Maisie Wright recalled in 1986: 'A few years ago, the West Sussex Record Office organised an oral history project. It concerned the living conditions of working people before 1914. Extracts from a transcript of the second of two interviews given by residents of Cuckfield are reproduced here.'
My father was born at the old Club House in Cuckfield in 1880. (The old poor House, established in 1722, later became a tenement for several families with a Working Men’s Club on the ground floor.) My father started work at nine and he worked as a carter’s boy at Boltro Farm, Haywards Heath - £3 a year and he lived in.
I remember him telling me once that when he was a boy he had to jump to take hold of the lead, he was so short and he said he missed it one day and one of the horses went somewhere they shouldn’t and the carter brought the whip round him. So when he went home he told his father “He gave me the whip today, Dad”. He said “I expect you did something to deserve it. That’s all the sympathy I got from my father” he said.
(Later C.M.’s father took over from his father a small holding in America Lane Lindfield, one of a group established by the philanthropist, William Allen and the Earl of Chichester to provide a living for unemployed farm workers in this poor district and called ‘the Colony’ as it was an alternative to emigration.)
C.M. Gravely Cottages had an acre and a half of ground and my father used to dig a garden of half an acre and the other acre he used to grow corn. Deans Mill at Lindfield used to buy all the corn and I don’t think they paid my father much for it. He gave them the straw and they’d give him so much flour back, and that must have been quite a bit because my mother used to have several sacks.
You had quite a big family I believe
C.M. Yes my mother had 14 children in 20 years. She lost three as babies
You all lived in a small cottage?
C.M. Yes! We never went hungry. We had very sound living and plenty of it. Mother used to make bread puddings. And us boys when we got older used to help father catch rabbits and we had rabbit stews and that sort of thing three or four times a week, always a beef pudding on a Sunday. My mother used to make a couple or three big puddings, peel about a gallon of potatoes, chuck them into the copper and my brother Ted and I had to keep them boiling and she’d chuck in an apple pudding with it.
All in the copper?
C.M. All in the copper and when us children wanted to drink, all that liquor she used to put it into a jug for us to drink with all the goodness what the vegetables and stuff was cooked in.
Tell us a bit about this cottage in Gravelye Lane that you lived in.
C.M. Well, it was a five room cottage, end on end, right the way through.
Only a single storey?
C.M. Yes. There was a back door and a front door, three bedrooms and Mother paraffin. Water was drawn from a well out the back that was 60 feet deep. I remember that and it was lovely and warm.
And there were 14 of you in that house?
C.M. No! There was eleven of us, nine children and Mother and Father. There was nine of us living there when Lyn had gone to work. As one went to work another came along.
How did you sleep?
C.M. There was three of us in my beaded there was two more would sleep in a single bed that way on. (He describes the room entirely filled by the beds.) Father and Mother had one child in bed with them and another one in a little cot and in the end room was the rest of the children. Yes. We all mixed up together.
What sort of furniture did you have?
C.M. Not a lot. We had chairs - there was no fancy work - a table and that’s about all in the kitchen.
Was anything handed down to your parents?
C.M. Yes, the house. You know, the family lived in the house for 98 years.
Do you remember what you wore as a child?
C.M. Most of my clothes I went to school in was my father’s trousers cut down and that type of thing. Pullovers second hand or given to us.
Your mother couldn’t go out and buy clothes in the shops for all those children with the money she had?
C.M. Do you know my father had 25 shillings a week. Out of that he had 3s 6d a quarter - I remember that, but we never went hungry.
Did the doctor ever come to the house?
C.M. Not very often. No. My father put me in the Juveniles, the Foresters as soon as I was old enough and then that covered me, so I really had the doctor free. Father had him free, of course, being in the Foresters.
So the men had the doctor free but the mother and girls had to pay?
C.M. Oh yes. When Mother was confined she had to pay, find the money for the midwife to come.
Did you have any pocket money?
C.M. 3d a week. Then when I went to work at the age of 13 in 1912, I was 13 on the Friday and I started work on the Monday under my father as a garden boy - 6 shillings a week. I had sixpence out of what I earned. Lots of times I used to give it back to my father because he couldn’t afford to buy tobacco. Sometimes I spent it at Lindfield and bought a couple of pennyworth of broken chocolate. You got a pound and a half you know.
Can you tell us anything about the Lindfield Fair? It was sheep fair wasn’t it?
C.M. Sheep, that’s right, and cattle too. Me and another young chap took six heifers. We drove them from Lindfield Common right out to Cowfold. Six to eight miles each way. We drove them all out there and walked all the way back and the farmer gave us sixpence each. It was quite a good Fair in them days, bigger than what it is now. It was paraffin heated and all steam work, no electricity or electric lights at all; all the roundabout were driven by steam.
Did travellers come with their horse drawn caravans?
C.M. Yes! They were very tough. I think they were rougher in those days than they are now, they would fight more. They always used to send an extra draft of police over to Lindfield Fair at night. Beer used to talk too much.