Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 19 June 1888
SAUNTERINGS BY “SAUNTERER”
That General Wolfe lost his life at the siege of Quebec [April/May 1760] is an historical fact;
that he was a native of Westerham in Kent is a local fact, but I am at a loss as to dates, and can only say that local rumour has conveyed down to us that Admiral Warren, who commanded the fleet that conveyed him and his little army across the Atlantic and landed them at the small harbour of Louisburg, on the Nova Scotian coast, occupied Butlers Green; therefore, take it for granted that such was the fact for rumour although generally described as being idly disposed, mostly based on fact, that may in time has become distorted, or obsolete, and so it is probable that such was the fact: a probability strengthened by my having, many years since, visited this little village, so called, quite by accident.
It occurred that staying at Charlottetown, Prince Edward’s Island, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, I fell in with an old salt named Turnbull, who owned a schooner with which he traded to the neighbouring ports, occasional to the West Indies, and two or three times across the Atlantic to Ireland.
He was a bluff, jolly, old fellow a good sailor and a merry companion, and I agreed to accompany him and his single hand on board on a trip to Sydney, Cape Breton, for coals, but meeting with rough weather, instead of running for the Gut of Canso, we were driven off the Nova Scotian coast and put in at Louisburg where we lay for two or three days, finding it to be a small cluster of timber-built, one-story houses snugly situated around aa snug little harbour, and principally inhabited by fishermen and their being within an easy sail from the fisheries, the coast of Newfoundland and Capo Breton.
There were also a few lumber men, who felled, and worked down for shipping, timber baulks and planking, and who obtained from the squatters and hunters living in shanties amid the depths of the immense inland forests, by barter, large quantities of skins of the numerous wild animals—elk, bear, leupcervie, catamount, foxes (black, grey, and silver), beaver, otter, and many others, they trapped in their fastnesses, and of which the dealer, made a large profit.
These people seemed to feel a pride in relating incidents that occurred at this memorable landing of the troops, and during their march through the forest before they reached the river St. Lawrence, on which Quebec is situated, and of displaying relics they highly prized illustrative of various occurrences they were fond of relating, among which were numbers of buttons said to have belonged to the General's coat and lost by accident, many more, in fact, than could, in any shape, have been found room for on the garment but the greatest prize of all was the tassel believed to have been attached to his sword hilt.
The mouth of the harbour being narrow was said to have been protected by heavy chains firmly attached to rocks each side and sunk beneath the water, but this was no obstacle to the British Admiral, for with a fair wind he sailed against it with two heavy vessels abreast, broke the chains, entered the harbour, and landed his troops.
But this is going out of my track again, and has no more to do with Butlers Green further than the Admiral was said to have lived there, so we will saunter a little farther on to Wigperry (1). There are not many living now who can remember anything about the witch of Wigperry, but three-quarters-of-a-century ago such a person veritably existed, and resided in a cottage close by the road, the right-hand side, of whom most miraculous feats were related; who was said to be the actual spectre of Bedlam pond, who laid a spell on teams when passing by, that bound the horses in an immovable position, and caused them to fume and tremble until covered with foam and sweat, to assume various forms, and ride by night a-straddle on a broomstick to join the rendezvous that, according to Burns, Tam O’ Shanter once witnessed.
The old woman’s name was Avery, harmless old creature, but strange in her habits, living alone in her cottage, with no other companion than an old cat of the orthodox brindled colour, that would sit for hours on the door sill blinking in the sunshine, and consequently deemed to be her familiar imp and coadjutor.
Strange it seems that the belief in witchcraft should have had so strong a hold on the minds of, in other matters, well informed and educated people in those days, and that it still lingers with few, but there is no accounting for infatuation, young fellows being just as much infatuated as good St. Anthony was, by “a pretty girl with a pair of bright eyes” now as ever they were, the only kind of witchery I ever believed in, and which can never be eradicated.
At the time the witch of Wigperry was in her zenith carters who had the care of teams would plead an excuse when they got behind time in returning that they had met the old woman on the road, who had set the horses on a stand, and paralysed their efforts to start them, and account for the heated state they were in by the tremulous fear that pervaded the animals when under her spell.
You would not have been able to convince a huntsman of the last century, or even the first quarter of this, but that hounds were under the influence of witches and unable to carry a scent if crossed by one, and that they had the power of transforming themselves into hares or deer, after leading hounds and hunters astray for miles resume their natural shape and be seen hobbling away, but so great was the dread felt of their power it was dangerous to molest or even question then.
A clever trick was played at that time on the wife of a shopkeeper in the town by their devil-may-care apprentice, who went among his companions by the soubriquet of Juicy. The woman had steadfast faith in the generally believed opinion that the old bedlam of Wigperry was a witch, and if offended would so bewitch her and her children as to render their lives miserable. If the old woman was seen in the street she would gather the children together after the fashion of hen with her chickens when she sees a hawk hovering in the air, and keep them out of sight until she was convinced the witch had departed. Mr. Juicy was an unbeliever in witchcraft beyond what I have alluded to, and to terrify his mistress encouraged the old woman to come to the shop by slyly giving her little presents and chatting with her over the counter, which, whether there were customers waiting or not, always caused the mistress to vacate.
It happened upon one occasion when waiting on a customer and not observing the door open, the old woman came into the shop unperceived, when on turning round she encountered her greatest dread, and as one of the children was playing on the floor caught it up and was hurrying away when there came a crash of crockery were strewing the floor that hastened her flight. The shopman quickly supplied the old woman with her errand and hurried her out of the shop, as the master, who was awoke out of his afternoon siesta by the crash, came in rubbing his eyes and enquiring what was matter, but the old woman was gone and his wife in hysterics, so being an easy sort of man he took very coolly and resumed his nap.
His wife could never be persuaded but that the old woman had, unperceived by her, with a stroke of her wand caused the wreck of the crockery, but like a matter-of-fact man ascribed it a trick of Juicy’s, which was the truth. Numerous tales were long afloat about the old woman’s witchery, but she has been long ago dead and buried, and took the secret with her, and never having paid us a post mortem visit and revealed it is forgotten, and her cottage is gone too, and her familiar also went the way of all cats.
Superstition has been superseded by common sense, and people are more sober, at least in thought - for the police reports do not verify the fact physically - and times are changed, but eccentricity still prevails, and some are as whimsical now as in former days, as was a case only few years since when the gentleman who died in the mansion near where the old woman’s cottage stood was buried in a full ballroom dress, including pumps, silk hose, kid gloves, shirt fronts and necktie en regie. This was done according to his own directions, and beat Goldsmith’s whim hollow, and may be considered the height of eccentricity, even beyond Cook’s coffin, that he made useful both before and after his death.
In finishing my letter I must just give a Cockney’s opinion of the pretty house and grounds where this eccentric gentleman died.
I was walking from Haywards Heath to Cuckfield when I was joined by a young man fresh from the smoky regions, who on passing noticed the house, in front of which is a handsome belt of trees, observing that it was a nice place but what pity it was shut in by the trees; that if it was his he would have them cut down and the place laid open to the road.
I expressed an opinion that the trees added to the beauty of the grounds, and said I did not suppose the owner would have one cut down if he was offered a hundred times its value, but he seemed to consider them a nuisance as they shut off a view of what might be passing along the road. I did not urge my objection to the sacrifice, and it passed over, but on our return I was highly amused, it being a starlight evening, and my companion stating that he had never been so far away from the gaslight on a night before, was quite eloquent in expressing his surprise at the number of stars we could see in comparison with the few they occasionally caught sight of in London.
But having now arrived at the Muster Green I shall defer farther remarks for the present.
(1) Land near Butlers Green, the name no longer in use
For more details about superstitious Cuckfield please go to: http://cuckfieldmuseum.org/