Village Archive8th Dec 2014 Last updated at 13:12
Memories of Chipstead 1901-1920 - Part 1
By Walter Frederick Little
“Memories of Chipstead” is a wonderful account of rural life in Chipstead between 1901 and 1920, including those gentle, bucolic days before the First World War. They make a valuable contribution to Chipstead’s folklore. They are written by Fred Little, who lived his early life in Bashford Cottage, Southerns Lane, Mugswell, and later in Starrock Lane, Chipstead. Fred was born in 1898.
Fred was a gardener, simple and unsophisticated, but nonetheless a man who relished the Chipstead of his youth which he’d seen disappear as the twentieth century progressed. The Memories reflect both that naïveté and that relish: the words are written down from the heart and as the memories flood back, so don’t expect a polished style. It should also be remembered that these are Fred’s memories, and not an official history! The incident with the suffragettes, for instance, isn’t quite accurate. They didn’t deliberately try to set fire to the church; they only planted a smoke bomb! Fred’s words speak for themselves.
“Memories of Chipstead” was written in 1969.
Fred served in the Royal Artillery in The First World War. He refers in Memories to his ‘battery diary’, but whether this was a personal memoir or an official document is unclear. But if it is personal, and sadly – particularly as we are currently commemorating the centenary of that momentous conflict – it doesn’t survive. However, the second essay, The Pilgrimage, tells of his return to Arras in 1961, and is the subject of a companion article on the Archive.
Fred died in 1977.
“Memories of Chipstead” was originally published as an illustrated booklet, and copies of the booklet have been reproduced. If you would like a copy, please contact Rupert Courtenay-Evans at:
[email protected] - or phone 01737 554 049.
Editor’s notes are in italics.
An Old Gardener’s Prayer
Lord God of gardens, if you please,
Allow old Reuben Pace his ease;
The lawns are swept, the apples stored
New beds are made, but one, O Lord
He wishes for himself to keep
And lie there in unbroken sleep.
For ninety years, he’s risen early
To tend the things he loved so dearly
Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter; Never
Escaped a hand and eye so clever
With plants there in the potting shed,
But now he wants to lie abed.
“I’m tired” he said “ and plants keep growing,
My back aches awful, my poor old knees
Give way beneath me, so Lord, please
Allow old Reuben Pace to sleep,
Blind to the weeds that o’er him creep.”
From 1901, the writer lived in a remote part of Chipstead; it was Bashford Cottage, Southerns Lane, bordering that little village of Mugswell. Although it is some years back, I can remember it all as a most peaceful little spot, and as a child, to me it seemed so very interesting to explore.
Bashford Cottage, Southerns Lane, Mugswell, c1910
There was a High Street in Mugswell with one little general shop where one could buy almost anything – including coal. The shopkeeper was a very old-fashioned lady; she was a Miss Jane Richbell.
As most of the old cottagers used to keep pigs, it was a common sight, just before Christmas, to see freshly killed pigs hanging up in the plum trees to stretch.
Then there was the Old Mill House at the end of the street, which at the time was occupied as four cottages. There was a delightful mill in the garden – round, just like a beehive. After the First World War, the Mill House was converted into a private residence.
The Mugswell windmill circa 1880 with the mill house on the right where the flour from the mill was baked into bread and sold locally
But there were still many old-fashioned cottages around Mugswell – some had twin toilet seats. Although I was only a child, I used to have many a laugh at them!
There was a huge wood bordering the village of Mugswell, known as Beecher Copse – a beautiful place to explore for hibernating creatures. The Windmill Press now stands on that spot. It was built just after World War One. My battery diary was printed at the press.
Quite near is The Monks Well Inn, which has recently been converted from a teahouse, but up until the First War years, this inn was inhabited as four cottages by three families of Beadles, and another neighbour by the name of Knight.
Then there was another residence, quite near, known as the Little Well House. It has now been take over as kennels for the hunt. I had many a chat with Mr Wilde, who owned The Well Inn Tearooms. A peaceful little quarter of Chipstead.
The Well House Inn in 2006
The hedgerow, the whole length of Chipstead Lane, was massed with some hundreds of those little birds called Yellowhammers.
There is Southerns farm very close. I have beautiful memories of this farm. Right from the beginning of this century (20th century) there was a huge pit near the farm, about eight feet deep, where all the dead animals of the district were thrown in – horses, cows, sheep and anything that had died. It was a ghastly sight, and the stench from this great mortuary passed description – I always referred to it as the Great Plague of London! Only a few years ago there was still evidence of it.
Southerns Farm in 2011
Sunday was a great day when the local men used to form a colony of gamblers near Parsons Green. I used to watch them, and a greengrocer from Croydon used to come and replenish them with fruit and nuts. He also carried a tub of winkles. It must have been worth while to bring a horse and cart from Croydon. Distance was no object in those days.
Parson's Green in 2012, with Parson's Cottage at the edge of the green.
Another man used to pull a barrel organ from Croydon and up Star Hill (in Star Lane) to play the organ by the children’s school for a few coppers.
About 1904, a man named Mark Smith, who lived in the Iron House near the Old Rectory, brought up four children in that little iron coop as everyone sees it. Mark Smith was a very well known figure in Chipstead just after the turn of the century. He was the sexton of Chipstead church (St. Margaret’s) and did all the grave digging himself. Besides this, he kept the grass in the cemetery so beautiful, and then he was at church for all the services. It was a two mile walk for him to attend church services, but he never failed. Before 1905, he could be seen grazing a cow by the roadside, and sometimes he fed the cow on Parsons Green. Then, the following year, his eldest daughter named Nell, used to graze another young cow very similar – and just after the First World War he had raised quite a little farm; he had 25 milking cows, a horse and a donkey. His little donkey was a great help to Mark Smith, for when he was advancing in years, he used to drive his donkey to his work at the church. Mark was devoted to our church for many years.
There were quite a few donkeys in Chipstead up to the outbreak of the First World War. Ronald Hawkins started the first local coal delivery to Chipstead with a donkey cart in 1919. I had seen him many times leaving Chipstead station with four sacks of coal in the donkey cart.
Another donkey used to be hired by the Ross family who lived in the big house at Starrocks (Starrock Court in Starrock Lane). The donkey hired was from the Chipstead rectory. The Ross family were a Scots family, and very much respected. During the First World War they lost three sons, a very severe blow to the family, especially Mrs Ross, who soon after had a little verse printed in a well-known seedsman’s catalogue. The words were very touching; her little verse was:
“I lost my three sons in the war,
Then I watered and watered my garden with tears.
At last, I found life worth living in my beautiful garden.”
Starrock Court in Starrock Lane, Chipstead, in 2007
In the early years of the century, Chipstead and Mugswell were not over-populated, but there was plenty of horse transport which came from afar. A large brewery dray used to come to the village from Wallington, with a large buff-coloured horse, and the driver was typical of the old-fashioned people with his moustache and sideburns. He used to deliver to the old labourers in the fields a two gallon stone bottle of beer with a tap. The old women cottagers used to be on the lookout for him to get a basin of yeast.
Dr Walters came to us from Reigate by horseback or pony and cart; Mr Underwood, our grocer from Merstham, on horseback. He must have enjoyed a good canter over the fields and over the slopes of Hastings Hill. Our goods were due at Mugswell on Friday evening. More often than not, we had to wait a day, for as the horse and cart were bringing our groceries, the horse used to shy at a rabbit or something at Hoggs Cross, near Shabden, and tip the cart over. We usually saw evidence of this next morning when we went to school – broken jam-jars and packets of foodstuff broken and soaking wet.
We had many reasons to be frightened when we were kids. Around the old lanes in the evenings, we used to meet old tramps – and very rough ones! All they asked of us kids was the way to the Doss House. We did not know ourselves at our age, so we just said: “straight on”. Actually, the Doss House was where the county hospital is at Earlswood now (Royal Earlswood Hospital, closed 1997 and converted to flats.)
At our old cottage in Southerns Lane, our toilet was about ten yards down the garden, and we were surrounded by a big wood. If we kids left our visit to the toilet during darkness, we used to carry a lighted candle in our hands – and if the wind blew out the candle, there was a stampede to run back indoors. Anyway, we had to make a return journey and mother would send a fresh escort. I remember one dark night when two or three of us were at the toilet – a very quiet night – we heard a cow crashing through our garden hedge. Our little legs did move quickly!
That time, anyway, it was a lovely old cottage with commanding views of Shabden Park nestled among the trees. To the west, we had a fine view of Kingswood church. Then we used to sit on the banks by our house and admire the old steam plough working on the slopes of Eyhurst farm. In those days, Eyhurst farm had many visits from the chicken stealers. It was really lovely to watch the old steam plough working on the slopes of Eyhurst farm, and at intervals the old wooden plough could be seen.
In our garden of the old cottage, we had apples of many varieties, and plums and bullace trees. My father, Mr Little (you will read more of him later) was in his glory around here with his sport – pigeon shooting.
But in 1909, he was getting very anxious about the old cottage, which he dearly loved. He believed the old house was falling down, so the landlord put two long iron bars through the house, along the bedroom floor and bolted outside – so father told us kids to lift our feet upstairs. My father now felt more easy and happy.
He had a little hideout at the top of the garden to shoot his pigeons. Another year had elapsed, when my father made another survey of the old cottage. He felt very depressed, and told the landlord the house was still falling, and to save it, a large brick pier was built to hold it up.
Bashford Cottage was split into two dwellings and extended. It is now called Bakehouse Cottage and Spider Cottage (to the right). The iron bars and the brick pier are still there - so despite Fred's father's worries, it still stands over 100 years later!
In 1912 we moved to Chipstead village. We were all very sorry to leave the old house – we were all very happy there. My poor mother cried to have to leave it, and my sisters are too frightened to go near it again. I myself paid a visit to the old cottage about 1963, and found that the brick pier had split and the old cottage had gone back into its old foundation.
Here is Fred leaning over the front gate of his new home in Starrock Road, opposite Vincent Green in Chipstead, c1913.
Vincent Green in 2007
What a story of a cottage! I have not time now to tell you of an old cottage I lived in in Mugswell. There was a fire going for two whole weeks, but we could not find it. We found it just a few hours before the old cottage was due to collapse.
Our neighbours were an elderly couple. The old gentleman was poorly in bed. His wife went up to see how he was, and she saw him moving his arms at a skylight in the ceiling. His wife asked him why, and the old gentleman said he could see the angels. So, please readers, do not believe this to be false, as I myself hope – towards the end of my writing – to explain a most extraordinary pilgrimage abroad.
And now, (Mr Little again) he used to keep two pigs at the old cottage and have them killed just before Christmas. We helped my father to deliver the pork around Chipstead village, and we kids soon found out that he had some good customers too.
We went one night to deliver some pork to Mr Shurman, who ran the blacksmith’s shop. Of course, we kids used to have to wait out in the road! Our dad was always greeted with the words “Come in, Bill!” We kids got a bit frightened when the old owls in the surrounding woods started up, some screeching and ‘hoo-hooking’, and then there was a horse and cart went rumbling by, the cart wheels with the old iron rims. So with the mixture of owls’ music and the noise from the old cart wheels, we continually chanted all together: “Come on, dad!” We were relieved when Mr Shurman said “Good night, Bill!” Anyway, dad owned up about his long stay – dandelion wine!
Another night we were delivering pork to Elmore Cottages, by the pond, to Mr Tranter. It was a cloudy night, and we guessed dad would stay a little while and have a drink with Mr Tranter as they were great friends. We kids were getting bored with waiting, and we were tired, having walked from Southern’s Farm. All of a sudden, the moon started to brighten. Looking out over the pond, we saw a woman’s body floating on the water. We kids nearly choked with fright; we all screamed and screamed. Dad hurried out, and we told him there was a woman in the pond. He had a hard job to convince us it was a dressmaker’s dummy floating on the pond! I cannot remember ever again delivering pork!
Elmore Pond with Elmore Cottages, Chipstead, in 2006
The kids of the village found plenty of amusement the whole week through. There were the old gas balloons with the basket for the crew – and did the kids get excited when they saw a balloon over their heads! The ropes used to get lower and lower and we used to think it was coming down. We were under the impression that they lowered the rope for anyone to help pull the balloon down, but by the time we had followed over two or three fields and still could not get hold of the rope, we gave up.
Children came from all quarters on foot to Chipstead School – some from Mugswell and some from Upper Gatton and Lower Gatton being the longest distances. One could easily tell the girls who came from a farm – they would come to school with their hair gaily decorated with ‘horse ribbons’. There were some boys who came from Lower Gatton farm; they would come to school with their pockets laden with locust beans from the cattle troughs. There was one not very nice teacher, so she was always the target for the pips from the locust beans.
The former Chipstead School in High Road. Now converted into individual dwellings
Mr Underwood quite often had an inspection of the cleanest shoes at the school. Of course, it was always won by the three Mills boys who lived only 25 yards from the school. But there was another well-respected family who lived at the thatched house at Priors Field. There were six lads by the name of Flack; those lads were all in the choir at church.
Mr. Underwood, headmaster of Chipstead school
In those days the rifle range was in the meadow joining the school playground, surrounded by railway sleepers. The kids in the playground used to get excited when the village nurse used to hurry through to get a confinement case from the gypsies in the old chalk quarries in Chipstead, down Mark Edge Lane.
There are still quite a few chalk quarries in Chipstead, and some were worked as late as the First World War. And from that time, several stone or flint quarries were started. One particular stone quarry was started in the valley just below the old rectory near Parsons Green. The owner told me it was a valuable concern. But as far back as 1902, it was nice to watch casual labourers stone-picking on the fields for 6d a yard. (Six old pence). The council was a ready market for them. It must have been an expensive job in those days, for the stones had to be broken – flints, they were then. These flints were spread along the road to be made up, then covered with about four inches of soil, then covered with water and rolled.
The roads then got very dusty during the dry summer, and you used to see some fun after a car had passed over – the dust used to lift and form a very large cloud, and then travel in the air. It was very amusing to see one of these clouds travel high, and then settle into a field. Most of the roads through Chipstead have a foundation of flints.
We had glorious summers in those years gone by, and Mr Crocks used to bring his Scout troop to Chipstead for the summer holidays and camp in the fields near Hoggs Cross. Quite often a young priest used to camp with them, but in 1912 he was chopping wood for the Scout fire when he badly cut his foot. The wound soon after turned to blood poisoning, and that young priest died. His last wish was to be laid to rest in the church cemetery. Upon his stone is inscribed: ‘Rev Edgehill. He laid down his life for his friends.’ He is resting on the south-west side of the church.
A few years later, Chipstead church was set on fire by the suffragettes, but fortunately, shortly after, a man and his wife were cycling by and saw the fire and put it out. They had soaked the mats with some inflammable liquid and put them in the church. The lady and gentleman who extinguished the fire came from Redhill.
Chipstead church was always so beautiful, those years ago. I have a lovely sweet memory of that little church. There were two very nice gentlemen as sidesmen; it was most cheerful to see them together. They were identical; they always dressed very much alike and they always had an identical buttonhole of flowers. They were two charming gentlemen; Sir Alfred Tritton from Reeves Rest, and Mr Goad from The Lodge, Chipstead.
St. Margaret's Church on Church Green, Chipstead, 2007
Just before Mr Goad resided in Chipstead, The Lodge, as it is known, was the first village smithy. The late Capt. Horne showed me a photograph of it as a smithy and since, the late Mr Peter Wood chatted to me about it. He said he knew the smithy well when he was younger, therefore this must be correct as I have seen the photo of it.
I well knew the Adams family who lived at The White Hart from 1905. A relative of theirs lived at The White Cottage, opposite Dene farm; a very nice gentleman, he often read the lesson in church.
Indeed, from the turn of the century, Chipstead village was a most pleasant and peaceful spot. During my early days in Chipstead, the rector was a Rev J Hervey, a very charming gentleman. He was just like a shepherd – every day with his flock. You could rarely find him at his own home. He travelled the whole length of the village daily, visiting the sick and needy. He would set off from the rectory with his pockets laden with bottles of Bovril for the sick. On leaving a home he would say: “I will come again.”
Rev. James Hervey, Rector of St. Margaret's, 1902 - 13.
The rector’s wife, too, was a wonderful lady. She would set off in a little cart drawn by a Shetland pony with her two dogs Caffa and Rich, to take for a ride some of the aged and infirm ladies. Both the rector and his wife attended to the village needs with great love and devotion. I will always say of them “they were the glory of their time.” The whole village was grieved when Rev Hervey had to retire in middle age through ill health. They both retired to live at Felixstowe, and it was very sad when we heard of the death of Mrs Hervey a few years later. I chatted with Mr Hervey just a few years before he died at 94.
The Rev Stone took over the rectory and church, but after only a few years the Rev Stone had suddenly passed away. I can remember when the Rev Hervey gave a beautiful garden party every year, and the children were very thrilled when, as darkness came, Mr Hervey sent off some gas balloons with a lighted candle attached in a paper cradle. We saw them sailing at great heights, then after reaching a few miles, there was an explosion and a flash. I believe the strange lights seen in the sky in recent years are very similar.
Rev. W H Stone, Rector of St. Margaret's Chipstead 1913 - 1920
It was a very warming effect for the children when the beautiful Church Army caravan travelled around the village, and quite often services were held on Parsons Green.
Fred's story continues in Part 2