CHIDDINGLY ORAL HISTORY  P3

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

I was the only one, a daughter, and my parents were both getting on when I was born, as they didn't get married until my mother was 33, and it was four years before I was born. My mother said "I'm not going to let you learn to milk - once you learn, you'll never stop. You'll be there all the time!" My father would have liked me to help. I had pet lambs. I always had to bottle-feed any lambs which were motherless. And I used to help feed chicken.
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In my time, the teachers were Mr and Mrs Bailey. Mr Bailey was the Headmaster, and his wife, we called her the Governess, taught the infants, and their two daughters did the others. And they lived at Laurel House. There were two classes for the Infants, and about three for the top classes. We were all quite happy. We didn't know any different. We had to bring our lunch to school.

In the infants, we used to have a slate and a pencil. All the children used to walk to school. Unless anyone had a horse and trap or anything. Sometimes we got a lift, but mostly we had to walk from the other side of Golden Cross to here. We were very tired. I had to walk three miles. There was a hand-bell to call you in.

Toes out of our boots! And we kept our coats on in the winter. In the twenties and thirties, the winters always seemed much more severe than ever you get now. Severe frosts and snow. Comfort for the school children on one of those severe days was, with your coats on, to go into the yard and double round, and then back to your classroom, and on to your next lesson! Towards the end they introduced Horlicks. That was in the latter part of the twenties.

When we were at school here, there were no cars. Horses and traps. And everybody had bikes.

Some left school at thirteen, I think it was if you had made a certain amount of attendance, then you were allowed to leave at thirteen.
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I used to walk three miles to school every day, from Easterfields and back again, with a packet of sandwiches. We used to have a bath in the tin bath in front of the fire. Well, I expect we all did, didn't we? There weren't any bathrooms, were there?

We had a bathroom, but I still had to have my bath in front of the fire when I was small. It was much warmer - because there was no heat upstairs. We all had a bath once a week, on Saturday night.
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We lived down at Muddles Green. My married sister lived at Waldron which is about 6 or 7 miles. For a Sunday afternoon treat, my mother used to take us to see our sister. The only way you could get there was to walk. So we used to walk the 6 or 7 miles to Waldron, through Dern Lane. It was just an old track in those days, and you used to get underneath the branches and so on. We'd probably do that twice during the summer months. Obviously we couldn't do it in the winter.
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The only places we'd go on our own, as children, we'd go to Chapel on Sunday morning at Holmes Hill, and then back home, and then on Sunday afternoon, we'd come to Sunday school at church.
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When we were children you'd go to church on a Sunday and then you'd come home. And Sunday evenings in the summer, you'd look forward to the long walk. And you'd meet loads of people on the footpaths across the fields. You met other families. And the boys made acquaintance with other boys, and the grown-ups were talking, and your life was like that. And I still think it was a happy life like that.
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We were out with my dad in the garden, when we weren't birds'-nesting. Any birds. We went all round the hedges all over the farm, looking for birds' nests. It was good fun. We were taught not to take all the eggs - only to take one. One afternoon, my elder brother didn't go home after school, he went bird's- nesting. We used to wear these big caps. And the only way he could carry the bird's eggs was to put them in his cap. He'd got dabchick's eggs, thrush's, blackbird's, chaffinch's. Of course when he went home, unbeknown to him, mother had told dad that he hadn't come home from school. So he walked in the door and - bang! - he lost all his eggs!

We used to pin-prick the eggs through both ends and then blow the inside out. Then you put them in sand in a box and collected them. You had anything from Jenny wrens to pigeons, dabchicks, plovers. The fun of the game was, though, finding the nests. I mean, plover's nests are never easy to find, are they? And if the old farmer caught you out in his field, he'd get the old shot-gun out!
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When I was about eight or nine, that would be about 1915, I remember the tree-cutters. To load the trees, they used to have one horse each side and they used to roll them up. You wouldn't get on the road now, would you? It would hold everyone up. I said to the tree-cutter, "Can I come up the wood and pick up some chucks?"

"Yes," he said, "You can come, and long as you stand well back!"

I can't remember the names of his horses, one was Captain, I think. We didn't ride them. They were working horses.
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This old place, Pilgrims, always gives me memories of the man who lived here back in the twenties. I was in the choir - everybody was in the choir - and when you got older you pumped the organ, you know. The man who had Pilgrims, Mr Shoesmith, he was a very secluded character, you know. He had very little to do with anybody. When he was out, he was like a Dickens character. Big black top hat, and a long black coat. Just up the garden he had a lovely pear tree. When we come out of the choir, the boys, and me included, when the pears were ripe, we was like birds! Do you know, he used to come out of that far door, old Mr Shoesmith, "Oooooooh!" - he used to be waving his stick, to frighten us, while we was stealing his pears. He never used to eat them himself.

Down on the corner two wonderful ladies lived called the Smiths. One was 91 when she died, Susan Smith, and Lizzie Smith was 90. Well, as they used to come up to the church you could hear them coming up the road with their dresses dragging on the road.

When I used to pump the organ at the church, I can remember - I don't know how far back - the Reverend Tracy. He give the sort of sermon, especially the younger ones, you know, we went to sleep very quickly ! And Elizabeth Smith and Susan, their position in the pew was about where the christening font is, on the left hand side. On occasions, when she thought I was asleep, as the sermon was coming to an end, the walking stick would bash me in the ribs! Mrs Bradshaw or Ruth Champion - wonderful organist she was - before she started playing she'd be kicking the pedals, you know, as a warning!
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I was born here, a long time ago, where I still live. I went to the local school. We went to the local church, I was in the choir and there was a Sunday School. You used to have choir practice one night in the week. If you want to know what we used to do, well you could belong to the Scouts or Cubs, or Guides. You used to read an awful lot. You had radios with accumulators that used to be charged, and a fellow used to come round and deliver them. Sixpence [2p]. Small water batteries, similar to a car battery. There was a high tension battery as well. You used to collect cigarette cards and things like that. You used to play with your tops, and I used to make carts when I was a boy. And you used to get up to a lot of naughty things! One of the funniest things I can remember, we had an old fellow by who used to come round with a donkey and a little trap, fruiting bananas, apples and things.

It was not uncommon to find him sound asleep in the trap with the donkey pulling him up the road. One day, the boys got the donkey out of the trap, they took it through a gate, put the shafts of the trap through the gate, and harnessed the donkey up to it again. Of course, when the old fellow woke up, he said to the donkey, "How on earth did you get over there, boy?"

Another thing I can remember, it was said that he had a case of bad bananas one day. So he goes to phone the wholesalers up, and they said to him, "What number?". And he said, "Well I don't know, I haven't counted them yet!"
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When we were children we used to walk to Stream Farm. There were the remains of the old iron mill, and the waterfall. That's all been done away with now. I remember the big old mill wheel was ten feet in diameter, this huge watermill. It used to run the turbines for grain crushing and things like that. When we were children , as we were getting near the river, Father used to say, "Now, very quiet, very quiet."

We'd go down through an opening, down to the river and you'd see the otters coming out of the bank and diving into the water to get the trout. That's all finished. There's not even any fish about now, it's all grown over. All those sort of things were kept up, you see. They had to be kept up, because it was essential to the water supply. The old mill was destroyed and a big house was built there.

When I was a child, very few people had cars, and we had a fairly reasonable bus service. It was at Golden Cross, so you had to walk a mile and a half to get to it. I used to get into Brighton quite often. If you were catching the Golden Cross bus, though, you nearly always got a lift to it. So when you hear us all say we had to walk a mile and a half, that's not quite true. Somebody would nearly always pick us up and give us a lift. I remember going along on the back of Harris's cart.
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I could drive you round the Parish and show you where there were woods when I was a child, because it was a very wooded area. Then the Government gave grants to pull down the woods. You used to look down onto what is still called Foxhunt Wood, and it was four times the size it is now. Stream Farm was all wooded. The whole valley was woods. We used to play in the woods, and there was a stream at the bottom.
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We went everywhere on bikes, right up to the time we started work. Not like now! But the road was much safer in those days. As kids we'd have trolleys on pram-wheels going up and down the road, go-carts. You could do it, there wasn't the traffic.

We used to play in the woods. We'd go down to the bottom of our fields into the woods, and the things we used to do in there! We'd dig little holes, and put sticks on top and leaves on top of that - man-traps! I don't think anyone fell in them, they weren't very big. When you think about it now - someone could have broken an ankle.
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By 1939, when I was six, I had a bicycle and used to ride around this Parish. I wasn't allowed to cross the A22, which made me think that Ripe and Chalvington must be very wicked places - they were obviously keeping me away from something! They didn't want me to cross the main road, which was ridiculous, because you never saw many cars. The roads were much smaller then. I drove to Chad [?] once, I remember passing one car on the way there, and on the way back I saw that a lorry had hit it! We had our little car crashes. My grandfather had one at Halland, which was then a cross roads, before it became a roundabout as it is now. The ditches were always in good condition. We had a ditch digger. I only knew him as 'Mr Baker'. We all used to chip in for the amount of ditch you owned.
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I went to school in the village, and my mother always used to take me to church every Sunday. In the village then there were about four or five people with cars. They were really what I would call the 'West End' people. The Upper Class. If they were on their way to church, sometimes they gave us a lift. It was rather nice, to sit in somebody's car, because you didn't often have a car ride.

Courting and entertainment

Back in the old days, the agricultural worker used to have just two days off a year. That was Good Friday and Christmas Day. That was the only holiday they were entitled to.

Right out in the country, you see, it wasn't like even in this village, where you might see someone opposite going off to enjoy themselves, which might make you dissatisfied. Right out in the country, that is the only life you knew, so you were made up with it.
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I joined the band when I was twelve. Practised the cornet in somebody's house. We used to be about 23 in the band then. We used to go to Tunbridge Wells and the Crystal Palace for contests. We could always get a second, but we could never get a first! Then after the War, Uckfield started up a band and they bought all the instruments.

One thing from the old days was the Flower Show. It was so outstanding. You had a large marquee up in the field, with the Chiddingly Brass Band in attendance. I don't expect there are many brass bands where the drummer would go along with his pipe resting on top of his drum!

We had races in the field - the Mile Race, which was won two years running by the great athlete Billy Walker. You had to run all the way round Park Farm Field. The Flower Show was held at Pekes before that. They used to have a complete Fair - a roundabout, side shows, all that.

Just after the First World War, my mother who was a very good cook, used to put all her things in the Flower Show. There was this time when they all came up to judge the bread and cakes and that, and my father came in and told my mother "You only came second."

And my mother went out and said "That's not my cake! That's my cake, the one that came first!"

The Secretary at the time, he said to my brother Perce, "Go home and get the baking tin."

So he went home and came back with the baking tin. The Secretary picked up the cake that was second, and it stood on top of the open tin - it wouldn't go in. And the cake that was first, it dropped straight into the tin! So the Secretary said "We've got to sort this out! What's happened is the card for the cakes have got mixed up!" He said whoever did it, should never ever put anything into the Flower Show again!
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Eleven years courting before we got married. My land was next to hers, but she was about half a mile away.
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My wife came from Hailsham. How did I meet her? I met two or three girls that night, all friends, like. Anyway, I went out with one of them, and she was just on her sixteenth birthday. I took her for a walk. Not dancing. She was a Sunday School teacher. We used to do most of our courting on the settee - her mother kept guard on us!

We married when she was nineteen. Her father, he really took to me. That helped! I was two years older than her. When we got married I wasn't quite 21. When we went to see the Parson, he thought I looked a bit young, so he said, "How old are you?" and I said I was not quite twenty-one.

And he said, "Have you asked your Mother?" And I said "No, I didn't know I had to." Anyway, my older brother George was there, and he said "I'll stand for my brother." And that's how we got married. My wife hadn't met my parents, no.

When I told my mother I was to be married, she said, " Oh, you've got plenty of time to get married." Because she was going to lose her gardener, wasn't she? I did all the garden. My twin brother wouldn't help. "He's not so strong as you," my mother said. Well, he was strong in some places! He used to like the girls - not half!

My wife was a town girl. She worked for Dr Crown in Eastbourne as a parlourmaid, before we were married. She stopped working when we were married. She only worked for me! We've still got the present he gave her, when we got married. It was only a breadboard and a knife!

I learnt to ride a motorbike. I had a BSA, and I sold it to a lady who married the chemist at Disney [?]. I bought my Royal Enfield at the Royal Tunbridge Wells Show.

We'd been married about two and a half years. My wife didn't look as if she was pregnant, but she knew she was. I was at work, and she ran up from the cottage to catch the bus, and she went to Hailsham and had it about midnight. I came home about five in the afternoon, and jumped on the bus. I was there till about five to twelve, and my mother-in-law said, "I think you ought to go home, Frank, everything seems all right." So I went home. It was all right.

My wife used to lay our little daughter in the hay when she was milking. She'd sit on the loose hay - it wasn't bales in those days - watching.
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How did I meet my wife? We were both at Chiddingly School, so we had known each other as children. On odd occasions we started having a friendly chat - no thought whatsoever of going together seriously. But it kept going on, the more chats we had, the fonder of her I got. Until I realised that we'd really got to do something about it. Either we broke it off - we couldn't just keep going on as just friends, and leading her up the garden path to a dead end! - or ask her if she would really go out with me seriously.

We spent a lot of time going for long country walks. We were both very interested in the country and nature. We used to enjoy ourselves. When she was housemaid at East Hoathly, I don't think she was really supposed to be out in the evenings, but Saturday evenings I used to cycle over there and leave my bicycle just inside the gate, and then we used to go for a walk round the country roads round there. One evening we were walking in the pitch dark, because we'd got no lights or anything, and something crawled round our legs. Something with a long tail. To this day we don't know what it was! And one evening in the pitch dark, all of a sudden an owl in a tree made a terrific hoot and frightened the life out of us!

I remember when I first started courting, I went up one Saturday afternoon and she was busy helping her mother. So I was just sitting there waiting for her to finish, and her father didn't like to see anyone sitting around doing nothing, he said, "Coming pigeon shooting with me, John?"

I said, "Well, I haven't got a gun." He said, "You don't need a gun." I thought that was a funny way to go shooting! Off I went, and I noticed her and her sister and her mother had got quite a broad grin on their faces when I went out the back door. Just out the back door in the yard was the dairy where they cooled the milk. He goes in there and gets a big old keeper's bag and says "There you are". I put it on, and of course it was far too big for me!

He puts some cartridges in, and then gets three old ragged coats and says, "Here you are, take them." I said, "What exactly are you expecting me to do then?" He said, "You'll find out in a minute." I thought, well, I suppose I shall have to wait til I find out. We goes past Keepers and down over the hill to the Barway, and there's a field of wheat and the small wood along the side. He goes along there for about 20 yards until he comes to an oak tree with some low branches.

"There you are, " he says, "Hang one of those coats up on that low branch." So I did. I didn't have any idea what I was doing. He goes along another ten or 15 yards to another oak tree. He says, "Hang another one up there." We come to a third one, and he says "Hang the third one up there." I thought, "This isn't my idea of courting!"

We come to the fourth tree which he's got this well camouflaged, with his shooting stick there, and he sits down. "You squat down behind me," he says, "and don't you make a sound. The pigeons will think there's three men up in those other trees, and they'll settle on that bough here. I've got a little peephole here, and I can shoot them." I thought, "You've certainly got your pigeons well-trained!"

We sat there for a few minutes, then he says "Ah!" and bang! Down comes a pigeon, through the wood into a lot of brambles. "Go and get that pigeon," he says. So off I go, scambling through the brambles. We waits for about ten minutes. He whispers "Here comes another one, here comes another one" and bang! Off through the brambles I goes. The third time, bang! And off through the brambles I goes, and comes back with the pigeon. He says, "Well, it's about time we were getting back for tea. I'll tell you what, give me one cartridge, and you take that bag with those three pigeons and go on home, and collect them three coats on your way. The pigeons will think we've all gone home, and I'll get one more."

So I'm struggling away up the road, and I hear - bang! He comes grinning up into the house two minutes later. I said, "Did you get another one?" He says, "Oh yes, I shot another one." So mum says "Where is it then?" "Well, " he says, "It went down into them brambles, I"m not going in there after it!" He'd let me go down, but he wasn't going himself!

When our little boy was in the pram we used to walk into Hailsham, all the time looking at the flowers and the trees, and we used to pick blackberries and elderberries and dry them. We particularly liked the bluebells.

My father-in-law said to me and my son, "Are you coming chestnutting with me?" And he rang up the lady who had Stroud Farm, to ask if we could have permission to go in that wood. So of course he goes out in the shed and gets three little sacks, like you used to have calf food in. So he gives one to me, one to my son, and off we go - chestnutting. I was being quite particular, picking out the best and so on, and my son was following on the same. When we came home, my son and I only had half a sack, but my father-in-law had his full up. He walks in and says, "Now we'll get the scales out, and see who's beat." I thought, well this is a fine race, nobody knew we were having a race till we gets home!

There was a day when my dad said Mum and I could have a go with a gun - an air rifle. So he put an apple on a pole in the garden. All the boys had a shot and didn't hit it. I had a go, and I hit it. And the boy I was courting said, "The jolly barrel's bent!"