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1850s: Fascinating Cuckfield recollections

Cuckfield High Street 1903 (colourised photograph)

We believe* that these are the recollections of Thomas Norris born 1849, son of Thomas Snr who was schoolmaster of the National School (Boys only) from 1844 - 1871 (Thomas snr was 36 when he took up the post). The transcript is dated 1913 but the content dates back to the 1850s and 60s.

From Census data, we learn that the Thomas jnr later marries Sarah Dyer in 1868. The family lived in the schoolmaster’s house adjacent to the school. The school mistress Lucy Kirby aged 21 was a lodger with the Norris family in 1851.


The church

The old high pulpit is occupied at Sunday sermon by a preacher who has exchanged the surplice he wore during Prayer and Litany for the black gown.

The high pews prevent us from seeing who are nodding away within the sermon hour; but from the galleries over on the north side we may observe many well remembered faces of Cuckfield notabilities; and at the west end over that funny looking old door leading into the belfry, is the other gallery with the Choir!

A walk around the village

In the Churchyard lie the Clutt0ns of Hartswood (on the coach road from London to Reigate) - then there are the Wallers, and almost hidden by huge laurels is the tomb of Lord Erskine the Second - and the Junipers and the Jenners (I wonder if Her Majesty's Physician remembers where so many of his near kindred repose).

Further east the honoured sire of the Rev'nd A. Maberly - I can picture now the venerable figure, with a black velvet cap, as he used to sit behind the chancel rails at Sunday morning service. [Rev Thomas Astley Maberley was the vicar 1841-77]

Then the Byasses - the good and gentle doctor, the friend for 60 years to the afflicted poor of the country side - Chimney-pot hat and smock frock period.

Cuckfield Park fire

Fire at the "Place" one Easter Sunday. Mirrors and pictures thrown from top stories in order to save them from the flames.

The then Squire Sergison by way of graceful acknowledgement of the strenuous efforts of all to save the valuable contents of the stately old mansion used to let those who would, take an airing round the Park on Sundays for years after.

Death at Newbury Pond

From the Place cross "Ladywell Mead" and look at Newbury Pond, a good body of water which claimed its victims from bathers in Summer, and ice-sportsmen in winter. Milton Harsant's slender weight fatally broke the ice of Bedlam pond one winter.

From Newbury Pond cross Court Mead to call on the villagers.

Stammer the clerk on his crutches, Margaret Smith up to her eyes in snuff. Her prayer and hope is the she may not die in the workhouse.

Old Mr Norris [His father, presumably] afforded her out of scanty means one solid meal per diem.

In Church Street is old Harry Brookshaw [Chimney Sweeper age 78 in 1851] and his sailor and soldier sons; one is away in the Baltic with Napier. [c1854]

Dame Hobbs presides over an establishment for imparting the elements of instruction to juvenile minds. I well remember my father introducing me by carrying me in his arms to Dame Hobbs.

Kings Head

Jenner, the host of the King's Head is a sturdy Sussex native with a constitution ‘hard as nails’. Be he ever so late at night smoking a friendly pipe he is seldom abed after 5am. He never seems tired. He serves irreproachable and substantial fare. [Edward Jenner, innkeeper, aged 53 in 1851]

Beyond the enclosed garden so carefully tended by neighbour Squires we come to the site of the village stocks.

Between the Workhouse and the tallow-chandlers, turning into the field adjoining shoemaker Malthouse's and facing Sim's forge we walk into a well-remembered garden where stolen fruit proved sweetest to certain young scapegraces of my acquaintance.

rope making

In the "Spinning field" Master Bill Brigden monopolises most of the field for his rope walking.

We might enjoy a delightful walk beyond these flowery meads through the Upper Park, ‘trespassing’ by the way across to that very old oak tree - out to Walks Wood and Willie Farm.

On a certain day in July at Host Weller's is the annual club feast w'ch affords an opportunity for many folks to meet in brotherly love.

Sam Mitchell got his own boots inside Parker’s and couldn't get out again - trouble ensued!

Mrs Loveland the village gossip ‘Store’ Gurnett is ‘up town’, the opposite corner is the Apothecary's - then next to Turner's is the Vicarage.

The ‘classical seminary for young gentlemen’ is over the stationer’s - the learned Dr Sutton presides.

At the corner of the lane leading to Ockenden House is the gateway of the Old King’s Head yard and opposite to the Talbot Hotel a garden above the level of the street.[pre 1871 and houses built on site]

The Talbot is the Liberal headquarters and the seat of "government" also when the Petty Sessions are held on alternate Mondays. Host Best presides over this well establishment.

There is the "Young" Doctor's house opposite (Dr. Byass?) and John Bates at his everlasting time meters next door to Jacob Caffyn's with the Misses Denchs' house further up before we get to Joseph Anscombe's.

Say ‘how-d-ye-do’ to friend Peck at the surgery and pass Dr Byass's to look in on the village blacksmith opposite the Post Office.

Pass on to Dann's Cooperage and ask how Parkhurst is and his brother Crouch.

Wheelwright, Rose and Crown and Ship and the miller

Ben Jeffery the wheelwright is hard at work so is Juniper busy as usual this warm weather supplying thirsty souls at the Rose and Crown. Jesse Attree likewise at the Ship - Harry Wood's windmill is nearby.



* However the transcript says: Notes from a retrospect in 1913 by a Cuckfield Native - whose father was McNorris National School Master 1833 - 80 years ago.

So when was this written? The passage refers to the old Kings Head, on the corner of Ockenden Lane so we are talking about around the 1850/60s when Thomas Norris snr would have been in his 40s. But surprisingly it also refers to the workhouse - but the Ardingly Road new workhouse opened in 1843. So was the old one still in use or is he referring to it as a landmark, or is the article written in the 40s?


Census data 1851 from

Transcript of interview held in Cuckfield Museum. With thanks to the Museum for allowing us to use this.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.


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