CHIDDINGLY ORAL HISTORY  P6

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

I moved here in 1939, from Rushlake Green. We had a farm between Horam and Hellingly . Then Horam Court was up for sale just before the war. The auctioneers or land agents used to ring my father up and say, "We got such and such a farm up for sale," when the banks used to take them over, "would you graze it until we've sold it?" Horam Court was one of those. It was 88 acres, a lovely big house, 16 horse boxes, a big barn, yard, two cider boxes all for 4000. See, when we came here I can remember a farm of 120 acres, and the house and buildings, that was sold for 4000.

June 7th or 11th I think it was, 1940, we had our first tractor. That was 147 new. It's down in Gloucester now. The only thing that's not original on it is the front axle. He said, "I'll restore it." So I said, "Well, you'd better have it, then." I took it down for him, because I bought another tractor off him. He hasn't done a thing to it since!

Brick-making

My father used to have the farm at Whitesmith, Randalls Farm. He used to have cows, and horses, and go timber-tugging. Getting trees out, Stanmer Park, Furrow [?] and all that. He used to stay there for four days - it just depended how long the job lasted. My mother used to cut the chaff, and milk the cows, and when he came back he helped her.

Anyway, we moved on to Holmes Hill where he started the brick-yard, with three chain-driven lorries. He used to do the taxi work; he had some old T Fords, and we had the garage there, we had fitters and brick-makers there. We used to have just a few cows. I used to have to milk them before I went to school.

We walked to school in Chiddingly, about a mile and a half. I always remember - you don't get it now, they laugh about it - but when Father used to do taxi work for the ladies of Chiddingly, if ever I looked into that car and didn't raise my little peaked cap, I'd get such a telling off! "If you don't want to raise your cap, you look the other way!"

Ladies used to phone up, and he'd take the WI to their meetings. Just up the road here, it's called the Briars now, it used to be Ye Olde Goose Nest, and there was a man in there, who used to take them up into Kent to buy sheep. They never used to drive themselves. My father always used to have his cap, but no uniform. This was 1930 .

He gave up the horses when he moved to Holmes Hill. The Brass Band practised in the stables on Holmes Hill when it first started, and my father had the shop built. Then my father started the brickyard. Making bricks. Some of the houses in Chiddingly are built of our bricks. There were two pits where we used to dig the clay. We used to have a little railway there. He used to deliver things. Fetch coal for the bake-house, when we used to have a bake-house there. In the old mill, when they used to grind the corn out there, the chap who lived next door would deliver it with his old horse and cart. He used to come home very often at eight o'clock at night with just the light on the horse-trap. They never worried then.

I used to work in the brick-yard, make bricks. I had little bits of land I rented, and caught rabbits to pay the rent. Not poaching - all above board!
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Timber

I can remember going to the timber yard as a boy. There was a stoker, and as you wanted to saw the wood up, he used to have to keep the steam up to pressure. They used to have a timber tug, and they'd saw these oak trees down and strip off the bark, and they used to pile the bark up to make leather dye. They'd bring in the trees, and they'd lie there for three years, seasoning, before they were sawn up. The planks were stacked up with a little piece of wood between each one to allow the air to get through, so they could really dry out. They'd lay there for another year or two. Then they were sawn up mostly for gate posts, rails for fencing, things like that. They used to make furniture as well. It was used for barns and for building, oak beams and all that.

Travel

From Golden Cross the bus service was excellent. You could go to Uckfield, to Brighton, to Eastbourne, connection on to Hastings. In Chiddingly you had a bus service from 1928. You had the old Blue Car which used to run on Saturdays, It would take you into Hailsham, because from Hailsham there was the railway station, see, and you could catch a train to anywhere you wanted.
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There was a bus service through from Waldron to Chiddingly. That was the Eagle. Old Humphries. It used to come down through Greywood and Honeywick into the village, Muddles Green, Nash Street, to Eastbourne. This was a long time before the war. Piper was another one, with a bus called the Blue Car. They were only 24 seaters, they had to be small to come down the country lanes, because the lanes were even smaller than they are now. Then the big company Southdowns made things so awkward in Eastbourne that they had to sell up. Unless they built a depot and goodness knows what, they couldn't operate. So that was the end of the village buses.
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My husband's father used to talk about the old A22. In the days when there were no cars, they used to have chicken coops on the grass verges! That was quite a normal thing then.
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When all these roads were being built, the flintstone used to be placed on the side of the road at various points. The steam-rollerer used to come in from Lewes with his hut, and he used to stay with his steam-roller, and when the roads were laid they'd put all this flint along the road, and it was all done by the horse and cart from Farley's Farm. He was chugging what was his dung cart along the road, then he'd tip it up, and all this flint stuff would come out. Then there were four or five men who'd spread it all out, and then along would come the steam-roller and roll it all in. This was happening all round, on all the roads. They used to put dirt on the roads to bind it, and a water-barge with a bar at the back. From Muddles Green to Chiddingly, there wasn't hardly a road here as far back as I can remember. It was all track.
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William Chives...

"Talking of Sussex flints, many a time I have stood and watched the roadman on my way up to the village, and Whitesmith, breaking the flints by the roadside. Hours on end they would sit cracking the flints with wire goggles on, before putting them on the roads."
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We used to stable our horses at Rushlake Green, at the Six Bells. They were busy tarring, and we used to help with the tar-barges and the horse and carts. The chap with the tar-barge, he was a character. When it was raining, they couldn't go tarring, because the tar wouldn't stick. So he and another fellow were mucking about, and got round the back of Pilgrims, got in, and found a couple of evening dress suits, with tails, and silk hats. So they dressed up in these high top hats and tails, and went back to tarring. They got three months for that!
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The main A22 was about three-quarters of a mile walk from us at Muddles Green. We used to walk down there with mother and watch the traffic go past. That was about one car every hour.

It was concreted in about 1933 or 1934. That was all done by men with a shovel. I was working at the garage then, and we sold sweets and tobacco. I used to go along to the gangs to get orders from the men. Once they'd started they stayed there all day. They'd order 5 Woodbines, 2d. Ten Woodbines, 4d. Half ounce of tobacco, some sweets, whatever. You'd have a basketful of cigarettes and sweets - and the whole lot was only about 2/6 ! 20 Players was 11 pence ha'penny. Best Nut Brown was 11 pence ha'penny. Empire Nut Brown was 8 pence. But you were a rich man if you had 20 Players. The old navvies working on the road had 5 cigarettes for tuppence, and that lasted them for the day.
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We used to have a steam engine and roller and one of those huge caravan things on wooden wheels, and they were left outside the garage, because that's where they worked from. Well, they started building the road from Golden Cross to Boship, you see, and of course I used to go out early in the morning when I was about seven or eight to see them. Of course about the only car in the road hit me and knocked me out - I've still got the scar! My knees were broke, my arms were bruised, and that was about the only car seen on the road! That road doesn't crack - it was made, really worked.

I remember in '37 when there was ice on that road, my friend and I, we skated down it. He went right down to the Boship, but I could only get about half-way. All on that main road!
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My parents moved here in 1920. My father used to play the drum in the band. My mother was nursing at the Princess Alice Hospital, because everyone did their bit during the war. I left school when I was fourteen and went apprenticed to the motor trade at Palm Corner Garage (?) for 10 shillings a week. We worked from 8 in the morning until the evening. I can't remember having a holiday. And from there I went into the RAF.

I was working at the garage, and people used to bring their accumulators in for us to charge. I think it was sixpence or something. They were glass containers full of acid. They'd got a red knob and a black knob, like a car battery only in glass. Very much smaller, of course. You had a large high-tension battery about the size of a decent-sized biscuit tin, and then this accumulator, which had to be re-charged. It was mainly music and the news. There was Dick Barton, Special Agent.
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I was a motor mechanic at the Golden Cross Garage as it was then. I went there from school. Going back to Charlie Crossingham the boot-maker, Jim Crossingham owned the garage. I left school on the Friday, and I started working there on the Saturday. And I've worked every day of my life since, I think.

I said to Mr Crossingham, "I like that push-bike."

He said, "Well, if you've got 2/10 [2.50], you can buy it." That was a brand new bike. You can't get one for 400 now!

He said, "What are you doing?" I said, "I've just left school."

He said, "Well, you'd better come and work for me then."

We used to have a lot of rows, but we always got on well together. I used to work down there seven days a week, from 8 in the morning until 8 at night. Then he retired and the new owner took over, and called it the Golden Cross Engineering Company. I used to go out repairing the stationary engines that drove the machines. This was before the days of electricity. The chicken factories used to have big diesel engines.

Steam engines

One of the Page boys came down to Farley by bike, with all this grease on his jacket, it sort of shone. His clothes would rot off him before he took then off, more or less! So this friend said "Where's that tinker come from?"

They're not tinkers really. They came up from Devon just after the 1914 war, to Rushlake Green and had Highwood Farm. They used to milk cows and grow corn, I suppose. Highwood was 250 acres. They used to keep a stallion there, and several horses. A general farm. They had two sets of thrashing tackle, the old steamers. One of the Pages had an old saw bench, for sawing timber, and he'd go from farm to farm, sawing trees up when they were cut down on the estates. I don't think they did any ploughing. The only people I remember doing ploughing were the Links in Kent, in the Romney Marsh. They had six sets of ploughing tackle. Just after the war when they had the ground nut scheme out there, they bought these old ploughing engines and shipped them out, but they hadn't got any way to get them onto the land. So they steamed them up, hoisted them over the side and they sunk in the sand! Only one made it to the shore I think!

They made a film about the Page family. They were engineers. They were very clever people. Traction engines and all that. They lived up near the Gun. When they moved from Place Farm, they lived in a barn in a wood. The council turfed them out. And they bought that strip of woodland, and built up this shack in there. And the father used to play the organ. This old man playing the old organ in this shed in the wood.

I remember before the war when they were up at Burgh Hill Farm. There was an old watermill that used to pump the water from a well into the top of the house, and it used to feed all the farmyard. All through the village, when the wind was blowing, when that old mill was going it would go "Whir! Whir! Whir!", and everybody could hear it.

Well, they said to old Page, "Can you do anything about it?"

"Oh, no bother," he says. Anyway, he got a bronze bearing made for it, and put it up there. "That won't holler now," he says. He packed it well with grease. After a couple of days it hollered worse than ever!

"Ah, it's not that bearing," he says, "It's somebody been up there and bent it!"
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The Pages were marvellous at building up steam engines and that. They used to buy up old ones and do them up. The old man had an organ, of course. I think he built it. They're up in the woods. They lived in an old tent and they slept on the floor.

Women's work

My father had a farm at Easterfields and then he moved down to Gun Hill where he had the Post Office.

I went into service for one of the big nobs in the village, Monty Wood. I was sixteen when I started in service, and I was the cook there. My mother was a wonderful cook and I suppose I actually got it from her. In those days you didn't just sit there and let them do it, you had to help.

We lived in. The house parlourmaid who worked there is still a friend of mine. I had two hours off in the afternoon. Rose, the parlourmaid, had two hours off in the evening. I used to cook the dinner at night, and then she used to come back to serve it in the dining room. We had to be up at seven every morning, and do all the rooms downstairs before they had breakfast. I then went to the kitchen to prepare the lunch, and Rose would do all the upstairs. They had their meals in the proper dining room. The house parlourmaid waited on them. I was paid 1 a week, and she was paid 15s. And we got our keep, of course.

We used to have a half day off in the week, and then one week one of us had Sunday afternoon off, and the following week the other one had the Sunday afternoon off. There had to be somebody in the house all the time.

They were very nice people. In fact, when we were first there, they used to take us some nights into Eastbourne to go to the pictures. It was quite the talk in the village at the time. Particularly, I think, with the other nobs, like Mrs Agg and so forth. Eventually they stopped it. Because the others would have had to do it for their servants, you see?

He used to have an aeroplane, but he never did take us up. They were very good to us though. I was working there when I got married. The man who became my husband was a gardener, and his father was a gardener where I worked. What happened was, his father couldn't do the mowing, so he used to come down and mow the lawns. We were married in 1940. My wedding dress was 1/10. Very expensive! And my wedding ring was 3. We bought them in Hailsham. We were married in Chiddingly. We've got the photos to prove it! My husband had three days compassion leave to get married, because he was in the army by then. We've been married 53 years.

When we got married, my employer gave us a lovely wedding present. When he gave it to me, he said, "If you ever get hard up, and you want to sell this, you'll make your money with it." I've still got the present.

I worked for them for four years, and then war broke out you see, and he moved to Wales. He wanted me to go with him, but in those days I was a meek little country girl, you know, too wary to go right out to Wales, leave the family and everything! I often wished I had. I saw him once afterwards, when he came back to Chiddingly. I went to Slough building aeroplanes - Hurricanes.
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I was a kitchen maid at Hilders Court. I used to work from half past five in the morning until ten o'clock at night. My wages were 16 a year, and I lived in. Although my mother was only just five minutes away, I only saw her once a fortnight, when I had half a day off. We were a large family, I had been used to work, but I didn't think I'd have to work such long hours. In fact I got so thin, that after 16 months I had to leave, and I was in bed for quite a time before I could do any more work. It was so hard. I had to get up at half past five twice a week to clean the flues out. I had to do all the washing up, and help the cook, and do all the vegetables. I was helping the cook more or less all day. I just sat down for meals. I used to have to scrub the floors. It was a huge kitchen with brick floors. I had to throw the water down and scrub the bricks. There were cook and me, the nursery maid and a governess, a housemaid and parlourmaid. It was a very big house.

Hilders Court was owned by Colonel and Mrs Agg. They weren't too bad as employers, but then it came to the day I was leaving. They were going out for the day, and she told the cook that she could have the day off. And she said to me, "And you - you can scrub the scullery."

Well, the chauffeur's wife, she used to live in the yard, she knew my mother quite well. She came in and I was crying, because I was only fifteen then. She asked me what was the matter, and I told her what Mrs Agg had said to me. She went and told my mother.

The next morning she sent a note down, and she said, "Your father says that if you're not home by 12 o'clock with your case, he'll come and fetch you."

So I went and asked if I could see Mrs Agg, and I went in the drawing room to see her, and I told her that I had a note from my mother. She was very, very cross. And she went up to see my mother, and when my mother opened the door to her and she said, "What's all this nonsense about your daughter?"

My mother said, "I don't mean nonsense, I mean business. If' she's not home here by 12 o'clock, her father will be down there to fetch her!"

So that's how I came to leave. I was pleased to leave.

Mrs Agg obviously got over it. During the war, she used to have sort of classes, to make pyjamas and that for the wounded, and she came and asked me if I would go to these classes. She always treated me ever so nicely. I think she knew, really, that they were unkind to me. She did say to my mother, "She was the only kitchen maid we haven't been able to fatten up." You were supposed to get knick-knacks, you see, but I'm afraid there weren't many knick-knacks to be had!

They weren't gentry, you see. This is what I noticed so much when I got another job at East Hoathly. It was very different there. It was really a good job. I was housemaid. There were only three of us, although it was a very big house. There was only the old lady and gentleman, and they were real gentry. You see, the Aggs always liked everybody to be called by their surname. But they wouldn't have that at East Hoathly. She said it wasn't homely enough.

I used to do all the upstairs rooms. And I used to wash the lady's hair, and I remember once making a blouse for her. All our housework used to be finished by one o'clock, then we have the afternoon more or less to ourself, and then start again at tea-time. My sister came to work with me after a time. She was parlourmaid. It used to be really very nice. I used to have 2 a month. In the afternoons I used to go home and it only took me about ten minutes by bicycle, to help Mum, because she had a lot of children. I was there from the time I was sixteen until I was twenty-one. Then my mother was so poorly she needed some help, so I went home to live after that.
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I was the post-lady for seven and a half years, delivering the letters. I enjoyed it - especially when I had to walk the 10 and a quarter miles every day! Another post-lady always used to have a pocket full of dog biscuits to feed the dogs as she went round. I didn't know that, and when I did relief for her, the old dog up at the mink farm, an Alsatian, I couldn't go up there!
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I wasn't working once I had the children. Some women would do a daily job, a couple of hours. Actually you were looked down upon if you couldn't afford to keep your wife, so ladies didn't used to work when they got married, did they? As a general thing.
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We used to go next door for water, because we shared a well. Three buckets a day we used to draw. At the back door we used to have a table with a big crock with a glazed lining so it didn't leak.

Everything used to be ironed. The old charcoal iron, the lid came open and you used to put charcoal in it. It had a chimney on it, and you used to blow on it. You had the old flat irons as well.

I put a pump in our shed and a tank in our loft, and you used to pump the water up into the tank. It was electric once we got that.

Firewood

One thing that sticks in my mind is that we used to have a Sussex wagon load of poles every year for firewood, and they were always done into a tripod and stacked in the garden. There were three or four poles chained together up into a tent fashion, and then all the others stood up around them, so they were all upright and kept dry. We used to hand-saw them up. I spent hours at that saw in those days, and it was dammed hard work too!

I'll tell you another thing you don't see these days - faggots. Everyone had faggots in those days. Bundles of sticks of various types of wood, tied up with hazel. We always had a faggot stand in the garden. In the scullery of the house, we had a copper in the corner, and above that was a big brick bread oven. And my parents used to put the faggots in there, heat the oven up, and then they'd sweep all the ash out of it and do the baking.

We used to do the faggots up with a whiff. Made of hazel, you see, you bend it round, turn it back so you've got a little loop, put the end through, pull it up tight and twist it round.

When they used to cut hedges in the wood, mostly the wood-chopper would make a faggot and carry it home on his back.

Old Westgate - "Jackets" we used to call him - had his faggots stuck out in the street. A gang of boys - I wasn't in with them, but I saw them do it - got one of the faggots, leans it against the shop door, rattles the door, old Frank comes and opens it and the faggot falls in on him!
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Hilders Court and 'the gentry'

You could call a spade a spade here. Nobody'd get upset. This was a working-class village; every one of the cottages in the village was a working cottage. Most of the people worked on the farms, or were builders, carpenters.

All the houses belonged to Richardson. He owned three-quarters of it, almost. He lived at Whitesmith. His father lived at Hilders Court. He didn't have farms, just properties. Parsonage was owned by the Richardsons. Place Farm belonged to the Guys. Only the big houses, like Pekes and Hilders Court and Place had people with money living in them. The rest were all tenants. The Duburys (?) used to live at Place, and their monuments are up at the Church.
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My father came to Hilders Court in 1910. Sir Dyson Laurie was Secretary to the Chancellor of the day - that shows you the importance of Hilders Court. My father worked for Lady Dyson Laurie. She was a wonderful person. They had four greys - horses - and they would come from Lewes, and up at the top of the top drive, he would hear the bells on the horses, and he'd be out to open the gates. Then they'd come down the drive and into Hilders Court.

Colonel Agg came to Hilders Court in 1920, and after he died in 1950, or 51, Mrs Agg only stayed another couple of years. My father was gardener during that time. Different gardeners used to come up to compare notes with my father, who was a wonderful gardener.

Hilders Court was a very prominent place, very senior to the whole village. There was Burton Row and the Peke's Hayden Morris (?), those three virtually paid for all the expenses of the Church to be done - nobody else was ever called upon to subscribe to the Church, they took full responsibility. In the mid-twenties Colonel Agg took over responsibility for the Village Hall, which was then the Church Hall. It was very very bad; my brothers, in the twenties, used to come up and do repairs. The Aggs really saved it from deterioration; they would be very proud to see it now.

Of course, Colonel Agg was the Deputy Sheriff, and the area police were answerable to him - that's how important those people were. That's what I say, you've got to know this to understand just how a village ran. Mind you, they knew, in a way, that they did run it. I mean, they were respected very very much. In a sense, when you lived under them, you could compare them almost to royalty. That's the world we were living in.

There were quite a number of children who lived up at Hilders Court. When you were walking down the drive and Mrs Agg was there, you stopped. It was an insult to walk past them. They walked past you. Your very livelihood, your family, your house were at stake with such manners. And that happened at all these places, Pekes and everywhere.

Such glittering things that happened up there. If you saw it now, it would leave you wide-eyed. I think it was in 1930, the very, very cold winter. It started at the beginning of December and it went right through February and never let up. In January, they held this fete up at Hilders Court. There was a huge lake which was frozen. There must have been a hundred people up there on the lake - that gives you an idea of how it had frozen. And all around the lake, Chinese lanterns. They had people come in to do it, to do all that lot up. There were members of parliament there, people like that. The staff of the house had to sweep any snow that had fallen off the ice ready for the skaters. And they had the top class skaters up there, you see, exhibition skating. We could watch the happenings at this fete, the different celebrities they had invited. It was a wonderful show.

The maintenance of Hilders Court in those days was just fabulous. The whole wood was kept up. It speaks for itself, the amount of gardeners that there were round there at that time. It's all been separated now, split up, sold off. I went up there, it was heart-breaking to see it. The kitchen garden was an acre of vegetables. What they didn't have in the house went down to the Princess Alice Hospital, Eastbourne. Marvellous vegetables. It was the same with Burton Row, the same with all those people. This is why hospitals and all that have suddenly become short of money, because there's no longer all those people who used to support them. I know costs are different now to what they were then - they wouldn't be able to support their running costs today.

There was another big open fete in 1932. That was absolutely fabulous. He had the Yorkshire Light Infantry Band playing, and all different celebrities. It's very difficult for anybody to understand what I'm talking about, what Hilders Court was like in those days.

You see, Mrs Agg was a very wealthy person. She had the controlling share of rubber plantations in Malaya. Every so often at Hilders Court there used to be Malayans that they'd bring there for a holiday. Of course the Japanese ruined all that for her. They came down to earth after that. After the war they were very different people.

Mrs Agg did everything in the village. She was Chairman of the WI, she was in on everything. She worked as hard as he did, I always said!

Colonel Agg had seven staff in the house working, and outside was a footman, a chauffeur, game-keeper, cowman and drivesman - this was in the thirties - and four gardeners. They all lived there. They didn't have people coming and going. Down the drive, the bungalow at the bottom near the entrance, the cowman lived there. A little further up the drive there were three cottages. The drivesman lived there, just raking and cleaning the drives. When you went through Hilders Court, there was another drive which comes up at the top of the road by the Holdens, and there was another bungalow there. A wretched pop group made a ridiculous effort of altering it. There was another drivesman there, for that length of drive.

My father worked there right until 1951.
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They were jumped up, the Aggs. He was a Colonel. He thought he owned the blooming place! I went into the shop, this was after the war, and in comes the old Colonel.

"Robinson! So much of the best back of bacon, and so on, by such a time, if you please!"

I said, "Excuse me a moment!" And he looked round.

I said, "Mr Robinson, is this man's money a different colour to mine?"

"Impertinence!" the Colonel said.

I said, "I've got money here, to pay for things. Yours' goes on the book!" But he came barging in while I was being served. Gentry? They weren't gentry!
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Hayden Morris lived at Pekes. Every summer, he would give a party for the children. You'd have races there, a real feast, a whole spread to eat, and bags of sweets he'd throw to everybody, a terrific party. Then the Aggs would give the Christmas party at the Village Hall, for all the pensioners and all the children. Burton Row, he used to give dinners for the cricket club and the football club. My brother used to wind the clock at the Church. Burton Row, when he came to Church, used to take out his watch, and he'd look at the Church clock, and look at his watch. This would be at about 30 seconds to 11 o'clock. It was like a ritual.

I remember Mr Hayden Morris. He used to have these felt spats. He used to play the Stock Exchange. Sometimes he'd have three or four gardeners, and goodness knows how many men round on the farm. And then he'd come out and say, "Burgess, sack the lot. We haven't got the money!" And there'd only be Jack Burgess left on the farm!

At the bottom of the drive, when we first came to Chiddingly it was 1939, those iron gates at Pekes used to be gold leaf. I used to see all three gardeners coming down to rake the drive.

Hayden Morris used to give the School a tea party. We walked from the School to Pekes, carrying our mugs, and used to have biscuits and cakes and what-have-you. And races. The chauffeur, he had an old black and red Rolls Royce. He looked after the big cars, which were a Rolls Royce, and a Bentley. Those cars were as clean underneath as they were on top. Every nut and bolt in the chassis was polished! He worshipped those cars.