CHIDDINGLY ORAL HISTORY  P12

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

The Village Community

We've only lived here 11 years, so I can't talk about how the village was years ago, but I must say the community spirit is tremendous now. We couldn't do any of the village activities without the village shop, and the people at the pub, because they are extremely supportive.

We tried to organise something for later this year, and there wasn't one free Saturday evening! You've got a complete cross-section of people in this village. Some people obviously go back many years, and they've all got wonderful memories. But in the eleven years we've been here, we've clocked up a lot of wonderful memories as well.
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I'm a newcomer - I've only lived in the Parish for thirty years! We've got very good neighbours. Very friendly. Everybody welcomed you, everybody said 'good morning' wherever you went.

There's a good community spirit. Especially in the shop. We all use the shop.
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I think the atmosphere is much more friendly when you do have a small community, I think people are more kind. When there was that snow, we had five or six people ring up just to say, "Are you all right? Do you need any help?" And the milkman, he can't get down the hill in his electric float, so he'll walk down. We used to have a baker from Horam, but that packed up. And we used to have a butcher.

The postman is very good to me. I give him a cup of coffee, and he brings in a bag of wood for me.
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You would see all the people walking to Church; that's what I miss most over the years. Everyone nowadays just goes along in the car, we all do. We just say 'hello' when we get to church, go in, come out and go home. In those days you walked along and if you caught up with somebody, you had a natter.

Everyone seems so isolated now. They were all walking to school. The other day, at the time when the children come out, I counted almost seventy cars along that road, which is almost one per child. There used to be groups of children walking home from school.
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Chiddingly has changed a lot. I think it's the people more than the actual village. Different people with different ideas. Commuter-orientated. Now, most of the people are business people. They come and go. They're not here during the day. They just come here to sleep! They don't think like we do. Country people don't mix with town people. They tend to come in and want to sweep the board clean. It's like the pub. It used to be a nice quite little village pub. Old Jack Phillips, he was dirty, but you did have a good laugh. You can't get in there now. All that garlic stuff! The youngsters in the village use the pub now, but not the rest of us.
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We need the young people, we need them to have babies, we need to keep the school open if we want to keep the community together.
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If I go to the village, I wouldn't know anybody - well, very few. I haven't been to the village for three or four months. There's nothing there of any interest to me.

I play snooker on the other side of Golden Cross, but apart from that, there's only about two people left in the village that I speak to.
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The reason we finally decided to leave the Village was that we were well past retiring age, and there's no doctors in Chiddingly, there's no buses however hard you might try; I think there were one or two a week from Golden Cross when we left. And in case of emergency you've got to rely on a doctor coming from Hailsham.

I've got used to living in Hailsham, but my heart's still in Chiddingly. I used to belong to different things in Chiddingly. Since we moved I haven't joined anything, so I miss that. And my friends are still in Chiddingly. I come over once a fortnight. I used to like the whist drives and the beetle drives in the Village Hall.
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I don't think it's such a close-knit community now. You don't have the Headmaster living in the village now, you don't have the vicar living in the village any more, and they used to keep the whole thing revolving around them. A lot of the children in the village go to private schools now. There weren't so many in those days going to private schools - there weren't any.

What's killed the community spirit is that years ago the farms had the farm cottages, and they've all been sold off. And it's done away with the village community.
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People come and go now. There's hardly anybody I know in Chiddingly now. Coming into the Village now, they're complete strangers, aren't they? They take over the houses in the village.

The new people do get involved in the Village, because of the children; school and so on. They do get organised, arranging things, there is a community spirit in the Village really. I think there's a stage now where are lot of these younger people coming into the Village with their children will stay. I don't think there's this feeling of moving around quite so much. Some of them commute to London. Some of them work in hospitals. There's barristers, and of course there's the builders. I think six or seven people do different kinds of building. When you talk to them, they love the Village, and they just don't seem to want to move.
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The Church and Churchyard

I'd hate to see the Church go. I know there's no congregation. I used to ring the church bells, years ago. There are six bells. The pub gets its name from the six bells of the church, you see.
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Down the bottom of the Church yard, it was like a woodland really. They had to clear the brambles before they could bury anybody. I got the fence up round the Church yard. Well, I have got about 18 of my family up there! I knocked on people's doors for the money. You see, John Lower says in his book that a fence was put up by tenants, squires and farmers in the 1770s. They gave so many feet of fence.

Well, in the 1990s when I retired from farming, I said "Right - I'll do the fence." So I put in the magazine that I was coming round to knock on the doors where two hundred years ago they gave towards the fence. Of course, some of them knew what I was coming for, because I was always coming for donations and sponsors for horse shows and one thing and another. They said, 'What are you after, money or drink?" And I'd say, "Both!" And they'd say, "Come in!" And they were very good - people were very kind. I wanted about 3000 just for the timber, because I said that I would erect it. I did have one or two people to help me, when they could give half a day of their time.

All those people who gave donations - in feet, I still stuck to feet, it worked out at about 5 a foot - and I've branded the names of the people who gave donations on the bottom of the posts which you can see all round the Church.

I made three gates. One was given by the farmer who owns the place now. People were wonderful. Most of the timber came from the storm damage, and it's all oak. It should last another two hundred years. I hope they won't be able to say, "Well, he didn't put it up as well as the last lot - I told him that timber wasn't seasoned!"

Housing

I wouldn't like to see Chiddingly ruined. I think it's nice as it is. The new buildings are quite well done. They could have been a little lower down. They are unnecessarily tall. But they are only for people belonging to this area. I myself think they should build more houses, but they don't need to be very large.
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We have had the 14 housing association houses at Muddles Green, which have allowed 14 families to stay, who would have had to move away, and I think they were all Chiddingly families. Perhaps in another 20 years the village will have to find another plot of land and the same thing can be done again to keep the ball rolling.

They got those little houses in Muddles Green built, but our sons didn't stand a chance of getting one. They were all taken up. They couldn't get a place to live in Chiddingly, and they wanted to stay. One is now in Hailsham.

My daughter's been lucky, she managed to get one of the new houses at Muddles Green. So she'd back in the Village. I think it might help if there were more houses like that. They've catered for the village youngsters who needed a home.
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Our children could never afford to buy property in the village. It's only recently that building societies would loan money on older properties, so the younger people had no option. If they wanted to stay in the village, they couldn't, because they couldn't get a mortgage. I should think that less than 5% of the people living here now were born here.
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I suppose you'd call it progress, but all the farms used to have cottages. Now all the cottages have been sold off, people come in from the town, and you haven't got the country people. We used to have our own football team - there were two teams at one time. Now there aren't enough lads in the village to form a team.
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With all the splitting up of farms, I'm sorry to see is individual fields are losing their names. The new owners don't know the names, and it's going to be something that's completely lost.

Our fields are Mount Field, Home Paddock, Front Field, Six Acres, and Stream Farm had some lovely names. There's Gregory's, and Burnt House. They used to dig a lot of iron ore around here, and a lot of the names come from that. Gun Hill where they made guns out of the steel, and Pond Hill where they put the steel after they'd made it.

There's the big field called St Johns. You know the Church hasn't got a name, it's just known as "Chiddingly Church" - I've often wondered it that's got anything to do with it.
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Just a few words about the caravan site. They've got a little coach there, that goes into Hailsham once or twice a week. They've got the doctor who calls there; they have a surgery down there. They've got their own club room. These are permanent homes, you understand. When you drive round there, the flowers are immaculate. Street lighting, no dogs. There, they've got every convenience there is.

Work

I've only lived here for twenty years, but I would say that it is still, in my view, a good working village. I know that a lot of people don't work in the village now, but they are still workers that come and go daily, some going long distances, but they come home at night, and they still manage to join in the affairs of the village. If we became a complete dormitory village, then it wouldn't be a village any longer.

We couldn't be a village without our two shops. And, of course, we have our two pubs. Some of us think that they do bring in more people from outside than they encourage people from the village, but apart from that we still have our shops, and without either the village wouldn't be a village.

I wouldn't say that there are an outrageous number of holiday homes. There are a few, empty for most of the time. They're terrific neighbours - no noise!
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The working people are not here, they've been driven out. The houses are gone. There are very very few people in the Village who don't commute to London, or towns. All the business is elsewhere. What children there are aren't interested in local work. Years ago, nearly everybody worked round about the village. I suppose the furthest people used to go away to work was Hailsham.
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Obviously, we've lost a lot of the artisans of the village. There are very few of the younger people who were brought up in the village who have managed to make it back. As far as I know, there are about four.
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It's an awful shame that the young people can't afford to live in the village now. Years ago there was a carpenter, there was a plumber, there was a cobbler, they all had jobs. Now there's no jobs, so they have to go. Which leaves an aging village. There was an electrician, and a road-man, and from the Chiddingly boundary to East Hoathly, he kept the place absolutely like a garden, and his name was Stephens. He was the most intellectual and outstandingly clever man. His three daughters were employed by three families, one daughter each. We employed local people, you see? Everything went into the village.
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My biggest argument is that nearly all the agricultural people have gone. Nearly all these houses were farm cottages. You used to be able to go into the Gun Inn and everybody knew each other. We'd have a game of darts or cards, crib, shove-ha'penny, all these sorts of things. But now, they're all gone. There isn't a farm cottage here now. We used to have something in common. Now there are people from all different walks of life.

The farm, you see, with all this machinery, it doesn't want the labour. Up at Burgh Hill, if there was somebody laid up, I used to go up there to help out, perhaps milking, and there was four or five of us to milk about forty or fifty cows. Well, now it takes one man to milk 150.

We used to go round and do the binding with horses, it all used to be shooked up, loaded back in, and then you'd bring in the thrasher in the winter. Now, the combine goes in, one man does that, another man comes and takes it away, depending of course what size your farm is, and you see, you don't need the men.

I see the advantage of modern technology in farming in one way, but when people are crying out for work, I don't see the advantage. But then a lot of these young people wouldn't want to do that kind of work anyway.

Of course it must be more profitable to work modern machinery. The wages now that are paid, you couldn't afford to pick potatoes in the old way and sell them, but with the modern machinery they can pick hundreds of times more, and sell them that much cheaper.

These grants and subsidies, I've always thought that these governments help them too much. But you see, there's more of them since the city slickers have taken over the farms. They're not farmers. Real farmers haven't got the farms. You get a real farmer, all right they'll go after their subsidy, but they're getting a living from the land. But some of those city slickers, they come in, they think they're going to make a bomb you see. They get somebody to come and work for them, and then they realise too late that it's not going to work. There's one chap who's bought up four or five small-holdings, and for five years there's not been cattle grazed on it, no grain of corn grown on it, just idle for five years. It's something to do with this EEC, over-production of cereal or something like that.

Somebody can go to college, and they can learn a lot. They have to learn a lot - corn yields and so on. But this is why you get set-asides; the corn yields twice or three times what it used to. Where we used to get about a ton to the acre, (which didn't pay our wages, we always wanted about a ton and a half), they're now getting three and a half tons. Some people say they get more.

These farms round here, they haven't had anything organic for years. It's all artificial all the time.
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We don't need any farm machinery. There's an old tractor down there I haven't used for two years! It's cheaper to have a contractor now, than use your own. They come in, do the work in a day and are gone. Whereas with your own machinery, you have to maintain it, and perhaps only used it for a few weeks in the year. I think lots of farmers are using contractors now. It's better than employing men, who you have to pay all the year round.

The shop

In the old days, it was very hard work, the old way of living. Chiddingly is much more modern now. I like to see some of the cottages that are all modernised and lived in.

As for the shop, we couldn't beat it, could we? I wouldn't want to shop anywhere else. They pack up your groceries and put them in your car for you.
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I think the little shop and post office holds the village together. Everything that's on is on the notice board. But you never get any gossip at the shop! Very discreet.

I go shopping in Chiddingly every Tuesday. My friends next door take me every Tuesday. There's a lot of people I meet in the shop. Different ones from different times.
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The shop is very central. I'd hate to see that shop go, or the Post Office. It could happen, I think. If the Post Office withdraws its licence then the shop would go, because it can't run on its own. They are trying to cling to it as much as they can, because people would have to travel to Hailsham. They're all right at the Golden Cross, you see, because they've got a Post Office there. But they don't care nowadays about the old folks trying to get to a Post Office, do they? So many people have got cars, I suppose they think, "Well, somebody will take them to a Post Office".
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There was a rumour that the shop was going to pack up. I mean, those boys never have a holiday, never go anywhere because they're too busy. They open all week, except Thursday afternoons, but then they're getting up orders and that.

Ten o'clock at night you'll see them working. They do deliveries you see, they love to deliver so that they can go out and have a chat to people. If you're up in the shop and there's half a dozen people there, they don't rush you on, they'll take orders, take it to your car.
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We use the village shop. They deliver; whatever you want, they'll bring it out. In fact my brother has been pulling their legs lately, about a gateau they've had in the freezer. He's been watching this gateau for months and months, and nobody bought it. Knowing the boys, they probably got it specially for someone and then they didn't buy it. All of the sudden, this gateau disappeared. My brother said, "Where's the gateau?"

"I've just sold it."

"Oh, I wanted it for my lunch!" said my brother.

"Well, I can ring them up, they may not have started to eat it yet!" He was serious!
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Down at Whitesmith, we've lost our post office and shop. That used to be a little focal point, but now all we do is wave to people as they go by in the car. We've lost the village atmosphere down there.

They keep talking about closing the shop here, but we keep rallying round. It would be awful. I mean, I couldn't get into Hailsham. The village would die, I think. The heart of the village is at the shop. We can go in the shop and have a natter. If the post office shuts, I think the shop will too.

[John and Bill Robinson finally closed the doors on Chiddingly Post Office Stores on August 31st 1997.  The shop and sub-post office were taken over by Andy Suart and his son Rob for a while; the shop and post office closed for good on December 4th 1999.  The premises are now a private dwelling.]