LIFE IN RUSPER
My parents moved from the Gardener’s Cottage, Ghyll Manor into 2 East Street, Rusper when my brother David arrived. It had no electricity. It had 3 rooms downstairs and three rooms upstairs with an outside privy and garden shed attached. When you entered the front door there was a small lobby with hanging space, and on turning left you had the stairs in front of you, with door on the left to the front room. This was a good-sized room with a window alcove and a fireplace. If you had turned right, you would have entered the living room which had a large Victorian mahogany table and a large sideboard with mirror above and doors below with shelves. An organ (harmonium) was also in the room. There was a fireplace with a coal oven that was never used. Opposite to the fireplace was the pantry or larder and above that hung a large photograph of my father’s mother. On the wall where the sideboard was, there was a cupboard (with door) under the stairs. On passing through the living room you entered a smaller (?scullery) equipped with an earthenware sink (and a cold water tap) beneath the window. On the other side was the cooking and heating apparatus, all fired by paraffin, an important part of which was the Primus stove – always liable to go up in flames if pumped too soon, before the vapouriser was hot enough. A door from this room led out onto a brick path and turning left led to the garden shed and the lavatory. This was the traditional wooden box with a hole in the top, a lavatory bucket underneath, and a door through which the lavatory bucket could be removed for emptying . This was done every day without fail, and the contents were deposited in a hole in the kitchen garden. At intervals, the hole was refilled with soil and another hole dug. The position of the previous hole was, in summer, indicated by a ring of tomato plants. We encountered the vehicle known as the “lavender cart” only once in Rusper. It was parked on the other side of the road (East Street) near the rear of the Pub. We never knew why, and Mum was disgusted by it.
Upstairs, the room above the front room had a double bed, and was used by visitors (an evacuee from a school where Aunt Nell lived and worked occupied it during the “Dunkirk” time). The room above the living room was Mum and Dad’s bedroom. The small room above the scullery was mainly used as David’s bedroom, though not always. My sleeping quarters were largely determined by whether or not I had, or was likely to have, croup. In those circumstances I slept in a cot or, later, in a small bed alongside my parents’ double bed, next to my mother’s side so that help would be readily available. My trouble was never called “croup” – it was called “asthma”. I was under the care of Dr.Owen in Horsham but that must have stopped early in life, for I never remember seeing her but I remember taking the medicine prescribed by her. I never realised how serious it was until Stephen started to produce the characteristic signs of pharyngeal/laryngeal obstruction as a small boy. David’s small bedroom had another function – it was to that room that I was sent if I had done something meriting isolation. It worked until I was able to read some of the books in his room. Eventually it became my bedroom and David slept in the big front bedroom.
The small front lawn outside the front room was bordered, I think, by shrubs. I especially remember the fuchsias and in much later years Dad and I enjoyed fuchsias together. The brick path up from the front gate had several steps in it and one of the worst chores for me was weeding the bricks with an old kitchen knife. I loathed it. On the other side of the garden there was, near the hedge, a grassed area with three large apple trees. In this shady part I made a small moss garden, which I loved. Above the apple trees was the vegetable garden, divided into 2 parts by a path which led from our house to the next door neighbour’s garden The Jupps were a major part of my early life. Mr. Jupp was a farm hand, always in breeches and gaiters and smelling of pigs. He had a pig sty and run in his garden and Mum explained, in later life, about the butchering of the pig. Mrs Jupp was one of our best friends – a large very friendly, motherly soul. Her maiden name was, unbelievably, Hogsflesh! Members of her family, including the children, used to come for a holiday in the summer to stay with the Jupps. We got on very well with them. Mrs Jupp was very important to us in another way. They took The Daily Express (we took The Daily Chronicle, a Liberal paper) and every day there was an episode in it of a Rupert Bear story. Mrs Jupp used to cut it out the next day and we would go and collect it. The cut-outs were stuck in a large red-covered book and much treasured. On Wednesdays the Rupert piece was always on the opposite side to the Football Pools coupon that was kept by Mr. Jupp. We couldn’t collect that part until Mr. Jupp knew whether or no he had won (I never remember him winning). When Mrs Jupp’s family came to stay for a week in the summer holidays, we and they were inseparable until tea-time. I think there were 2 girls, of roughly the ages of David and me.
On the other side of the path to the Jupps was the kitchen garden, where the soil was enriched by our lavatory bucket. On the other side of this kitchen garden was the chicken house and its wire netting run. This was Mum’s pride and joy. We were always on the look-out for rats, and all culinary tit-bits were taken up to the chicken. We always had a cockerel “to keep the hens in order” and, mysteriously, it was necessary for the production of fertile eggs. Mum reared her own chicks and I loved that part of life. On the other side of the chicken run was a fairly low wooden fence which separated our garden from a conifer plantation (young spruces). At the opposite corner, bordering the next door garden (the Burts) was a large tree (Hawthorn, I think) and by climbing up the wood stacked against it for firewood, you could jump over into the spruce plantation, and from there you could go all along the backs of the other gardens or through it into a field called the Park (of which more later!). The only bath we possessed was a hip-bath in which you could sit (not lie down). It had “ears” to put the soap on. This was used by us all. Unfortunately it was used as a shelter by one or more tom cats, so it always smelled of “tom cat” urine From the top of the wood stack you had a good view over the Burt’s garden.
When Mum and Dad first moved in to No2 East Street, the other half of the building (No 1) was lived in by the Prentice family. Mr Prentice and two sons were in charge of the dairy farm at Ghyll Manor (the Wintergreen herd of Guernseys which had a “bovine palace” up the road.) All milked by hand, of course. While the Prentice family were our neighbours we had a continual problem of cockroaches. In the living room, Mum used to put down a “trap” every night (the washing-up bowl, with vegetable material in it, especially onions, and also sticks that could be climbed up by the cockroaches. After they dropped into the bowl to feed, they couldn’t climb out again. In the morning they were taken out and fed to the chicken. It became clear that they entered our house via the cupboard under the stairs (there was an adjacent cupboard next door). Mrs Burt was a very good housewife and she soon put paid to the cockroaches after the Burts moved in. This cupboard under the stairs was very important to us for a different reason. In the summer Mum used to make a patent non-alcoholic beverage which was bottled with proper tight-fitting stoppers and the bottles were stored in this cupboard. I never remember one exploding, but the beverage did get very fizzy. Before it was bottled, it was made up in a large earthenware cylinder with an earthenware lid and a brass tap at the bottom. This, when filled, was put out on the top of the old well outside the scullery window. This well was a relic of the days before the house had mains water. Reg and Bert could remember when the well was in frequent use.
If you climbed the wood stack round the big hawthorn(?) tree and jumped over the wooden fence, you were in a plantation of small conifers (? Spruce) about 15-20’ across, which ran for some distance behind the gardens of the houses in East Street. I spent quite a lot of time here, crouching under the low branches and running along to see what was going on in the other gardens. I also played at being a Stone Age man. If you went through this belt of conifers, you entered The Park which stretched away from the village down to Ventors (a big house). In the Park was a pond which had been made when the Ghyll Manor gardens were laid out, to give a source of water for the gardens. A pump with a windmill had been erected and you could climb for quite a distance up the windmill. The pond contained a lot of fish (we thought they were Roach, but Bert said they were Rudd). We never progressed beyond a stick, string and a bent pin with bread paste as bait, but we enjoyed swinging the unfortunate fish high over our heads to land on the steeply sloping side of the pond above us. I can’t remember if we had a float – we probably did, for we used to catch fish easily. I have happy memories of ferreting in the lower parts of the Park with Dad on Saturday mornings. In summer the Park was cut for hay. All hands were called for this, and I remember Dad swinging up the pitchfork to the wagon (pulled by horses). I distinctly remember the arrival of the first tractor at Ghyll Manor, but all haymaking and harvesting was done with horses and cart; riding in the empty cart was always a great thrill to me. I can also remember horses being used to pull tree trunks out of the woods around Rusper after felling.
Even before they moved to No.1 East Street the Burt family were great friends of ours. Geoffrey was David’s age and Audrey was my age. Michael was younger, a bit of a trial, liable to lag behind and cry on a long walk. Together we roamed over the fields and woods around Rusper. Before the Burts moved to No.1, they had lived in the last house down East Street and we used to go there on Saturday mornings to play in the garden. Also, we used to gather round the open of their house on Saturday mornings to listen to “Coco Cubs”, a children’s programme which included advertisements for Cadburys chocolate (for years I was quite persuaded that Cadbury’s was much better than Fry’s chocolate (not that we had much of either!) Mrs Burt was a pillar of the Church . The family organised a special memorial to her memory which is now in the Church. For many years she played a major role in cleaning the Church.
Another connection to the Burt family was that Audrey and I were selected to perform a small musical event at a performance given in the Village Hall (I can’t remember what it was all about). We performed a song – “Where are you going to my pretty maid?. . . . I’m going a milking Sir she said, Sir she said, I’m going a milking Sir she said” with the inevitable ending “Then I’ll not marry you my pretty maid” (repeated) “Nobody asked you Sir she said”. My first appearance in an opera! All done in fancy dress and, I’m sure, loudly applauded by parents and well-wishers! We still have photographs of us together, as has Audrey also! David and Geoffrey were in some great pageant at this event, which suggests it might have been an “Empire Day” performance.
Between the top of East Street and Ghyll Manor were some interesting buildings. First and foremost was Forest Stores run by Mr. DeBow (or was it DeBeau?) The shop supplied everyone in the village with their daily needs. It had a large concreted area fronting on to the street, with a row of pollarded trees. It had, I think, two rooms and a part that was guarded by a stern iron grid behind which the post mistress surveyed children with considerable severity and mistrust. The graceless son of the shop keeper, Kenny DeBow, was a recognised bully who once tied my wrists with a great iron chain and was to be avoided at all costs. Next to the shop was the Bakery, run by a baker whose clothes were always white with flour. He worked in the traditional way, with traditional tools, at a traditional baker’s oven. He produced delectable scones and we always bought Coberg loaves. These had a cross on the top dividing it into 4 large low “cones” of bread. On a Saturday morning, when we brought back the warm loaf, Mum would pull off 2 of these prominences, plaster them with butter (Guernsey of course!) and give them to David and me – a great treat! The shop also sold sweets but I don’t think I ever tasted them. I was supposed to have “asthma” (really croup) – no sweets allowed.
Next to the bakehouse was a run-down cottage lived in by “Old Alice”. She was rarely seen, very old, and very easily irritated by children (and much feared by them. She was said to have many cats. We sometimes climbed trees at the back of her garden to try to catch a glimpse of her. She was said to be able to poke you out of the tree with the clothes prop but I never heard of an actual occurrence of this terrible ordeal.