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A Victorian Cuckfield ramble continues: along Stairbridge Lane, and a tale of fire in Ansty Cottage

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 27 September 1887



Strolling away from Garstons across the meadows I take the path over the pond bay above the mill, up the wood and across the Hickstead turnpike, going along the brow south of the Bolney and Cuckfield road, with fine tract of open country below me, over which I have scampered in bygone times after the merry harriers or fox hounds, with men whose hunting days have long been over, and they have “gone to earth” (if I may be allowed to use a familiar phrase among hunters).

A glimpse of the old country brings forth many a long-forgotten scene, that having been stowed away in memory's lumber room for years comes out afresh, and conjures up a retrospection of the past, either pleasant or painful, that goes to the heart and maybe soothes the feelings.

On the left, over the road, lies Gravenshurst, or New House as it was called a hundred years ago, when the Blakers, who then owned it, were in their prosperity - but having since passed into the hands of a fashionable milliner in London, and her “man on ‘Change," whose wife lingering on for years prevented their being married until the crows-foot mark told too plainly they had passed their prime long ago; but before the time arrived that freed them from the obstacle that kept them so long in an expectant state they had transformed the farm house into a mansion, with grounds, garden, and buildings corresponding. But time works wonders, and it has changed owners over and over again. “Sic transit gloria mundi."

Forward, however, is the word, and I cross Stairbridge lane, that divides the parishes of Bolney and Cuckfield, and passing Lowfield farmhouse take across the intervening field into and through the old furze fields of Pickwell, now fir plantations, and out to Bishopstone.

Stairbridge Lane

You may think there is nothing interesting in a furze field beyond its prickly thorns and yellow blossoms, but remember that the noli me tangere of the former teaches us not to be too rash in meddling with what does not concern us, or we shall smart for it, and the perpetual blossom that is to be seen both in winter and summer ought to remind us of home, and the smile that adorns it, let our position in life be what it may.

But here I am at Bishopstone, an old farmhouse until of late years in a dilapidated state, but now a comfortable residence—a charming place in summer; and in winter, although the adhesive clay clogs your shoes and the mud in lanes soils your garments, and impedes your progress, there are beauties in it that only the lover of field sports and the admirer of nature, even its most fantastic moods, can see.

The old oaks with their branches covered with hoar frost or snow, leafless as they are, furnish a picture; the tone of the deep-mouthed hounds in the wooded valleys below cannot be equalled for music by the most accomplished artists of a brass band, nor can the delight of the hunter be surpassed as he urges the horse over every obstacle that comes in his way, careless of mud but careful that does not soil his waistcoat, which it is certain to do if he rides in the ruck instead of taking the lead. You can always tell when you see a hunter returning home if he is one of the first flight who takes his own course and holds it, or who timidly rides second or third best, or one of the ruck, by the way in which his boots and coat are spattered.

But my pen is off the scent and running riot, and so hark back. How Bishopstone came by its name I must leave to those more versed in nomenclature than myself, or why one of the fields on the farm is called The Lion’s Garden. It may have been that the field was formerly in the possession of some person who raised vegetables for market, and who from the amiability of his temper or vice versa, might be known by the soubriquet of Lion; or he might have kept a grass lion, as have heard a donkey called, to carry his wares to market, and that by browsing on the spot passers by from constantly observing it called it The Lion's Garden.

But leaving it to be decided by the archeologists, when they visit Bishopstone, and not feeling inclined to saunter down the “stick-in-the-mud" lane to see if the water is out, "down Wooderfull" I cross over into a field at the bottom of Butler's wood, across which stands Little Ease farmhouse, fine roomy and substantial old building built in the 16th century by the Heasmans, a family of the yeomen of Sussex, long since migrated “westward ho,” and now famous for their breed of stock and Southdowns; but I have not now space to describe this fine old residence of the former race of stalwart men who inhabited this portion of the Weald and redeemed the wilderness.

So taking a path that "caters" the field I go along the top of old furze field and across some others, coming out to the main London and Brighton road at Chaloners, below Ansty Cross, or else near the old paygate house at the top of Deakes lane, of which a little story, with a promise in my nest to allude to the Heasmans of Little Ease and the Hodds of Ansty farm, concludes my letter.

Some years since a party of hunters in Westup wood were alarmed by seeing an isolated cottage in the lane on fire, and immediately like a Salvation army, they proved to be practically (not theoretically), to extinguish it. But the door was fastened and no one to be seen; therefore, bursting open the door they cleared out such of the furniture they could get at and saved it. On their road towards Cuckfield they met the woman of the house, and told her what had occurred in her absence, to which she replied: "I know better than that, for I locked the door when I left, and there’s the key” and it was not until she arrived and found nothing but bare walls that she was convinced.



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