Rupert Croft-Cooke was a well known writer and novelist who lived part of his childhood at Wayside, a house built by his father on High Road. He wrote on an incredible range of subjects but is probably best known for his detective novels under the pseudonym Leo Bruce.
In his book, The Gardens of Camelot, he paints a very clear picture of the class distinction which was not just prevalent, but totally accepted in Chipstead and other similar village societies in the decade before World War I.
'The ladies we met on our walks wore lace collars with whalebone in them, and large hats. The houses of Chipstead were inhabited almost entirely by gentlemen who in high collars and silk or bowler hats, made their way to the station in the morning and went to the City to return at five, six or seven o'clock according to their status, like plump rooks homing.'
Croft-Cooke describes regular tennis parties around his family's tennis court where gin and bitters and sherry were served before a lunch of salmon. Tea on the lawn included strawberries and cream and visitors mostly came from Chipstead and the immediate area.
He writes of the three strata of Chipstead society: the gentle people – professional people and some superior 'trade' people who created the village social life; common people who were near misses, pretentious and vulgar, people who might live in houses like those of the gentle people and be even more prosperous than they, yet were not acceptable in their circles; and village people who were the working class who touched their caps to the 'gentle people' they knew.
Croft-Cooke demonstrated how poor the village people were: 'Few families could afford more than candlelight in the evening and water had to be fetched from the village pump'.
At church the distinction between the wealthy and the poor was particularly marked. 'There were the strictest distinctions and the lower orders were expected to sit discreetly far down the aisle, and not embarrass their employers by recognition. The lower orders would disappear in the open as tactfully as they remained in the back pews in the church. All was decorum. Everyone knew his place and none would have considered taking advantage of the fact that we had been worshipping The Most Humble to show any vulgar familiarity with his superiors.'
And to conclude:
'Whatever happens to the world during the rest of my life, my recollection of those six years (in Chipstead) before the Great War means this to me: that I have lived, seen and in retrospect become fully aware of another age, another manner of life, which will not exist or be imitated again. The real division, the clean cut came with the First World War.'