Life at Cuckfield a hundred and ninety years ago
In 1941, Mr W.H.Mitchell, a lifelong Cuckfield resident, provided The Mid Sussex Times with 1830s diaries kept by his uncle, Mr John Mitchell, over a hundred and 10 years previously. The diarist was also a highly respected Cuckfieldian. He was born “during the battle of Austerlitz” 1 (2 December 1805), and died in the year 1880.
Educated at the Cuckfield Edward VI Grammar School, (now the Cuckfield Old School), he evidently helped his father, Mr Samuel Mitchell who was Postmaster, covering an area from Horsted Keynes to Twineham. He was also agent to the Sun Fire Office2, “Reeve” of the Manor of Cuckfield3, and carried on a business of Draper and grocer where Penfold’s shop stands in the High-Street. Mr John Mitchell seems at times to have been clerk to a timber merchant and also to have done clerical work at the contractors office for the railway construction in Sussex and Kent.
There were three books (now lost), clearly written and in a fine state of preservation, embellished with miniature drawings and private and mysterious marks. There were day-to-day weather reports, and hundreds of incidents were recorded. The entries comprise the following:
January 4th 1830 Gin and Bitter Club at the Kings Head
January 5th Ball at the Talbot. Very comfortable, and a strong party.
January 7th Ball and supper at the Kings Head to celebrate the Baptism of the little girl, very comfortable; very late.
January 10th Skating. In over exertion, hurt my back, and could scarcely walk
January 29th Parish wedding. The man was got from town, a license was procured, and we gave him a merry peel on the bells.
February 2nd and 3rd Weather severest ever known in the memory of man.
February 5th Shooting at Pickwell with G.W. and E.T. Dull sport. Found several hen pheasants, but did not dare shoot. Killed between the three, one cock pheasant and one woodcock.
February 7th Mother confined, the “little stranger” making his appearance before we came home from church.
February 22nd Meetings of Commissioners of Taxes. Barber surcharged. Hunting the owl in the church. Could not catch it.
February 23rd The young party had anticipated this day for a hare hunt, but the rain prevented our going out until 11 o'clock. A very bad day’s sport; found one hare, and soon ran her into a wire–but we had plenty of “mud sport”. About 30 dined, and it was a very jovial and convivial party with the exception of Mr. C who made himself a fool. Kept it up till between 2 and 3 AM: a regular slap up spree, all being in full sail.
March 1st March came in like a lamb, scarcely a breath of air stirring 5th Meeting of Committee of National School4: four candidates put up four election–postponed. Carpeted by stating previously that Stevens was put to bed inebriated at ‘Whacky’s’. Went down to T.E. as soon as I had dined to consult him as to my being correct in case being called forward again on the same subject.
March 8th Select hunting feast at the Dolphin. Father went.
March 14th First time of seeing the bridge below Willies5 since completed.
March 21st Mr Heryett’s funeral6. Henry McGeorge Mitchell baptised.
March 26th, 27th and 30th The hottest days almost ever known at this season.
April 1st Made an April fool
April 5th Two troops of the 15th Hussars from Brighton and Headquarters band went through the town.
April 7th and 8th The Cuckoo and Nightingale heard.
April 16th Old Molly Hammond buried this afternoon.
May 11th Went down to the Dolphin to see a shooting match between T.H. and W.P. I shot two matches myself, and won both.
May 25th Cricket match between Mr Best and friends up in the rough field. After tea father played, for one, and they kept it up till a very late hour.
May 31st Club at the White Hart (Union). Went to church. Mr Dixon gave a very good sermon
June 2nd Club at the Ship. A regular gypsy row in the afternoon. Went up at about 9:30 PM and came back at 2:30 AM. A rumpus, and rough coming home.
June 3rd Whit Fair day, but a shocking fair day; very few people and scarcely any business doing. The sudden alteration in the weather was, I doubt not, a great disappointment to many of the young lasses and prevented their coming. It was very thinly attended. Roundabout, and plenty of fun for the boys.
4 School founded by the National Society for promoting Religious Education for poor children 5 Farm in Deaks Lane; later it became a private school 6 W. Heryett was a purveyor of tea in Cuckfield
June 4th The second fair day, that's nothing stirring – the town seemed quite dull.
June 8th Rather a singular and uncommon scene passed through the place this evening at 7 - three funerals at one time, which nobody recollected seeing before. The King has for some Time past been very unwell. The bulletins have been such that you could not form any opinion as to the real state of his health, but this morning's papers bring more unfavourable news than any before, and he is considered to be in a very dangerous condition. A prayer for the king was read in the church by the Rev Henry Fearon.7 I omitted to state that the cold winds we had in May caused a great blight in the oak trees, and many of the woods looked more like winter than spring. We had not had such a blight for 40 years.
June 10th Father went to St John's for some brown ware. Thomas Brigden going with him.
June 26th We have the melancholy news, which reached us this afternoon, of the death of his most gracious majesty George IV8.
June 27th The papers this morning too truly announced the death of our beloved King after an illness of about two months and suffering the most excruciating pain9. It pleased the Almighty to relieve him of his suffering yesterday morning about 3:15 o'clock, in the 68th year of his age. He was appointed Regent in the year of our Lord 1811. After the death of his father in January 1820, he was crowned on July 19th 1821. King George the fourth held the reins of government 10 1/2 years, and was greatly beloved by his subjects. He is calculated as, or at least bears the character of, being the best king that ever sat on the English throne10.
June 29th The papers this morning gave accounts of the proclamation of our new sovereign (the and Duke of Clarence and St Andrews and Earl of Munster), William the fourth. According to the usual custom of England, after the demise of our sovereign, another it must be proclaimed instantly. It is rather a regular fact that all the kings since William the third died on a Saturday. It was exactly 12 months from the time the King (George IV) signed his hand to the Roman Catholic Bill11 that he was taken with his fatal illness..
July 4th We had an excellent sermon this morning on the death of his late Majesty, George the fourth by Mr Fearon. There was a partial display of mourning this morning.
July 7th Went over to Horsham to play a match of cricket against the Horsham gents, and after a very hard fought contest we were obliged to acknowledge them victorious by about 30 runs. We got home about 4 AM. I was never so tired and stiff in all my life, and I did not hear one of the party but what had enough.
7 The Ven. Henry Fearon (born Ockenden, Cuckfield 20 June 1802; died Loughborough 13 June 1885) was Archdeacon of Leicester from 1863 until 1884.
8 George IV (George Augustus Frederick; 17 August 1762 – 26 June 1830)
9 By December 1828 George was almost completely blind from cataracts, and was suffering from such severe gout in his right hand and arm that he could no longer sign documents. In mid-1829, Sir David Wilkie reported the King had become so obese that he looked "like a great sausage stuffed into the covering”. 10 In fact George IV was generally considered to be a self indulgent, bloated spendthrift 11The Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, passed by Parliament in 1829, was the culmination of the process of Catholic Emancipation throughout the United Kingdom
July 11th Went round by Willies to the Cherry Gardens. All gone. July 15th Funeral of his late Majesty George the fourth.12 The procession took place at Windsor, without any accidents. It was a mystery to the inhabitants all the little town of Cuckfield that there did not appear to be so much loyalty or respect paid to the deceased monarch as there should be. The shops certainly were partially closed, and the “knell” telling at intervals all day, but strange to say we had no service at all in the evening such as was the case, no doubt, chiefly throughout his Majesty’s dominions.
July 18th Father and James went to Slaugham to bury Major Whapham and came home with complete wet jackets. Cuckfield Church was thinly attended morning and afternoon, and had I known whom would have preached in the morning, I certainly would have soon stayed at home for I couldn't hear or understand one word of what the parson said, in consequence of which I felt very dozy and was sometimes nearly asleep.
July 21st The return cricket match between Cuckfield and Horsham, which, after a severe contest, was ended in a manner most disgraceful to the Horsham gents. We put them in to get 80 runs, and the first five wickets produced upwards of 40 runs and the match was going much in their favour, but the scale turned, and we got nine wickets for about 50 runs, leaving the last wicket to get 30 runs, which there was not a probability of their doing, in consequence of which they called Edwards out from play, and the sun was scarcely down. The motive was to do away with bets, but it was cried shame of all the spectators. The evening was spent by the remaining party of the Horsham gents in a most enthusiastic and convivial manner.
July 22nd Letting the Turnpike Gates13. A detachment of the 14th light dragoons passed through Cuckfield to be reviewed.
July 29th Nearly 100 of the 2nd Life Guards on their march. Fine looking men and had their armour on.
August 4th Cricket Match in the Churchfield14 between the farmers and tradesmen, their annual meeting. Passed the evening very jovially
[August 9 Louis-Philippe was sworn in as King Louis-Philippe I on 9 August 1830. Upon his accession to the throne, Louis Philippe assumed the title of King of the French ]
August 13th Father gone to King’s Arms to inspect the death of a man in a barn. Verdict: “Died by visitation of God”.
August 14th We have so many parsons in the neighbourhood that it is with difficulty one can be procured. The funeral of the man found in the bar was detained in the churchyard for nearly or upwards of an hour, the bell constantly tolling, and the man's wife was sitting on the tombstone with the corpse, all in the rain, lying completely wet through. On Charles X abdicating the throne of France15, the Duke of Orleans16 has been chosen “King of the French” by the people, and everything now seems in perfect tranquillity at Paris. The King seems to be making himself very popular. There has never been any official accounts as to the number of killed and wounded on the 27th, 28th and 29th of July, but the killed are supposed to be upwards of 10,000. The French speak very highly of the conduct of the English on the occasion.
12 According to onlooker Huish “We did not hear any one word of praise of his late Majesty, nor one syllable of regret. Much was said of the procession; many conjectures were formed as to the ceremony; but as to him in whose honour it was supposed to be all got up, not one word was said. The show interested the people, the dead King was an object of complete indifference.” 13 It became common for Trusts to auction a lease to collect tolls. Specialist toll-farmers would make a fixed payment to the trust for the lease and then organise the day-to-day collection of the money, leaving themselves with a profit on their operations over a year. 14 The Church Fields were the present cemetery 15 The revolution of July 1830 created a constitutional monarchy in France
August 23rd Went over to Lindfield to play a match of cricket with Lindfield against several parishes. We expected to meet a very good party, but there was scarcely a good player amongst them. We beat them by nearly 80 runs. By holding catch won George Saxby a guineau.
September 1st Father gone to Hartfield to bury major Mitchell–a brigade of artillery passed through Cuckfield and about 20 pieces of cannon
September 4th Bell Fair. Did not join the party till very late–11 PM.–when I came to answer the mail, the coachman and the horsekeeper were fighting and after that there was a regular row with the blacks.
September 7th Return cricket match. Lindfield and Cuckfield against East Sussex, played at Chailey Common. Anscombe could not go. The Match was not played out, but made Match better one than before.
September 8th Annual assembly Ball at the Talbot, and I believe a very strong party, but after supper there was quite a ‘doggery’ concern with the nicknacks left.
September 10th A cricket match at Mr Trotters. Anscombe, me and Bennet went down. Played one innings each. Lost by two runs. All our side except ourselves were gents, and we might as well have had so many great girls. Pig racing, Horse racing, donkey racing, archery etc. I could shoot the arrow farther than any of them.
September 12th In church a charity sermon for the free school, The Reverend H. Sarel.
September 14th Thomas Martin, after a courtship all 26 years, talk to a wife this morning. Gave him a peal on the bells.
September 15th Very great preparations for the fair, and a great many rough looking at people about. Rough music to Mr Gandel for thrashing his wife.
September 16th Martha came to inform me Harriet was much worse, but I found it more than I could endure and did not go. In the evening I had the melancholy information “she is no more”. My feelings are better felt then expressed on losing the most endeared object of my affections, a loss I shall never forget.
September 18th Went down for the last time. I shall never see her in this world again. She looked very comfortable. Received the last token of her love from Mrs Halford, with lock of her hair and a prayer book which she particularly requested should be given to me.
This day has been one of the severest days is that I ever experienced. About 2 PM the funeral procession of her with whom I was warmly attached in the bonds of love passed through the town for her last home from whence no traveller returns and oh! may I never pass such another afternoon as this! A friend in need I found, was a friend indeed, and with whom I found great succour in my greatest moments of grief. I have planted three shrubs in the garden (a lavender cotton, sweet lavender and moss rose), dedicated to her memory, which I shall prize more than all the rest in the garden if they grow, which I sincerely hope they will.
September 26th James, as usual in putting himself forward, attempted to shoot a horse for Ned Tanner, could not hold straight, shot him through the neck, and the poor thing that stood bleeding out of the nose and neck until I went across and dispatched him. George Brigden and Mr Kearon’s servant pulled up for insulting Walder, who swore through thick and thin.
September 27th George Brigden held in custody since 12 o'clock for sending a challenge to fight Moory.
September 28th Most rascally circumstance of George Brigden. Sent to Horsham for 12 months merely for a challenge!
November 5th A pigeon shoot in which I was concluded to have killed three out of four from trap. The shooting was not over excellent. A very grand site passed through the town about 5:30 PM, about 100 Life guards on a forced march to town for Lord mayors day on Tuesday next.
November 6th About 120 1st Guards on a forced route march through the town.
November 9th Interesting News in the papers this morning and the people all anxious to hear by the coaches. The King was to have dined with the Lord Mayor of the City of London, but serious reports prevented him.
November 10th The reports seem to be of no foundation, although 60 have been taken chiefly owing to new police. The Duke of Wellington and Peel are becoming very unpopular in the city.
November 11th Reports from the County of Kent have been of a very serious nature, caused by incendiary fires,17 which have extended into Surrey and Sussex, and the whole country greatly alarmed. Last night there were threatening letters dropped in our streets, to Messrs Webber, Caffin and Best, and the town this day is all confusion.
November 12th Between 20 and 30 labouring men from Worth Parish, armed with bludgeons, came to attend the bench of magistrates for advance of wages, which I believe was acceded to by Mr Blunt. The county was never – at least for a number of years – in so convulsed a state as at the present moment, and God knows how it will end.
November 13th More threatening letters this morning– Wood, Penfold and Agate. 17 The Swing Riots were a widespread uprising in 1830 by agricultural workers in southern and eastern England, in protest of agricultural mechanisation and other harsh conditions. It began with their destruction of threshing machines in the Elham Valley area of East Kent in the summer of 1830, and by early December had spread throughout the whole of southern England and East Anglia.
November 15th The farmers seen more reconciled, having detected the person who sent the letters last week. It was Pagden at Leney’s a boy about 17 or 1818, and not over bright. His examination was postponed until tomorrow.
November 16th Riot in the evening. A mob collected to rescue Pagden. Things assumed a very serious character after coming twice to make an attempt, they separated to go home, with the determination all coming the next day.
November 17th The rioters, which consisted chiefly of the Whiteman’s Green party, assembled, but rather in a flat key. Mr Cherry sent an express off to Worthing for Mr Blunt about three in the morning. He came from Worthing to Brighton, and ordered a file of Life Guards (10), who arrived at about three this afternoon, but the mob after the lesson from Mr Blunt, dispersed. A great number of special constables sworn in, myself in the number.
November 18th Haywards Heath Fair - a meeting was held at the Talbot (Cuckfield) to take into consideration the best measures to adopt. It was strongly attended. A great many more special constables sworn in.
November 19th Rather quieter than usual. The soldiers have gone off to Horsham by express.
November 20th Special constables ordered off to Sidnye after some suspicious characters about there. We could get no clue, but got a most precious wet skin
November 21st A detachment of life guards arrived from Brighton by the order of Mr Cherry, who was very much alarmed at the specials being called out, and was not satisfied without the aid of the military. The soldiers returned from Horsham this evening. Plenty of protection– 20 soldiers. Large mobs at Horsham and Crawley yesterday.
November 22nd All very quiet. A mob at Hickstead
November 23rd A fire took place at the Slipe Barn in Twineham, each night that property of Mr Wood, who had not insured in this office.
November 24th Father went to Twineham to enquire into the fire. Wrote to the office this evening. Went to Laines to keep watch with _____ against evil disposed persons. Left about 5 AM. A precious cold night it was!
November 27th There has not been a night this week (except last night, and it was not reported this morning there was a one in the country) but a fire has taken place in our County, and most of them visible at Cuckfield. Things as respects the mobs are quieter our county and Kent than they were, but they have extended themselves into Wilts, Berks, and Hampshire; and the incendiaries into Norfolk Suffolk, Cambridge etc. It appears to be the deepest laid plan ever heard of and it appears impossible with all the skill of the police and most ablest men in the kingdom to detect the perpetrators. A proclamation came down on
Thursday morning (25th) from the King's most excellent Majesty to prohibit any of the disorderly meetings. The country is in a very queer state – “like the old man's porridge”
18 Brighton Gazette - Thursday 23 December 1830 THREATENING LETTER. John Pagden, cordwainer, 17, committed by J. P. Cherry. Esq. charged with sending to Faulkner Best, letter with a fictitious signature, threatening to burn his barns and stacks of corn. Also charged with sending several persons the neighbourhood of Cuckfield. letters of the same import. There were no less than six several indictments against this prisoner.
November 29th Very busy all day serving charity children
December 2nd The coldest day we have yet had. My birthday. William gone to Pond Lye to see it fished.
December 3rd Celebrated my birthday this evening instead of last night.
December 6th Went to Mr Potter’s to spend the evening with a few friends. Coming home, fell over the dirt. In consequence of going out could not finish my P.O. accounts but left them for tomorrow
December 8th A Grand weddings at Miss Evershed’s from Horsham. Mr Lucas and Miss Evershed. Father and mother gone to Miss E to dine. Soldiers passing through to Windsor (2nd Life Guards).
December 11th A file of the fifth dragoon guards stationed here from Brighton
December 13th When the mail came down a large fire was observed at West End.
December 17th Frozen snow and very bad travelling. The coaches 1 1/2 hours behind time.
December 25th (Christmas Day) Skating on the pond behind Mr Byass’s and down on the High Bridge Pond, which bore after one night first!
The year 1830 has concluded and a more important year has seldom appeared in the annals of the world. The whole system of European policy has been demolished and reconstructed. The King of England, the King of Naples, the Pope and the grand Duke of Baden have died. The King of France, the king of Saxony, and the Duke of Brunswick were deposed, the Dey of Algiers driven out of his dominions, and his state overthrown. Belgium has been established, Poland has proclaimed itself an independent state, and revolutions on a small-scale have taken place in almost every canton in Switzerland and in every principality of Germany. In fact, all Europe has been convulsed.
1 One of the most important and decisive engagements of the Napoleonic Wars and one widely regarded as the greatest victory achieved by Napoleon
2 Insurance Company founded in London in 1710
3 Manager of the Estates
TO BE CONTINUED