1888 The Saunterer reflects on his time at Cuckfield Grammar School

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

Editor: I can find no subsequent writings by 'The Saunterer' and must conclude that this delightful Victorian writer died shortly after writing the final article below. If I find any more of his writings I will certainly post them........


Mid Sussex Times Tuesday October 30th 1888

SAUNTERINGS BY SAUNTERER.

A Second Series No. 1.


Commencing a series may be compared to watching for a break at a find while the hounds are ringing the cover, it being very uncertain where they may lead us to when the fox has made up its mind as to the course it intends making for, consequently I do not propose in this letter scouring the country, and shall confine myself to “running cover”, noticing imprimis that in Cuckfield old churchyard, near to the spot where lies Lord Erskine, of whom I have spoken previously is a headstone over the grave of the Rev. Robert Prosser who died in July, 1829, at the age of 48, and whose epitaph, brief as it is, is impressive, teaching us a lesson and so to examine ourselves in order to ascertain the condition in which we may stand in futurity, it merely saying that “The day of judgment will declare what we all are.”


This convinces us that it is in vain for us to endeavour by outward show and hypocritical professions to hide from an Omniscient and Omnipresent Power the evil thoughts and actions we are guilty of harbouring and doing, although we do so successfully from the eyes of the world. But a truce to moralising - it makes one feel melancholy, yet it does good, and leads us to think really, as the epitaph advises us, of what we are individually, and of what we shall have to account when before the tribunal from which nothing can be hid or avoided.


Mr. Prosser was for several years master of the Cuckfield Grammar School,

and did duty as curate at Lindfield Church under the then lay rector, Mr. Nainby, who, confined within the rules of the Queen’s Bench for debt, came down, with attendant, once or twice a year, received his rectorial tithes and returned. The old school-house still stands adjoining the churchyard, but has of late years been converted into quite a different use from what its founder, Mr. Flowers, Alderman of London, intended, which was to give a classical education, gratis, to a certain number of boys, natives of Cuckfield and Balcombe.


As the school was founded upwards of 300 years ago I know of no record to inform us of what connection Mr. Flowers had with these parishes, or where he lived, died, or was buried, but that he must have been possessed of property in the locality is a moral certainty, and most likely was a resident, or he would not have been so anxious to enlighten the- at-that-time uneducated denizens of Mudshire, as the Weald has been, not improperly, designated in former days, so that the rising generation born and brought up in the mud were proper subjects to muddle their brains with mythology, and to insure their not falling back to the Pagan principles of the ancient Greeks and Romans by learning the language, provided that the master should be a clergyman of the Church of England.


The stipend to the master amounted to about £30 a year, derivable from charges on certain properties in the neighbourhood, which may seem to have been poor pay, but it must be remembered that in the time of good Queen Bess a penny would go as far in purchasing necessaries as a shilling in the present day, and people lived in a more primitive style, for what are now considered common necessaries were then luxuries only to be reached by the wealthy, and some were not known; and the master being a clergyman, of course had means of adding to his income, and making a very comfortable living.


How, or by whom, the school was conducted during the first 200 years I cannot say, but about a century ago it was carried on by Mr. Hopkins, who as curate officiated at church. But he appears not to have been sufficiently orthodox in his opinions to suit views of the ecclesiastical authorities, and to use the term of my informant “had his gown taken off,” and lost his curacy. My authority for this was the late Mr. Charles Jenner, butcher, who has been dead many years, but who had he lived till this, would be now over 120 years of age, his statement being that when a boy he went to Mr. Hopkins’ school, the only other scholar being Robert Hodd, of Ansty-farm, and most amusing tales he used to relate of their adventures.


Mr. Hopkins resided at the school-house, a very substantial dwelling, pleasantly situated, if an unimpeded view of church and churchyard can be considered as such, and was succeeded by the Rev. Mr. Cotton, afterwards Chaplain of Newgate, who revived the school, and had a good number of scholars, among whom I was informed was one of the original firm of Tattersall, the world-wide auctioneers, but whether it was the same who, on offering a pair of tandem horses for sale that their owner who was no doubt fresh from college named “Xerxes” and “Artaxerxes”, explained that “Xerxes” ran leader and the wheeler was called “Arter-xerxes” because he ran behind and came “arter” him, l know not.


After Mr. Cotton left and succeeded to a more profitable employment than hammering Hic Hac Hoc and Propria quoe maribus into the numskulls of the Cuckfield youths we come to the time, in the first decade of the present century, when the Rev. Robert Prosser became master, a period I can speak more confidently of than of what preceded it.


I cannot say what number of scholars were handed over to Mr Prosser by his predecessor, but in my introduction to the “juniorist” class, over three score and ten years since, they numbered about 80, divided into three sections: the classics and top forms of the boys; those whose education was confined to the English Language and the three Rs being under the supervision of the old master, whom they very irreverently termed ‘Old Bob’; and the juniors and “juniorists”, being conferred to the tutelage of Barker, the usher, a smart little fellow, who, believing himself to be an Adonis, dressed accordingly after the fashion of the dudes of the the present day, wore what we boys believed to be a gold chain over his waistcoat, but had no occasion for a watch as the church clock was visible from the window near which his desk was placed.


I can remember as well as if it occurred yesterday how unpleasant it felt on that memorable morning, for having previously worn a light dress and petticoat trousers, and allowed at an old woman’s school to roll about and enjoy my freedom, I found myself clad in a tight-fitting suit of corduroy, trussed up like a fowl spitted for roasting, with my arms and legs confined and cramped. I had been taught the alphabet and how to spell AB ab and BA ba, that being the extent of my learning.


Being short and dumpy in stature, and the smallest boy in the school, I was placed on a low form close to the usher’s desk, who knowing their errand, allowed the big boys to come round and whisper in my ear to ask the master for a half holiday, it being the rule of the school to grant one on the advent of a fresh scholar and the usher, who was as anxious for a temporary release from his daily and monotonous routine of duty quietly allowed them, just before the conclusion of the morning schooling, to take me up to the master’s desk, who aware of the request about to be made, granted it without a word, and the boys on the church clock striking the mid-day hour skipped out, throwing up their caps and shouting.

I compare memory to an old lumber room, in which are thrown aside, and forgotten, articles once prized but had become useless. But how it brings before us scenes witnessed in former days and the feelings experienced, of joy or sorrow, when we discover among the useless and discarded lumber a relic that reminds us of time long past and friends who have long departed, and who....


Are at peace and at rest,

With the sod for a pillow, the worm for a guest,

Let them sleep on in quiet, we know not how soon

We may follow them down to the lonelysome tomb.


It is thus with memory. A trifling circumstance often brings fresh in our minds things that have long laid hidden in memory’s lumber room, and the brightest and happiest days seem restored us. But how brief is the pleasing sensation that arises for retrospection throws over the gleam of sunshine that gladdens and it is shrouded by cloud of regret. I often think, as I lounge on the commodious seats in the Burial Ground, of how aptly it illustrates, in one sense, verse in an old sentimental ditty -


The sceptred king, the burthened slave,

The humble and the haughty die,

The rich, the poor, the base, the brave,

In dust without distinction lie.


It was in times past the custom to bury the upper class within the walls of the church, and if the flooring of our ancient church could be thrown open it would be found a honeycomb of vaults, in which have been deposited the remains of valiant men who fought for their rights and liberties, and in support of crown, church, and country, or who followed to the field in warlike attire, the heroes of old who led their troops the wars of the Holy Land, or helped to gain the memorable victory of Agincourt: and it was not many years since that a rusty helmet, suspended from the wall, seemed to tell a tale, but now the extended burial ground levels all, for there lie in juxtaposition the descendants of royalty and the grave containing the dust of a pauper,- a Maid of Honour to the Queen, owners of estates and lords of manors, physicians and attorneys of note, historians, men of every description of trade and prominent agriculturists, commingled with those of a meaner grade, the only distinction being the sculptured marble that marks the spot where lie the wealthy: yet doubtless the pauper whose bones moulder beneath an unmarked and humble mound is blest and as happy as the rich man over whom is placed the costly monument.


A few more words about the old school and then I finish my rambling letter. Mr. Prosser was indeed a local celebrity in the scholastic line, and in fact perfect master of the classics, needing no tutor’s assistance to guide him in teaching Greek, Latin and Hebrew. However, I shall treat of this subject more fully in my next letter.


SAUNTERER.


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