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1840: Cuckfield redeems itself

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

Kings Head from 'Brighton and its Coaches' by William Blew 1894

On tramp in 1840, from London to the south coast

I had a half sister living, as I thought, at Balcombe, 20 miles from Brighton. I resolved on going to see her. I took a little food in my pocket. But when I got to my destination, I found the bird had flown, for she had removed with her husband, a contractor on the railway then being formed, to a distance of thirteen miles. There was nothing to be done but to walk back the distance I had come.

I went to Cuckfield, a distance of six miles. There I thought I should get a dinner, but it was not easy to get. I tried three public houses, but in vain. There was plenty of cool insult, but that was all. I could have got abundance of drink; but I knew that without something to eat I should fare badly on my way back to Brighton. On arriving at a fourth house, the landlady came to the door, her face beaming with smiles. I thought in a moment 'here there is a hope of dinner'. On my asking, the landlady replied, 'I have nothing in the house, sir, but bread and cheese. My husband is away to-day, and I did not think it worth while to get a dinner.' 'Well,' said I, If you have nothing else, I will take that; it is better than nothing.' I walked in. 'Stay,' said the landlady, 'it is Sunday, but I will try to get a steak from my butcher.'

In a short time the steak was brought, and no delicacy on earth could have been more enjoyable or more enjoyed, flanked as it was by a pint of home-brewed. My good hostess would charge nothing but for the beer. She did something to redeem Cuckfield in my estimation, and I have never forgotten her thoughtful kindness. This brings to my mind an extract I once read from a book by the celebrated American blacksmith, Elihu Burritt. In that book he relates his experience of Cuckfield, and it seemed to me as if I were reading my own personal experience, his treatment being so similar to that which, before my last call, I had received.

When I got about halfway to Brighton, I turned round and looked towards London. I thought of the loving friends I had left, and I am not ashamed to say that a tear started from my eye; but I went on and arrived opposite a church just as the clock was striking nine. It was half-past ten when I passed the same clock in the morning, so that I accomplished the journey, including half an hour for dinner, in ten and a half hours. I need hardly say that I was now footsore. The next day was still more trying, for I had to walk a distance of 33 miles to the old city of Chichester.

My friend Haggerty had arrived not long before me, for he had divided the journey from Brighton to Chichester into two. When he saw me walk in, and learnt the distance I had walked in the two days, he looked amazed. 'Aye man,' said he, 'you are indeed a splendid walker.' And I think Jerry was not far wrong.

Robert Gammage, 'Recollections of a Chartist', in the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.

Visit Cuckfield Museum, follow the link for details


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