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1881: In search of pigs in Cuckfield

Mid Sussex Times - Wednesday 07 September 1881


To the Editor of The Mid-Sussex Times.

Sir, —Notwithstanding I have lived the greater part of my life within hearing of the passing bell, I have never thoroughly explored the ins and outs of our little town. In a sanitary point of view I had always believed Cuckfield to be spotless: my astonishment may therefore be conceived when I read in a leading London paper that we were located amongst pig styes and farm yards. A resolution once seized me to test the accuracy of this startling announcement by ascertaining for myself the number of pig pounds our town contained, and also take a census of the porcine inhabitants.

Accordingly, on a particular morning recently, on hearing the quarter to three chime, I leaped out of bed, dressed, and speedily wended my way through the meadows to Mill Hall, intending from that point to prosecute my search in every legitimate opening until I reached the White Hart. It was a very clear morning, and as I paced the dewy rowens, my attention was directed towards the stars. The moon being in her infancy, had gone early to bed. Arcturus also had set. In the east shone four beautiful planets—Venus and Jupiter in splendid brilliancy; Mars and Saturn being in new attendance. The great Bear, which in the evening previous was travelling downwards, had now commenced to re-ascend. Cassiopi was progressing in the opposite position. Capella was high in the heavens in full lustre. One shoulder of Orion had alone come into view.

Cuckfield High Street circa 1880

It was not without disturbing several bunnies at their early breakfast that I reached the Hall, just as the clock chimed a quarter past three, once I commenced my prying adventure. Entering every nook and pathway, I discovered nothing. Cleanliness characterised the precincts of every habitation. On arriving at the “Ship”, I found that popular hostlery had recently undergone a thorough spring cleansing, and wore an aspect of superiority. It struck me that if a spot in rear of the premises could be secured for the depositing of "Irishman’s Fire,” its respectability would be complete.

Passing on in rear of the gardens and thatched cottages, I fancied I could detect the breathing of a grunter or two, but finding no optical testimony to such fancy I concluded it was someone snoring in the roof part of one of the cottages: still as I moved away past Ebenezer cottage, my nose deceived me if I did not inhale the fumes of hogwash.

On reaching Cot castle, I mounted the fence, when a tremendous large dog sprang at me, almost tearing away from his kennel: I at once decided to leave that particular locality unexplored, and walked on to the south end of the next cottages, where I discovered a sty. This, however, had long ceased to be inhabited, and was almost hidden by green foliage. A glance through the palings convinced me it was now a receptacle for garden tools.

Thence I proceeded to the “Rose and Crown” and had just strided the meadow stile when I perceived an individual coming up the lane. He had already spotted me by exclaiming, “Hey, neighbour, be you the School Board officer?” I assured him I had not the honour of holding that appointment.

“Oh,” said he, "because if you was I was going to pick a bone with you.” Then seeing I remained sitting on the stile he said “I suppose you are after mesheroons?”

“Oh, no”, I replied, I was looking to see if the pigs had got out.

“Pigs,” he exclaimed, “I thought pigkeeping was not allowed in these Local Board places.”

I laughed, and said The Daily Telegraph had dispelled such ideas. He did not catch my meaning, but started down towards the town he commenced a most vigorous onslaught on the School Attendance Committee.

pig and young farmer in old postcard

"Did I think he was going to send his children to school with hungry bellies? Not he. His three eldest boys brought in 8s. 6d. a week, which found the family in a little tea, sugar, cheese, butter, and 4 lbs. of pork at 9d. a pound.

His own earnings were barely sufficient for flour, firing, and rent. Was he going to send his boys to school and the whole family have to live bread and water? Not for School Boards nor Prime Ministers.”

He had, I discovered, peculiar knowledge of politics. Gladstone was the instigator all this school fuss; such a man never ought to be in the House of Lords”. Mr. Gladstone sits in the House of Commons, I remarked.

"Hold hard”, says he, "Gladstone is First Lord of the Treasury.”

“That may be”, says I, “he is only a Commoner for all that”.

“An old woman”, he persisted, and not fit for his place. Sir Robert Peel was the best Prime Minister we ever had; he and Mr. Cobden brought in free trade, which gave us cheap bread: now says Gladstone, fill your children’s bellies with edication; edication be d—-d! it was all very well for the rich, but for the poor it meant starvation.”

He was about to plunge into the Bradlaugh business, but having reached the Brewhouse lane, I abruptly wished him a “Good Morning.” Who he was I have no idea; he was not a navvy, nor professional casual, but looked like a respectable scissors grinder.

I now made my way towards Ockenden, determined to persevere with my piggery investigation. It was now past four, and almost daylight. Hastening on, therefore, through every accessible avenue, by the Armoury, White Hart, National Schools, Church street, and finally throughout the entire vicinity of the Chapel, I discovered neither pig nor pound, no accumulations of filth—not even a bad smell; the very dust holes and ash pits looked clean and respectable; in nothing could I pick a hole (unless it was one or two removals similar to what I mentioned at the “Ship”); nothing had I to record.

The clock chimed a quarter to five as I finished my errand, and as I passed down the road towards my house, pondering the delusive fabrication depicted by the representative of the Daily Telegraph, I could come to no other conclusion than that his statement was an exception to the general rule that “truth is stranger than fiction.”

l am Sir, most obligedly yours,



Sept. 2nd, 1881

Thanks to Cuckfield Museum for photograph of Cuckfield High Street (colourised).



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