being the memoirs of John Curteis of Windmill Hill Place written in 1938
I have the diaries of three generations of my family – those of my Great Grandfather and of my Father covering the period from 1780 – 1895. Nearly all were written at Windmill Hill (now called Windmill Hill Place) in the Parish of Wartling. While reading these I have been much surprised how many of the former inhabitants and the knowledge of where they lived even in such a small parish as this have been completely forgotten, and in as short a time as 100 years. I am therefore putting down a few facts as I myself remember them so that others coming after me will have something to refer to.
First of all, perhaps you will say, who is this fellow writing all this twaddle? I reply I am Lt. Col. John Curteis the youngest son of the late Herbert Mascall Curteis of Windmill Hill and Herstmonceux and Peasmarsh all in the County of Sussex. I was born at Windmill Hill Place on the 21st April 1864 and spent all my childhood and boyhood there and up to about 1910 my periods of Army leave as well.
I will first work along the Battle - Lewes Road from Boreham Bridge to Posey Green and then afterwards take the bye-roads and lanes.
The County Council are now (1938) building a new bridge over the Boreham River. This will be the third I have known. The one they are replacing was only built during the war, about 19161 or 1917. Shocking bad work it must have been to want rebuilding in just over 20 years and waste of our money. The old one that I knew was a picturesque little one arched bridge.
In 1882 or 1883 I was walking home from Battle station one night and on coming over the bridge, I suppose about 11-15, I saw a Will o the Wisp or Jack o Lantern flitting about over the field to the S. of the road and to the W. of the river I watched it for some time, a kind of bluey flame or light dodging about in an erotic way. Very pretty. This is the only time in my long life I have seen this.
Boreham Hill in old days was reckoned very long and steep and we men folk nearly always got out of the carriage or down from the dog-cart at the bottom near the Lewes mile-stone and walked up, partly to stretch our legs after a long drive, but mostly to ease the horses.
There was no house on the way up the hill. Now I see they are being built on both sides of the road. The first to appear was on the N. side about ten years ago.
At the top of the hill on the left or S. side stood the Dragon House, pulled down in 1932 or 33. This was a fine old house, latterly three cottages in one. It had at one time been used as a poor-house. No one knows the origin of its name. We sometimes wondered if it had ever been an inn at the sign of the “Dragon”.
There are now two or three houses built about this site but set back further for the road has just been widened.
On the right was, and still is, the very nice house of the village doctor with a kind of fore-court between the garden and the road, surrounded with lime trees and little white rails. Simmons was the doctor in my early days. I think he had been there some little time – but before my time our nearest doctor was in Battle (Dr Watts). A long way to send for the doctor – no telephones & no motors then. But even I remember Dr Smith coming all the way from Battle to Windmill Hill to physic me.
After Simmons, with a small interval, came Dr. Barnes. He was still in Boreham when I went abroad soldering in 1886. About 1894 came Dr, Garman. He attended my father and my eldest brother in their last illnesses. He left and quite lately Dr. Shillito came. He died in harness last year.
For a time when I was a child two doctors lived side by side in Boreham, for Dr. Wells lived in the nice house next to the west of Dr. Simmons. But he left very early in these notes and the Stollery family then lived there.
Continuing along the N. side of the road there was the chapel, I believe it was the Quaker’s meeting House, and another good house where Swanton & his family lived, then there was Avard who had the forge and Lade the saddler & harness maker and Dawes in a house down 2 or 3 steps where he had an iron foundry. And a house called King’s Well where old Tickner the father of Tickner of Boreham Farm lived.
I very much doubt if that house has any right to call itself King’s Well. I maintain that King’s Well is that spring or well in the middle of the field immediately to the west of the village shop on the N. side of the road, but how & why they brought the name up to that house I cannot say.
Joining the shop on it’s East Side was Snashalls house. It looks very small but he brought up a big family there. He was a boot maker and used to do a lot of work for us up at the House.
The village shop was kept by Saxby. He married our family nurse. The shop remained just as I remember it when I was a boy. After Saxby came Austin & he had it for many years. The house standing back from the road at the back of the shop we never knew much about. A man named Collins lived there. He was called Egg-merchant Collins, I suppose to distinguish him from the other Collins.
To the west of this we came on to our land.
The little white house with a porch, standing crossways at the top of the lane was Mrs Collins. She was rather a sedate old lady & I think we children were rather afraid of her – used to go to tea with her & there was always great competition as to which two should sit in the little porch, one on each side.
No other house till you come to Marley Cottage, that is the little white one right on the road. This belonged to dear “Old Collins” who ended his days there. He was a splendid old man. Had been boy, footman & butler to three generations of my family. I remember him at work up at the house but I suppose only as a stopgap or help for he had retired before my time. He died in 1878 aged 89.
The great age to which many people of this parish live, or at any rate used to live is I think remarkable.
Here are a few of my personal friends with their ages when they died – J.S.Collins 89. Chas. Simmons 81. Tom Gurr 92. Mrs Housego 85. Snashall 82. Harwood 80. Sinden 85. And no doubt others that I don’t call to mind just as I write – yes one more, my mother 91 and a half.
After Marley Cottage came “Jarretts” farm & then no other until the millers house, now in a sad state of neglect.
On the high bank on the North side of the road stood our windmill. This was sold with the rest of the estate in 1920 and the purchaser pulled it down – I think very foolishly for it was in reasonably good order. Kenward, living at Belhurst, hired the mill from us in early days & latterly Sinden had it. It was fine to go along the road when it was working & listen to the swish of the sails as they went past almost over ones head.
Pulling down this landmark was a great loss to the district. A great many years ago, long before the memory of the oldest man I ever knew, the windmill stood on the south side of the road. Here is a notice in a newspaper of 26-3-1792 – “As a poor travelling woman was passing Boreham windmill, she inadvertently walked within the reach of the swifts, which struck her on the head, fractured her skull, & killed her on the spot”.
Catt lived in the cottage at the gate leading up to the mill. This has been much altered in the last few years.
There was no other house until you got to Belhurst, which was pretty much as it is now except that on its West Side there was a big barn & cow-sheds and a pond.
I don’t know where Kenward and his family left here, but my eldest brother Herbert married in January 1881 & he and his wife lived there from then up to my father’s death in 1895 when they moved up to the house. All their four children were born at Belhurst. And that accounts for me being the only man still living who was born at Windmill Hill Place. Indeed only one person has been born there since my date 1864 and that is my niece, K. E. Elphinstone, now Mrs Richardson.
My brother and his wife once again occupied Belhurst when W.H.H.Place was let to the Smallwoods in May 1913 until Comphurst which was being considerably altered was ready for them.
Continuing, we get up to the corner of Ashburnham Lane. Note the name, for some people nowadays for some unknown reason are changing its name to Tilley Lane. I think it was when the motor omnibuses came that the conductors called it this. Up to then it was always Ashburnham Lane – except in my Grandfather’s diaries & he sometimes calls it Coneybury Lane.
Now we will hark back to the Dragon House at the top of Boreham Hill & we will work along the South side of the road.
The rather new butchers shop is pretty much on the site of the old one kept by Noakes when I was a boy. After him Prickett was the butcher and he was there a very long time. After him I don’t know who had the business.
Then comes the beautiful farm house occupied by Tickner. The Mercers succeeded him in 1879 and they had it, father and son for between 40 and 50 years.
This was a splendid farm belonging to Lord Ashburnham. His land and father’s joined pretty much everywhere.
Next to the farmhouse were its yards, buildings and Oast, this latter standing close to the main road.
Then between the lane leading to Wartling Hill and the Bull’s Head is a good house where the family of Dawes lived. Dawes used to play the organ in church and in later days he had one in his house. I rather expect this may have been the same instrument for I never heard what became of the organ when the gallery in the church was pulled down and he may very well have bought it.
Then later on in the seventies I remember Coleman who had Lime End Farm had a big organ in a barn or outhouse just to the south of his house. I shouldn’t wonder if this was the same one brought round after Mr Dawes died.
Hope had the Bull’s Head. There was no other house until you came to that fine old place Montague House at the corner of Wood Lane. Originally belonging to Anthony Browne the first lay owner of Battle Abbey who became Lord Montague, hence the name of the house.
This is my day was a tenement house, occupied by about three different families. Hope the barber lived there. You did not go to him to have your hair cut. He came to you.
Old Mrs. Selmes lived there or else up at the cottage at the back. She used to be a great deal up at the house. I think she had been a servant there in my Grandfather’s time, and he died as far back as 1847.
Just a few years ago Lord Ashburnham sold Montague House to some people totally ignorant of local history and wanting to turn it in to a hotel. They very foolishly changed its name to “The Whitefriars”. What a silly name. It never had anything to do with friars of any colour.
Across Wood Lane, and opposite Jarrett’s farm there was a small pond at the side of the road.
Further on is the iron church, built on a piece of ground given by my father. It was opened 7-7-1889 by Archdeacon Sutton. Mr Corr was then the vicar of Wartling.
Opposite the mill was another small pond open to the road. Fifty years ago there were many of these small ponds along the road sides – useful for watering horses, cattle & sheep while travelling along the roads. Nowadays animals go by motor vans so these little wayside ponds which were generally pretty & always interesting are being done away with.
Up through the gate at the side of this pond was a small house, demolished this year, and a farm yard.
No other houses on the S. side of the road (except of course W.M.H. Place) until you get to Posey Green. Now there are plenty – all run up in the last few years.
Opposite Belhurst, Wartling Lane runs away South. Now if you please officially called “Wartling Road”. What are we coming to? Too genteel, I suppose, to use the word lane.
It was always Wartling Lane and always will be as far as I am concerned.
Then we come to Windmill Hill Place. I could write many chapters about the house and grounds but suffice it to say that my eldest brother, Herbert, died in October 1919 & his eldest son Herbert Charles succeeding to the property sold the whole of the estate and Mr. And Mrs. Murray of Hawkes Bay, New Zealand bought Lot one which included the house. Mr. Murray died before he moved in and Mrs. Murray lived there until she died last year, and this year 1938 her son sold the original Lot 1 (as in 1920) to the Archdeacon of Hastings, The Ven: E.G. Reid who I hope will live many years to enjoy the place as much as I did – and still do.
Here I will explain a remark made in my first note. – Up to about the time I was born the house was called Windmill Hill, and if anyone spoke of Windmill Hill they meant the house and nothing else. There was then no village called Windmill Hill and no post-office. There were the cottages round Beacon Green & the school & Inn & cottages round Posey Green and that was all.
An aunt of mine, Mrs. K. E. Thomas, sister-in-law of my mother became a widow in 1861 & soon afterwards came to live for a time in a part of the school-house. She didn’t know any better & had her letters addressed Windmill Hill & consequently they were all put in our bag at Hailsham & arrived up at the house. This entailed sending them back daily to the Green & annoyed father so much that he changed the name of the house from Windmill Hill to Windmill Hill Place which it has remained ever since – this must have happened between 1862 & 1864.
Up to about 1900 there was no village of the name Windmill Hill.
The nearest post-office was at Gardner Street kept by old Duly the clock-maker. Earlier, but still in my time the telegraph office was at Hailsham & our letters were sorted at Hailsham & put in our private locked letter-bag and the post-man drove in a cart from there to Boreham, passing us at about 8a.m. and returning at 6.15p.m. on his way back to Hailsham. He carried a little old fashioned curly hunting horn & it was rather jolly hearing him tootle as he drove up the coach-road either coming or returning. This warned the servants of his approach so that they were able to get to the front door without keeping him long. Delves was the postman for many years.
In the same way driving along the road he would blow his horn and the cottagers would run down their gardens and hand their letter up to him in his cart.
We had no second post. If anyone was riding or driving from Hailsham he could call at the post-office & at any time after 1.30 could get our second post and bring it out to W.M.H. Several times I have got 2nd post by skating & getting on the ice generally below Herstmonceux Church & getting off it below Hailsham.
We will continue the South side of the road.
From the West coach-road gate of W.H.H. there was no houses in my time. Another of the little wayside horse ponds was opposite the forge, then a very small little old building which had once been the shop, then up to the South side of Posey Green on the spot where is now a hall stood a pretty little cottage where dwelt & died a famous old man.
His name was Stubberfield. He went by the name of “the Duke”. Because he had been manservant to the Duke of Wellington and was actually with him at Walker Castle when he died. He had lots of relics of the Great Duke and occasionally brought some up to the house to give us.
He gave me , & I still have them, a blue dress coat and also a lock of the Duke’s hair cut off after he died & one or two other things.
Stubberfield, who lived to be an old man, towards the end of his life walked about in a long cloak & wore a kind of pork pie cap – either an old fashioned smoking cap or a forage cap. I think both must have belonged to the great Duke.
Next we come to the “Horseshoe” which still looks very much as it did in my day. Charles Simmons was the inn-keeper – an old friend of mine. He was one of our regular eleven. I well remember his round-arm bowling, his hand never above the level of his shoulder. He and I often used to go out rabbit shooting together. He had a big family & I am glad to say they still have the Horse-shoe, his son having succeeded him & now his grandson has it.
Across the top of Comphurst Lane is the big school-house, now very much altered inside, but in appearance outside it is pretty much as it always was.
Here we are on the westerly border of Wartling parish for I believe the parish boundary actually runs through the school house. The great schoolroom, a fine big room was at the south end of the building. Here both our tenants & our labourers had their suppers on special occasions – such as my father’s birthdays & also various comings of age & marriages etc.etc.
Before my time Allfrey was the schoolmaster. When I was a youngster Stubberfield was. Even when he was an oldish man. He was a younger brother of “the Duke” Stubberfield.
Then the middle part of the house was occupied by Mr. & Mrs. Martin. I have no recollection of Mr. but Mrs. Martin was my first schoolmistress. I must have been very small, certainly not more than four because my youngest sister & I were packed into a little four wheeled go-cart sitting face to face, each with a packet of food under our seats which opened like boxes and we were drawn from the house down to Mrs. Martin’s every day I believe. The yard-boy or sometimes Ned Unsted or Jim Gurr would take us down.
Then in the North end of the schoolhouse was another smaller schoolroom – this part of the house is thrown back at an angle with the main part & faces the high road. From the outside it still looks the same as it always did.
In the early seventies this part of the school was run by Isaac Stubberfield, a son of the Master of the big school. I think this part catered more for the sons of tenant farmers & that class. I went to school regularly there in 1873 & am very glad I did as I got to know the young fellows of the district round better than I may have done otherwise, for I went away to school in 1874 & ever after that I was only at home during holidays & later on while on leave from the Army.
I still occasionally see one or two of my old village-school-fellows. We are all old fellows now, but enjoy a crack about old times. I learnt a great deal at that school, so I think Isaac Stubberfield must have been a very good teacher. I still see his son about, he is Expenditor to the Commissioners of Levels or whatever body has taken their place.
This being the West end of the parish I shall cross the high road & work my way Eastward along the North side.
About opposite the school is a house standing sideways to the road. This was the Police station & Harwood was the policeman. He must have kept the post a long time as he is the only one I ever remember in the parish. His son Walter was at school with me & his daughters did a good deal of dairying. One married Halloway who kept the shop & she, now a widow, is still living in the house immediately to the W. of the shop.
I forget who lived in some of the cottages along the N. of the Green. Morris, the bootmaker, had one with a long shaped workshop window – now I believe altered. John Burchett, our waggoner, had one. Then there was a long low cottage, now pulled down, stood back from the road. Jesse Smith lived there – a most useful & handy man, seemed able to take on anything, & I believe Joe Delves also lived there.
Then the big house next to the shop. This was once an inn but I think my father had the licence taken away.
Then the shop. Rebuilt when I was a boy, but I well remember the little old one kept by Beeney, on just the same site. It was he who built the present one. At his death Halloway took the shop & kept it for many years until his death.
It is now in the hands of one of the Simmons family. Beeney used to live in the cottage at the back of the shop.
Then came the Blacksmith’s shop – very picturesque, down a slope in the angle of the roads. I used to spend a good deal of time there watching and interfering and getting in the way, but I do not remember who kept it. Bill Simmon, son of Charles of the Horseshoe was there but as he was only a few years older than me there must have been somebody else in charge.
Across the top of the lane & we come to Dormers Farm. Peckham was the farmer there & I wonder how old is the name Dormers. We always called it Peckhams, but that was because he was there. It may have really been Dormers even then. It was in Peckham’s Oast-house that I last saw hops being trodden into the pockets in the old-fashioned way. Burchett, our waggoner, was treading them.
Now comes Beacon Green; six cottages & a carpenter’s shop & at the top the pound & then behind the Green our home-farm & timber yard & the saw-pit. The Shadwells were the sawyers. They lived on the way to Gardener Street. It was good to see sawing by hand. Shadwell was the top-sawyer & he would have one or both of his sons in the saw-pit underneath.
On the West side of Beacon Green lived Will Billenness and Message out under-gardener. The former had the cottage abutting on the footpath. He was brother to the three who worked for us. He used to walk to Ninfield every Sunday to preach in the Chapel there. His very old mother lived with him, bed-ridden, & we children always imagined she was right up at the top where that very small window looks toward the road. This cottage is now occupied by Bill Jarvis up to lately the estate carpenter.
At the top of the Green was Flint’s house. He was our coachman. The only one I ever knew. I have not yet discovered when he came into our service. Before I was born, I expect. His wife was in charge of our laundry. This house is now occupied by Mrs Chas: Simmons daughter-in-law of the late Charles Simmons. (See page ? ). She was Fanny Gurr, daughter of Tom Gurr our game-keeper.
The small house joining onto the W. end of Flint’s house was a late addition.
Nathan Seymour, our groom, & his wife lived there, & then later on Tom Gurr & his daughter Jane Housego. They both ended their days there.
There is a fine garden at the back of these houses, rather banky & I have always wondered whether The Beacon formerly stood in this garden or across the road on the Beacon Plat. If it was for passing signals up North I think the garden site more probable.
By the way all bonfires in my day were always on the Common Field at the back of the Horseshoe & never, never on the One Tree Hill as they have had the last two, much to my disgust as they burnt the historical One Tree.
The bonfires I refer to as being on the Common Field were every 5th November & coming-of-age & Jubilees, etc.etc.
In the two cottages on the E. of the Green lived at the South end Job Guy, our carpenter, and his wife & in the N. end was Mrs. Wood, our laundress after Mrs. Flint.
Guy had his carpenter’s shop & his paint & other stores close by his house. He was a most faithful friend & servant to us all. He was estate carpenter for 35 years & in his later years took over many very responsible estate duties.
Every Sunday he used to walk to the Dicker Chapel and back. He died in September 1889 and is buried there.
Mrs. Murray, the late owner of Windmill Hill pulled down these last mentioned two cottages & built two new ones facing a different angle to what the old ones did.
There was a very good well outside Guy’s back door – what has become of that?
Proceeding Eastward there are no more houses & we get to Ashburnham Lane (now Tilley Lane) where we left off while we were coming Westward.
To the North of the last stretch is the North Park & the N. Terrace & here down in a clump of trees surrounding a pond is the Windmill Hill heronry. In Sussex I believe in Devonshire pronounced hernery & the birds are herns all through. They were not always here. When I was a child they were just outside the N.W. of the Castle garden in a clump surrounding a small pond. Then they moved up to our rookery which in those days was just outside the side door all along the E. side of the hollow-walk. They lived for some years with the Rooks, which I believe is very unusual & about 50 or 60 years ago they moved across the road to their present heronry. But the trees there are getting thin and dying & the birds are gradually getting less. I believe they are settling at Glen Leigh near Polegate.
This is all I remember along the main road.
Now I will take the lanes leading from it & one or two farms near by – taking the North side of the high road first.
Down the slope between Boreham & the site of the mill stood a very picturesque little white farm-house called Mersham – now gone - & nearby another house, Jess or Jest, also I believe gone.
Note, Mersham is pronounced Mers-um and not Mer-sham. It is disgusting how new-comers are pronouncing our “hams” as “shams”. There are several about. Between St. Leonards and Bexhill are two good farms Worshan & Pebsham which were always called Wors-um & Pebs-am. Now if you please these new people always say Wor-sham or Peb-sham. Any of the real old Sussex people born & bred here would even now call it Hels-um and my eldest brother frequently did up to the time of his death. I wonder what Lord Hailsham would say to this.
Then just before you get to Belhurst a farm road leads down to Rickards farm. George Collins had this when I was a boy & he also had Jess.
Then comes Ashburnham Lane now by some people foolishly called Tilley Lane. No houses in this lane & it remains much as it always was except that Bray’s cottage has gone. It stood on the right or E. side just below where the four gates are (one leading into Long’s Wood & another towards Belhurst Wood). Mrs Bray lived here with her two lunatic sons.
Just S. of Tilley Bridge was an old cottage at the gate leading into a little old disused brickyard. This was at work in a very small way up to I should think about 1879.
About four years ago some London speculators got hold of the site & started absurdly big brickyards. And now having dis-figured the countryside I believe they are bankrupt.
The Nunningham stream was the boundary of our land. To the N. of it was Lord Ashburnham’s.
Crossing Tilley Bridge on the right is Tilley. A beautiful farmhouse and farm. Beck, a well to do farmer, lived here. One of his sons – Ernest – was at school with me on the Green. I think he died young. One of Beck’s daughters became Mrs. Tom Simmons – not one of the Horseshoe Simmons.
Tom Simmons and I were christened at the same time in Wartling church.
My only regret about my visit to New Zealand 8 years ago is that I spent 24 hours kicking my heels about with nothing to do at Greymouth in the S. Island & never knew till I got back to Wartling & was talking to Mrs. Tom Simmons that her brother, a Beck born at Tilley, was living there.
What a delightful day we could have spent together talking over old times.
As an instance of what I missed – when I was in Perth W.A/ I twice went out to Kalamunda & visited Edgar Dawes – born at Mill’s farm. I look back with the greatest pleasure to those two visits & I know from what he wrote afterwards that he enjoyed them too.
And one thing which was so refreshing was to notice that after all those years out there he had not lost his soft Sussex speech & intonation. This really was rather remarkable for most people in Australia do pick up a horrible twang.
I should have had just such another interesting chat at Greymouth if I had known that a Beck was living there. Mr Beck of Tilley used to walk to church on Sunday mornings and occasionally we met at the bottom of the Long Walk & then we would go on all the way together.
I don’t just remember who had Cowden & Brownings but Durrant was the farmer at Prinkle.
These last two bring us to the N. edge of the parish.
The next lane running North is the one turning off between Dormers & the forge.
No houses here except Rocks Farm on the left. Then down to the Five Bell River. This really is the Nunningham Stream but is always known as the 5 Bell River & it is the 5 Bell Bridge over it. No one knows the origin of this name but my old friend, the late, Baron von Roemer of Lime Park once suggested to me that there may have been an inn there called the 5 Bells and I think this is very likely.
The bridge I think marks the end of Wartling parish in this direction.
Bodle Street (pronounced Boodle please, as if there were two O’s) is a rather new parish made up of bits of Wartling & Herstmonceux & Warbleton but this was a little before my time. Mr. Hatton was vicar there & his son is now Canon, lately at Dallington & then Uckfield & now retired.
Now back to Boreham & I will go down the lanes to the S. of the main road.
Turning down by the Bull’s Head on the left was Hart’s Yard. Luck the Wheelwright was there & a few cottages.
A few yards on, on the left is a little square house. Hunt the Tailor lived there in the sixties & seventies.
He made my suit of blue velveteen when I went as Little Boy Blue to the Normanhurst children’s fancy dress ball in I think 1870. (1872 written in margin). My youngest sister went as Little Bo Peep. There had been a big grown up fancy ball there the night before & I rather think all these grand-doings were part of the house-warming of Normanhurst for it was quite a new house in my childhood.
No more houses down this lane until we get to Puddleduck where you can still trace the lay out of the old wharf. Of course it ought to be Dock not Duck but it is always the latter. Except Rocklands Farm which is well off the lane to the left there are no other houses until we get to Wartling Hill.
This has not altered in appearance (except the vicarage) since I was a boy. Mr. & Mrs> Robinson had the school – which was built in my father’s time, he giving the ground. I have forgotten who lived in the other houses.
Old Ockenden, the sexton, & Gander, the vicarage gardener lived in two of them & up to the left of The Lamb was a Wheelwrights yard kept by another Luck, brother to the one at Boreham.
On the S. side of the church is Court Lodge Farm. This I think was Lord Ashburnham’s & not ours. Hicks was the farmer here & after him one of the Tickners took it & in latter years the Allins had it. My nephew F.A.Curteis married Patience Allin & they emigrated to Western Australia where they settled & are doing well farming. Nearly nine years ago I stayed 5 or 6 weeks with them & greatly enjoyed the visit & had the pleasure of making new acquaintance of my two great-nephews. Fine lads both of them.
I remember such a lot of various things about this so what I say will be very dis-connected & patchy.
Windmill Hill Place & no one else had all the seats in the Chancel. The reading desk was not even in it but was just outside the S. pillar with the big square vicarage pew close behind the parson. In this pew you all sat round facing each other. When we overflowed some of us would sit in this and we used to think it fun sitting round staring at each other.
I have a picture of the Chancel as it was about 100 years ago with the high box pews in a double tier on each side. I seem to have a faint recollection of these because I do remember that the pavement under the E. end of our servants pew had sunk slightly & one could just see one or two of the steps leading down into our vault, but these old high pews were certainly taken away in the sixties & our very nice light oak ones put in their place, not two rows each side but only a single tier. Very long ones. They reached from the Chancel arch to within a foot or so of the alter rails. These latter were probably new at the same time, given by my aunt Kate Thomas. She also gave the East window & the font.
I remember the beautiful old dark oak alter rails. They were heavy looking & had a very broad top & great twisty pillars. I think they matched to two great chairs that are still there.
In our pews we all sat on the S. side. My father always at the E. end because he liked being his mother’s memorial. My mother sat at the other end & we children & guests fitted in between.
The servants all sat opposite, the housekeeper at the W. end then the women, then the men & at the E. end of the pew Flint the coachman. He always sat there because he had to go out during the last hymn to put the horses to & bring the carriage round ready for when we came out.
The Vestry was the little narrow place behind the old screen at the E. end of the N. aisle. The vicar always went round there before the sermon & changed into a black gown before going into the pulpit.
My second sister is eleven years older than me, so she remembers a bit more. Here is a letter she wrote –
“The E. window was put in by Aunt Kate, not I think in memory of anyone. Probably it was done when the gallery was taken down. I vaguely remember the old window, bits of its coloured glass not as a whole.
I quite well remember the gallery & Mrs. Chataway leading the choir & old Dawes playing the organ, & I remember the partition shutting off the belfry & the shabby green baize doors with brass nails which we had to go through into the church. Aunt Kate also gave new oak rails, but that was much later. She also gave the present font, I have a hazy idea that you (that’s me) were the first baby christened in it”.
I, too, just remember the gallery across the W. end of the church with the organ in the middle of it.
If you look in the pews about the third row from the W. you will see on each side of the aisle a square piece of wood has been let into the seats. That is where the upright posts supporting the gallery went up.
After this came down we never had another organ until Mr. Poole’s time when he turned us (my family & our servants) out of the Chancel & built up an organ in front of the S. window of the chancel & so blocking it entirely.
After the gallery & its organ was pulled down we only had a harmonium which my eldest sister used to play. It was down at the W. end in the S. corner. A raised platform consisting of a series of very broad steps went right across under the W. window & accommodated a very good village choir, who were in their ordinary Sunday clothes, & all the school-children.
Children in those days were well disciplined and taught good manners.
We never moved from our pew until all the congregation had left the church. Then as we walked out all the school children rose from their seats & stood to attention while we went past. Then, if we had not started off when they came out each boy as he passed would touch his cap & each girl drop a curtsey.
Different to now with every child taught to accost grown ups with “Good morning Mr. So & So, Good Morning Miss So & So”.
One gets sick to death of sur-names when children are about. I should have had the strap if I had ventured to address an elder like that when I was a child. It was the case in those days of children being “seen & not heard”.
I cannot leave the church without mentioning old Ockenden the clerk. My father in his diary writes “Ockenden died 29th September 1886 aged 79and half. Been clerk for between 50 & 51 years, and only missed three Sundays. Was appointed by Sir Godfrey Thomas”.
His A----mens at the end of every prayer were very impressive. He had them all to himself, the people did not spoil them. He sat round in the N. aisle. After every service he stood up in his pew, turned round, leaned over looking towards the West and counted every person as they went out & so he knew the number that attended every service. I don’t know if he kept any record in any book. If he did it would be very interesting to look through it.
Another regular church-goer who always interested me was blind Wood.
He was stone blind. Walked from Boreham where he lived every Sunday, looking very clean & smart in his white smock-frock & tall hat. He wore a bright red handkerchief across over his eyes. The vicar always read the whole of the first verse of each hymn on purpose for him so that he could join in. For some years we sang the Old Hundredth every Sunday morning, this I think was my father’s favourite hymn. And I think it is mine too shared with “Eternal Father”.
My grandfather, Sir John Godfrey Thomas, was vicar at one time but I don’t know if he ever lived at the vicarage because he was vicar of Bodium for very many years, right up to his death in 1841 & he lived & died at Bodium & there his big family was born – my mother being one of them. So he had the two livings at the same time.
But the first I knew anything about was Mr. Chataway. He christened a good many of us & remained a friend of the family all his life.
Then our cousin Edward Graham came. He was a brother of Mr. Graham of Eastbourne. He had a fit & died in his brother’s house while he was putting on his boots to walk back to Wartling Hill. He was the last parson we had to wear a black gown for preaching in.
We children were a great deal in the vicarage during his term of office. Mrs. Morley was his housekeeper & Gander his man.
I just want to add here a word about George Wood, the blind man mentioned on the previous page. He was a brother of Mrs. Ned Unsted. He lived in the wooden house immediately to the E. of the Bull stables at Boreham. He was suddenly struck blind when he was out in the village street when he was about 17.
Mr. Porter was the next vicar after Edward Graham. He was the last I knew to wear a black coat & tall hat when ever he went out either walking or driving. Always well groomed even when visiting in the village or attending cricket matches, flower-shows or no matter what.
I did not know the next vicar Mr. Corr. I was abroad then.
After him came Mr. Poole. It was he who spoilt the vicarage. It was such a pretty little house up to his time & he built up an enormous & unsightly wing to it – to take in pupils. Part of this has been pulled down but enough remains to spoil the appearance of the original house.
I have just remembered two things about the church which may someday be of interest. When I was a youngster the chill in it was supposed to be taken off by 3 or 4 little portable charcoal stoves, cylindrical affairs of small diameter, we had one in the chancel & there were two in the nave & perhaps there was another somewhere else. Then later on came the hot pipes up the middle but I don’t think they were very effective for my father always for the duration of the sermon wrapped his legs up tightly in a railway-rug.
The other note is – my grandfather in his diary of 3-4-1842 says “Met Mr. Pratt (the vicar) & agreed to increase my subscription for organ to our church from £5 to £10”. This I expect was when the organ was first put in, before that I expect they had a band. So the organ only had a life of about twenty five years.
At the bottom of Wartling Hill on the Pevensey trade lived the Elphick family & I am glad to say they are still there – I know three of them very well – Bill, Edward & another.
? walking form Boreham to Wartling Hill, we passed about half way along a narrow lane going down a hill to the right. This leads to Mill’s farm. This was a good farm & occupied in the days I write of by Dawes & his family. I knew three of the sons very well. Edgar, Harry & Jim. The first was a few years older than me. It was he I went to visit in Western Australia, (mentioned earlier in these notes) & I have some very interesting letters about “old days” that he wrote to me after I got home.
Before he married I think he was a roving kind of fellow & turned his hand to all sorts of jobs.
At one time he owned merry-go-rounds & swings for fairs & also some fine sailing craft schooners etc.) trading round the coast, Newhaven & Shoreham being their home ports.
He married one of the Miss Larbys from Flowers Green.
I remember him being one of the leading men in the Wartling choir & he showed me a letter my sister wrote him when she (or he) gave up. This he had amongst other papers in his treasure box in Australia.
He seemed to have a good deal of house property in Kalamunda & I was amused to see he had named his houses after E, Susses place names such as Wartling, Hurstmonceux, Hailsham etc.etc.
Harry & Jim both came to school at Isaac Stubberfields. Harry I lost sight of, but Jim remained in the parish.
While speaking of Wartling church I forgot to mention our bells. There are four of them. I see by vol:XVI of the Sussex Archaeological collections on page 228 that they were all made by Thos. Lester and Thos. Pack of Whitechapel London in the year 1753.
This is the same firm that made the tenor bells of Winchester Cathedral and Westminster Abbey and Bow Bell. The weight of which is 53 cwt. 24lbs.
On one of ours is inscribed-
“At proper times my voice I’ll raise
And sound to my subscribers praise”.
When I was quite young the Wartling bells were only chimed on Christmas Day and on a few grand occasions.
I remember well the joy of hearing them on a Christmas morning as we were walking to church, gradually getting louder as we neared Wartling Hill. I think there is something very beautiful about the sound of church bells ringing in the country. It seems to me much more effective than when heard in a town.
It was on those mornings that we used to jeer at hearing away to the right the one bell of “poor old Hurstmonceux” as we called it. – “couldn’t run to more than one bell, and that badly cracked”.
Ours used to ring again directly the service was over, the sound gradually dieing away in the distance as we neared home.
Later on when I was a boy they were chimed regularly every Sunday morning for fifteen minutes or so before church – but perhaps not after service, I cannot remember.
Nov. 1938 – there is a broken bell on the floor at the West end of the church. Someone told me a few years ago that this was found in the vicarage garden and brought back to the church. I don’t know if that is true or not. And I don’t know if it is one of our four. But I hope not.
I have not been in the belfry for more than fifty years so don’t know what state it is in. I wish it could all be attended to and that before I die I could hear our four bells ring out again. That indeed would be a great pleasure.
Things are changing so much that I should like to say something about the services held in Wartling and Hurstmonceux churches. I can speak for both as we had just as much to do with the parish of Hurstmonceux as of Wartling.
It just happened that my father – I am very glad to say – chose to live in Windmill Hill Place in preference to Hurstmonceux Place so we went much more to Wartling than Hurstmonceux. I, personally, never cared much for Hurstmonceux parish except just the castle and the kennels and the plantation.
Well – as to the services in both churches – early morning service was unknown and unheard of. And even now I don’t see the necessity of it in the country. If townspeople want to come and live in our village they should accommodate themselves to our habits.
Two services a week were held in each church, both on Sunday at 10.30 in the morning and at 3 in the afternoon. During July & August Hurstmonceux had their afternoon service at 6.30 instead of 3 but Wartling stuck to 3o’clock. Also there was 10.30 morning service on Christmas Day and Good Friday.
Full communion Service only once a month, after morning service on the first Sunday in each month and of course on Easter Day.
Our services were real good ones (and everybody enjoyed them and churches always full) and not snippets and all curtailed like town churches have them now-a-days.
I believe present day people are so restless and discontented that they won’t stay in church more than 40 minutes and when they get out they don’t know what to do with themselves, always in a hurry and they don’t know why.
We were in church every Sunday from 10.30-12.15 and on communion Sundays to 12.30 or later. We had the full service every Sunday.
Dearly beloved not cut short but read in full. The psalms read in full. The litany every Sunday. After that another hymn, then the communion Service every Sunday down to the end of the Belief then another hymn while the parson retired to put on his black gown, then we settled down to a 40 or 45 minutes sermon, then if it was the first Sunday in the month came the communion for those who stayed in.
There was never a collection except on Communion Sundays.
My father went to church twice every Sunday. He would walk one way in the morning and both ways in the afternoon, that made six miles, and some of us others with him.
In the summer my sisters and visitors used sometimes to walk to the 6.30 service at Hurstmonceux. A beautiful walk, not touching the road anywhere, but one got very wet coming back from the dew and it made one late for Sunday supper, so it wasn’t much encouraged.
I have been told that in still earlier days many of the villages would bring their dinners with them to church and eat them between the morning and afternoon services. I suppose in fine weather in the churchyard and in wet in the porches. In those old days services were longer, sermons quite an hour, so there was no very great interval between the services.
Now I will walk to Wartling Hill to Belhurst by Wartling Lane.
The first house on the left, with stone mullion windows is called Cooper’s farm. Old Jenner had this in the sixties & seventies. Then about the eighties the Butlers were there. There was an Oast-house here, long since gone, standing right against the road. It had a square base which is rather unusual.
All the land & farms etc. on the left or W. side of the Lane from Wartling Hill to Windmill Hill belonged to my father. On the opposite side I don’t think we began until one field S. of Wartling Wood. Up as far as that was Lord Ashburnham’s.
The fine farm house which stands end on to the road on a bank opposite Coopers was occupied by old Barnett. I think he was father of Mrs Dawes of Mill’s Farm. He had been my Grandfather’s coachman & was also in the stables at W.M.H. in my Great Grandfather’s time. I knew him well, he was a fine good-looking old man.
Next on the right came a very old good sized house. This was pulled down, I should think about 1870 & a modern square house built about but not quite on the same spot. This house has I think initials & date on it.
It is now called the Reids but I don’t know if this had been the name of the old house.
Then just N. of it is a square double house containing two cottages standing back with garden in front. They always looked rather new but I cannot remember their not being there.
Jim Dawes after he married one of the Horseshoe Simmons lived in one of them. The cottage on the left near the gate leading down to Hangman’s Shaw & the Decoy Pond is quite new (10 or 20 years). Jerry Gander built this for him-self. His daughter & son-in-law still live there.
I believe there is another house just sprung up behind this one but I know nothing about this.
Crowhurst, the veterinary surgeon, and his family lived in the Well House nearly opposite. After them it fell into bad repair & 2 or 3 years ago was bought by an ex Naval Officer who has done it up & made it look nice again.
Continuing N. on the left were three cottages – 2 long low single storey ones facing the road & one of two stories and on & close to the barway into Honds Hill. This last one is still standing & occupied. It was in this house our gamekeeper Tom Gurr & his family lived until my father gave up the E. S. hounds when they moved down to the Kennels, where they remained until my brother sold Hurstmonceux Place & with it the Kennels.
The two little low cottages have gone, but their sites are still easily traceable by old fruit trees & a well & a brick wall put up to hide the pig-sties.
In one of these Mrs. Sims, a widow, ended her days. She was wife of our head gardener & bailiff, Henry Sims who used to live at the lodge at our W. gate. Mrs. Sims, in those days looked after the cows & poultry & kept the very fine dairy which we had at W.M.H. – always in perfect order & cool on the hottest day.
These old cottages must have been pulled down after 1889 as I have a photo of them taken about then.
At the gate leading down to the castle stood a comfortable weather boarded cottage. Pulled down by Col. Lowther when he had the castle & a curious looking modern one built not on the same site but farther back.
There is no other house at all on the left of the lane.
On the right there is now no house between The Well House and Halfway House (now foolishly called Woodland Farm or some such name). But there used to be a cottage facing the road between the Wartling Wood gate & Wood Lane junction.
It’s garden was traceable up to 25 years ago with old fruit trees & a well. Now it is all part of Wartling Wood.
Old Douch lived here & he was bent pretty nearly double – it was said from carrying tubs on his back for the smugglers. A little way in the wood behind his cottage was a great square hole in the ground with, I think brick sides. Douch once showed this to my second brother R.M.C. I remember neither him nor his cottage, but I have a curious little metal seal which he dug up there & gave to one of us.
Wartling Wood used to be spoken of by the old people as “The Wood” as if it was the only one. Here were good strong fox-earths & it was our best pheasant covert, showing that the two can be together.
After the junction of Wood Lane comes halfway house, two cottages under one roof. With a really very fine walnut tree still flourishing in the garden.
In my young days “Old Shepherd” lived in the S. end & George Billings in the N.
Unsted (but he was always known as “Old Shepherd”) was really an old man. He was Ned Unsted’s grandfather & Ned was many years older than me. I used to visit him while he sat in his chair by the fireside. He was shepherd to three generations of my family – a responsible job in his days as we then had a flock of Southdowns.
In my father’s diary of April 1870 he says “Old Shepherd’s 51st year of lambing on the Estate”.
George Billenness was the youngest of the three brothers who worked for us.
The next house going N. is Avery’s Cottage which belongs to me. It looks much the same now as it did in old Avery’s time. It has a fine garden & he kept it well & so does my present tenant Bennett. Avery who lived there 60 years ago had formerly been our ox-man for up to just before my time we kept oxen for ploughing & wagon work.
We had some fine pairs of ox horns in the Front Hall at W.M.H.
I don’t know what the man who had charge of the oxen was called. Ox-man does not seem right to me.
I think there is no doubt that this cottage is built on a bit of cribbed land as the old road hedge obviously leaves the road at the ditch below & goes round behind the cottage and joins the road again some yards S. of the S.end of my garden. I imagine that when Avery was pensioned off my father gave him this corner and he built the house himself.
He was one of those who continued the pleasant custom of wearing a clean white smock-frock & a tall hat every Sunday to church.
I don’t know if anyone was here between Avery & Badman. The latter rather spoilt the garden by covering the lower part with glass houses. He went to S Africa & settled a few miles outside Cape Town. The last time I was there I tried to find him but could not.
Then the house & garden fell into a bad state. I did it up & put in old Tom Sands & his wife & daughter. Sands had to go out to work but he pulled the garden round as well as he could in his own time. His wife had been Betsy Eldridge from Swales Green & as a girl had been nursery maid up at the House when I was a s infant. She often talked of the happy old days there and remembered being driven down with other servants to Wartling church to be confirmed.
Her Grandmother Eldridge had been cook to my Grandfather (Thomas) at Bodium vicarage when my mother was a child.
I have a photo of “Granny Eldridge” as she was called. Betsy Sands was the last person of my acquaintance who always dropped a curtsy when she came to greet you at the door of her cottage. I know of on other one left now to show such respect. She was a dear old soul. We had many a good chat together. She often harked back to the family prayers of a morning at W.M.H. & how much she liked them, all the servants in the dining room, & my mother reading them.
She died at Avery’s & is buried close to our graves at Wartling. Her husband soon after left to go & live with his relations at Rolvenden where he died, but he too is buried here.
After the Sands I let Avery’s to the present occupiers, Bennett & his wife. He is an old soldier, having served some years in the Royal Artillery. They keep the place in perfect order.
The next last house in Wartling Lane is where Harmer lives, opposite the bottom of the Long Walk.
The late Henry Harmer who bought this farm when the W.M.H. estate was broken up built this cottage on the site of a very picturesque old one which had curious church-like windows. No one knew its history & all my life it never had a name.
It was always called John Billenness’ – just because he lived there. This rather curious but very old name was pronounced Billins.
John was another of the famous family of Billenness. I say famous advisedly, for they were famous, not only for their complete knowledge of everything to do with land but also for their splendid work when applying their knowledge. Those I knew were Ben, John, Will & George.
Ben was pretty old when I was a boy, but I remember him as a fine good looking old fellow. John was the most skilled worker. Will was the preacher & George always looked to me to be a bit delicate but was also first rate at any job. It was worth a lot to see these men laying a hedge or mowing. The latter never to seen again in Sussex.
It was perfectly splendid to see 3 or 4 men advancing in echelon swinging together in perfect time & to hear the swish of the scythes through the grass & then the best music of all, that of sharpening their scythes during their halts. And they would carry on tight through a long hot June day from early morning to night.
Hard work this, & well deserving of the beer that was kept handy in a jar in the shade of a hedge.
I don’t know who lived here after John Billenness’ death. I was abroad for many years now & rather lost touch of the people. When W.M.H. estate was sold in 1920, my old friend Henry Harmer bought all round this part and I expect one of his labourers lived there. Then he pulled it down & built the present nice little house where one of his sons is now living. But sad to relate at Harmer’s death 2 or 3 years ago it and the farm was again sold – this time to strangers with no knowledge of the locality & its traditions. The same old story – going on in all the country side of England.
That brings us up the lane back to the main road at Belhurst.
By going down the lane by the Bull’s Head at Boreham & returning from Wartling Hill direct to Belhurst we have missed one lane branching to the S. from the high road.
That is Wood Lane, turning S. at Montague House. At back of this house there were two or three cottages. I believe Ben Billenness lived in one and old Mrs. Selmes in another. She was often up at the house & seemed very friendly with us all so I think she must have been an old family servant and perhaps was a pensioner. But I never knew & it is too late now to find out.
This is a delightful lane – just as it used to be & not a house in its whole length. At the N.E. corner of Wartling Wood & turning to the left go down to Mill’s Farm & the lane itself continues outside the N. edge of the Wood & joins Wartling Lane at Plantation gate.
There is now only one more to explore.
Comphurst Lane running S. between the Horse-shoe Inn and the School House.
First comes a small cottage on the left quite at the top of the lane. Many years ago David Hunisett lived here. Now it is rather dilapidated & needs rebuilding.
No other houses in this lane until you come to Comphurst on the left. A fine old manor house with Tudor work in it. In my youth this was a tenement house, housing I think three families but I only remember one name, Sarah Veness who I think was an invalid.
Then in 1913, my eldest brother let W.M.H. & had Comphurst thoroughly done up & made it a very charming residence. He & his wife & second daughter moved in there in 1914. He died there in 1919 & his wife this last September (1938).
Continuing down the lane there is one more house – this actually stands in Hurstmonceux as all the W. side of the lane is in that parish & all the E. side in Wartling. But as we are here I may as well say what I remember of it.
It is a nice little house standing just below Comphurst on the opposite side of the lane. When I was small Mr. Musgrave lived here. I don’t know who he was or where he came from. We children disrespectfully used to refer to him as “Old Muzzy”. His son Horace was at Isaac Stubberfield’s school with me.
After the Musgraves the Winchesters lived there for a good many years.
Winchester rented the Castle form my father & made what he could out of his excellent teas. He must have died when I was serving abroad as I do not remember their leaving the house.
His son Ernest, up to quite lately, was living at the park gate cottage in Wartling Lane.
Ned Unsted also lived at Comphurst Cottage for a time, but he had moved up to the Green before he died.
Here finished my perambulation of the Parish of Wartling. Very sketchy notes of things that have stuck in my memory.
Un peu de reve, et puis
Transcribed by Carol Harrison