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1865: Snowball throwing gangs terrorise locals

Sussex Advertiser - Saturday 04 February 1865


To the editor

Sir, – the juvenile game of snowballing, a pastime that ought to be confined entirely to boys, has been carried on here to an extent that has given rise to many just complaints, and in a manner that has not only rendered it extremely obnoxious but dangerous to the public.

All the time that it is merely indulged in by boys as a winter sport there is no harm in it, and they are allowed as a matter of course and custom to pepper away at each other to their hearts content, while if a stray missile happens to strike a passerby it gives no offence, for he receives it in good humour and enjoys the joke. But when a gang of men congregate, and annoy any persons, old or young, who happened to pass along the street, it becomes unbearable and ought to be suppressed.

Horsgate Lane circa 1900

During the snow of last week this was the case, and the objects who seemed to be the chosen marks of aim by these fellows, who were ably assisted by the youths of the place, were mostly women and old men, while if a stalwart customer came along and “turned stag” the crew would fly like rats before a terrier and hide themselves in any hole or corner they could creep into. I saw one old man going down the street who was most shamefully maltreated by them, and who, poor old fellow, afraid to fly on account of his inability to run and the slippery state of the road, was fain to bear with it, while another was forced to take refuge in a shop for half an hour or more until he saw the others who were pelting another unfortunate person they caught sight of, drawn away, when he made his escape.

When the snow went off on Wednesday night, hopes were entertained that the nuisance was at an end, but on Friday during the terrific snowstorm of that day, it not only became past a joke, but dangerous, for the town was for hours taken by storm and everyone seen in the street was pursued by these worthies and hunted down as if by a pack of prairie wolves. In one instance, an elderly gentleman, perceiving the assembly at the Kings Steed corner, playing their pranks, attempted to avoid them by going round Ockenden Lane, but “There goes old ______”, was the war cry, and away started a detachment in pursuit, while another body started to forelay him, which they did in the street near the Talbot, where unable to defend himself, and in an ill state of health, he was scandalously used by the whole gang and his silk umbrella torn to tatters, he being obliged to seek an asylum until his persecutors had disappeared.

Shameful scenes presented themselves the whole day, persons who tried to sweep the snow from the doors were driven in with a cry and a shower of missiles, women with children in their arms were attacked, and numerous windows were broken – of course by that Imp of mischief, ‘nobody’ – while ‘everybody’ cried shame. But what is the worst of it, the crew, if not actually headed, were encouraged by those who ought to have known better; and if a gentleman chooses to amuse himself by having snowball matches and sham fights on his own grounds, so let him, but keep your roughs out of the streets, and if some others, who from their station, do not know better than take the lead of such a set, and cannot find better sport, they had better send round and have the windows mended, as well as replace the old gentleman’s umbrella, or if it's not unlikely the public may hear something more of the matter in another shape.

As to the boys, let them enjoy themselves in their own way, but for men to act in this manner is disgraceful, for if a fractured bone, a dislocated joint, or a concussion of the brain should occur, or a frightened horse, whose rider or driver is shied that, to injury, it may be more serious than they imagine.

But enough has now been sent, and trusting that the saturnalia is over,

I am, sir,

yours obliged and respectfully


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