Saunterer's observations on Deaks Lane

Updated: Feb 2

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 23 August 1887


SAUNTERINGS BY “SAUNTERER”


No.II


In reply to Mr. Brook's flattering compliment, and to allay his anxiety and fear that I might have become spell-bound through the miraculous agency of the Owl's Oak or immersed in a bog, I beg to assure him that no such disaster has befallen me, but with such broiling weather as we have been having, with the meadows bare as fallows, the ground as hard and dry as an asphalt pavement, and the sun shining down almost perpendicularly on us, the streams dried up and the cattle in the pastures lowing for water, there was not much inducement even to saunter in the fields, for although the farmers hailed with pleasure the tropical heat that was ripening their corn, my corns, being of a different nature, have an insurmountable objection to hard clods and loose stones, therefore I have, perforce, been obliged to defer my favourite rambles and confine my saunterings into very small dimensions.


But as in my last I left you in the Park, at the Owl's Oak, and the weather has changed, we will start from there and wander down the fine sheet of water below the mansion to the wicket gate leading into strip of woodland, along which a lovely walk leads us to a pretty waterfall; and passing over a rustic bridge we find ourself at the old mill, that for centuries supplied Cuckfield with flour, and for grinding the neighbours' corn the miller took toll.


Fifty years ago the old water-wheel was standing, but now not a vestige remains, yet there stands the old mill-house under a high bank, enveloped in trees, some as old as the house itself, with diminutive lawn bordered by the stream from the falls, that goes meandering through the Weald below, adding to its bulk as it goes until it forms the river Adur, flowing along the bottoms by Twineham, Shermanbury, and Beeding, emptying into the sea and forming Shoreham Harbour.


The old mill pond is now productive pasture land, and so is the skating pond at High Bridge below. Once, and until some years since, a breakage of the bay drained off the water, the favourite resort of the skaters, and where many adventurous youth in his daring "caught a duck" but the water was not deep enough to drown a lad of moderate height. But not so the mill pond over the road, that on account of the rapid draft of water by the mill was insecure: and in the summer, although much frequented as a bathing place, it was dangerous to those who had not learned to swim, from its inequality in depth.


But I shall have more to say about this pond and the iron foundry below, of which it seems to have been a reservoir centuries ago, and now return to my saunter over the bay that formerly dammed the water of the old mill pond, and leaving the rifle butts on my left and the Walks wood on my right, pass over the stream by a primitive corduroy bridge and out into Deakes lane, through the gate at the old mill cottage. The old lane is wide from hedge to hedge, and the lord of the manor claims the timber growing on the waste beyond the allotted width of a bye road.


But doubtless it was before the main road between London and Brighton was made - it might be nearly 200 years ago—used for traffic to much greater extent than now, for it is said, and in fact since ascertained, that the road through Cuckfield from the bottom to the top of the Town hill was deep and miry, a footpath passing up the centre, waggons and carts proceeding up the hill taking the near, or left side, and the same in going down, the houses having a small space in front paled in, the inhabitants communicating with their neighbours by crossings, the remains of whlch and also of faggots, wood, and large sand stones, were unearthed in my memory when the hill was lowered, but I cannot give the date.


Travelling through this part of the Weald must have been a difficult affair in former days. Farmers’ wives rode to church on pillions behind their husbands, it being impossible to use a wheeled vehicle, except waggon or manure cart, to convey the youngsters and servant girls; and communication with the outer world was only arrived at by means of a weekly newspaper that contained news a month old, and being taken in by some three or four neighbours living a mile or two a part, and passing in rotation from house to house, it was a week before it had gone its rounds. No wonder then that ghost stories and tales of witches and goblins were so implicitly believed in, for isolated as they were, there was none to convince them of the fallacy in believing them.

Westup Farm

But again to my saunter, and turning up the lane a short distance I took a road on the left that led me to Westup farm, and accepted the hospitable invitation of the farmer to taste his home brewed beer. Some may see no novelty or anything interesting in pigsties, corn stacks, or thatched barns and buildings, but perhaps they have never been bat-fowling (netting sparrows) on a dark winter's night, slouching along a lane ankle deep in mud or a narrow and slippery footpath, single rank-and-file by the light of a single lantern, and perhaps having to cross a plough field with the road scarcely defined, even by daylight. If they have, they may appreciate the feeling experienced on arriving at the farmstead and commencing operations.


But having now sauntered as far as Westup, properly so named, being west of Cuckfield-park and situated on a brow, with a farmhouse built in the mediaeval ages, of which there are several in the neighbourhood coeval with the Elizabethan period-large roomy buildings with bay windows and immense fire places never intended to hold grates, but for the consumption of logs and firewood that then abounded in the district, the abodes of the sturdy race of yeomen who cleared the great forest of the immense timber trees that covered it, and that were, many of them, used for fuel to feed the furnaces of the iron works then so numerous in Sussex, the size and quality of the oaks that flourished in those days being to be arrived at even now by noticing the immense beams that support the roofs of the spacious halls and lofty rooms of these old houses, as sound now as when the builder hoisted them to their present site.


Westup was formerly the homestead of the Ives family, who must have been of considerable importance in the parish, as they seem to have had a vault in the interior of the church, of which, however, the site is hid, a flat stone with an inscription that marked the spot having been removed from the interior of the church and ignominiously placed in the causeway of the churchyard, where constant trampling has nearly obliterated names and date. But this is the way of the world, for what care the crowd of to-day, as they bustle along the path of life, for those who have gone forward. But here I finish my saunter for the present, intending next to visit the fox covers below—so famed among hunters, the cherry gardens and quaint little village of Bolney, and render an account thereof.


SAUNTERER