This charming story about an old couple celebrating their diamond wedding in Burgess Hill is wide ranging in its subject matter and local places before settling on Burgess Hill - but Cuckfield does get a brief passing mention.
A well-known, respected, and interesting old couple are Mr and Mrs Luke Waller, of Wheeler’s Cottages, Church Road, Burgess Hill, and on the celebration of their diamond wedding on Saturday they have received the warmest of congratulations from the Vicar of Burgess Hill (the Rev Dr HG Bonavia-Hunt) and a host of relatives, neighbours and friends. Sunday was 'Grannie' Waller’s eightieth birthday, and her husband will be 80 next April.
They were married at Clayton Parish Church on November 22nd, 1853, by the Rev Mr Guttridge, during Archdeacon Garbett's period of faithful service there, and Mr and Mrs Waller have had 52 descendants, 13 children, 30 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Old age pensioners they are now quiet folk, contented and happy with their lot and their life stories, as gathered by a representative of this journal in their cosy little cottage, are reminiscent of the 'good old times', which contrast strangely with the present.
'I was born,' said Mr Waller, 'in an old farmhouse at the bottom of Fairplace Hill, Burgess Hill. My father was Henry Waller, a carter for Colonel Ellwood, of Clayton Priory, for 40 years.
'I attended the London Road School, which was then conducted by Mr Breeds, with the assistance of his daughter. It was a small school then. I first worked as a grocer’s assistant for Mr George Clarke, who kept a shop where the cottages are now near the entrance to the Victoria Pleasure Gardens. After being nine years with him I was employed by Mr Rayward, a grocer and wine and spirit merchant, at Diamond House, London Road, and was in his employ for 27 years.
'When Mr Rayward died the business was taken over by Mr Carter, and I was with him for a time. Mr Smith eventually succeeding to the business. Then I took to gardening, varied only for a short time by doing building work for the late Messrs Allfrey and Woolliven, builders, of Fairplace Hill.'
'How,' asked the press man, 'does Burgess Hill compare now with the St John’s Common of your early days?'
'Very well indeed,' came the reply. 'When I was young St John’s Common was a Common indeed! There were very few roads. Furzes, wild thyme and sage were growing freely everywhere.
There were emmet hills [Cornish for ant hills?] in all directions, and ducks and geese on the pools and in the muddy swamps. Not more than a dozen houses were to be seen, these being mostly farmhouses.'
'Oh!' commented the Journalist. 'No nice lighting arrangements, I suppose?'
'No, no gas or electricity. In the houses we used the old rushlights on stands, with pincers, you know, and we went about at night carrying large horn stable lanterns.'
'What postal facilities did you have?' was the next query put.
post cart drawn by dogs
'Well,' said Mr Waller, 'Hurst had the main post office for the whole neighbourhood. I distinctly remember Postman Elliott coming with the ‘mailcart' with letters for Burgess Hill. It was a small cart, drawn by a couple of dogs. The postman used to blow the posthorn, and people would run to the doors to take in the letters. Sometimes they would put letters in their windows for him to call for. He went on from Burgess Hill to Wivelsfield, and returned in the evening.'
'What religious services were held here?' asked the Reporter.
'Of course,' was the answer, 'St John’s Church and most of the other places of worship were not then built. St John’s Chapel was standing many years ago. Church services were held in the old schoolroom in London Road. Archdeacon Garbett came from Clayton every Sunday to preach there.'
'Did you have a choir or any musical instruments?'
'Yes, I was in the Choir, and so was my wife - well, we were only boy and girl then. Old Charlie Stone, who kept the large ironworks which then stood at the top of Fairplace Hill, played the clarinet, and the big 'grandfather fiddle’ was played by another man - I believe it was Mr White, but I cannot remember exactly.
'Did you,' queried the press man, 'ever hear of any smuggling done in this district?'
'Yes, I heard my father tell the story of how smugglers in the old days used to get their barrels of spirits to a house called Black House. Why, here (pointing towards the wall) is a picture of that very house as it was then!'
Grannie tells her story
'My maiden name.' remarked Mrs Waller, 'was Sarah Ann Izzard, and I was a daughter of John and Sarah Izard, of Handcross, where I was born. My father was a maker of old heath brooms, long brooms and stable brooms, which were sold by his master, Mr Biggs, who was Clerk at Slaugham Church for many years, and who kept a shop at Handcross.
'I went to school at Slaugham. Leaving there when I was nine years of age - for they didn’t have to attend school till they were 14 then, you know - I got a situation at Reigate, looking after some children, but in addition to my food I only got 6d. a week wages! From there I came as a servant to St John’s House at the top of the Common (St John’s Common), and afterwards I went on for Mr and Mrs George Clarke, of London Road, Burgess Hill, and was with them for eight or nine years. I and my husband were in the same employ.'
'So that was how you happened to meet your husband?’
'Yes,' came the answer, 'he was always after me!'
The old couple laughed most heartily as they recalled the 'days when the heart when the heart was young.'
'But you are getting along a little too quickly,' suggested the Pressman, who feared that a good story was about to fizzle out. 'Cannot you tell me some of your girlhood recollections of Handcross - of stage coaches or of Royalty passing through?'
The dear old lady was willing to oblige.
'I remember,' she said, 'our good Queen Victoria once coming through Handcross on the road from Brighton, and the whole village turned out and cheered her. In the olden times many coaches ran up and down the London and Brighton road - taking the now road by way of Hickstead rather than Cuckfield - and the boys of the village would run after them for some time and come back rich with coppers thrown by the passengers.
'I recollect the opening of the London and Brighton railway line. Nearly all the men in Handcross. took their children to Balcombe to see the first train run. My father carried me on his shoulders. Trains were considered to be wonderful then. What my poor father would think if he could come back now and see flying machines, motors and submarines. I don’t know - I really don’t!
'Trains, however, do not seem to be any too safe to travel in even now. There have been a lot of dreadful accidents. That reminds me of the Clayton Tunnel accident. Mr Rayward had a little grocers shop at Warninglid as well as at Burgess Hill, and I and my husband were there on the day that the Clayton Tunnel accident occurred [Sunday 25 August 1861].
'We were expecting company, Mr Waller’s father and mother from Hassocks, that morning. They did not arrive, and later we heard from men who were driving through the district of the dreadful smash - of dead and injured people being laid on the railway banks, and of trains held up all along the line. The shocking news caused great sensation all round the neighbourhood.'
Switching off that subject for a more pleasant one, we discussed the changing fashions.
'People used to go about here wearing clogs and pattens,' Mrs Waller said, 'and very high ones, too.' (A pair was produced). 'They also were too.’ (A pair was produced).
'They also wore crinolines,’ she added with a laugh, 'and (triumphantly) - I have got mine even now!'
'Where did you live after you were married?” was the next question'
'We first lived,' said the old lady, 'at the bottom of School Hill, Burgess Hill - in a cottage near Holmesdale. Then we kept a small sweet shop in the London Road, near Meadow Cottages, and sold heath brooms there as well. Next we had a sweet shop a few yards from here, in Church Road, and it was ‘celebrated for its home-made bullseyes.'
'What,' putting the final question, 'do you think is the secret of your long married life ?'
'Well, you know,' was the response, 'we both pull together, and try to help and encourage each other. In health we have had our ups and downs, but we are glad to say that we are well now. We go to Church when we can, and we thank God that we have lived so long and hope to go on for a few more years yet.'
A large iced cake was made and a party held yesterday (Monday) to commemorate the unique event.
The Mid-Sussex Times, 25 November 1913.
Illustration: The old stagecoach rural children playing acting as passengers, horses and driver by Eastman Johnson and sold by Heritage Posters in the US https://www.etsy.com/listing/1091138278/the-old-stagecoach-rural-children
Contributed by Malcolm Davison.
After posting this Ava Maria of Ditchling recalled: 'Alice Waller (surely a decendent) who lived in the Dymocks in a cottage with a green door and the shiney-est brass knocker, used to have a cup of tea with my godmother, Miss Turner, who lived in Squirrels. She used to tell of playing marbles in the road outside the Sandrock [pub] on the way to school and how they would wait at the cross roads for the charabancs travelling to Brighton. They would dance and wave and the passengers would throw pennies to the children.'