Jack Norris who is now 85 and lives in Burgess Hill has many happy memories of his time living in Cuckfield for some 20 years (until 1966) and later visiting his parents at the family home in Brainsmead.
His father, also called Jack, was a well know villager and musician and used to work at Stephen Knight’s in Whiteman's Green. We will be doing a feature on his music career in a future article. But, on this occasion, I was keen to hear Jack junior’s recollections of Cuckfield in the late 40’s and 50’s.
Jack Norris was born in July 1936 and lived in Whiteman's Green. He recalled how he got his first job: ‘One day, my Mum went into Tideys the butcher on Cuckfield hill [8 High Street]'. Tideys was opposite the general corn and seed merchant Danns that was below Queen’s Hall, F Dann and Son.
Tidey asked his mother: ‘Does your boy want a job as a butcher’s boy?’
She replied, ‘He’s too young - he’s 10 and he should be 11 to work’
But the shopkeeper, keen to get a helper replied: ‘That won’t matter he looks near enough 11! Ask him to come down and talk to me.’
‘So I did and that’s how I got my first job.’ Jack recalled, ‘I got a round delivering down Brook Street and a couple of other bits around Whiteman's Green. He gave me nine bob a week. And - do you know what - in those days that was good money!' [Ed: £16 in today’s money]
In due course Tidey retired and sold the goodwill of his business to the butcher Seldon on the corner at the bottom of the High Street. There had been three butchers in Cuckfield back then - Tideys, Seldons and Jack Hobbs on the corner of Ockenden Lane.’
‘So I went - lock stock and barrel - down to Seldons.’
Pat Seldon employed three or four boys down there. I was a hero because I was so quick!’
The High Street was very different in those days, full of useful shops for provisions and Jack recalled some of them for us.
Let’s start with Danns which Jack mentioned earlier. It was - adjacent but one - from Marshalls on the hill and next to the cut through between buildings.
‘We got our chicken corn from there but that was about it - they didn’t have much else - well for us at least.’ Danns was a shop owned by the Caffyns who ran Highbridge Mill at the bottom of the village below Cuckfield Park. The shop later became an off-licence.
‘I remember Reg Tree had a cake shop on the corner of the High Street and Broad Street.
‘There was Reg Newman and his sister May who had a taxi business down near Reg Tree’s. She was amazing and let people know that if there were any pregnant ladies needing to go to Cuckfield Hospital urgently, day or night, she would take them for free.’
Frank Leppard's cycle shop
Then there was FR Leppard a bicycle repair shop on the corner by the clock. Frank Leppard founded the Central Sussex Cycling Club.’
Then there was the Penfolds’ harness shop along Broad Street near the Congregational Church on the same side as Leppards, which was then on the corner of Broad Street. Penfolds later moved to the High Street just below the chemist shop.’
‘I went to Cuckfield School and later went to Hove County. I got married in Cuckfield Church. Mum, Dad and Grandad are all buried in the churchyard. .’
‘In my youth, I won the British Marbles Championship at Tinsley Green - about five of us had "knuckles down in the sand". A friend, Harold Langridge, got me into it’.
I asked Jack whether he ever went into the Kings Head Tap Bar [Ed: later, but before 1969, it was called
"The Shades" in South Street. He recalled that it was a bit like a “bottle and jug” - bring a jug and they would fill it up with beer.’
‘The King's Head initially was more of a formal hotel atmosphere. Some of us were a bit young - so we couldn't really go in the hotel to drink so we went to the Tap next door' I suggested that it was more a drinking man’s pub used by the tradesmen and he quipped 'a “A trade in drinkers!”’ But I did have a wedding anniversary there.'
He recalled the most popular pub at the time was the White Hart - the landlord was Ernest Stutchbury.
William Lovell of the Central Sussex Cycling Club on the Francis Frith website recalled the farewell party given to 'Stuch' Stuchbury (in the 60’s?) when he retired as landlord. ‘It was an amazing night. We sang “There ain’t a landlord living in the land, as we'd swop for our dear old Stuch” and the old man, hard bitten ex-seaman, was in tears. Sad, but memorable.’
Jack did his National Service in the 1950 in Yorkshire, Royal Artillery ‘The Nine Mile Snipers’. He was trained in administration and enjoyed the lifestyle. Jack reckons that the army training stood him in good stead for the rest of his career.
He recalled a brigadier he worked for who occasionally had to write biographies of army personnel for society magazines such as ‘Country Life’. Every now and then he would shut down the offices and say ‘Right, not much on, let’s go to the Races!’
Jack's first job was for British Rail working initially in the booking office at Merstham then he moved onto the Redhill offices, which was their divisional office. Subsequently he worked in Cuckfield Hospital, for a couple of years. ‘They were paying me £16.50 but then there was a regrading and I was going to lose 50 pence, so I left there.’
‘After that I joined the Pru [Prudential Insurance the insurance company] and I had a lovely patch - 30 square miles places like Pyecombe, Ashburnham and along the Downs - which I did for 30 years from 1959 to 1989’. He got to know his customers as personal friends, and even though he was offered promotion he liked the lifestyle so much that he decided to stay in his existing role.
I asked Jack how it was that his dad was a brilliant musician and that he hadn’t been persuaded to join in. He replied that his dad had tried.
'When I was a "nipper", I was too small to hold the squeeze box accordion and squeeze it to and fro - so he set the squeeze box on the settee and my Dad pushed and pulled it back and forwards towards the back of the settee - and although I was just a toddler I played it as if it was a piano.’
‘He once said to me "you were alright until they invented tunes"'. Meaning that his son's grasp of lyrics was OK but there was no music to support the song.
‘Even today I recognise many of the tunes and can recall the choruses and could sing along with them. But sometimes it’s just a matter of relearning the words.’
Today Jack is retired and now lives in Burgess Hill. Sadly his wife, Doris, whom he married in 1986 died recently, they used to live in Keymer. But he remembers Cuckfield very fondly and has a remarkable recall of the small detail.
The photos of Broad Street and Mr Tree's shop were taken by Cyril Pike and restored. The portrait of Jack is by the author.
Contributed by Malcolm Davison who interviewed Jack Norris July 2021. Thanks Jack, lovely memories.