WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO BE A BOY OR GIRL LIVING IN SEDLESCOMBE PARISH IN THE YEAR 1900?
Following is the text of a talk given to children at Sedlescombe School by Pauline Raymond in July 2000
This afternoon, I thought we would try to imagine what it was like to be a boy or girl living in Sedlescombe a hundred years ago. So the year is 1900. You are curled up snug in your bed and can hear the wind blowing outside. You have just woken up. You know it is time to get up because you have heard the clock downstairs strike one two three four five six seven. You slip out of bed onto the cold lino and feel your way downstairs. It’s 1900 and there are no lights to switch on. As it’s winter it is still dark but your Mum is down already coaxing the fire in the range to light. The first thing you do when you get up is go into the bathroom. But this is 1900 and there isn’t a bathroom in your house. So you go to the back door, open it and go out into the garden with your Mum calling to you to put on your coat as it’s raining. But you dash down the garden path to the bottom of the garden. Here is what was called an earth closet. A small shed with bucket and seat where earth is put over whatever you do in the bucket. My it’s cold this morning in this little shed so you are as quick as you can be using the newspaper hanging from a nail on the back of the door. Back indoors the range is now alight and the big black kettle is sitting on top. When it boils Mum will make some tea and you will have some porridge for breakfast as it’s cold.
You will probably have several brothers and sisters. Who has ten or more brothers and sisters? Eight or more?.......If you were ten or eleven in 1900, you could have five younger brothers and sisters and five older ones. The youngest a baby while the oldest is quite grown up. It was not unusual for a woman to have a baby every 18 months or 2 years from her early twenties until she was about 45.
What were the houses like in Sedlescombe in 1900? First of all there were not near so many as there are today. Nearly all the houses around the Village Green were there as they are today but none of the estates off of
Brede Lane. No Park Shaw, Streetlands,
, Gorselands, Blacklands, East View Terrace. Some of the older houses in the Street are very old. The Old Thatch is one of the oldest built in about 1420 - nearly 600 hundred years old! This is one of the houses that looks similar to day but is in fact larger because in 1900 it was divided into two cottages and has now been knocked into one. [NB The Old Thatch suffered a disastrous fire in 2003 losing its roof and the upper floor. It has been skilfully rebuilt.]
Some cottages have gone altogether. For example, there was a terrace of cottages on the right going up Church Hill and a couple of small homes on the left.
In the Village cottages, the ordinary people lived. Outside the main part of the Village, in the countryside, were several big houses where the well-off people lived, for example at Oaklands, Highfield, The Rectory and Great Sanders. These houses were very important for the life of the Village because they provided work for many people. Also in the countryside were farmhouses housing farmers and their families.
I am sure that if we could take a look inside the cottages, we would notice how different they are from today. In 1900, there was no electricity, no running water, no gas. So many items we take for granted today would not even have been heard of before electricity was available about 30 years later. Let’s think about the rooms in our 1900s child’s house. We’ve already said there is no bathroom. No shower, no bath, no bathroom sink, no toilet or water closet. Every drop of water had to be carried in. The kitchen would be very different from today. When Forge Cottages were sold in 1912, they had what was called “the scullery" fitted with a deep sink for washing dishes but no taps and a copper for boiling up white washing. People had wringers or mangles to wring out the washing to make it easier to dry. Cooking was done on a range, heated by wood or coal. There was no refrigerator, no freezer, no microwave, no toaster and none of the other pieces of equipment we have in our kitchens today. There was of course no central heating and people would have to chop sticks and bring in wood and coal for the fires. It was a perpetual job.
People would have linoleum on the floor. Big rolls of it were brought out to the Village Green, measured and cut off. Some people made rag rugs with any bits of old material or old clothing they could find, to make their homes more comfortable. It was often a bit of a squash as you can imagine with big families in small houses.
Water was a big problem and shortages were very common. In 1900 it was decided that a well would be dug in the middle of the Village Green to provide a water supply for people in the cottages around the Green. A pump was fitted so that the water could be brought to the surface easily and the shelter we call the Pumphouse was built over it. Very well used by practically the whole village from the Riverbridge upwards. In the summer there were problems with the supply sometimes and the handle of the pump would be chained up and then unchained for about one or two hours a day. There are springs all over the area and these were used to supplement the Village Pump. Houses had water butts to catch the water from the roofs and this was used for laundry and washing people. You can imagine that there was no such things as a daily bath or shower. It was quite a problem getting enough water once a week or even less frequently.
The village was very self-contained. There were grocers, the bakers, the drapers selling clothes, shoemakers where you could have boots, shoes and leggings made, a coal, coke and corn merchant, blacksmiths where you could have your horses shoed, locks or gates made, stoves and ranges repaired and any type of iron working carried out. The wheelwright and the smithy at the Bridge Garage would turn out complete farm wagons They did the whole thing and even sawed their planks by hand in a saw-pit. Have you been to the Weald and
at Singleton where there is one? One man standing on top with a long saw and the one underneath got all the sawdust. The children used to delight in going to watch them doing the wheels with the red-hot tyres, pouring water on them, cooling them down. There was a butcher, a dairy with 2 deliveries of milk a day - a man used to trundle them round on a barrow, with cans on hooks, and dish the milk out into your jug with a pint measure. You could buy food for cattle and poultry. Tools of all descriptions, wire netting and anything they didn’t have they would get in for you. There was also of course a Post office where stamps were postmarked “Sedlescombe".
All these shops and village businesses employed people from the village. Mostly it would be the men or women who were not married or whose husbands had died. Not many married women went out to work apart from casual work especially at hop-picking time. In 1900 many men were agricultural labourers. There used to be three main grades on a farm. There would be the “carters" who worked with the horses and the cowmen who looked after the cows and sorted out the milk and then the general farm labourer who could turn his hand to anything. He’d do ditching and hedging and haymaking and any other outside jobs. There was lots of farmland around the village where these men were employed. Most of the farms around the Village had some hop gardens. Mothers and their children would go together into the hop-fields in September and the school holidays used to fit in with this hop-picking. They would generally start 1 September and as soon as hop-picking started you wouldn’t see a child on the streets. Everybody was marched off with their mothers to the hops. It was a great thing because it enabled the women to earn a bit for winter clothes for the children. Not only did local people work in the hop-fields but families came down from
and lived in huts during hop-picking time. People also came out from
on horses and carts and early each morning the bells on the harness could be heard as they went through the Village on their way to work.
The big houses employed people too. They had their own builders, decorators, carpenters, gardeners, as well as butlers, footmen and general servants. Young girls would come to live in the big houses from places further afield and would be employed as kitchen maids or scullery maids. In 1900 the roads were not tarmaced. They were muddy in winter and dry and dusty in the summer. There were of course very few cars. Famous writer Rudyard Kipling came to Sedlescombe around 1900 and he had a locomobile steam carriage. Mr Gregory the baker had one of the earliest cars in Sedlescombe.
In 1900 the School was already about 150 years old. From the photos children seem to have been well-dressed but not in school uniform. Lace collars for the boys seem to have been popular. In 1900 from the School playground you could smell the aroma of baking bread as directly opposite was The Sedlescombe Bakery run by Mr Gregory. Gregory Walk was named after him as a later bakery was built where the estate now is. It was a very strict school and if you left an “i" or an “e" out in dictation, you would be punished by having to hold wooden dumb-bells up over your head for the whole of the playtime. If you let your hands slip the teacher would tap your knuckles with a ruler. If it was rainy the schoolmaster made the girls put brown paper round their legs to stop them getting rheumatism.