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1806-1892: The unlikely schoolmaster ... 1/5

Updated: Dec 28, 2022

This is a fascinating story which appeared in the Mid Sussex Times in 1892. Thomas Norris was the schoolmaster at Cuckfield's Old Grammar School from 1844-1871 and we believe these are his personal account - and must be one of the earliest eye-witness accounts we have of the village - the story starts in Lindfield over 200 years ago before the Battle of Waterloo. As you will read he was quite a character.

We have decided to serialise this in five parts. Thomas was well liked, but entered teaching from a rather unlikely background. The stories start in Lindfield over 200 years ago and, as you will read -

We read about his scary brush with the Swing Riots, his experience in horticulture and 'the pig with one ear', how he became involved in teaching, and about the harsh school discipline of the time, of his shy and very long courtship. We learn of his retirement and how he helped run the village Friendly Society. It's a slow start - but you will find out that it livens up as we read on - there are some delightful and amusing stories!


The long and useful life, just ended, of Mr Thomas Norris, affords matter of much interest, considering the many positions of responsibility held by that highly respected inhabitant. He was born, of respectable working parents, at Lindfield, on the morning of St. Crispin, 1806. His cradlehood extended to a period of two years and eight months, after which the family oscillating repositary [cot] was wholly devoted to the use of a baby sister. Thomas’s earliest recollection was no unusual one; it was the sight of his grandmother’s inanimate body in her coffin. This was when he was four years old.

peace declared

A few years later the European war was brought to a close [1815], and a general peace proclaimed. Lindfield, like many other towns in England, rose to the occasion, and preparations, on an elaborate scale, were made for celebrating the welcome event. The festivities included a general illumination, and this necessitated the employment of a number of tiny hands, Thomas being included in the number.

Quantities of turnips and potatoes were served out, and these juveniles were busily engaged, for several days, in making vegetable candlesticks to serve the purpose of the illumination. Mr Norris often said that the esculents [fit to be eaten] chosen for the manufacture of those toys were the only commodities sufficiently cheap for such a purpose.

Grammar school pupil

The old Grammar School

After this event, till he had passed his tenth year, Thomas constituted one of the leading playmates of the Lindfield juvenile community. The family then migrated to Staplefield, at which place he assisted his father in various employments till he was thirteen, his education being wholly neglected.

In the year 1819 a gentleman, named Balcombe, came to reside in the neighbourhood, who, observing the lad's intelligent face and exemplary behaviour, undertook to give him an education. He was accordingly entered as a pupil at the Cuckfield Grammar School.

Here, under strict discipline, he made rapid progress, and eventually became proficient in general knowledge. After leaving school, his parents having removed to Brook Street, Thomas, being possessed of a taste for flower gardening, was engaged as under gardener by Captain Preston, at Borde Hill.

Part two will follow … read about Thomas's scary encounter with the Swing Riots and how he became a schoolmaster

Mid Sussex Times, 9 February 1892


Thomas's dad, George Norris, was a Smith.

Thomas's wife was Ann Topper(1805–1858) from London she was a spinster. They were married 7 December 1844 at St George, Hanover Square, London. He was 41 she was 42.

3 Apr 1881 (age 74) Thomas was a widower and lived in Church Street, Cuckfield. Occupation a collector for the local gas company.

5 Apr 1891 (age 84), Thomas still lived in Church Street.

Death of sister Nancy Margaret Norris (aka. 'Ann') 1816, Cuckfield, January 1892.

Thomas buried 2 February 1892 at the Holy Trinity Church, Cuckfield.

Genealogy information collated on the Penfold-Delves family tree by Mark Penfold.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.



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