John Mitchell's Diaries 1836-1837Queen Victoria at Brighton

Updated: Oct 18, 2020


In May 1941 The Mid Sussex Times serialised the extracts of the three 1830-1837 diaries of Cuckfield resident Mr John Mitchell. Here is the final part of the trilogy....


Today we give the concluding portion of the diaries kept by the late Mr John Mitchell of Cuckfield, 1836 to 1837


January 1st 1836

Whist party at our house, three tables. Agreed to go to the house of each member in rotation weekly, and to confine ourselves entirely to bread, cheese, beer and grogs. The evenings of meeting are rather unfavourable to me, Friday being market day. Played two games myself and won. Most severe weather– Rain, snow and sleet since January and February 1830.


January 22nd

Went to Mr Ewin’s at Lingfield (Surrey) to a ball to celebrate the 21st birthday of his daughter Elizabeth. Kept it up till 7 AM. The dance finished with the recovery tune ‘The Devil’s March’.


January 24th

Walked down to Brooklands and saw the system of irrigation there. Mr Ewins shut down the wares, but when the water rose an inch where we were, the country being so level, it rose an inch or two miles up the river. It is the river Medway, which rises just above, at Hornes.


February 3rd

Poor old Jane Starkey “hung” herself in the pantry about 12 o'clock, aged 80 - To James Picknell’s School to attend a meeting of our Reading Society, which has been neglected since June last. We resolved to ask Mr Newton to give a lecture on “Mental Philosophy” at the Talbot next Wednesday (10th), and to meet previously and pay up our arrears of subscription.


February 8th

Mrs and Mary Ann Knowles went to Slaugham to see the grotto at the Vicarage. Consequently four of us went down and hung out the broom. Only poor old Tom at home. Gave him a benefit - gin and beer and flip


February 11th

To Green Cross, to Hammond a benefit: the band there.


February 15th

To a meeting at the Schools to consider whether the old Literary Society should become defunct and a new one formed on different principles. Meeting adjourned, and later decided to form a new society.


February 22nd

Arnold took the shop at Bolney lately in the occupation of Mrs M.A.Fiest


February 27th

Father gone to Staplefield to see Mr Charles Tulley, who lost his wife this morning.


February 29th

2nd Coldstream guards passed through Cuckfield on their way from Brighton to London–a civil set of men. A meeting at the schools to discuss the question “Whether education is or is not beneficial to the poor”


March 3rd

Poor old Riot, having hunted until she was quite superannuated, was killed by Benjamin Jeffery this evening. Father ordered the skin to be preserved and a cushion to be made of it.


March 4th

A great meeting of the inhabitants of the parish and vicinity, at the Talbot, to consider the propriety or petition in Parliament for the direct railroad. No opposition except from Mr Robertson and Mr Parkhurst, Mr P. opposed every resolution, but afterwards had the boldness to sign the petition!


March 5th

To the Heath to attend the funeral of Stephen Molineux.


March 14th

Brighton Glee singers came up to give Parker a benefit. Beautiful singing by the two young lads named Richards.


March 20th

To Haywards Heath to bury poor old Mrs Greenfield aged 85


March 23rd

A very good discussion at the schools between the members of the Literary Society as to who was the superior, Napoleon or Alexander? Almost unanimously resolved Alexander.


March 25th

Property occupied by James Picknell, sold at the Kings Head at a great sacrifice–£235


April 4th

The overseers and churchwardens of the different parishes came to the bench for the appointment of overseers, but all returned as they came, there being only one magistrate to do the business. Shameful!


April 6th

A discussion at the schools on “Whether there is more pressure in the pursuit or possession of an object”. Decided pursuit. I was in the minority. Meeting of the Sparrow Club. With our unified efforts, George Webber obtained the third prize.


April 8th

The oldest man cannot remember a later or more wet spring. Scarcely a fine day in March and not more than one this month so far. Farmers have got very little and some not any, of their corn in. The markets are “up.” Wheat which is a short time since could be got for £10 now fetches £14 and £14.10 shillings. Flour has consequently risen 4d and 5d a gallon. Gardens are completely at a standstill– like ponds - and fields and trees have the appearance of winter.


April 13th

Adjourned discussion on “Limited or unlimited education to the poor?”


April 14th

Annual day of the Sparrow Club. Upwards of 2800 sparrows killed during the year. I was not fined once, and, uniting myself with G. W. obtained a prize. Dinner and grog.


April 19th

Met at the Kings Head and had supper to spend the forfeits of the Whist Club held at the members’ houses


April 27th

My old friend Wisden married to Miss Sarah Webber after a courtship of 10 years. I went down and had a glass of wine.


May 11th

Tithe feast at the Talbot. Some people imagine that owing to the alterations which the Ministry intend making, it will be the last. Our worthy Vicar, Mr Plimley, is much behind, and I expect that most of the farmers do not wish to see a fresh vicar so long as they remain in the parish–he is too liberal if that term may be applied. -to the schools to hear the adjourned discussion on “Who made the greatest discoveries as a navigator, Cooke or Columbus?” Level voting. I advocated the case of Cooke.


May 15th

Nearly a central eclipse of the sun, lasting from 1:50 PM (Greenwich) till 4:39PM. I believe there has not been so large an eclipse, and so distinctly seen as this for nearly a century. The cocks crowed, and I heard that in many places they prepared for roost. As it grew lighter the blackbirds, thrushes, and cuckoos struck up in delightful harmony, and with the beauties of nature it is impossible for me adequately to describe the scene.


May 26th

Fair day, and I think the very worst I ever saw. Only five stalls, a few people, and two or three old cows!

May 27th

Second fair day, and all as still as if nothing happened yesterday. How different from a few years since, when there was a cricket match. It is now “like the baseless fabric of a vision”. Through the operation of that cursed Poor Law Act not so many odd shillings about now as formally.


May 29th

Dining at the Mill, and started off with Thomas and Reuben Mills to Hurst, and thence through the plantations at Danny (Mr Campion’s), a most beautiful place, with sand walks extending round the park for six or seven miles and kept in good order. Returned to the Mill and had tea. James Burtenshaw and wife and crazy Jack Martin were there. Got home tired after walking about 20 miles, coming from St John's across the fields.


June 1st

Annual feast of the Ship Friendly Society, a grand display with upwards of 100 members and well attended by the public, the lads and lasses having put off the Fair for the Club.


June 12th

Down at the Heath to bury James Packham, son of Thomas Packham, aged 34.


June 19th

With some others went to Petworth and visited the Earl of Egrement’s mansion, according to an agreement made by John Buckwell with the under Butler, being particularly impressed with all the paintings and carvings we saw in the fine picture gallery and statue room. Was away upwards of 21 hours.


July 10th

Off to Hurst in postchaise to play in cricket match. They had their club to choose from, and we having only “gentlemen” got beaten by 98 runs.


July 20th

Horticultural (Summer) meeting and show: in attendance as clerk. The rain was so heavy that it came through the booth in Mr Plimley’s Field, filled the plates with water, and damaged the fruit. Usually upwards of 90 brought their productions; this morning, owing to the weather, only about 45. I got a prize for “pinks”. A good party at the Kings Head and much spouting. Afterwards a cricket match in which my side won by two runs.


July 24th

J.B. “after rather bad management” was married this morning, and made a busy day of it -married in the morning, went to church and sung, “churched” his wife, and christened the baby!


July 27th

St Swithin cheated this year at all events. Cricket in the Church Field with the Hurst gents: Hurst 80 and 43; Cuckfield, 27 and 74 for seven wickets. “The old spirit, which has descended upon the The new Poor Law was meant to reduce the cost of looking after the poor and impose a system which would be the same all over 1 the country. Under the new Poor Law, parishes were grouped into unions and each union had to build a workhouse if they did not already have one. present generation, of playing an uphill game did not forsake us”. Edmund Sandiland and myself made a stand for 60.


July 28th

Balcombe cricketers welcomed and beat the Brighton City of Hereford Club by upwards of 60 runs.


July 31st

With others to the ruins of Slaugham. Tea at Handcross. A jovial party August 1st To Mr Robertson’s to celebrate the coming of age of Mr John Blaker, who became possessed of the estate at Bolney. A “regular set to”, dinner and wine. August 2nd Played cricket on Staplefield common for Mr Wileman’s team against Mr Henry Francis’s team (Staplefield), who won unexpectedly. “Last night's spree had a great deal to do with it!”


August 3rd

A party went over to Mr Woods at Plumpton to spend the day and have a game of cricket, but having been out to myself for two days, and having rather hard work, I “did not like to make too much of a good thing!”


August 10th

Return cricket match, in Church Fields, between the upper part of Cuckfield and Staplefield, who won. “The Cuckfield players are this year at a very low discount, not having won a match all the year.”


September 7th

Meeting at the Kings Head to consider the propriety all hiring land for allotments to labourers. Approved of, and committee appointed. September 16th and 17th Fair days - “Fairs are declining. People do not seem so much disposed to attend them as they used to do”. Plenty of stalls. October 12th Remarked in the papers that the oldest man living does not remember so few wasps as this year, attributed to the wet season, but “we have been terribly annoyed with flies”.


October 18th

Rather a curious incident occurred this morning. As James Lintott was standing at Thomas Jenner’s slaughterhouse waiting to shoot ball with his double-barrelled gun– One barrel loaded with shot and the other with ball - five partridges settled in the road opposite Mrs Last’s and ran round the corner. He pursued, got near enough to them at the Kings Head stables for a shot, waited for them to get together, walked after them as far as opposite Mrs Fuller’s and when three were near enough together to kill them all– “unfortunately his gun misfired!”


October 25th and 26th

A regular row in the street, and cautions about persons setting off fireworks.


November 16th

No person since Jefferies and Blanchard, in 1785, ever attempted to cross the channel in a balloon until last Tuesday (8th), when Mr Green, Mr Mason and Mr Hollands, without giving much publicity, started off from London at half past 1 o’clock. The public have since been in the greatest anxiety to know the fate of our intrepid countrymen, no authentic information arriving until this morning. They arrived safely at a small village called Weilburg, near Coblentz, in Wassau. (Prussian States). They were up 17 hours, and travelled about 180 miles.


November 27th

A rather unusual gathering took place at the Talbot to this evening. A party of the Society of friends (Quakers) held a meeting in the great ballroom for worship. Upwards of 300 of the inhabitants attended. Only one of the Quakers spoke, Mr Kemp, of Brighton. He gave a most excellent address, which I suppose must have pleased everyone who heard him. “the spirit did not move any of the rest.” From the address on their religious opinions, “I certainly give them the preference over any sect of dissenters.”


November 29th

A complete hurricane– more like a monsoon. “I should think there is not a house in the town but has sustained more or less damage but I have not heard of any persons sustaining bodily injury.” Mr Gurnett’s chimney was blown down into the street; all the lead on the church roof was blown up: Mr Parkhurst’s large chimney has blown down on the roof of the house, and broken in several yards square of it; Mr Benjamin Ellis's chimney blew down through the roof and on the bed in the bedroom; and the “complete havoc” in the town will “make rare work for the bricklayers”. Haystacks, wheatricks, and large trees suffered a similar fate. “The new wall at the union house is blown across Mrs Fearon’s Lane, and had the house itself blown down it would have been no very great loss! I shall perhaps have an occasion to mention many more accidents, but for the present must conclude”.


December 8th More about the gale on November 29th. It appears general all over the country. They say that round Lewes no less than 40 barns were blown down. At Brighton chimneys went down in dozens, and the chain Pier vibrated like a pendulum and went right asunder. One man lost his life. In London and round the neighbourhood “it was tremendous”. Whole stacks of chimneys went down all over the town, and several houses were totally unroofed. In Conyborough Park, they say, upwards 2000 trees were blown down. A more destructive hurricane could never have visited this Island, but, strange to say, very few lives were lost. The most distressing case I have heard of was at Marlborough, where a young lady, her brother and aunt were riding along the road in a phaeton. A tree fell and killed two of the party.


December 14th

It was decided to dissolve the Cuckfield Literary Society, which had only about 12 members and had been “lingering on” for a long time.


December 21st

At the schools the literary societies books where auctioned by Mr George Webber, and the sum realised upwards of £4, and the money in hand together amounted to £6 3s and 6d to be divided between 13 members. A pity the little society should thus fall to the ground!


December 26th

Considerable Snow during the night. It drifted, and this morning, where it was 3 feet deep and beyond Board Hill Lane, for 50 yards, it was 7'3" deep, measured by Mr Trotter. This stone pit men were working at it nearly all day, and could not effect a passage for the coach. The true blue and Royal William coaches were both cut out coming down. The mail did not come up at all last night, and has not arrived now, consequently the mailbags have been here all day. The mail could not get quite so far as the hills before it stuck fast, and I believe it is still there. The guard came back to Stone Pound. There has not been any communication of any description from Brighton the whole day. In fact, the only thing is to be seen in the town with wheels all day were the two coaches down and a scrambling job they had to get here! Now that they have arrived here, they must remain all night. Board Hill Lane is impassable, and so is the Lindfield Lane. Some the old folks talk about the snow they had when they were young, about 50 years ago, but they all confess this is “equal” to anything they can recollect.


December 27th

Slow at times. No communication of any kind this morning. The coach and passengers still remain at the Talbot. About half past 1 pm yesterday, the guard with three men on horseback started from Brighton with the bags and did not arrive here until this day about 11 o'clock, and it was with the greatest difficulty they got here. 1 pm: the bags have just arrived by way of Crawley on horseback, the mail not being able to proceed any farther than there. 6pm: a man from Brighton with five others on foot arrived with the letter bags, stating that the roads are now cleared sufficiently to allow a horse or man to pass, but nothing else.


December 28th

Weather as yesterday.


December 29th

The snowy roads are cut through sufficiently to allow the coaches which were detained here on Monday (26th) to leave us. Coaches came up this morning, but had trouble to get here with six horses. No mails have arrived yet except my horses all persons on foot. A good deal of snow fell in this day.


December 30th

Snowed considerably at times. Upwards of 50 men employed in digging out the snow. Bags have arrived safely, but none departed. The mail coaches went up and down on the Hickstead Road last night, and left the bags at the Pitts Head and Handcross Gate. The conditions appear to have been general–something like a hurricane on the 29th - for we hear from all quarters of the mail being detained, and on Monday and Tuesday there will be no coaches in or out of London. We also hear of many lives being lost. At Lewes an avalanche fell from the cliffs and buried seven houses, and they have dug out a great many people, among them seven dead ones. The newspapers are filled with accounts from various parts of the country, but none worse than Sussex. The Great Snowstorm is the all-absorbing topic.


Writing at the beginning of February 1837, the diarist says: the year has been hey very remarkable one. Halley’s comet, which appeared, as foretold, in the autumn of 1835 and early part of 1836, has no doubt had a great effect on the weather. The spring was very backward and cold, the summer very unkind for vegetation, the autumn very wet and harvest very backward. Many of the farmers in the neighbourhood who had cut their oats did not carry them at all, but left them to rot in the fields, and I heard Mr George Webber say on Saturday, February 4 1837, that he carried some seeds that day which had been cut exactly five months before and were thrown down in the yard for manure. The prevailing epidemic in the country in January 1837, carried off more people than even the cholera, and in London and round the metropolis for several Sundays it is computed that is many as 1000 funerals have taken place in one day. Sextons could not dig graves fast enough for them, and had to get some assistance. In our little town we have not Lost many, but a few of the old people, our old and respected inhabitant, Mr Leney for one having dropped off. Many people attribute the cause to the snow, and say that complaint very similar to this appeared after the heavy snow in 1813 and 1814.


January 10th 1837

Father down at the Kings Head, being on the committee to give away the bread from the public subscription. Owing to the severe operation of the Poor Law act, many of the deserving, industrious poor have been in great distress. All the recompense they could get if they are applied to the Board was: “You may go into the house (more properly the ‘bastile') with your wife and family”. But no! A poor man would sooner suffer any privation than be incarcerated in a prison, and separated from all he held most dear–his wife, his family, his home, and his liberty. Consequently to relieve such as these, a public subscription was raised. The trades who have suffered most under the operation of the Act came forward handsomely with their 5s, 10s and 20s but I am sorry to say the farmers who talk so much about “charity to the poor” subscribed only their half-crowns. Nearly £50 was raised. The bread was given away in 4lb loaves: three children, two loaves, four children, three loaves; and five children and upwards, four loaves; giving great satisfaction and being thankfully received. There was a subscription among the “Notes” to give away coal, for which reason many of them would not subscribe for the bread!


January 16th to 17th

I have been very unwell with the prevailing influenza and scarcely one in the house has escaped it. See whom you will, all more or less are afflicted with it. In many places Business seems totally suspended on account of it. In London people die off very fast, and in Brighton and other large towns fatalities are in proportion to the population, but in the country few cases of death have occurred.


February 19th

Funeral of Sarah Jane Betts. Wedding of Mr Arnold and Miss Betsy Leppard.


March 30th

We had a strong contest for guardians to represent the parish under the new poor law. Result of the poll: Wood 82; Juniper, 81; Best, 80; Bannister 47. Contrary to expectation Best was thrown out. He had all Sergison's interest.


April 14th

Great excitement over the election of March 30th. The opposition party want as scrutiny. Much party feeling on the subject.


May, June, July

We have had no spring, the weather being so cold. From about the middle of June to the end of July, we have had scarcely any rain, and the whole hay crop in the neighbourhood was cut and carried without any rain. On July the 12th our horticultural show was held, and I went to the backwardness of the season and the state of the weather, it was the worst show we have had since its establishment. Scarcely any productions where brought at all. On June 20 our good old King William IV, after a happy reign of a few years, departed this life and is succeeded by our youthful Queen Victoria, who comes to the throne under the very favourable circumstances and is very popular at present. Parliament is dissolved, and she seems favourable to the Whig Party. Our little town is on the qui vive in the expectation of an election. Under the reform act, this town is now a polling place for the Eastern division in the Tory interest, and Curtis and Cavendish, in the Whig interest, have come forward, a hard run contest being expected. A great reaction has taken place in this neighbourhood, and I think the majority are Tories, if not from principles, at least from interest. Nothing is heard off now except politics. Flags are flying at the Kings Head and Talbot for the ensuing election, but if the Whigs do not exert themselves more at the other polling districts than at Cuckfield they will stand but a very poor chance. Darby’s and Fuller’s Committee are at the Kings Head, and are most indefatigable in their exertions, while the other committees at the Talbot and the Ship are “completely asleep at their posts”.


August 4th

The polling booth was built just below the Talbot, and I was one all the polling clerks for Darby’s and Fuller’s Committee at 21s a day. The town was all in a bustle, with two bands one at the Talbot for C and C, and one at the Kings Head for D and F. They kept parading the town with their banners flying, a very pretty effect.


August 5th

The greater Number polled yesterday, between 30 and 40 today. Close of the poll: Darby, 113, Fuller 111; Curtis, 108; Cavendish, 106. On the arrival of the express from Brighton, Mayfield, Lewes and East Grinstead the statements were so cheering that the band were out and parading the streets in Mr Wileman’s van and four horses, the Talbot party sending out their van and only a pair of horses. The site of the dining room at the Kings Head, put one in mind of Hogarth's description of an election. It was certainly a grand sight when the processions passed each other opposite the Talbot, with about 30 banners flying. Kept it up till Sunday morning. Before we left the King's Head the official news came through that Darby and Cavendish were elected.


September 6th

A grand conservative dinner in a booth erected near Mr Dunn's house. About 100 diners, Messrs Darby and Fuller were present and there was a great deal of speaking.


October 4th

Off to Brighton, Queen Victoria paid her first visit to the town. The committee appointed to make preparations for her majesties reception exerted themselves to the utmost. There was a beautiful triumphal arch opposite the Hare and Hounds, with smaller ones each side for foot passengers, and “Hail England’s Queen”, a crown, “V.R.” in dahlias, and at the entrance of the Palace a grand amphitheatre 240 foot in circumference and 60 foot high. It was computed that there were upwards of 120,000, and the train of vehicles of every description which followed the Queen stretched for 3 miles in length, while the people were crowded out as far as Patcham. The illuminations at night were splendid, and there were also fireworks. It was “the grandest day that ever Brighton knew.”


November 9th

No doubt a grand day in London, “Lord Mayors Day”, with the Queen dining at the Guildhall with the City Corporation. Such a thing has not happened since the time of Queen Elizabeth. Every feeling of loyalty displayed throughout the procession. An incident occurred which shows the kind feeling of our Queen. One of the lifeguards appeared to use his sword rather roughly to those who stood in advance, and she threw up the window and told to the commanding officer to order the soldier to use the sword mildly. The banquet was sumptuous, and value of the plate at the Queens table alone was estimated at £400,000


November 15th

First meeting of parliament in Queen Victoria’s reign.


November 20th

Another grand day in London, the Queen going to the Lords to open the Parliament for business.


November 26th

Was going down to church, and met Bennett, the Headboard., who, having received a clue to the Brigden's party, against whom he had warrants for felony, “pressed” all the young men he could out of the town. Our plans were well arranged, but frustrated by the capture one (Thomas) which left a vacancy behind, and Frank escaped after a pretty severe chase, which was almost as good as a foxhunt.


November 27th

Brigden and Weller committed.


November 28th

The magistrates have had plenty of work this week. By the capture of a man named Jenner a “nest” has been broken up at Ardingly, and I think our Sundays start will “shy” the Brigdens.


November 29th

Intermediate assizes at Lewes, Weller and Brigden tried. B. Clear, Weller 8 months.


December 2nd

I this day reached my 32nd year.


December 13th

Meeting of the Society of friends of the Talbot great room for worship. Mrs Fry, who has been so much spoken of as a very charitable person, attended and addressed the meeting, as well as Mr Allen, of Lindfield. I felt very much gratified with their discourses .


[No doubt of the speakers were Elizabeth Fry, the great social reformer, who did splendid work for the Quakers, for the betterment of conditions of prisoners and for the abolition of slavery: and William Allen, the celebrated Quaker philanthropist, who established “Schools of industry” at Lindfield. The format died in 1845 and the latter in 1843]

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