top of page

c1830: Workhouse to Warrior (1 of 3)

Old Sergeant's Memories

Talbot Hotel c1850

In a quiet Sussex village a gallant old hero is spending the remainder of his days in such peace as rheumatism and the other ailments of great age will allow him. Colour-sergeant [Richard] Chatfield, of the Royal Marines, is now in his 92nd year, and his memory goes back to the days when Waterloo was something more than a memory, and when the British Infantry was armed with ‘Brown Bess’.

The old Warrior was found at Ansty, a pretty little hamlet just outside Cuckfield, by a special representative of ‘Lloyd's News’, and he talked of the bygone days of service with the ‘Jollies’ in all parts of the world. He can still read his ‘Lloyd's’ without spectacles especially liking that part which deals with the doings of the army. And the old man likes to talk of the doings of his long career in the Marines.


The old Workhouse Ockenden Lane

Born in 1820, Chatfield spent his early days in the workhouse at Cuckfield, until he got a job as boots at the famous coaching house, the Talbot in that town. He has no very happy memories of his childhood, nor of the treatment he received. Education there was none. But as boots at the Talbot things were different. There were no wages, but the inn was a stage where the coaches from London to Brighton changed horses, and those were the days when coaching was at its best.

Eight coaches stopped at the Talbot every day, besides the post-chaises for more exacting travellers. All was hurry and bustle, the mails had to run to the ‘very tick of the clock’, as Chatfield puts it. All the year round there was a constant succession of the bucks and dandies of the time of the fourth George on their way to ‘Brighthelmstone’. The old man speaks with admiring regret of the days smart coaches, splendidly horsed, bowling down the turnpike in all weathers.

From the Talbot at Cuckfield young Chatfield went to an uncle at Reigate, who had the job of looking after the night mail coaches which passed through the town. The connection was not a long one, and soon the young ostler found himself with what he called ‘an empty pocket and an empty belly’ - two very disagreeable things to suffer from.

In the next instalment we learn how Richard Chatfield came to join the Marines.


‘Lloyd’s News article reproduced in Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW), 13 May 1911, page 11.

Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, called the Sunday News after 1924, was an early Sunday newspaper in the United Kingdom, launched by Edward Lloyd in 1842, and ceased publication in 1931. It was the first of three popular papers to be created for those who only had the leisure to read on Sundays. It was followed by the News of the World in 1843 and Reynold's News in 1850. Wikipedia.

On 16 February 1896, Lloyd’s Weekly became the only British newspaper in the nineteenth century to sell more than a million copies. Lloyds News: Placard for Lloyd's News : ‘They Have Signed!’ announcing the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. 29 June 1919. Wikimedia public domain image.


In the Holy Trinity Cuckfield baptism records there is an entry on 4 June 1820 for Richard Timothy Puzee Chatfield, father's name unrecorded, to a Mildred Chatfield - the infant described as 'baseborn' meaning he was an illegitimate child. This would explain the upbringing in Cuckfield Workhouse - then located in what we now call Ockenden Lane.

In the 1911 Census Richard, who was now widowed (his wife we believe was called Mary), was living with his son George and his wife Clara Ellen at Lovells Farm Cottages, Ansty, just off Stairbridge Lane. Records suggest that he died in May that year.

Jollies a nickname for the Royal Marines in the British Navy. Originally all soldiers carried on board a British warship were known as jollies, a ‘tame jolly’ being a militiaman and a ‘royal jolly’ a marine, but later the name was only applied to marines.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.


bottom of page