Thomas Turner (1729-93) was an important ﬁgure in the village of East Hoathly, East Sussex, nine miles north east of Lewes, where he was shopkeeper, undertaker, schoolmaster, tax-gatherer, churchwarden, overseer of the poor, and much more besides!
His diary is one of several notable Sussex diarists including Cuckfield’s own diarist, Timothy Burrell at Ockenden House, but he covered a much earlier time of 1683 To 1714. But like Burrell’s diary Thomas’s served a number of purposes, it was his book of accounts, a record of legal and property dealings, a place for religious reflection and a way to record his everyday life in Sussex between 1754 and 1765.
There are boisterous parties (after one of these the rector’s wife helped pull Turner from his bed in the early hours and made him dance in his wife’s petticoat), cricket matches, cockﬁghting, horse-racing even unexpected windfalls of conﬁscated brandy.
He mentions a single visit, at the age of 27, to Cuckfield to rent a shop, sadly we don’t learn much about our own market town at that time, but he did mention eating in the King's Head:
Sunday 4 July 1756: About 3 o'clock my brother went to my Uncle Hill's in order to get a horse to go with me to Cuckﬁeld upon tomorrow …
Monday 5 July. In the morn I was called up about 5.25 by Master Mugridge to inform me [that he] had some wheat to dispose of, and I agreed for Sinden to look on it. About 5.50 I set out for Framﬁeld on foot, but met my brother about the London Gate with a horse where I got on horseback and went and breakfasted at Framﬁeld.
After breakfast we set out for Cuckﬁeld in order to treat with Mr. Hesman concerning hiring of his shop. We arrived at Cuckﬁeld about 11 o’clock where we treated with Mr. Hesman and saw his stock, and he agreed to leave it immediately by appraisement or to cry a sale and keep on till [until?] St. Michael [29 September] and then leave it by appraisement. But we agreed to consult within ourselves and let him know our minds in about 14 days’ time.
We dined at The King’s Head on veal cutlets. We just called on Mr Jos. Hills and, from Cuckﬁeld, we went to a fair at St. John’s Common [Burgess Hill]. From thence we came to Chailey and drank tea (meeting with Mr. Beard a-coming from the fair by accident). We came together as far as Uckﬁeld where we parted, my brother going to Framﬁeld, and I came home about 10.30. I spent about 4s 6d. This day I received of my mother £4 4s 0d. for her half part of the mare bought between us …
It’s very probable that the landlord of the King's Head was Richard Jarvis at the time as this coincides with the earliest recorded mention of the inn at the East Sussex Record Office (SAS/BR 26). It was for the date 23 June 1756 and was ‘a one year lease’ to Jarvis. This was just one month before Turner’s visit.
Sadly this is all that Thomas Turner says about Cuckfield - apart from mentioning his brother visiting Cuckfield:
Sun 16 June 1765: My brother went in the morn to Cuckfield where he bargained as a yearly servant and came home about 3.30, very sober. He then walked over to Chiddingly on business, but did not stay … an excessive hot day.
In a broader sense though, the diary is a fascinating chronicle of the time - so little is recorded in our own locality - but Thomas’s regular entries must also mirror life in Cuckfield at the time. This book makes an absorbing read who are interested in local history.
Image from: Coaching Days and Coaching Ways 1893 by Outram Tristram, illustrations by Hugh Thomson and Herbert Railton, 1893
Source: The Diary Of Thomas Turner 1754-1765, edited By David Vaisey
Contributed by Malcolm Davison.