Blaker Family of Sussex - Reminiscences



I AM, of course, not old enough to recollect the state of things in a country village before the commutation of the tithe, but I can well recollect hearing some of the old inhabitants talk about it, and the incidents that frequently arose. In those days the clergyman of the parish took his tithe in kind: the tenth sheaf, the tenth calf or lamb, or pig, or egg, indeed the tenth of everything. It was a very common saying, even in my recollection, "like a parson's barn, it takes in everything." This, of course, led to constant disputes and much ill-feeling. When a field of wheat was carried, every tenth sheaf was left for the clergyman to take away as best he could; and frequently owing to unfavourable weather and other circumstances, and to the extent of the county involved, this was not an easy matter and the sheaves sometimes remained till they were spoiled. Afterwards all this was commuted to a payment in money, which was collected in the same manner as the rent, there being a tithe audit and a tithe feast, and in some cases an Agent was employed as well. The tithe feasts were frequently held at the village inn, and were sometimes the scene of the same excessive drinking and boisterous merriment which accompanied convivial meetings in those days. They were, perhaps, more pronounced in this part of the country than elsewhere, owing to the proximity of Brighton and to the orgies carried on at the Pavilion, which were still fresh in people's minds. There was a story current in my younger days of one tithe feast, which is, perhaps, worth relating, as giving some idea of the manners and habits of life which were in existence among a generation well within the memory of many of us. It seems scarcely conceivable that there can be people know living that can recollect any of those who took part in such scenes, yet I knew one personally, and, in a less degree, another who was present.

The feast took place at the village inn. The parish was large and there were a good many tithe-payers present. The Agent, a leading solicitor in the town whom I knew, rode on horse-back from Brighton, in top-boots and spurs, and a friend, both of his and of the Rector's rode, with him as a guest; the Rector himself was present, dressed in a tail-coat, knee-breeches, silk stockings and shoes. After the usual business was over the festivities began and were kept up till a late hour; but when the party broke up it was found that the Rector was unable to walk. The Agent and the friend agreed to see him to his home about a mile away. By walking one on each side and supporting him they got on pretty well until they came to a place where, in those days, a stream several inches deep ran over the road (it now runs under the road in a culvert) and this stream was crossed by a foot-bridge of one plank raised three or four feet on wooden piles. This was an insurmountable obstacle to further progress, and the Agent, having top-boots on, said he would carry the Rector over the stream on his back. This he did, but the Rector's silk stockings came in contact at every step with the spurs which caused loud complaints and ejaculations, "How these dd brambles do scratch!" Home was at last reached, and it was then discovered that one tail of the Rector's coat was missing, and, they dared not present their friend to his wife in that condition, they cut off the other tail and made the coat into an Eton jacket. Still they could not summon up courage to face the meeting of those two, so they placed the Rector against the front door, rang the bell and disappeared in the darkness. When the door was unfastened, the Rector's weight sent it in with a crash, and a female voice was heard speaking in such high, shrill tones that they were very glad they had allowed "discretion to be the better part of valour."

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