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Cuckfield life from 1850: Emily Wells' recollections

Cuckfield High Street c1900

Here is a selection of memories Mrs Emily Wells born c1850, and latterly lived in Broad Street from an interview conducted by the Womens’ Institute.

‘A man came once a month to collect our ashes to make mettled soap, giving a bar of soap in return, although somewhat gritty, it was acceptable.

‘A Miss Pace had a small school in Ockenden Lane, where the WI now stands, it being the only private school, the scholars paying 6d a week. As I stopped after school to sweep the room, my schooling was free.

‘The corner where the drinking trough now stands was called the stocks, as it was where the offenders were put in the stocks for punishment, and opposite The King’s Head was the skittle alley. Often men played there until 4 and 5 in the morning, having large stone bottles of refreshment. They played their game very seriously.

Marble match

‘One annual event was the marble match. Men and boys collected at the corner of the stocks and played all day. People came out to watch them as now they come out to watch the annual walk on Easter Monday.

‘The Police court was held at the Talbot which reached partly up the High Street, and the prisoners were kept in cells in Church Street, in the house now called Peelers.

‘The stage coach used to travel from London to Brighton once a day and return the next, changing horses at the Talbot stables. Mr BJ Burtenshaw's grandfather rode postillion in white breeches, red coat and black jockey cap.

‘May Day was a great day. We were given a holiday from school to parade with our garlands.

‘On the day that King Edward and Queen Alexandra were married, 10 March 1863, the children were given a tea in the old Union Yard, behind the house where I was born - now the Mens' Club [Ed: in Broad Street?].

‘As a child I helped Mrs Bonnet clean the church on Saturday. My job was to wash the red tiles down the aisle with milk to make them shine.

‘I can remember Mr and Mrs Sergison from Cuckfield Park coming to church. He was a tall gentleman with a very tall hat. She was a little lady in a poke bonnet and a very large crinoline.

My father was born in Cuckfield, as were my nine brothers and sisters and four of my own children, so I really feel part of Cuckfield.

100th birthday

Mrs Wells reached her 100th birthday on 29 October 1950 and received 98 cards and 16 telegrams including one from the King and Queen. The Vicar spoke of her at the morning and evening services and visited her in the afternoon as did the Chairman of the Urban Council, bringing a vase of carnations. The church bells rang in the afternoon and there was a constant stream of visitors with flowers and presents. The birthday cake had 100 candles on it.

As she went to bed that night, she said 'I have had such a happy day and I feel all my Dear Cuckfield has enjoyed it with me.' She died a few weeks later on 12 December.

Emily married a William Wells in 1879 who was variously manager of King’s Head Tap, coachman and a bus driver. They had a son called Thomas and three daughters May, Gertrude and Sybil.


Source: WI transcript of interview held in Cuckfield Museum, with thanks to the Museum for allowing us to use it.


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