SOME RECOLLECTIONS OF BRINKLEY LODGE, CUCKFIELD 1923-1949
by Susan C Schurr (nee Todd)
I believe it will be well worthwhile to put on record some of the history of this house for its present day appearance belies its quite interesting past.
It started its existence as a farmhouse, Polestub Farm, working, I believe, all the land beside and behind it, from the Rose and Crown to Ardingly road, and to the east as far as the footpath from Longacre Farm to Glebe Road. Whether or not any land on the western side of the main road was within its curtilage I do not know, but unless another farmhouse stood where Knowle or its neighbouring Victorian houses were later constructed, it was for many years the only building between the Rose and crown and Whitemans Green, and it certainly dated from the 18th century.
Little now remains of the old farmhouse except the cellar and, (if they are still there now) the stone flags of the original kitchen floor underneath the floor covering of what is probably a study, a room centre back of the present building. The well of the old house lies under the loggia, just outside this room.
However, this photograph of the back of the house in the 1920s shows a half brick wing projecting into the garden, with a small open casement window upstairs.
This wing was also part of the Polestub farmhouse. The lower floor of this extension was then the scullery, five steps down from the old kitchen. Immediately on the right, at the bottom of the steps was a stable-type door, (divided into top and bottom) to the garden, behind the big laurel tree next to the conservatory.
A sink with its old, large wooden platerack, was beyond the stable door, beneath the barred window which is also hidden behind the laurel bush. Beside the sink was a pump to raise water from the well, already mentioned, at that time directly beneath the scullery. The window over the sink was south-facing but the evergreen Laurel did not allow much sun into this low ceiling room. It was not plastered inside, the brick of the walls simply painted yellow. In the northeast corner was an old copper*, the brick 'steps' of the chimney breast above being useful for things sitting on the little shelves thus created.
I remember at least once, being allowed to make a piece of toast on a toasting fork in front of the little fire burning below the copper that was heating the water for washing the clothes. There was a small larder beyond the north wall of the scullery with its door off a short passage to the back door and a yard beyond. The larder was complete with slate shelves and perforated zinc at the north-facing barred window.
In the 1920s the room over the scullery was a bathroom. Again, five steps down from the adjacent landing room; It had a 'high level'** laboratory at the east and an enamelled bath along the north wall with a gas geezer, noisy and dangerously hot.
Just beyond this wing standing free in the garden with its west wall forming a boundary to the small yard behind, was a brick privy. This was used by the maids, but must have been the only lavoratory for the old farmhouse. It was really rather up-stage; sturdily built and having a window to the garden, but the water needed to be regularly turned off against freezing in the winter. Both this privy and the scullery bathroom wing were demolished in 1934; The latter was already being held together by metal tie rods with ‘S’ ends to counteract the bulging brickwork.
It is possible, I think, that the south wall of the house today might have been part of the structure of the old farmhouse. It has the cellar window in it, but no other window and I remember being told that the back of south facing windows was due to an old superstition that witches came in from that side. I used to wonder if they lived in the cellar!
I seem to remember that that wall was occasionally damp upstairs in the southeast bedroom on the south facing wall, perhaps because it had no cavity. And I imagine that the garage may also have originated with the farm, but that may not be so. There was another well in the garden, probably for farm use. It was near the north boundary wall, about halfway down the garden, just beyond the end of a pathway and steps onto the lawn.
The first stage in the development of the farmhouse was a Victorian ‘improvement’ using the farmhouse kitchen and establishing a hall and two reception rooms downstairs, and four bedrooms and the bathroom upstairs, (see Ground floor plan).
Then the front porch was added and a northerly dining room extension with the ‘square’ bay windows built on. Also added, behind the dining room and with a door into it, was a study which had an identical big porch to that in front, giving it an outside entrance of its own, on the north of the house along a pathway that led to the yard and back door. This study was in the area of the present day staircase and cloakroom.
It was at about this time that Polestub farmhouse became Cuckfield Academy. And notice was nailed to the corner of the house, with the name painted on a piece of wood and discovered when the Virginia Creeper was removed. How long it functioned in this capacity I do not know, but when alterations were made in 1934 and the floor of the south reception rooms was replaced with a parquet floor, underneath the old boards were found bits of slate pencil and more modern India rubber. The northern entrance with the big porch may have been part of the function of this school, and it is perhaps worth remembering that at this time the house still had no immediate neighbours and therefore there was easy access to all sides.
Around the turn of the 19th/ 20th centuries, two spinster ladies, I believe sisters, occupied the house. They had come from Cambridgeshire and renamed it Brinkley Lodge after their original hometown. They converted the 2 south reception rooms into one, longer, drawing room by erecting a large arch between the two in place of the earlier dividing wall. They were very proper ladies from whom my father bought the house. Imagine my mother's horror when on going down to the cellar after she arrived, she found it full of empty gin bottles and Kruschen Salt jars!*** She was then faced with the anxiety, (not faced up to by the two ladies), of having this evidence removed without it being remarked upon!
So, in 1922 my father established Brinkley Lodge as a doctor's house, which it continued to be until 1954. All this time its layout was exactly as in the ground plan shown. On entering the front door a door to the drawing room was immediately on ones right. Directly ahead was a large door, wide and from floor to ceiling, that, if closed, shut off the back part of the house dash we never closed it, but its presence made the hall into a fair-sized room with its own fireplace and with one further doorway which led into the dining room. My father used the hall for his patience to wait in and had the study beyond the dining room for his consulting room. The door in the consulting room that led to the big side porch and side pathway was never, to my memory, used.
With a large door in the whole always open, all parts of the house were constantly available. The second floor in the drawing room was very handy, the kitchen door opposite it was much in use, (though generally out of bounds to children) and the staircase, rising to a half landing with a window looking over the conservatory, was central to our lives. Access to the cellar was by stairs, gated at the top, but essentially a continuation of the stairs to the first floor. The conservatory lay beyond the short passage beside the stairs and down a few steps of its own. There was a small cloakroom on the north side of the conservatory, and with the washbasin there and a spirit lamp, my father used to test the specimens brought to him.
Upstairs from the half landing, a few more steps led to another short landing with three doors. That on the left, exactly reflecting the back half of the drawing room, gave access to the maid’s bedroom. We had, until the outbreak of the Second World War, a parlour maid, for many years Grace Watford from Forest Gate in East London, and a cook, (again for many years it was Lily Tidy of the splendid Tidy family in Cuckfield). The second door, also a reflection of the hall downstairs, led into the night nursery through which one gained access to the room, over the front half of the drawing room, that was our day nursery.
The third door off this small top landing gave into a fairly large landing room, over the kitchen. Here there was a linen cupboard, a window looking over the laurel bush, steps down to the bathroom over the scullery and two other doors, to a back bedroom, sometimes my father's dressing room or a room for a nanny or a guest, and the largest upstairs room, my parents bedroom, which again had a door into the night nursery. It was a house that functioned very well, with occasional changes of usage, for a family with three children.
In addition to Grace and Lily, until I was five years old, in 1928, we had a nanny followed by a governess, and for all my childhood, until sometime during the 1939 to 1945 war, Venn, who lived in Glebe Rd, looked after the garden and my father's car. Every morning before breakfast, Venn would drive the car up to the garage at Whiteman’s Green and fill its tank with petrol ready for my father's daily round of patients. Also daily, my mother would go into the kitchen and sit at the table in the window with a slate and a slate pencil, to write down the menu for the next day and discuss with Lily the ordering and preparing of the food.
The kitchen had an old-fashioned range until sometime towards the latter part of the 1920s, when my father purchased one of the first new AGAs imported into England. This caused a great stir, and my mother was delighted with a comic little gadget on the front of the ‘hot’ oven door. It was a half ‘ball’ of enamel, pivoted on a central axis, which was flush with the front of the AGA and cream coloured like the rest of the front and sides. But when something was cooking in the fast oven, this ‘ball’ could be flipped round to display a scarlet half-circle as a reminder. My mother had all the tea, sugar, rice, etc tins in the kitchen painted red to match! This AGA was still in use in 1954.
The garden, fully walled all round, had old apple trees and weathered pathways. My father created a water garden between the house and the garage, and a greenhouse and two sheds were useful. One night there was a great storm and in the morning cows from the field behind the house were in the garden! The bottom wall of the garden had been blown down which revealed a lovely view towards Ashdown Forest. The wall was rebuilt to keep this view in sight and a ladder on the lower half gave us children constant access to the neighbouring countryside.
We were particularly intrigued by an old pathway that ran from Ruthven Lodge garden to the north, all along the backs of the rows of houses of which by now ours was one, to end near Polestub Cottage. It was bordered by good climbing trees, by two unclimbable walnut trees, by a medlar tree and, in their season, herbaceous plants, which would randomly flower alongside, a memory of earlier cultivation. We would roam, free, over the fields behind the house, to be called to meals by Grace ringing the dinner bell from over the wall.
Between the wars, and earlier, the Cuckfield Infirmary was known as the Workhouse. Tramps would regularly wander along the pathways of the ‘chicken run’, the triangle of grass between Ardingly road and Polestub Cottage, often sleeping on the ground beneath trees in the apex of the triangle. They were a source of wonderment, as also were the ‘crocodiles’ of female residents of the workhouse, taken regularly for walks around the area. The younger members of the ‘crocodiles’ had brightly coloured hair slides, which caught my fancy as a child, as they seemed cheerful, if a bit subdued.
In 1934 my parents decided to make some alterations to the house, as a consequence of which it became much as I expect it remains today. The old bathroom and scullery wing was demolished, before it actually fell down of its own accord! The staircase was resited behind the dining room, the old stairwell being incorporated into an enlarged drawing room. The old kitchen became a new consulting room and a new kitchen with a maid’s sitting room, and, above it two separate bedrooms for the maids and their own bathroom were added. Upstairs a little corridor sorted out the entrances to the family bedrooms and, in the garden behind, off the drawing room and consulting room, my father's delight in the form of a loggia was constructed, a reminder of the many years spent by both parents in India during service with the RAMC during the Great War.
There have been changes to Brinkley Lodge since the Todd family left in 1954, but this little history may be of interest to some.
Many thanks to Mary and Roger Crouch for providing a copy of these reflections
*Footnote : copper - A very old fashioned system for washing the 'whites'. A large copper cylinder was supported within a brick surround. A fire was lit underneath it, accessed through a small opening at floor level. This fire brought water, soap powder and clothes or linen to the boil, a chimney above releasing the smoke. A circular wooden lid covered the boiler and the clothes were lifted in and out with wooden tongs with a metal spring to create a grip.
** Footnote : 'High Level' lavatory. The cistern for its water was high up with a chain to pull for flushing
*** Footnote : Kruschen Salts - Packed in a brown jar, these crystals were reputed to have some medicinal properties and were popular
The name plate 'Cuckfield Academy was positioned just below and to the right of the first floor window as you approach the house
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