CHIDDINGLY ORAL HISTORY  P10

Introduction     Page 1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    11    12

When you come into a village you're a stranger. You get roped into this and that. People start getting you involved. They say, "You haven't joined this, and you haven't joined that." The British Legion came on to me, so I joined that. Then there was the Village Hall Management Committee, which was started about 27 years ago, when they took over from the Church. There was a lot of work to be done. I put the central heating in, and parts of the roof. Then I became the Caretaker, or Looker-Afterer of the Village Hall for a long time. I became involved with all the associations that go on there. Some were messy types, some were good.

We used to go up there and knock all the nails back in, because all the nails were sticking up out of the floor. Three or four of us did that, so we could sand it.

The village copper ran the Youth Club, and to stop it dying out after he went I took over. We used to have it until about ten o'clock at night, twice a week. We only closed for a few weeks in the summer. They were aged from about 10 to 16 or 17. They used to play table tennis, all sorts of games there. There was a snooker table. They used to play the flipping disco louder than I ever wanted! And It's finished now.

Alec did a lot for that Village Hall, and he was hardly paid anything. He did wonders. And when he left Chiddingly he hardly got a thankyou. People take all that work for granted.
****
We had the Bonfire which went on once a year. There were donations from people for fireworks. But the fireworks have got so expensive. They used to do a torch-light procession. They soaked board in paraffin and notched it into the sticks. The children used to dress up and there'd be two or three classes of fancy dress.

Work

We all had our own jobs on the farm. When my brother came out of the army he was cowman. I used to help with the dairy herd. I used to milk 18 of an afternoon, all by hand. It took about two hours.
****
It was during the war when we were asked by the agent to take on Place Farm. My father wasn't interested, said it was only fit to keep rabbits! But I went down and had a look at it. I told the chap it was in a bit of a mess, and he said "I know that." So I said, "Well, how much rent were you wanting?"

He said, 'You could have that side of the house for 10 shillings an acre for three years, and the other side for a 1." So I said, "Right, we'll have it!".

So I didn't say anything to my father. So the post comes, and there was this registered letter. "Huh!" he said. "This is nothing to do with me. If you order farms, you work 'em! You and your sister can have it between you!"

So he gave us 50 ewes and lambs, and 10 Sussex cows and the old bull. He said, "That's your start, and it's all you're going to get."

I was getting 2/6 [13p] a week then. I said, "I'll come and see you on Saturday for my 2/6," He said, "No, you've got your own farm now," he said, "I'll not be giving you any more 2/6's!" So that was my last pay-day!

It belonged to the Guy family then, to Miss Guy. You could stand in some places in the house and see the sky. The water came in. But they did come and patch that up for us. Then there were the Pages, they lived here as well. We've been here ever since.

Father bought Place Farm in 1952. It's an old building. Father had four of us down there as builders for about 18 months. One winter and about half the summer we spent getting a load of chalk from the East Woods. We just used to go down and dig it with shovels. Then they used to grind it up to make cement. When we started we had to work like blazes to get two loads a day. The chap who minded the grinder came across to us after about a fortnight, and he says, "Well, I've been watching you old boys working your insides out," he says, "you can do it a lot easier than that."

We said, "Well, how?"

He went and got a couple of picks, and he dug a big lump of this chalk out. "Now look," he says, "chalk is just like wood - it's got a grain to it. If you can see where the grain is, you can split it and fill your lorry in less than half the time it's taking you now."

Of course, we thought this was great. But when we got used to it, we used to fill our lorry up, have a smoke, have a chat to this chap, so we only managed three loads a day instead of two!
****
I used to polish the Aggs' ball-room on my hands and knees! When I was first married, this was after the war, I used to work for them for a few hours . My cousin was housemaid there. When I was the post-lady, I'd open the back-door of Hilders Court and put the letters in.

I did a lot of washing for other people. I used to stoke up the fire underneath the big pot. We'd get the wood on a Saturday or Sunday, from down the wood, and boil the pot over that. I've had thirty sheets a week.

One lady did a bit of bed and breakfast, so she had quite a few sheets. I dried them outside all right. If the weather was bad, we just had to wait until we got it dry. We used to have a mangle and a little old wringer. We hadn't got a spin-dryer. We haven't got a washing machine now, just a boiler. I'd rather have a spin-dryer than a washing machine any day.
****
After the charcoal burning job finished in 1944, I came and asked if there was any work at the farm.. I stayed for 13, 14 years. I did anything and everything! I got 2.

I taught him everything he knows. Some good things and some bad things! I taught him to drive a lorry, and took him for a test. I said, "When they ask you to do an emergency stop, jam your foot on the foot plate. Don't worry about the clutch." It was a 1948 Bedford, and they had a sort of spring underneath the seat. Well, he jammed the brakes on, and the seat pitched forward and put the Instructor down on the floor and he hit his head on the dashboard. The seat had tipped and the he couldn't get out! He had to get the seat out before the Instructor could come up out! And he passed - the Instructor thought that was a good stop; he said "I can't ask you to do that again!"
****
We lived in Woodingdean, and I used to do plumbing and heating contract work for a builder. He moved over here, just near the Bells. He said, "Woodingdean's all getting built up, and there's no more work over there, why didn't I come over here?" This was the '50s. He said they'd got no water, they'd got no light, nothing over here, it's all to come, so in my trade I'd got a chance to get the work. They said there were a couple of cottages next door, so why didn't I buy them?

We were in our own house over in Woodingdean, I'd built it just after I came back from the war, in those days they were cheap to build. So we bought these two cottages, which were inseparable, really.

I came over and did the alterations, and then a lady wanted hers modernised, so we built a bathroom on the side for her, and re-did the roof. I often wonder how we got away with it, because they're registered buildings. It was done through the Council, but they didn't seem to realise that it shouldn't have been done so easily. She hadn't got water, but she had a little well in the garden, so we laid on the water and everything.
****
Chuck Smith was a thatcher and a bee-keeper. He'd take a swarm of bees, he wouldn't put a mask or anything on. I've seen the bees all up his arms, stinging him all over, and I said, "Aren't you getting stung?"

And he said, "Ah, they sting, but they get fed up before I will!"

When he broke his fingers or toes, he'd do them up with the binder string. "Put a splint on there," he said, "you don't want to go to the doctors, that'll mend." He was thatching 'til he was over 80.

He said, "During the war those Messerschmidts came over and when they were shooting down," he says, "those bullets hit my back so hard they bounced off!"
****
I was married at the Church here. We had the reception at the Hall. All the receptions were in the Village Hall. We didn't have a honeymoon. I'd finished work - women looked after their husbands then.

I worked until two months before my first daughter was born. I haven't worked regularly since; little odds and ends, but not regularly. It's a full-time job in the home. And bringing up the future generation is one of the most important jobs.
****
Mr Prince looked after the road, making little bonfires. He had a stretch of road to look after, and it was all neat and tidy and dug out.
****
We came here from Tunbridge Wells in 1945, in the last bit of the war. I was in the Land Army, and I was sent to the farm where my husband-to-be was working. I'm not one to go out into crowds easily, and I only knew one friend here. We had to walk to church then, because we had no car, and I only knew the few people at church. They used to call my husband by his Christian name, but I was always called "Mrs". I tried not to be offish, but it took time.

Then we used to do eggs which the people came to the door and bought, and then the children went to school, so I started to know more people.
****
My daughter says "You've never had to work, mum!" But things weren't easy. We had brooder chicks and pigs, not many of each, perhaps about ten, and goats, something of everything. Of course you couldn't go deep into chicken because they wouldn't allow us the coupons. We had ten milkers. Some mornings we'd get up at half-past four in the morning, depending how heavy the cows were, to milk them. It was all hand-milking. We had a hurricane lamp to find them, hanging up on a beam. You had to find the cows, call them in, tie them up, wash them down, it was harder then. We had to push the milk on a little hand-cart up to the gate, and it had to be there by half-past seven. And it was seven days a week. Then my husband would cycle down to Stream Farm to begin his day's work!

When we came here, you see, our little farm didn't make enough profit, so he worked on the other farm. It was the lady who owned that farm who rented us our farm, and then she decided to sell up, so we ended up buying it.

It would be twelve o'clock before I'd get back to the house some mornings, but I couldn't do that when I had my first child. So my husband gave up half a day, because by then we were selling more eggs and getting quite a lot of custom at the door. We worked to midnight sometimes, hatching eggs.

We didn't have water laid on to start with, or electricity. We had oil lamps, and a well. We had some funny old oil cookers. We had my mother's great big iron pot to put potato peelings in.

There was an lady next door, she was an actress, and at weekends she used to have eggs and milk. We'd been hoeing down in the field, and I came in and put this pot on the oil, took the milk up and the eggs because it was a weekend and she would be home. Coming back, I saw a light flashing and I thought "Good, my husband's in, he'll have a cup of tea ready". I got to the door and there were flames right up to the shelf I had above the cooker, the pot had boiled over and set the place alight!.

It was a terrible fire risk. And sitting trying to knit in that light! And the ceiling was black from the lamps.

One snowy evening, about seven o'clock, and we'd been eating in the kitchen, when we heard "Sshhhhhh!". We thought, "That's another load of snow off the roof."

Fortunately my husband lit the hurricane lamp before going out, and there was this big cavity, about eight foot deep. There was a disused well, you see, it had got filled in with rubbish, and covered over with ashes. The rubbish had rotted, and it caved in. There's still beautiful round red bricks all round.

We had an engine on the well we used, which pumped the water into a big tank, which held three thousand gallons of water. The pump is still there. But I always took my sheets back to my mum at Tunbridge Wells!

When I had my first child, I didn't have a very easy time, and we got someone in for a week or two to help. She was very cross. I used to sweep my carpet with a brush and pan, you see, because we didn't have any of the appliances. But she did stay.
****
When there was a drought, we used to go down to Bull River with the empty milk churns on the tractor, and lower them down and fill the old churns up. This was for the chicken and the cows. The cows drank seven or eight gallons a day. We couldn't drink that water. We used to get it from Hailsham. There used to be a big tank up at Hailsham.

When we had a fire down there, we had no water to put it out, so we got the tractor out and went down there and brought the water up like that, until the fire engine came.
****
When we first arrived in Sussex, you'd go to markets and so on, and you'd have to make yourself known. Some of them were a bit offish. They say you have to be in Sussex for ten years before the Sussex people accept you. I think it's more like forty!

I came from Maidstone, so we're Kentish people, but it was much easier to start a small farm in Sussex. In Kent they were all big farms, and they didn't want to know. In Sussex, though, they were nearly all small farms after the war. One farmer would perhaps employ a couple of men, with perhaps 20 or 30 acres. In Kent they had thousands of acres, and the boss would drive about in a posh car. In Sussex, the roughest-looking fellows would turn out to be the farmers! We've got just 21 acres here, just enough for one person to manage. After the war we used to have a few milking cows and raise a few pigs, and 6 or 7 thousand chickens in cages, just enough to make a living for a family. We didn't employ anybody, we'd have a contractor at busy times.
****
The Page family? Anything to do with engines, he was absolutely brilliant. They used to mend the old steam engines on the farms in the olden days, I think. They were quite a unique family. They lived in the Swan Wood up at The Gun, it was a bit basic. I don't know whether the shack was there when they went there. It might be an old asbestos place. It looks a bit like that. The mother and father and four or five children lived there. Their hands and faces were all grimy, and their clothes. The whole wood that they lived in is full of old cars, old engines and so on. One of the Pages is still there.
****
The big green at Golden Cross is just a car park now. There used to be a Sale Field. The last lot of cattle I sold there was in 1963. I got 15 each and now they're 500!
****
Shopping and eating

Just after the war, Robbie used to have all these lettuces and so on outside the shop. One night we went to a dance up there, and just in front of Pilgrims, they'd got a little border. I suppose we were younger then. We took his lettuces - and planted them!
****
They used to do local shopping at the store in the village, the store at Golden Cross and the store at Whitesmith. You could buy anything there. When Robbie had the shop, what couldn't you buy? I bought my first suit off him! I went to him and he measure me up for a suit. 2/10 [2.50] He'd sell you a watch. He'd sell you anything!
****
Years ago we had a shop in East Hoathly village. So naturally we used our own shop to encourage trade in our own area. I remember the time when the shop in East Hoathly used to send a man from house to house, and he would come into the kitchen, sit down, have some coffee, and you'd say, "lard, margarine, coffee, cocoa," and the next day it would all be delivered to each house. Nobody needed to go to the shop at all, really, if you lived a mile from it. But it's more or less the same now; the shop in the village still does deliveries, and he does take orders by telephone, which is marvellous. I bought my son's pram from the shop! You could buy anything! You'd say you wanted a pram, and he would produce a pram!
****
There was a very nice couple, the Westgates who I loved dearly who ran a wonderful shop. They sold nearly everything at one time, but towards the end they reduced it to cigarettes, sweets and cakes.
****
When we first came here, in the late '50s, early '60s, we did all our Christmas shopping in the shop at Golden Cross, the whole lot; we didn't have to go into Hailsham for a thing! Wine, chicken, fruit, everything! They had different sections - the groceries, the greengroceries, the dairy, off licence. The bacon and cheese here, and the chemicals there. They had it all divided up, he and his wife, and her mother and the eldest girl used to help in the shop. They are trying to work it up again now.

I suppose we used to go into Hailsham very occasionally. Because there wasn't any need to go - you had everything on your doorstep. We used to go if we wanted to go for a ride!

We had four shops and two post offices. Whitesmith was a full post office, with one lady doing the sorting, Bert on his bike coming round with the letters. John used to come round on his bike delivering telegrams. And when we moved into our cottage, the farm was a farm - we got our milk there.
****
We used to pick the nuts, take the pieces off the bottom, put them in jars, put a little bit of salt in the jar, tie them down with a bit of newspaper or something, and bury them into the ground. And we saved them for Christmas! Hazelnuts. I always remember, there was snow on the ground, it was February, and my little girl came running in saying, "Look what I dug up!" And she'd dug up this jar from underneath the apple tree, and the nuts were still good. I said, "We'll have those, because it's my birthday!" And apples, we used to peel them, and hang them up to dry - apple rings.
****
As far as I remember, we used to have a lot of rabbits and that was very helpful in the days of poverty. Rabbit stews and rabbit hotpots and so forth.
****
I don't know how we came to get there, but we were there doing some contract work at Crowbridge Farm. Ploughing, sowing, binding, well, we did most things in fact. We were there hay-tying in the winter, because we had the old hay press.

The lady who owned the farm called us in. "You boys must come in and have a good cup of tea and a nice bit of bread and butter." Well, the teapot was one of these old aluminium teapots stood on the stove, and when she poured it came out like creosote or tar! The baker had just been, and she cut a slice off about an inch and a half thick, and then the butter was nearly as thick as the bread, and it was as rank as ever you tasted. Anyhow, she kept saying, "Come on you boys, eat up! Eat up!" We never had any more bread and butter on that farm!
****
If my mother had visitors for lunch, she'd pop over to the pub to get an ice-cream for sweet, because he sold them.
****

Art in the Village

Sir Roland Penrose? He was a Picasso man, wasn't he? Abstract. Weird. I can't see anything in it. His wife's pictures, they're really quite different, because she took all those fantastic photographs. Very sad photographs, because she was a photographer during the war.

Sir Roland? Yes I knew him. I didn't think much of his paintings. The same with old Reubens. They weren't what I'd call paintings. They didn't appeal to me, I must admit. I like to see something that looks real.
****
We moved into Willett's Bungalow on the 1 October 1950. My husband came as farm manager to Mr Penrose as he was in those days, before he was knighted, to manage Farley and Willetts farm. He gave us the plot of land. It used to be the farriers, where they shoed all the horses.

How was Sir Roland to work for? Strict but lovely. There was his art - his pictures - which nobody understood really! Modern art wasn't in it! Strange, some of his art, but very good and clever. He was one of the great collectors. He was Picasso's agent. They lived at Farley Farm. Sir Roland used to come to all the big things in the village, but he didn't do the work on anything. They really spent a lot of money in the village . They helped if you wanted anything done, they'd come in and help.
****
He used to have an art show each year at the Village Hall. Anybody who wanted to try their hand in at art or anything. He'd be there with his American wife. She was a very nice person. Lee Miller. She was a wonderful war correspondent.
****
The person who ran the pub before I bought it in 1970 was a chap called Jack Phillips. Now, Sir Roland Penrose was the agent for Picasso. There was an occasion when Picasso walked up to the village. He stopped at the pub and asked Jack Phillips, if he drew him a drawing and signed it, would he give him a drink? Jack Phillips said "Not even if your name was Leonardo De Vinci would I do that, it's money or nothing!"
****
My father used to work for Sir Roland, so I knew him. He'd always speak to you. And he'd remember your name. I didn't know much about his work. His paintings and goodness knows what.

They had some grand Christmas parties. They were a bit more than the usual staff parties. There was endless drink, it was just there. There'd be doctors and surgeons, all Sir Rowland's type, but they all mingled in. You could be sitting there, and someone would come and sit on the arm of a chair and natter away to you, and you hadn't got a clue who you were talking to! They always found out who you were, and where you'd come from and so on, but you didn't feel like asking them about themselves!

Living at Farley, I knew the house inside out. We lived there before they did. They were great. People say Sir Roland never did anything for the village. Well, he did a lot for the village, but he'd never have his name put to anything.
****
As far as I was concerned, Sir Roland was one of the best. So was Lee. He was a gentleman and you didn't have to know him, you could just talk to him. With Lady Penrose, you'd have to meet her two or three times, but she was lovely. She didn't mean to be overpowering, she'd got a heart of gold. She'd give you anything. I'd be walking up the road, or on the tractor, and she'd always stop and have a natter. She'd say, "You've got to come and have a drink, come and see us." And if you didn't, the next time you met her she'd say, "Now where the hell did you get to?"

They had Picasso to stay. I met him at Farley, in the kitchen. It didn't mean a thing to me then. "This is Picasso, Bob" says Lee, and I shook hands with him. He was just another chap as far as I was concerned! Didn't mean a thing!