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Victorian reflections on Brook Street

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 17 April 1888



It is a pleasant walk, weather permitting, from Whiteman’s Green down to Brook-street, but what a paradox! although it is downhill we going up the country, all roads leading to the metropolis being described as going “up London” and vice versa.

But this is of no consequence, for it is usual to call a spade a spade among us Sussex people, and we don't consider that going downhill is going up, and I must say that Brook-street is much improved lately, at least the inhabitants are, both in habits and manner as a few years since if you had the temerity to walk past the old barrack houses on a Sunday afternoon you would have found a set of hobble-de-hoy on the road at marbles, and bring down on you a torrent of abuse and slang if you dared expostulate.

But now the most delicate female may enjoy the walk without being annoyed or insulted, nor hear on the Sabbath the clamorous voices of the boys engaged in traversing the fields at hounds and hares, breaking down hedges, driving cattle and sheep off the pastures, and injuring the crops. Such scenes are now almost obsolete, and great change has come.

The little iron church that has been lately erected at the Tanyard gate is generally well attended, the children are pretty constant at school, and the inhabitants much more civilised than formerly and the place no longer considered “of no very good repute” in proof of which on more than one occasion lately, there having been a mortality in the neighbourhood among children, a body of young men, residents, have voluntarily come forward and borne the coffins to the grave, a distance of two miles, without fee or reward, a fact that speaks highly of the good feeling prevalent among the inhabitants, and the progress in civilisation that has been made in a few years, and which is still progressing.

The old flimsily built parish cottages, or dilapidated kennels, are sold at last, and not being habitable are condemned by the present owner, so that we may expect to see shortly a range of good substantial tenements instead, inhabited by orderly and respectable families, redeeming ‘in toto’ the obloquy formerly attached to the place.

But before reaching the barracks we pass an antiquated farmhouse on the right, and come to the Tanyard on the left, and Abbotts farmhouse opposite, which with the cottages adjoining is considered as Brook-street proper.

The old Tanyard has, however, for years been in disuse. It, and the farm as well, has passed, since the last century, from the Burt family to the Wilemans and is now owned by Mr. Lister, of Borde Hill, and rented by Messrs. Pratt Brothers, positively good farmers and enterprising men. Should the last of the Burts who owned the Tanyard, and his neighbours, Uwins, of Bentley, Picknell, of Borde Hill, Chatfield, of Hanlye, Dancy, of Sydnye, Tester, of Abbotts, and Jennings, all adjoining farmers, again revisit their holdings, what an alteration they would find in systems, rotation of crops, and methods of working the land!

Had a provincial seer predicted that the time was at hand when the land would be ploughed steam, the corn sown and cut by machinery and thrashed by steam, and that a field of wheat standing in the evening would be cut, carted, stacked, and thrashed, and the grain in the hands of the miller in 48 hours he would have been deemed an idiot and belated fool, and yet within the last half-century all this has come to pass, and it is impossible to predict what the next score of years may produce.

But as yet the Pratts, although proprietors of agricultural implements to a large extent working widely on hire, have not established steam ploughs and cultivators, yet if those I have named, whose generations have long passed, were to rise from their graves and look over their collection of machinery and the uses to which it is applied, they would exclaim with surprise, “What is the world coming to?” However, passing Brook Street I come to the lane on the left leading to Pilstye, and opposite the road to Bentley, of which I have something to say, it having been, during part of last century, and nearly to the second decade of the present occupied by Richard Uwins, a farmer of the old stamp, and whose stock at hie death in 1819 realised what at the time were considered extravagant prices.

Uwins lived at the time when the Sussex breed of cattle first came into special notice for their hardiness and aptitude in fattening, and in conjunction with Mr. Clutton, of Ockenden, Cuckfield, who held Hanlye and the Laines farm, and whose system of farming and breed of stock was admirably spoken of by Jethro Tull, the agricultural author his day, the Bottings of Twineham, Beechings of Bolney, Combers of Balcombe, and few others in the locality, might claim to have been by careful breeding and judicious crossing the originators of this valuable breed of Sussex stock in its improved state.

That it has improved since in great measure I admit, but I miss in the herds the large square-hipped and deep-chested dark red lop-horned beasts of the old stock, except in a few instances, they having been of late superseded by a cross, lighter in their fore quarters and straight horned. It is uncertain from whence the breed originated: some say from the Devons, and this might have been the case, and if so decidedly an improvement. Flint, a large dealer in cattle at the early part of this century, always maintained that the Sussex stock was first introduced from Devonshire, but that in procees of time, as the Sussex breed improved the Devons deteriorated, until crossing with the Sussex brought them into what they were formerly. At all events, many crosses have occurred of late years, and brought the Sussex up to the high standard for quality it has attained, but to find it in perfection we must go into West Sussex, where the best and purest herds are kept, although in the Mid and East districts many good specimens may be found.

At the time of which I am treating, and for years after, every farmer of any consequence, kept an team of four five pairs, from three to six years old, and fine noble animals they were, mostly bred by himself, the system being, when the steers were rising three years of age to pair them, and bring them into the team and name them, the latter being the oxman’s duty and the christening a convivial affair, the names being coupled according as they were paired for work, such as Buck and Benbow, Star and Gelding, Peart and Lively, etc. I don’t think they would answer singly to their names as a dog, even a horse might, but at the call of the oxman they would come up in pairs to the stall and stand quietly to be yoked. Not only was an ox team of infinite service for farm work, but a source of profit as well, for a three-year-old steer not only earns his living up to his sixth year but he spreads out in bulk and weight and becomes a large and heavy bullock, when he is no longer worked but summers run on the grass land and then stalled and fatted off for market, some of them at Christmas weighing from 120 to 150 stone.

This was the system pursued in those days, but stock breeding is not followed in the Weald now as then. The old marshy bottoms and rough pastures where our fathers brought their young stock have been drained and cleared and turned into more profitable purpose, it being a rare thing to see team of oxen in the fields work, or on the road dragging slowly along a heavy load of faggots or cord wood they bad lugged out of the wood.

They are fatted off now before they come to maturity. The Sussex breed were always favourite draught oxen, but I can remember, years ago, seeing teams of large broad-horned black bullocks at work on the Downs, and was told that originally the Sussex was of the same colour, but I doubt this, and believe them have been imported, most likely from Wales, although the Welsh breed we have had sent over for years do not come up in size and breadth of horn to them.

In those days local markets for the sale of fit stock were not so numerous as at present, or so easily got at on account of the state of the roads, and farmers in this district were in a great measure dependant on the local butchers for buyers, but make up for this butchers from Brighton, that was at that time under the patronage of the fourth of the Georges, then Prince of Wales, and fast rising in importance, used to visit the district and purchase the beasts there and then, that were driven down half-way and met by their drovers.

But the Brighton butchers did not deal in the large oxen that had been fatted off, they being mostly sent off to the Smithfield market, it being arranged for them to be driven to stations appointed, and delivered over to drovers, who by the time they reached London had collected a smart drove consigned to the salesman, who disposed of them at the market and deducting his fee, remitted the amount to the owners. This secured a safe sale, but the returns did not always correspond with the farmer’s estimate as to value, and he had no means of testing the honesty of the salesman.

But we have markets now handy, and in every direction where railways run, the open sales giving him the opportunity of knowing what his stock realises and releases him from depending on the good faith of the salesman.

But having sauntered farther than Brook-street and not reached Pilstye or the lone barn at the top of the hill that convinced a crowd of quasi hunters a season two ago that there are more Bentleys in the world than one, I must leave off prattling about bullock breeding and reserve my remarks on Pilstye and the memorable Siege of Cuckfield until next week.


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