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1806-1892: The unlikely schoolmaster ... 4/5

In the year 1833 an Horticultural Society was established in Cuckfield. Mr Norris at that period had not quitted his employment at Borde Hill. Various species of horticultural produce were sent from the gardens there to make the first show a success The Sow Committee were chiefly selected from the tradesmen of the town, a few gardeners being also included.

The arrangements of plants, flowers, fruit, vegetables, &c., devolved on this Committee, and as the science of colour-harmony and symmetrical display was comparatively little known and less regarded it is not to be wondered at that here and there the exhibits presented a little ocular discord.

Not a few remarks were passed by the more knowing ones in the town as to the propriety of this plant being placed here and that tray of fruit there. etc., etc., and these criticisms, reaching the ears of Mr Squires, the head gardener at Borde Hill, he at once sent for his man Thomas, whom he knew took a greater interest in tasteful display than anyone else in the neighbourhood.

'Now Thomas, said Squires, we (the Committee) are going to dinner; meanwhile you can inspect the show, and if, in your opinion, any of the exhibits are placed at a disadvantage, come back and tell me.

Pig with one ear

In less than a quarter-of-an-hour, Thomas entered the Committee room and announced to his superior that the show looked like 'a pig with one ear'. This announcement being heard by the whole Committee produced a rear of laughter.

One member, however, assumed an indignant demeanour, and demanded to know what the young man meant by such a statement. 'Furthermore, perhaps you can let us into the secret as to how it can be made to resemble a pig with two ears', said the offended Committeeman. 'I can make one improvement, at all events,' replied Thomas, 'if you will permit me to do so'.

Permission was given, and Thomas went at once and borrowed a thatcher’s 'dog'. In one angle of the show room a large plant had been placed, the predominating colour of which was green. In the corresponding angle was located a large yellow flower. In a secluded part of the show lay a heap of twelve fine cabbages. Thomas collected these and proceeded to fix them in the thatching implement in such a way that when completed the group corresponded, both in shape and colour, with the green plant before-mentioned. His next step was to place the large yellow flower where he had found the cabbages, and these latter he removed to the vacant angle.

The altered effect was very striking, and when the Committee left the dinner table to open the show, Thomas's changes were perceived at once, and acknowledged (even by the irate member of the Committee) to be a vast improvement. A simple illustration of this matter is here given:

In the early part of the summer we often see the green wheatfield bespotted with yellow blossoms of charlock. In another part of the field where the weed has been uprooted the eye is relieved; the pure greeness being much more appreciated than the inharmonious mixture.] In shows, later on, after the gardener had become schoolmaster, be was elected a member of the Committee, and his discriminative taste was always respected.

Sunday school advisor

Let us now revert to his scholastic capabilities. These were ever regarded as being eminently successful. It is true be made very free use of the cane, but his castigations were always discreetly and dispassionately administered, he was never admonished for being unduly harsh, and, as a rule, his scholars loved him.

His Sunday school management was also generally commended. He was often applied to for information as to the best mode of conducting those institutions, there being, in some rural parishes, a scarcity of teachers, while in others there wore no schools at all. One instance of this kind is here given. The parish of Wivelsfield was under the pastoral care of a non-resident clergyman. The Rev George Dixon resided at Ditchling, and he had to divide his ministrations between the two parishes.

Throughout the whole of the Sundays the village children ran riot. Mr Ockenden, a resident tradesman, knowing that Sabbath teaching had been started in the surrounding parishes, felt considerably anxious to be doing something of the kind in his native village. His neighbours, however, were lamentably ignorant, and therefore no assistance was available without going over the parish boundary. Finally, Mr Ockenden consulted the Vicar, who entered into the matter with great enthusiasm.

'No better authority in these matters', said the clergyman, 'can be had than Mr Norris at Cuckfield', and application was at once made for his valuable services. But the Cuckfield master could not be spared, and so, in the end, Mr Ockenden was induced to make a Sabbath day's journey to Cuckfield on several successive Sundays. Here, he received the most kindly hints on the teaching and management of children from Mr Norris who impressed on his mind that the secret of success in the conduct of a school was to secure the children's love. Mr Ockenden was so impressed with the genuine integrity of Mr Norris's character that the two men became fast friends for many years.

Part five follows …

Mid Sussex Times, 23 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.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.

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