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1909: Tragic fatal accident at Brook Street

Updated: Feb 2, 2021

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 20 April 1909



The little hamlet of Brook Street, which lies about two miles to the north of Cuckfield, was awakened out its usual quietude late on Saturday by the news of a serious accident which had befallen a young man whilst cycling from Cuckfield to Balcombe.

It appears that Robert Henry Jennings, a son of Mr. Laban Jennings, of 6 Hatchgate Cottages, Cuckfield, and who worked a gardener at Mr. Peachey’s Nurseries, Balcombe had cycled to Cuckfield to see his parents, and was returning to his lodgings at Balcombe, when he met with the accident.

Jennings left some friends at Whiteman’s Green shortly after eleven o’clock, and proceeded down the hill which leads into Brook Street. When near the Church be collided with Albert Gander, of Jasmine Cottages, Brook Street.

Brook Street circa 1900

It is said that deceased was on the wrong side of the road. The impact knocked Gander down, and he was considerably bruised and shaken. The cyclist swerved across the road, and was eventually picked up 44ft. from the spot where the collision occurred. He was taken into the house of Mr Smith, and Dr. King was fetched, but Jennings succumbed to his injuries early on Sunday morning.

The inquest is being held this (Tuesday) afternoon at Cuckfield.

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 27 April 1909

Cyclists death at Cuckfield.

The accident due to a faulty machine.

Last Tuesday afternoon the coroner for East Sussex (Mr G. Very Benson) held an enquiry at the Wheatsheaf Inn, Cuckfield into the circumstances attending the death of a cyclist named Robert Henry Jennings, aged 19, whose parents reside at Hatchgate Cottages, Cuckfield.

Mr Packham was the chosen foreman of the jury. The first witness called was Laban Jennings, father of the deceased.

He deposed that his son was a gardener, he being employed at the Station Nurseries, Balcombe. Witness last saw deceased on Saturday evening, about 7 o'clock, after the latter had visited his home. Deceased appeared to be alright in health. He was riding a bicycle. Deceased remained in Cuckfield, and came home again about 9:30 pm., But witness did not then see him, having gone to bed. At 1 o'clock on Sunday morning a man came to the house telling him of the accident. Witness went down to Brook Street and stayed with his son until he died on Sunday morning. He was unconscious all the time. The bicycle was a borrowed one. Deceased had ridden it several times before.

- Thomas Edward Boarer, cowman, Whitemans Green, said he saw deceased at the White Hart at a few minutes to 11 o'clock, and on leaving the house, deceased walked with witness to Whitemans Green. The deceased then mounted his bicycle and road away towards Balcombe. His lamp was alight and deceased was quite sober.

- Albert Gander, a sand digger, living at Brook Street, said he was standing by the side of the road, talking to a man named Horton. He saw the deceased coming down the road when about 20 or 30 yards away. He heard no bell. Witness shouted out, "look out, he has a bike coming, any ain't half a’coming." He meant by that that the cyclist was travelling very fast.

Horton said, "Steady on, mate; mind where you're coming to," but the words were hardly spoken when deceased struck witness on the chest and knocked him down on his back, cutting his head and bruising his back. He was stunned. When he recovered men were carrying deceased into a cottage. Witness’s wife had "taken me in tow," and helped him into his cottage, which was close by. Deceased came down on his right side of the road. Just as he reached the spot where witness and Horton stood, he came right across the road, and struck witness as above described.

Witness thought deceased had no control of his machine. He was travelling very fast and there was a sharp curve in the road.

- Arthur Horton, Cuckfield, said he had been speaking to the last witness two or three minutes on Saturday evening when he saw the bicycle coming. He heard no bell. Deceased was on his proper side. Witness and Gander, who were on the other side of the road, did not move. He did not think deceased saw them. He was trapped. His opinion was that deceased was travelling too fast, and could not save himself.

- PC Rummery handed to the coroner photographs of the scene of the accident, and produced the bicycle, showing that the head was loose, and that although the machine had a break, it was faulty, and would not act. The lamp was on the hub, which would not throw much light ahead on the road. Witness had traced deceased's movements from 8 pm to 11:15 pm when he passed witness, with the witness Boarer. Deceased had visited the Talbot and the White Hart with companions, but had had very little drink and was perfectly sober

- The foreman of the jury said he was landlord of the Talbot, and deceased was perfectly sober when he left his house. Witness had never seen deceased the worse for drink. He was a perfectly steady, straightforward young fellow in every way.

- Mr Roffey for the White Hart, also on the jury, said deceased was only in his house very few minutes before 11 o'clock. He was perfectly sober.

- The Coroner remarked that everyone would be pleased to have that testimony, which remove all suspicion that deceased was not sober.

- Continuing his evidence, PC Rummery said he had an experiment made of the speed likely to be attained on the Brook Street hill by a cyclist allowing his machine to run free. The hill was 1000 yards long. A cyclist started 200 yards from the scene of the accident, and witness estimated the speed he attained at 25 miles an hour when he reached the scene of the accident. Witness was of the opinion that when deceased reached the spot where he turned across the road the front wheel had turned, owing to the loose head, deceased having no command over the wheel by the handles.

- A Juryman spoke of a statement being made that a bicycle bell was heard to be loudly rung.

- PC Rummery said other cyclists passed down the road just previous to deceased, and probably it was their bells that were heard.

- Dr Colin King, of Cuckfield, said he was called to deceased by the witness Horton at midnight on Saturday. Deceased was lying on a sofa at Mr Smith's cottage. He was unconscious. The only visible injury was a small scalp wound. Witness could find no sign of a fracture, but from the symptoms, he presumed there was a fracture of the base of the skull. There was an undoubted brain injury, which caused death. Nothing could have been done to have saved deceased's life.

– Accidental death was the verdict properly returned by the jury who expressed their sympathy with the deceased's parents. PC Rosemary was highly commended by the Coroner for the way in which he had prepared details for the inquiry.


of deceased took place on Wednesday afternoon at Cuckfield Church, amid numerous tokens of sympathy.

The service was conducted by the Reverend Canon Cooper, and the chief mourners included deceased's mother and father, sisters and brothers, and aunt. Others present were the present (the Reverend S. Maddock) and members of the Cuckfield Recreation Club, a representative of Mr Peachey’s nursery (where deceased was employed), and several of deceased's friends. The coffin plate for the following inscription -

Robert Henry Jennings

Born January 18th 1890

Died April 18th 1909,

Aged 19 years

“Thy will be done.”

Deceased was carried to his last resting place by four chums. Floral tributes, bearing sympathetic inscriptions, but contributed by deceased parents and relatives, Mr Peachy and deceased's fellow working chums, the working men's club (Balcombe), a friend, Miss Walsh, members ( past and present) of the Bible Class at “Cloonmore”, Mr and Mrs Burtenshaw, Mr and Mrs Hoadley, Mr and Mrs Wells and family, Mr and Mrs King and Maude, Mr and Mrs Packham, Mrs Denham, Mrs French, Mrs Bennett, Fred and Dolly, schoolmate, Fred Bleach, Bill, George, and Arthur (three chums), Cecil Bowles, Nell and Emily, and the Young Men's Club, – Reverend S. Maddock., E. Ewens, A. W. Pace, A. H Rattenbury, E. E. Napper, E. A. Seal, B. Murrell, G. Perry, F. Darcy, F. Fuller, D. Harris, F. Leader, J. Lander, A. Mays, W. Perry, T. Hayward, T, Penfold, H. Hills, L. Upton, E. Denyer, G. Murrell, V. Roland, F. Mockett and F. Bleach

– through this medium Mr and Mrs Jennings and family desire to sincerely thank the many friends who have shown them sympathy in their bereavement.



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