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

Finding true love

About two years [1844] after Mr Norris had quitted the National School he became the subject of some romantic gossip. English scandalmongers always know other people's business better than their own.

Mr Norris had now attained his thirty-sixth birthday, and no signs of wedlock presenting themselves the gossips proceeded to take the matter into their own bands. During the first fifteen years of his secret courtship only very few letters had passed between him and his affianced, the reason being that every letter cost sixpence. These were the lowest terms the Post Office afforded, and heavier letters than one ounce cost the sender ninepence or a shilling, according to the length of their respective destinations.

Penny Black Wikimedia public domain image.

In 1840 the Penny Postage was established, and then the number of letters began to multiply exceedingly. People who formerly corresponded yearly now opened a weekly correspondence, and thus it was with Mr Norris.

The postman rarely passed his school without leaving a letter, and the neighbours began to imagine there most be something in the wind. 'Who is it writes to him so frequently?' said one. 'He is a sly dog', said another.

Rumours of romance

Finally an aged widow, residing some three miles away, was fixed upon as being the favoured one. All this chitchat was conducted entirely unknown to him to whom it applied.

One day a sturdy farmer called to settle for his boy’s schooling opened up the subject in this way: 'How many more journeys before you settle down?' The schoolmaster was in a fog. 'What are you driving at?' he asked of the farmer. 'Why, this splicing business with the widow; you are all ribt: she has got a little money"

Mr Norris was fain to own that that was the first he had heard of the matter. 'Why' said he ,'supposing the widow you speak of was really available; look at the disparity in our ages; there is the same difference between my age and hers as there is between twice eight and twenty and twice twenty-eight'.

The farmer, without troubling himself about the solution of the problem, rode off, and in the evening his boy was instructed to work out the sum. When the answer was announced the farmer was so struck with surprise that in his absent-mindedness be filled his pipe out of the tinder box instead of the tobacco box.

It was quite natural that Mr Norris should feel annoyed at the doings of these busybodies. He therefore resolved to speak his mind at once to her whom he suspected as being the originator of the fabricated invention. This he did while suffering from a bad cold, and the lady thus smiled, very calmly told him he ought be indoors, and if he liked she would make him something hot before he went to bed. Mr Norris sternly told her he wanted neither her advice nor her eleemosynary [charitable] gruel.

Found a treasure

Two years after the incident just narrated both the barriers to the long and patiently waited-for marriage became removed, and the extended courtship, namely, from the hot summer of 1826 to the cold winter of 1844, was ended, and the universal exclamation was : 'Mr Norris has found a treasure'. In due course the worthy Vicar of Cuckfield induced the newly-married couple to take up their abode at the National School, the one as master, the other as mistress. [Ann Topper was a year older than Thomas, more below]

They sustained their positions for 14 years, at which period death snatched away the loving wife and fond mother [when Thomas was 52]. The schoolmaster thus bereaved still held on till the consummation of the Forster revolution [Forster Education Act 1870 see below], whom he was told his services were no longer required. Mr C Christopher, who succeeded him, put him in the way of obtaining a pension from the Society for aiding Church of England aged schoolmasters and mistresses.

Thomas Norris Cuckfield schoolmaster 1844-71

Well deserved retirement and no smoking

After waiting ten years he succeeded in securing over over 7,000 votes which conferred an annuity of £20. This he enjoyed for another ten years, and then closed his long and useful career. One or two other remarks, and we have done.

Mr Norris never could appreciate smoking. In regard to the poor he declared that the expense alone was a deprivation of necessities due to wives and children, and people in better circumstances sacrificed their self-respect by the indulgence. On being told that many clergymen enjoyed a cigar and that some doctors recommended a pipe of tobacco he waxed quite poetical, denouncing the whole community of smokers alike:

Be the peasant, priest or surgeon

be he peer or be he Spurgeon,

Friendly Society

For a long period he acted, in conjunction with the late Mr Stephen Knight, in the management of the old Friendly Society and when, by a fatal fever in 1853, this society became impoverished they issued an appeal to the gentry another to come to the rescue, which appeal was, in a measure, successful.

These two excellent men work together, the one as President, the other as Secretary of the Society for many years; in a mutual friendship so resemble David and Jonathan. This annoys suffered much physical infirmity during his last for months; his closing hours, however were peaceful and tranquil

A generation long since passed,

Behold his natal morn;

in season we behold at last,

the emblem shock of corn

Final journey

Mr Norris's funeral was, in strict accord with his mode of life, carried out with the greatest simplicity. It was his wish there should be no flowers, and this would have been complied with had not three very kind friends unwittingly acted contrary to deceased's instructions.

Miss Norris, the sister, was also interred at the same time, and numerous friends attended to testify their respect. A wreath, composed and printed by Mr W Bleach, one of deceased's old scholars, was the theme of great admiration, the design being simply beautiful. [ENDS]

End of serialised memoirs of Thomas Norris.

Mid SussexTimes, 23 February 1892


The January Necrology - Norris's obituary

During the past month there were nine burials in the Parish Churchyard, seven of these taking place in seven days. The average age of the departed - 75 years again shows that the older people are less able to battle with illness than the younger ones, the highest age being 84 years and the lowest eight months. In addition to the above deaths we must refer to that of Mr Thomas Norris, which took place on Friday, the deceased being in his 86th year. Mr Norris was formerly the master of the National Schools, retiring when the new order of things set in.

He had been the collector of tithes for the the parish of Cuckfield for many years, and of late years

had collected the Cuckfield Local Board rates and the Cuckfield Gas Company's rates. Mr Norris' sister,

who lived with him, died on the preceding Wednesday, her age being 76. The funerals took place

conjointly this (Tuesday) afternoon. A further notice will appear in these columns next week.

Mid Sussex Times, 2 February 1892

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.



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.

Forster Education Act 1870

This introduced:

  • That local education boards should inspect schools to ensure there were sufficient places.

  • That elementary education must be provided for children aged between five and 13.

  • That schools should be publicly funded.

  • That parents had to pay for their children’s eductation, unless they could not afford to.

  • That attendance should be compulsory.

  • That religious teaching should be non-denominational, and that parents could withdraw their children from religious education.

  • That schools should be regularly inspected to maintain the standard of education.

The outcome:

The areas that caused controversy were the provision of religious education and the public subsidy. Some people wanted specific schools that would promote denominational education, while the established church feared its power to run schools would be lost. Some were fearful of the idea of mass education, others felt that state subsidy for education was threatening. The act retained the requirement for parents to pay fees when they could afford to, and for the state to pay for those who could not. Religious instruction was retained but didn’t favour any one Christian group over another.

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