Blaker Family of Sussex - Reminiscences
Rustic Customs Seventy Years Ago.
DURING my first year, my father removed to Perching, in the parish of Edburton, and here I was brought up. As an only child, and with nothing but my immediate surroundings to occupy my attention, the events and scenes among which my childhood was passed have become vividly fixed on my memory, and it may be interesting to recall the appearance of a country village seventy years ago; and the parish of Edburton, with its hamlet of Fulking, presents, I think, a fair example of this. The population was almost entirely composed of agricultural labourers and their families, with the village shopkeeper, the village publican and one or two market gardeners. These labourers were a strong, hardy set of men, industrious, truthful and honest, with very few exceptions. Their dress was usually a dark smock frock, with elaborate pleating at the shoulders, knee breeches, leather gaiters and laced boots. On Sunday they wore a scrupulously white smock frock. Their food consisted of bread and cheese, vegetables, bacon and pudding, with fresh meat only occasionally. The roads at this time were very narrow, rough and muddy, and locomotion was very slow and difficult, consequently they rarely travelled far from home, some never going out of their own parish; indeed, it was a common saying that Sussex girls had such long legs because they stretched them by pulling tem out of the mud in the roads. The late Mr. Henry Holman, in his day a very excellent practitioner, who practised at Hurstpierpoint for nearly sixty years, and was one of the old-fashioned doctors who always did their round on horse-back, told me that when he left Edinburgh, where he was a student, he bought a horse and rode the whole distance thence, by easy stages, home to Hurstpierpoint, as the easiest and cheapest way of accomplishing the journey, which took him, however, two or three weeks. The only ordinary means of communication between the village and the rest of the world was by an old woman with a donkey cart, who went to Brighton once, sometimes twice, a week and did most of the village shopping, etc., and the market-gardener, who went there with vegetables at suitable times.
It was not an unusual thing for men to work all their lives on one farm, and in it and all that belonged to it they took the deepest interest, regarding it almost as their property and speaking always of "our" cows, "our" sheep, "our" wheat; and their great object and ambition was to do their work, ploughing, mowing, etc., well, and to have the crops and animals under their care to look a little better than their neighbours'. They commenced their work at 6 a.m. and left off at 6 p.m. in summer, and from dawn till dark in winter, with intervals for lunch and dinner, so that
" Along the cool sequestered vale of life|
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way"
with little variation. Indeed, sheep-shearing, harvest-supper and Christmas were in those country villages the three festivals of the year, and were looked forward to and remembered for days or weeks :—
" A Christmas gambol oft could cheer|
The poor man's heart for half a year."