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1806-1892: The unlikely schoolmaster ... 2/5

Narrow escape

During the time that he worked at this vocation [agriculture at Borde Hill] he had a narrow escape from receiving physical damage. A turbulent mob had assembled to effect the release of a lad [John Pagden] who had been apprehended for sending threatening letters to certain respectable inhabitants. This mob called upon all the working classes to join in their pernicious enterprise, and Thomas Norris was selected by them to act as leader. [This as part of the Swing Riots see notes below]

Rousing him up at midnight, he was told that if he did not take a prominent part in the matter he would have to take what followed. Apprehending personal injury he mixed with the gang during the first night, but lost no time on the following day in informing his master of what had occurred. This had the desired effect. The mob was put down, the incarcerated offender brought to trial, and eventually dispatched to Van Dieman's Land.

A change in career

The beautiful Borde Hill Gardens

Thomas retained his situation at Borde Hill till the year 1831. We must now hark back to 1812. Up to that time Cuckfield had made no scholastic provision for the children of the working classes. Other towns had moved in the matter, and a few schools had been opened, but Cuckfield remained passive till one gentleman felt constrained to take up the question.

This was Joseph Baker, Esq. Having consulted with a few friends, a meeting was ultimately called at the King's Head Hotel, on June 12th, 1812, by that gentleman. A long and animated discussion ensued as to the desirability of educating the children of the poorer inhabitants.

New school

Arguments were used on both sides of the question, the non-educating party embracing a considerable number. Ultimately it was resolved: ‘That a school be established for educating poor children, and that subscriptions from the inhabitants be solicited for the support of the same’. This appeal was responded to by some very liberally; others held back.

Joseph Baker, Esq., headed the subscription list with ten guineas. Another gentleman put down his name for a like sum, but this was afterwards withdrawn. However, other donations followed, a committee was formed, and eventually a school opened. The attendance, for sometime, was sparse, but in the course of a few years it became manifestly clear that a new schoolroom would have to be built. This was effected in the year 1816, on a site near the ‘Rose and Crown’, which site was presented by the Rev JF Fearon.

The new school was opened at the commencement of 1817, the mister's salary being about fifteen shillings a week. In the month of February, however, the subscribers were called together to hear a report read, by Joseph Baker, Esq., concerning their financial position. It soon became evident that education held but a small place in the minds of the good people of this ancient town: a large debt had been incurred, and gloomy were the prospects of its liquidation.

Salary cut

The Committee came to the conclusion that some retrenchment must be effected, and the first resolution moved was the reduction of the master’s salary! Eventually a manifesto was issued to the inhabitants generally, urging the desirability of everyone contributing something toward so good a cause. The difficulty at last was tided over and, by slow degrees, the school’s financial position became more satisfactory.

It is worthy of note that the most energetic worker for the success of the school enterprise was the late Mr Faulkner Best [The Talbot landlord]. He was rarely absent from the Committee meetings, and persistently urged the parents to give their children the benefits of education. Thus the school made slow progress till the year 1884.

Part three will follow …

Mid Sussex Times, 9 February 1892



Swing Riots

The wages of servants were somewhat lower than those of farm labourers, but as their food was included they were, in fact, better off. The miserable condition of the farm labourer and his family caused by low wages and the high price of bread at the beginning of the century was further worsened in the 1840s by the introduction of agricultural machinery.

The labourers hated the threshing machine which deprived them of their winter work with the hand-flail in the barns and forced them to seek work road-mending for eight pence a day. In desperation they smashed the machines and set fire to hayricks. This serious situation throughout the country was met by the most severe penalties; death by public hanging for firing a rick and transportation for seven years for machine-breaking.

Many Sussex men were hanged on the gallows on Ditchling Common The only violence recorded in Cuckfield was the firing of a rick at Pilstye Farm and a rick ladder destroyed at Borde Hill, but the landowners were scared by the letters of one who signed himself ‘Swing’ and threatened to burn ricks and farmhouses if they did not get rid of the machinery.

From Maisie Wright's Chronicle of Cuckfield.

Read our article about th Riot of Cuckfield here: https:/



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 from on the Penfold-Delves family tree by Mark Penfold.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.



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