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Volume 10 – Autumn 2004


Mick Harker, Chairman of the History Section of Uckfield & District Preservation Society has written an appreciation of the significant contribution made by Simon Wright to the Society’s development, the editorship of Hindsight (Volumes 1 to 9) and the recording of Uckfield history.  His was a scholarly, inclusive and warm commitment to the district, its people, - past and present, - and its life story.  Simon died suddenly on 20th March 2004.

Hay or Petrol: a look at Early Motoring in Uckfield
by Simon Wright

The national tensions between the various customary road users – pedestrians, horse drawn vehicles, farmers driving cattle, and the more recent (early Twentieth Century) arrival of the motor car- are to be found reflected in this short essay by Simon Wright.  He also notes the early mistrust, among the male population, of women drivers.  

Following the Motor Act of 1903 Uckfield Urban District Council recommended the County Authorities to introduce a speed limit of 10 mph in the town centre.  The town’s magistrates had hitherto taken, and were to continue to do so – a severe attitude towards motorists caught speeding.  Their Chairman, Captain Noble, in particular, was very firm.

Speed was measured by an electric timing device – “fearfully and wonderfully made”  is Simon Wright’s descriptive phrase – measured the speed over a furlong.  An excess over the prescribed limit formed the basis for a prosecution.

The magazine Autocar suggested that motorists detecting a ‘trap’ should, once out of it, lay a confetti trail that could be seen from cars moving towards the measured furlong on the opposite side of the road, and thereby be prepared !

The essay has reports of early failures and accidents, together with one which seems to infer the loss of a Parliamentary seat as the outcome of a vehicle’s wayward performance.  It concludes with the report of a remarkable escape from accident harm by the infant Paul Munster, son of Count Munster of Maresfield Park, and his nurse.

Bounty migrants – Australia bound
by Derek Miller

Isaac Muddle – son of Isaac and Ann of Buxted - and his wife Amelia (nee Gorringe) of Framfield, and their eight Buxted born children, set sail for Australia in May 1838 on a bounty migrant passage, in the William Metcalf arriving at Sydney in August.  From there by steamboat to Morpeth via the port of Newcastle and finally to the district of Gresford on the Paterson River.  The youngest child (Charles) appears not to have survived the voyage, and another (Edward) died shortly after arrival.  Four others were born to the couple, two at Gresford, the others at Bandon Grove, ’13 miles to the north-east’.  

This article hints at the rawness of life in mid-19th Century New South Wales:  The Muddle’s daughter, Ann, married Benjamin Boorer who, shortly after was ‘gripped’ by gold-rush fever and died during the search, in a fight with another prospector.  She married his brother Thomas eighteen months after.  

The composition has been made possible, as the writer acknowledges, by drawing upon family history studies pursued by today’s descendants of Isaac and Amelia.  It can best be summarised by the final paragraph.

“It had cost the (British) government £96 in 1838 to assist the family’s passage to New South Wales, thus populating the colony with Isaac and Amelia’s 79 grandchildren and several hundred great-grandchildren, whose descendants today account for about 80% of the Muddles living in Australia.  We can only surmise if Isaac’s dreams for his family were not only that they would be prosperous and successful, but would also do their bit to transform New South Wales and the other British Colonies in Australia into the proud, free and independent nation that is 21st Century Australia.”

In search of Pastures New:  The Story of the Fairs Family
by Simon Wright

George Fairs had married Ellen Lelliot at Steyning in 1882. Their first child, George, was born at North Mundham. When the decision to emigrate came nearly twenty years later, George, married, decided not to go with the family.

“Now we come to the big question.  What made George Fairs, at the age of 53, contemplate emigration ?  He was in a secure job, well paid by the standards of the day, had a home and a large family and no obvious reason to face all the uncertainties of a far distant land.  Marjory Knight [ the second daughter of Nellie Kathleen, George and Ellen Fairs’ child ] thinks that he may have seen enough of the new-fangled motor cars to realise that the day of the horse and carriage was coming to an end.  If so he was more far-sighted than most.  Did a recently emigrated friend send back a favourable report of prospects in Western Australia ?  We shall probably never know.”

Simon Wright raises the above questions about George Fairs in his account of the Uckfield family who, on December 22nd 1911, sailed from Tilbury for Perth on the RMS Orsova.  Uckfield Scouts, preceded by Uckfield Town Band, had given the family a processional send off from the Railway Station a few days before.  Eric, Victor and James Fairs were all members of the local troop.  They arrived in Perth in February 1912.  George bought land and, with his sons help, built a house;  the boys joined the Australian Expeditionary forces in the Great War.  

The older girls entered domestic service.  James was killed in action, the two elder boys – Victor and Eric - returned to marry and raise families.  Their sisters also married.  The riddle remains: what made this experienced, qualified, middle aged coachman take the enormous risk of resettling in a distant part of Britain’s Colonial Empire?  That it succeeded is remarkable;  did George realise that ?

The Maiden’s Head Hotel murder
by Frank Sellens

At Sussex Assizes Anthony Leigh, kitchen porter, was convicted of the manslaughter of Tony Lewis, assistant kitchen porter, ‘on or about June 11, 1966.  Leigh had pleaded not guilty at the Uckfield Magistrates court on 16th September stating that the death was an accident, the outcome of a fight in which Lewis had threatened him with a knife.  

During the trial an apparent excess of enthusiasm by the prosecuting counsel was matched by an example of judicial sagacity.  Local people were called as witnesses.  The Assize verdict included a requirement for Leigh’s detention in a secure hospital without time limit.  

A Sussex Village in the Great War: the Letters of Robert Saunders – Part 1.

[ The text of this article is drawn from four letters written by Robert Saunders of Fletching to his eldest son who had emigrated to Canada shortly before the first World War.  A summary or synopses of content would fail to catch their quality or diversity of subject.  

The second paragraph of Simon Wright’s short introduction provides, I believe, a sufficiently tempting menu for a prospective reader.  I reproduce it below with that in mind.  His note makes clear that more letters are to follow in future editions of Hindsight.  Ed. ]

“ (The letters) provide, as I am sure readers will agree, a vivid picture of a Sussex Village in the ‘Great War’.  They show how the War affected everyday life, the school itself and Robert Saunder’s own family.  Not only that but they also give people’s reactions to food shortages, conscription, Zeppelin raids, troop movements and rumours of invasion.  Rather than intrude my own comments I have allowed Mr. Saunders to speak for himself, with a minimum of alterations or excisions. “

Comments and Corrections

Vol.4.p21  the name Akehurst should read Akenhurst
Vol.9 p70  PC Grace should be PC.Stanton John Scrase

In the publication ‘Around Uckfield’ (p.118)  in the Derby Day picture the baby being held is D W Redford, born 12th December 1919.

Uckfield Union Workhouse and the Poor Law
by Dawn Harker

Marie Corbett, appointed to the Uckfield Board of Guardians in 1894, was appalled at the conditions of life in the Union Workhouse on Teelings Common, Ridgewood.  She joined the Visiting Committee and slowly influenced reform.  Her impact over time was such that, on her death in 1932, inmates said of her: ‘she was my best friend’.  

The Poor Law, in many of its manifestations upon which Dawn Harker touches, was hated and feared by thousands.  The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, introduced a stringent regime in which those applying for relief were regarded as being there through their own fault, and which compelled admission to the workhouse.  Men, women and children were segregated; families divided.  Dawn Harker has brought to sharp attention these and many other facets of the Poor Law, and its Uckfield impact.

She records its antecedents in the Middle Ages, the increasing administrative disorder over time as the outcome of the Elizabethan Acts, and the law of Settlement and Removal.  There was clamour for reform and ultimately after 1834, the creation of Unions of parishes.  The single parish workhouses of eleven parishes were replaced by the building in 1838 of the Uckfield Union Workhouse.  Later three more parishes were added.  By 1851 199 men, women and children, classified as paupers, were housed inside its walls.

In summarising, Dawn Harker notes the fear of the Poor Law present in many of the minds of today’s older generation.  It was known as the ‘Spike’.  She also recalls a childhood memory of meeting some of the inmates, by then residents of a less harsh regime in the newly named High View House, and describes them as “real characters who walked down the footpath next to our garden , chatted over the gate and shared ‘roll your own’  cigarettes with my grandfather”.  In 1948 most of the Union workhouses were subsumed into the newly created National Health Service.  [ NB  The date on p.35 of the article should be 1839, not 1939. ]

Passive Resistance
by Simon Wright

The Passive Resistance League was  formed in 1902 opposed to the Education Bill introduced by the Conservative leader A J Balfour and strongly supported by the Permanent Secretary of the Board of Education, Robert Morant.

The Bill proposed to sweep away Local Boards of Education, give responsibility for schooling to County and County Borough Councils, and for them to make full provision for the schools under their control.  Voluntary (denominational) schools would come within the scope of the Bill for the payment of operational expenses including teachers’ salaries provided the the Voluntary Bodies maintained and equipped their buildings.  Teacher payment in this context caused the issue leading to the League’s formation.

Anglicans were generally pleased;  their traditional continuance and pre-eminence  were assured.  Non-Conformists who, broadly, had to choose between the two main denominational schools - allied with certain persuasions in the Anglican communion – to protest that this would mean ‘Religion on the Rates’, i.e. public financial support for Roman Catholic Schools.

In Uckfield a number of parishioners refused to pay the proportion of rates attributable to the maintenance of religious teaching.  Ruling upon this the Uckfield Magistrates advised the Assistant Overseer (responsible for rate collection) to take what was offered and they would issue Distress Orders against non-payers of the disputed portion.  Orders of Distraint were issued, property seized and put up for local auction.

The auction was conducted and concluded  but the assembly present refused  to allow the auctioneer to collect the amounts due.  In the ensuing fracas, the police, led by Superintendent Criddle, rescued the auctioneer and conveyed him to the relative safety of the Assistant Overseer’s house.  From there he escaped, over the back wall, heading for a return by train to his home in Brighton.  He was pursued by cyclists who seized his hat, returning it on a later train.  

The legally distrained articles had all but one been bid back on behalf of the previous owners.  The Bill itself became law in 1902 with minor amendments.

Church Street, Uckfield
by Mary Fox

This is an article based on recalled and remembered knowledge of Church Street, Uckfield as it was for Mary Fox.  The effects from the sale of the Streatfeild estate in 1937, were beginning to be felt in the early post-war period and are reflected in the text.

She shows that Church Street historically is part of an ancient route and its continuance into Hempstead Road - after the crossroads – leads to Framfield and beyond.  The Streatfeild  three hundred year squirearchy is recalled.  Their legacy to the town of Rocks House, the Cottage Hospital and the Institute plus the 19th and early 20th Century commitment of Richard James Streatfeild is well documented.

Mary Fox brings her record up to recent historical times by noting the initial accommodation of the Roman Catholic Church and school in the street and the creation of a mock Tudor building.  She mentions some of the trades people: Mr. Muller, Mrs Connie Hoath, and the more recent change in use of the old Grammar School building by a firm of solicitors.  Mrs Mary Palmer and her two daughters’ (Eve and ‘Top’) sweet shop is mentioned as popular with children from the Parochial School.  Finally she also reminds us of the persistent rumours about tunnels linking the Rocks, the Church and a legendary medieval priory, none of which have been historically discovered – yet.

Halland Mission Hall
by Wyndham Gould

In Hindsight (Volume 9) Wyndham Gould wrote about his experiences of growing up in Halland, a small East Sussex village.  This article extends his first, focusing primarily upon the Mission Hall, built at the expense of Campbell Johnstone, a local wealthy businessman.  The simple reason for this philanthropy was the distance of the village from East Hoathly Church:  one and a half miles, necessitating a worshipper a three miles round journey to attend a service.  Wyndham was a regular Sunday School attender;  he notes the decline in this, the eventual closure of the Mission Hall, and its conversion into a private house.

Uckfield Bowling Club
by Dawn Harker

By title the article considers the first Uckfield Bowling Club, however it offers much more about the social life in Uckfield through activity sports clubs.  The writer looks at photographs and identifies members of the Bowling Club set piece, placing them in their business or voluntary service context.  The article reveals a committed group of tradesmen, public officials, and local working men who met and enjoyed shared sports which included those for Bowls, Cricket, Tennis, Rifle, Swimming, Billiards, Chess and Whist.  

Women are not identified;  however they appear in one of the photographs showing the Bowling Club in action.  They were obviously involved.  Local notabilities of the time appear in the pictures:  Tom Bannister, Clanmorris Thompson, William Dendy, James Windsor Gould, and A W Bright among others.

Dawn Harker also focuses the Uckfield Institute, the umbrella body under which the Societies involved found shelter and support.  The record dates from the last quarter of the 19th Century, moving into the early Twentieth.  It shows a vibrant, social community which was firmly established before the first World War.  In 1903 A.W.Bright toasted the success of the Bowling, Tennis and Cricket Clubs by saying this  “ An Institution (the Uckfield Institute) such as this, with its various attendant clubs shows to a certain extent the prosperity of the town.”  

Christopher Wordsworth – Part I
by Simon Wright

Dr. Christopher Wordsworth, distinguished scholar, deeply religious man, sometime chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge,  accepted the offer of the Buxted Rectorship, although continuing as College Master.  Simon Wright tells that his resident time in Buxted between June and October each year coincided with the University’s long summer vacation.  His curate was Rev’d Lawrence, with Rev’d John Underwood being curate in charge at Uckfield, then a chapel-of-ease to St. Margaret’s Church at Buxted.

His brother, the Lakeland resident and well-known poet, visited Buxted with his wife, and daughter Dora. using its proximity to London to enable journeys by coach from Maresfield to the Capital.  Little is know about these events, or about Christopher Wordsworth’s  interest in the parish.  Such records as there are suggest his considerable involvement, although there is no record of his attitude towards the enforced transit of the village from the vicinity of the Church and Buxted House.  

He appears to have taken a close interest in the maintenance of St. Margaret’s church and is on record as advocating (1831) the reconstruction of the Uckfield Parish Church.  This latter was eventually accomplished in 1839, although whether as the outcome of his advocacy, financial support, success with the Church Commissioners and Church Building Society, is not known.  

In a letter on this topic to a London solicitor he commends Rev’d Underwood as a  “very good man and highly respected, and would enter into this scheme (church rebuilding) very cordially “.  In the same correspondence he reveals himself as a sceptic about the proposed Reform of Parliament which ultimately became law in 1832.

Childhood memories of Uckfield in the 1930s and 40s
by Mabel Cooper

The article focuses incidents from home life, school and first essay into employment at the age of 14.  The writer lived in Framfield Road, remembers the trek to the Parochial School where, she recalls, she learned knitting, cooking and housewifery.  She speaks of a Miss Hodgson who   “ had us all standing round her desk quoting ‘Peas, Beans and Lentils are the vegetable body builder’ over and over again until some of us got the giggles”.

Sharp memories of home life and play include outside toilets, the street lamplighter at dusk, searching for tadpoles in Vernon Road pond, and sliding on it when it froze in winter.  

School milk is remembered with affection, the two sweet shops in Church Street, ‘Ticker’ Green’s, and Mrs Palmer’s were also small havens.  Mrs Green used to make her hot cocoa at lunch time.  Finally the recollection of the first job as a grocer’s assistant, and it successor as an office junior at Five Ash Down to which she cycled each week-day.  Then to the Uckfield Youth Club which she says is ‘another story’.