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Growing up in the laundry through the war years

Here is more from Jim Twiner's account from an interview by the local WI. This further describes his years in the village during the First and Second World Wars, his experiences growing up in Cuckfield, and the local jobs he had. He recalls his happily married life with Audrey who had been parlour maid at Cuckfield Park.

South Street c1911

Jim described how the family arrived from Withyham (near Hartfield):

We arrived with a one horse removal wagon which took just the essential goods as the Laundry was bought as it stood including the house contents. The staff consisted of four girls who lived in and two part-time married women, so labour costs were low.

The 1914 war broke out a few months after we arrived and the girls were called up for war work, so only higher paid workers were available. This made it increasingly difficult to run the laundry with prices rising and difficulty in getting food for the horse as the army was commandeering all the hay and straw available. However, they carried on and I can remember doing my utmost to go with Dad on a Monday when he drove the horse and cart (collecting the laundry).

food shortages

Food became very short and rationing caused a lot of under nourishment with growing children, because what was available consisted of blackish bread that had to be two days old before being sold, maize puddings and margarine that tasted more like lard. A soup kitchen was opened twice a week which certainly helped a lot.

When my eldest sister, Nellie, left school at 14, she worked in the post office as a telegram messenger, which brought many a heartache to her when she delivered to many mothers the sad news of their son being killed.

There was plenty of spare time work for boys at school, such as helping on farms at haymaking and harvesting time, picking blackberries that we sold for jam making for the army, collecting acorns at two shillings a bushel for pig food, paper rounds at two shillings a week, mole catching for their skins, fruit picking and numerous other jobs.

The golf course was very popular where the older boys could sometimes get a caddy’s job which was well paid. We often found a ball that had been lost in the rough. When the war started most members joined up and through lack of support the club had to close and was never opened again.

the war years

The war years were very dull as there was no organized sport, no street lighting and really hardly any open spaces to play. If we entered the woods, a game keeper would appear and drive us out, farmers would stop us playing in their fields, and so we welcomed the recreation ground that was given to the town by the Worsleys in memory of their son who was killed in the war.

I gradually got friendly with Bill Stoner whose father ran the pub (The Tap - part of the Kings Head) and coaching stables. There was accommodation for six horses, a big coach house with a hay loft above, which provided us with a wonderful place to play on wet days. On a Sunday Bill Stoner’s father drove the horse cab to collect and return to and from the Church with two people from a house two miles away and we would walk nearly all that way to have a ride in the cab on the return journey.

The Stoners moved from The Tap and became landlords of The Talbot which had stables, hayloft and harness room, that again made ideal places to play on wet days. There was also a huge room above the pub where the assizes once were held, then that was moved to Haywards Heath (before my time) the room was used for dances, a band room and later Hoadleys had it for second hand furniture.

Another building beside the pub became a garage and later a sweet shop. They sold home made ice cream and at closing time on Saturdays we were allowed to scrape the tub out!

choir boy

I joined the Church Choir when I was about 12 years old for which I received sixpence each Sunday and two shillings for a wedding. There were about 12 boys and 10 men in the choir and there was always a full congregation. Because of the playing about during the sermon we had to file and sit in front of the Vicar who could then keep an eye on us.

When the first war ended, the men came home to a ‘land fit for heroes’ so they were told, but for many it meant unemployment and for the wounded, a very low pension, but in spite of that we gradually became normal again. The cricket and football pitches were opened, the Queens Hall held dances and concerts, street gas lighting restored, the British Legion formed and to me what was to make life so different was the starting of the Scouts.

the Scouts

An ex naval man, working in the Home Office in London, lived with his parents in Haywards Heath and commuted to London each day. He was an Assistant Scout Master in a big troop with their HQ at the YMCA in Tottenham Court Road. He then boarded with a family in Cuckfield so that he could become the Scout Master of the new troop.

At the time of the first meeting I was ill and in my absence was voted to be one of the patrol leaders. Our first meetings were held in the Parish Hall, and then a cowshed was given to us, which we converted into our headquarters. We had to raise money to buy camping equipment and eventually a new hut. This was done by holding concerts which proved a great success.

The Scout Master was a fanatic for the open air life and the first summer he lived completely at the camp, going off in the morning dressed in a nice suit and bowler hat whilst his boots were thick ones to negotiate the mud. He then cycled to the station and changed into shoes. His old troop spent two summer camps with us, and from them we learnt so much about scouting, whilst we also trekked about 14 miles away to Corbits Wood, Horstead Keynes for a two weeks camp there.

Rallies were held to which Baden Powell attended and I was able to go to two of these. The other patrol leader and me were invited to an investiture at the Scout Masters old troop in London. We were to travel by train and meet him at Victoria, but we got out at Clapham Junction and then had to board another train. Luckily a passenger told the Scout Master what had happened. It was my first trip to London and I can remember how bewildered I was to see the heavy traffic, big buildings and bright lights.


When I left school at 14, I became apprenticed to Hoadleys the grocers [where the Coop is now]. How different the shops were in those days when the customers would sit by the counter and ask for each individual item which meant running the length of the shop each time, or where most of the trade was done, by calling for orders.

At 16 I had that job and each day I cycled round from 9 am until about 4.30 pm absolutely tired out. Shop hours were long, 8am-6pm Monday and Tuesday, 8am -1pm on Wednesday, 8am-7pm Thursday and Friday and 8am - 8pm on Saturdays. We had one week unpaid holiday a year and any overtime was not paid. The groceries were delivered by first a Model T Ford - I had a drive when helping the new driver learn the rounds, then a much more up-to-date van was purchased, also they had a horse and van to deliver paraffin etc.

Laundry delivery and true love

At the end of my apprenticeship I left Hoadleys and moved to London to work for Barker’s in Kensington, returning to help out at the laundry when a depression caused business to falter.

Whilst doing the laundry delivery round I had to go to Cuckfield Park where the laundry needed to be taken up four flights of stairs. When I reached the top I was met by a parlour maid and on seeing her I immediately fell in love. Her name was Audrey Berry and our first date was a Valentines’ Dance at the Queens Hall, Cuckfield in February 1939. We were married 10 months later on 26 December 1939.

Notes: Jim's parents moved from Molls Mill near Withyham to Cuckfield to take over the Cuckfield Laundry in 1914 when Jim was six years old. The family ran the laundry for about 40 years.

They lived with their daughters Rosalie and Natalie in Glebe Road, Cuckfield until 1954 when they moved to Markyate in Hertfordshire. In 1982 they emigrated to Melbourne, Australia to live with their daughter Rosalie. Jim died in 2002 aged 93 and Audrey in 2004 aged 90. Jim and Audrey were happily married for 63 years.

WI transcript of interview held in Cuckfield Museum. With thanks to the Museum for allowing us to use this.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.


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