) when the first dinosaur fossils were found:
Mrs. Mantell, wife of Sir Gideon, then a surgeon at Lewes, being on a visit to her friend Mrs. Waller, wife of Mr. S. Waller, solicitor, of Cuckfield, the two ladies on walking over the green passed a man by the roadside breaking lump of stones; when Mrs. Mantell, perceiving what appeared to be a fossil on one of the stones, they stayed to examine it, and being satisfied of its nature gave the man gratuity to take it to Mrs. Waller’s house, from whence Mrs. Mantell took it home for her husband’s inspection. Dr Mantell named his discovery Iguanadon in 1825, becoming the first man both to discover and describe a species of what we know now as dinosaurs.
Sir Gideon Mantell
Bridget Waller (1795-1867)
Birth abt 1795 ~ Newcastle Emlyn, Carmarthenshire, Wales
Age 24 — Marriage
28 Sep 1819 ~ Cuckfield, Sussex, England
Samuel Waller (1794–1857)
Age 46 — Residence
1841 ~ Cuckfield, Sussex, England
Age 56 — Residence
1851 ~ Cuckfield, Sussex, England
Age 72 — Death
3 Dec1867 ~ Chester Square, London
Frederick Waller’s travels to the USA in 1869
Journal text T/C
Samuel Waller (junior)
aboard the True Briton to Madras in 1840
Pages from one of Mrs Waller’s recipe books