1920s: 'Girls run Cuckfield'... notes visitor

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

In a delightful book called ‘The Lure of Sussex’, Thurston Hopkins records several of his walks around Sussex in the late 1920s. There is a rather amusing extract from his chapter on Cuckfield. This relates to how how he walked from Horsham to Cuckfield and still had enough energy to attend a local dance at the Queen’s Hall:

Later we went to a dance at Cuckfield’s Night-Club, the Queen’s Hall (9.30 till 1 a.m.). We felt a little out of gear after a walk of 20 miles, but otherwise fit and determined to be gay dogs to the very end.

The floor was full of young men and girls fox-trotting to the music of a jazz band. But the surprising thing was the silence of the place, apart from the music. There was no chattering, or laughing; only the drone of the orchestra and the slap and slide of dancing feet. It was like watching a film; all the dancers expressed their thoughts with their eyes and limbs, and one almost expected to see the explanatory sub-titles of the picture palace flashed on the white wall at the end of the dance room.

Have the moving pictures influenced modern dancing?

Queen's Hall, Cuckfield High Street

The music ended and the lights flashed up. Again one felt the atmosphere of the film director. The end of the dance was equivalent to a ‘fade out’ in film punctuation.

In a second the dancers parted and men and girls silently returned to their respective corner. No boy moved a yard with a girl after the dance had finished: this rule was inexorable in the Cuckfield dance code. The film had run to the end, and the actors silently dissolved.

There were more handsome girls in the Queen's Hall that night than one would see in many of the great London hotels and clubs. It is certain that one could not see such abundant form and life and spirits at the Ritz or the Savoy. The girls’ feet were lifted gaily and with ease, and it can no longer be said that the Sussex maidens are slow of movement through walking over clay fields and heavy lanes.

The music started up again. The boys selected their partners with gesture of the eye and head. The girls danced with set faces and a rippling movement of their shoulders. Their dancing was surer and more jaunty than their men partners. Indeed the girls, I will avow, were more vital, smarter, and physically superior to the male of the Cuckfield species.

It struck me again and again that girls ‘run’ Cuckfield. Everywhere you see their trim, business-like figures at the head of affairs - in the shop and the office; even on the farm. You will meet the dancing Cinderellas next morning carrying on all kinds of impossible jobs.

Eton crop hairstyle 1920s

One of the smart, Eton-cropped dancers passed me next morning riding a motor-cycle and a side-car. She informed me that she daily delivered milk over a 15 mile ‘round’.

About Thurston Hopkins

Robert Thurston Hopkins (1884–1958) was a bank cashier and prolific author of topographical works, ghost stories, and biographies of British writers Oscar Wilde, HG Wells and Rudyard Kipling. The family lived in Burwash, East Sussex. His son Godfrey Thurston Hopkins became a well known Picture Post photographer.

Hopkins was a ghost hunter known for his books on ghosts. He described his experiences in his book Adventures with Phantoms (1946). He claimed to have encountered the ghost of a hanged man in a woodland near Burwash on two occasions in the 1930s.

Sources:

The Lure of Sussex, by Thurston Hopkins 1931

Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Thurston_Hopkins


Contributed by Malcolm Davison.

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