1914: tough times for the Cuckfield laundry girls


The Twiner family, Frederick and Adelaide and their children Nellie, Adelaide (Addie) and James (Jim) moved from Molls Mill near Withyham to Cuckfield to take over the Cuckfield Laundry in 1914 when Jim was six years old. The family ran the laundry for about 40 years.


The following extracts were taken from the story Jim Twiner wrote of his life and times:

A one horse removal wagon arrived which took just the essential goods as the Laundry was bought as it stood including the house contents The staff consisted of four girls who lived in and two part-time married women, so labour costs were low. The 1914 war broke out a few months after we arrived and the girls were called up for war work, so only higher paid workers were available. This made it increasingly difficult to run the laundry with prices rising and difficulty in getting food for the horse as the army was commandeering all the hay and straw available. However, they carried on and I can remember doing my utmost to go with Dad on a Monday when he drove the horse and cart (collecting the laundry).


When we first moved to Cuckfield in 1914 there were two big grocery shops, three butchers, two bakers, two greengrocers, three sweet shops, a com chandler, an upholsterer, a tailor, two cycle shops, a jeweller, two newsagents, a post office, a carrier who with horse and cart went to Brighton every day, four pubs and two dairies, plus our laundry all in the village, oh and a blacksmith.


I attended the Church of England School where scripture lessons were held each day and lasted an hour, then once a month we attended Church for an hour. When we reached the third class, gardening was done two afternoons a week on a plot that is now part of the cemetery. This was instead of sport, as everyone had to contribute to the war effort. The school ran a shoe club into which one paid sixpence a week for each half year and when redeemed at the shops would get one penny in the shilling discount on the purchase of footwear which for boys meant heavy boots.


Shortly after war started, Cuckfield became quite a big army base. Any suitable field was filled with tents, all stables commandeered and the blacksmith next to our laundry was always busy shoeing horses. The Queens Hall was used as a hospital and it was a common sight to see wounded soldiers as they were getting better, to be out in bath chairs pushed by ever eager young ladies Sometimes a regiment would arrive before the tents etc. then billeting was forced on people with any spare rooms and the Church Hall was packed with soldiers lying on the floor. Each day a parade was held through the town with the band leading the cavalry and infantry. All of this added a lot of interest to our lives.


For about a month each year, the army unit of hay binders came round and turned the haystacks into bales. This added a new dimension to farm work, as before the work was done with a huge blade that cut the hay into shapes of trusses. The machinery consisted of a steam engine that drove a binder, which had a hopper into which the hay was fed on a reciprocating arm which then pressed the hay into shape and was automatically tied. Mules were used to transport the hay to the station and they were stabled at the White Hart. Some were also trained for other work in the war zones and each morning they were brought out for exercise and had to be encouraged with the use of brooms etc. being prodded into them.


Food became very short and rationing caused a lot of under nourishment with growing children, because what was available consisted of blackish bread that had to be two days old before being sold, maize puddings and margarine that tasted more like lard. A soup kitchen was opened twice a week which certainly helped a lot.


From the WI archives in Cuckfield Museum files

NOTES: The tenants of the house next to the forge were running a laundry, the last in Cuckfield, until they gave up in 1954 - 55. The other old cottages down the street (South Street / Chain Walk) were little shops - at different times a candle maker, an ale house, a general store - like any poor street in a village or country town. From 'A Chronicle of Cuckfield' by Maisie Wright.


Contributed by Malcolm Davison.

239 views