The Wells Family of Imberhorne
The Wells family was associated with the Blount owned estate of Imberhorne for over sixty years. This document, based on the documented memories of several members of the family, charts the history of the family, the arrival of the Wells at Imberhorne, the occupations held by various members of the family, some of the properties in which they lived and, in particular, the lives of Frank and Lucy Wells based on their own memoirs.
The History of the Wells Family
A branch of the Wells family moved to the Felbridge/East Grinstead area in the 1890s when Edward Wells took up the position of head Gamekeeper on the Blounts Imberhorne estate. This branch of Wells descends from Job Wells who was born about 1792 in Slaugham, Sussex, the son of Job Wells, although nothing more is known about Job senior.
Job Wells (son of Job) married Jane Dancy, the daughter of Thomas and Ann Dancy, who had been born about 1800 in Charlwood, Surrey. Job and Jane had at least seven children; Eliza born about 1820 but who died in 1830, William who was born about 1823, Elizabeth who was born about 1825 and who sadly died the same year, Jane born about 1826, Emma born about 1829, Mary Anne who was born in 1832 but who had sadly died by 1835, and Sarah born about 1835. All the children were born in Charlwood implying that Job and Jane had settled there after their marriage.
Job Wells worked on the land and in 1841 was recorded as a farmer at Lowfield Heath, Charlwood, and in 1851 he was recorded as an agricultural labourer of Charlwood. The family must have been of limited means as in 1851 Jane too was working, as a general servant. Job died in the spring of 1860 and Jane continued to work, her last census entry being recorded in 1871 when she was living with and working as a general servant for the Dinsworth family of Govers Road, Reigate.
Of the surviving children, it is known that Emma trained as a dressmaker and was living with her mother until at least 1861 and it is through William that the Wells family name continued.
William Wells, like his father, also worked on the land and married Jane Nightingale in Charlwood on 21st October 1843. Jane was the daughter of William Nightingale and his wife Ann née Horley, and had been born in Charlwood in September 1825. After their marriage, William and Jane settled in Charlwood where they had had at least seven children before moving, by 1865, to Turners Hill where they had at least a further five children. Their twelve children include; Mary born about 1846, William born about 1848, George born in 1850, Thomas born about 1854, James born about 1856, Louisa born about 1858, Robert born about 1860, Rose born in 1863, Jane born in 1865, Emily born in 1866, John born in 1868, and Sarah born in 1872.
In 1851 William was working as an agricultural labourer at Page Wood in Charlwood, progressing to the position of carter at Larkins Farm in Charlwood by 1861. Sometime between 1863 and 1865 William had moved to the Turners Hill area working as a labourer. However, by 1866 William was employed as Farm Bailiff at Fen Place in Turners Hill. By 1872 William, still working as a Bailiff, was living at Rheedings (Reedings) Farm situated on the south side of the road leading from Turners Hill to East Grinstead, just before the entrance to Fen Place. William was to remain at Rheedings Farm until his death in March 1895, having out-lived his wife Jane who died in May 1893, both being buried at All Saints Church in Crawley Down.
Little is known about many of their children but any information found follows below, and it is through second son and third child, George, that the Wells family of Imberhorne descend (for further information see below).
Children of William and Jane Wells:
William, their first son and second child, was still living at home in 1861 and was working as a carters boy, presumably with his father who was the carter at Larkins Farm. However, in 1870 William married Mary Ann Hamilton in the Croydon area and they had at least, six children, Jane born in 1870, William born in 1872, Charles born in 1873, Kate born in 1874, Caroline born in 1875 and Mary born in 1877. By 1872, William and his family were living at 5, East Grinstead Road, Turners Hill, William working as a gardener and in 1875 William was recorded as a gardener of Fen Place, Turners Hill.
Rose, third daughter and ninth child, never married and died in 1895 being buried on 4th February 1895 at All Saints Church, Crawley Down.
Jane, fourth daughter and tenth child, married Simeon Shaw, the son of William Shaw, on 21st May 1889 at All Saints Church, Crawley Down. Simeon was born in 1862 and at the time of their marriage was a sign writer living in Reigate.
John, sixth son and eleventh child, was still living at home with his parent in 1891, working as a farm servant. John married Rose Anna Smith, the daughter of Alfred Smith, on the 13th November 1894 at All Saints Church, Crawley Down. Rose was born in 1870 and at the time of their marriage John was recorded as a farmer.
As established above, George was born in the spring of 1850 in Charlwood. In 1871 George was living at 10, East Grinstead Road, Turners Hill, working as an assistant Gamekeeper, having married Philadelphia Creasey at All Saints Church, Crawley Down on 3rd April 1870. Philadelphia was the daughter of Edward Creasey and his wife Philadelpia née Starley, and had been born on 31st January 1852 in Worth. Edward Creasey was a farmer and at the time of his daughters birth was living at Little Walnut Tree Cottage, in Crawley Down.
George and Philadelphia Wells spent all their married life in the Turners Hill area and had at least nine children; George born about 1871, Edward born about 1873, Robert born about 1875, Elizabeth born about 1877, Oliver born about 1879, Rose born in 1880, Henry born about 1883, James born in 1886 and Helen born about 1889.
By 1881 George had been promoted to the position of Gamekeeper and was living with his family at Memorial Cottage, Turners Hill, before moving to Rose Cottages, Turners Hill, by 1891 and Rheedings Farm by 1901, where his father had been living.
George and Philadelphia Wells children:
George, the first son and child, left the land and in 1891, although still living with his parents, was working in the building trade. Two years later he married Kathryn Eliza Rice in 1893 and set up home at 9, East Street, Turners Hill. George and Kathryn had at least six children, Dorothy born in 1894, Oliver born in 1895, Winifred born in 1900, George born in 1903, Cyril R born in 1911 and Constance M born in 1915.
In 1891 the census records that George Wells was a Builders Foreman and Partner in a Brick Works. However, from information from Crossroads Village, a book about Turners Hill, George started a Builders Firm in partnership with Mr Pickard. From small beginning, they had taken a shop in North Street, now Albion House, by the 1920s from where they set up an office and small shop selling nails and other builders items. The article states that around 1925 George acquired two local clay pits, one at Grange Road in Crawley Down and the other, just down the road at Rowfant. Steam powered machines were installed at both sites and brick making took place on a large scale, employing up to fifty men at each site. However, from the census records of 1891 it would appear that Georges involvement with brick-making began slightly earlier than 1925. Also, around 1923, George acquired the Stone Quarry at Selsfield, at the back of Selfield House, which enabled him to build not only in brick but also in stone.
Having moved from East Street sometime around 1926, George Wells and his family resided at The Hollies in Lion Lane, Turners Hill, where a sign proudly proclaimed George Wells. Builder. George and his family lived there until he built a new house, which they called The Nook, on the road leading from Turners Hill to Crawley Down. Other building work completed by George Wells in and around the Turners Hill area includes, the War Memorial Tower at St Leonards Church and Newstone Cottages on East Street.
George Wells died in 1939 just before the Second World War when many of the workers had to join the Forces. Georges son George kept the business going, being succeeded by his two sons, Vic and Tony Wells until the 1970s when the company finally ceased trading.
Edward, the second son and child, followed in his fathers footsteps, becoming Head Gamekeeper and eventually Bailiff at Imberhorne Farm (for further information see below).
Robert, the third son and child, began his working life as a gardener living with his parents until around 1894 when he married Alice Ann Jones in Whitchurch, Cheshire. Alice had been born in Wronburg, Cheshire, in about 1871. It is not known how Robert met Alice but they began their married life in Whitchurch, Salop, Cheshire, where they had two children, Hubert born about 1895 and William born about 1900. However, by 1901 Robert had changed occupations and was working as a Gamekeeper, like his father, and the family were living at Gamekeepers House, Over Kellet in Lancashire.
Oliver, the fourth son and fifth child, followed his brother George into the building trade and in 1891 and 1901 was living with his parents and working as a bricklayers labourer.
Henry, the fifth son and seventh child, followed in his fathers footsteps and in 1891 and 1901 was living with his parents and working as a Gamekeeper along side his father. In 1907 Henry married Alice Roselie C Heasman, known as Rose, and by the 1911 census they were living in Turners Hill, Henry recorded as a carpenter. Henry and Rose had at least three children; Norah May born in 1909, Genevieve J born in 1911 and Daphne E born in 1914.
James, the sixth son and eighth child, also followed in his fathers and three of his brothers footsteps. In 1891 and 1901 James was living with his parents at Rheedings Farm and working as a Gamekeepers Boy alongside his father and brother Henry. By 1911 James had left home and was working as a Gamekeeper, under his brother Edward on the Blounts Imberhorne estate. In the spring of 1911 James married Florence Brand and they settled at Tilkhurst Park in one of the tied cottages that by this date formed part of the Blounts Imberhorne estate. James and Florence had at least three children; Reginald born in 1912, Frederick born in 1917 and William born in 1921.
James remained at Tilkhurst Park until his death in 1970 aged eighty-four, being buried at St Johns Church, Felbridge, on 10th December 1970. Florence also continued living at Tilkhurst Park until her death in 1979 aged ninety, being buried at St Johns Church on 27th April 1979.
As established above, Edward Wells was born in the spring of 1873 and was the first member of the Wells family to have associations with the Blounts Imberhorne estate when he took the position of Gamekeeper there sometime around the spring of 1897, when he married Amy Ellen Woods in Warwick, but gave his home address as Tilkhurst Farmhouse.
It is known that Edward Wells met Amy Woods when she was working as maid for Lady Blount at Imberhorne Manor, although Edwards whereabouts have not yet been established for the period between the census record of 1891, when he was living with his parents at Rheedings Farm, and 1897 when he gave his address as Tilkhurst Farmhouse (part of the Blounts Imberhorne estate) at the time of his marriage. However, the earliest date that Edward Wells could have been employed on the Blounts Imberhorne estate was in the winter of 1896 after Sir Edward Blount had purchased Tilkhurst from William Ramsden Price on 13th October 1896 (for further information see Handout, Harts Hall, SJC 07/05).
Amy Woods had been born in Leamington, Warwickshire, in about 1873, the daughter of Thomas and Jane Woods. Thomas Bernard Woods was a carpenter by trade and besides Amy, he and Jane had at least six other children including; Agnes born about 1860, Frank born about 1865, Frederick born about 1867, Felix born about 1870, Elizabeth (known as Eliza) born about 1875 and Ada born about 1878. In 1871 the Woods family were living at New Street Cottages, Leamington, before moving to 6, White Street, Leamington, by 1881. In 1881 Thomas Woods was out of work and family legend says that he once walked from Leamington to Wolverhampton to find work. Unfortunately by 1891 Thomas Woods had died, leaving Jane and three of their children living at 9, Warneford Place, Leamington, from where Felix was working as a cellar-man and Eliza as a mantle or dress maker, with Ada still at school. Perhaps it was due to family circumstance that by 1891 Amy Woods was in service, working as a housemaid in the Ashton-Case household at Beckford Hall in Gloucester. Henry Ashton-Case, a staunch Catholic like the Blounts, had purchased Beckford Hall in 1883 on his retirement from the military and settled there with his wife Mary Louise née Southey, with whom he had six daughters before her death in December 1888. Henry later married Marys sister Alice. Also like Sir Edward Blount, one of Henry Ashton-Cases passions was shooting.
Edward and Amy Wells began their married life in one room of Tilkhurst Farmhouse whilst waiting for a new cottage to be built for them. Their first child, Francis Edward (known as Frank) was born at Tilkhurst Farmhouse on 3rd November 1897 and was to follow in his fathers footsteps on the Blounts Imberhorne estate (for further information see below). A description of the early family life of the Wells at Tilkhurst Farmhouse was related by Frank in his memoirs, The Life of Frank Wells (in his own words), in which he wrote:
I was born, I was told, with great difficulty, reluctant to enter this world and a 14th century farmhouse in a wilderness, hidden by conifers and undergrowth on three sides and a six-acre field on the other to admire. It boasted a well with all the necessary headgear, a rope fastened to a roller and handle with which to lower and haul. A pathway led through the conifers to the toilet with a fixed door to it to foil nosey parkers. The house had at one time sheltered cattle, not altogether for their comfort but to keep the tenants warm with their breath and bodies, but had fairly recently been bricked and tiled to enable a stockman and his family to live in comfort. My father [Edward Wells], who had taken the Head Keepers job on the 1000-acre estate of Imberhorne, was offered a room here until a house was built for him.
Our nearest neighbour lived three fields away, about a mile. Their house had the same facilities as ours only the well had no headgear, just a rope and bucket, which you lowered and hauled up hand over hand, and if you were lucky you might have half a bucket full. The house also had a ladder attached to the wall which enabled you get to the bedrooms. The toilet too wasnt as modern as ours, it had only draped curtain for a door and exposed to the wind, but we had neighbours. A thousand acres is a lot of ground and my father spent more time at work than at home, so my mother had no dull moments keeping the house up to date, weeding the kitchen garden, where the dandelions which grew profusely aided by its warmth and moisture when it rained. There was also a great deal of wood to chop for the fire, as the coalman wouldnt come with his horse and truck unloaded, never mind a ton of coal. There was drawing water and baking bread in a large outdoor oven, which needed skill and energy, and she had both. Then there were candlesticks to fill and wicks to trim before my father arrived home for a meal. The time of his arrival was always unpredictable and my mother had a job keeping his meal hot as we had no indoor oven and all meals had to be stews or fried, but he always enjoyed them. When they were over he would light his pipe while my mother made their cocoa, and then they would talk over the days events and their next days pass times, of which there were many. Then there was me to feed and wash and put to bed, while they continued their conversation, as they had no paper to read, even if they could have seen by the flickering candle, as it was always a bit drafty. Also, if they wanted one it was four miles there and back to fetch one, so they just talked, and when there was no more to talk about my father would see the door was safely bolted against burglars and go to bed, a smashing day.
My mother would be up early the next morning to light a fire, boil a kettle and make some tea, put three or four eggs in the frying pan and the same number of rashers, cut some sandwiches for his lunch and wave him off for the day. The next thing was me, wash, dress and feed, get the go-cart out put me in and drag it out to the green patch by the sand pit and leave me to talk to the moorhens and squirrels, and for a change, watch the cows in the six acre field, it was fun. We werent worried by a lot of trades people; they didnt want to know where Tilkhurst Farm was. If it rained you needed waders on, but it an ideal spot for a peaceful holiday. I would pass the morning away feeding my biscuits to the squirrels and moorhens, it passed the time away. Talking to them I learnt their language before I did my own. I knew when they were scared by their cries and the volume, we were great pals. My two years at the farmhouse was my unintentional knowledge of my future life.
My mother was preparing for my future brother, or sister, and wondering how she was going to drag the go-cart with two of us up that half a mile of mud, when my father came home and said Our new house is ready and we have got to move. A day or two later a horse and farm wagon arrived at the house and what little bits and pieces we had was soon loaded on to the wagon and we were off, having said good-bye to my moorhens and squirrels. The wagon made it through the mud and across the field and there it stood, a brand new house. We walked through a gate, my mother stood and looked and cried with joy. We walked through the gate and up to the front door, which had two steps to go up. I fell down them and walked round the path to the back door; that also had two steps. We opened the door and there was what my mother called the scullery. On our left was a door, my mother opened it, Oh! What a lovely walk-in larder, she said, and look at the sink with a tap. She turned it on and it worked, she was in heaven. Into the living room, which had two steps to go up, and in front of us was a lovely range with an oven. Looking out of the window was a huge garden, it wasnt dug up but my father would soon do that when he came home from work. We went through another door into the sitting room and the view was wonderful looking onto a 27-acre park. We then went upstairs, the door on our right was a large bedroom with the same view as the sitting room, and the door on the left led to two more bedrooms. My mother said she could stand no more; it was all too good to be true. She lit a fire and made the carter a cup of tea and gave him three pence for all his trouble, said good-bye, and started to get my father's meal. So we were in, and commenced a new life, nearer to civilisation, the shops, and school when I had to go. The coal-man would come, and the baker, we had a proper loo with a flush, and a tap.
The new property was known as Tilkhurst Cottage (being later referred to as The House in the Park by Franks wife Lucy, see below) and it is here that Edward and Amy Wells completed their family with a further six children including; George Wilfred, born in late 1899, Mary Ethel born in the summer of 1902, Agnes Cecelia born in the summer of 1905, Amy Helen born in the summer of 1907, Gladys Genevieve born in the autumn of 1910 and Bernard Edward born in the autumn of 1912, and where the Wells family continued to live until May 1931 when Edward was appointed Bailiff and they moved to Imberhorne Farmhouse. All the children were brought up in the Catholic faith and attended Imberhorne School, the Blounts Catholic School (now known as St Peters) in Chapmans Lane.
Franks wife Lucy, writing about the Wells life at Tilkhurst Farmhouse and later Tilkhurst Cottage, states:
When she [Amy Wells] was first married my mother-in-law lived in a fifteenth-century farmhouse; and five yards from the kitchen door an apparently bottomless well supplied them with water. She was terrified of this well, fearing that she might be dragged down into its depths by Undine, the water-sprite . From here she trudged daily (until the children were old enough to go) across rough fields for her quota of milk from the dairy; and any surplus skim milk was sold for a halfpenny a canful or bumper pint to anyone who cared to fetch it .
What would the modern housewife have thought of the old Tilkhurst Farmhouse?... From what has been said it had earthen floors and walls made of plaster composed of straw, lime and cow-manure. There was no electricity installed there until 1946; before that the only lighting was from candles, unless the inhabitants were enterprising enough to invest in oil lamps, but most were too poor even for this. Piped water came to the Farm in 1947, but before it did there was the deep dark well ..
My mother-in-law had seven children and two mis-carriages; on washing day she was still at the sink finishing the weeks wash when the children returned from school; in winter she would be doing it by the light of a candle or oil lamp.
Lucy continues in Gather ye Rosebuds:
The house at Tilkhurst had been built specially for the head Gamekeeper and his wife [Edward and Amy Wells] who, in the course of time, were endowed with a large happy family. But the houses architect had never thought to provide a bathroom which would have been a boon and a blessing to the Gamekeepers wife who was Franks mother, and the children: Frank, Wilfred, Ethel, Agnes, Amy, Gladys, Bernie, who as they came along were each popped into the tin bath in front of the scullery fire at regular intervals and were soaked and scrubbed until they shone. There was no hot water on hand so Franks mother heated it in the copper and ladled it out when needed. It must have been hard work, but they never complained.
Of Amy Wells, Lucy writes in From the Beginning
From Tilkhurst Farm it was three miles to the shops. Franks mother would set out after tea thinking nothing of it and Mr Thomson, the grocer, stayed open till ten p.m. Afterwards she and her husband, went across to the White Lion and had a noggin of ale really living it up and tasting the fleshpots in a hunk of bread and cheese, then hey! For the road again.
In Lucys opinion, Amy Wells was a good cook whose Yorkshire puddings and bread were like gossamer, and who was renowned for her bread pudding. Finally Lucy writes of Amy in Sunshine and Showers:
Remembered for her many kindnesses. How often have I met her in the lane picking her way through its rubble, looking weary. She never complained; never too tired to walk to Benediction; that long, long way to church. Only once did she tell me that it would do me good to go oftener. It might at that. It must be wonderful to have that faith
At the start of Edwards career as Head Gamekeeper on the Blounts Imberhorne estate he had as his assistant George Elsey who was born in 1883 and who also boarding with the Wells family in 1901. As established above, Edwards brother James later joined the Blounts Imberhorne estate working as a Gamekeeper and living at Tilkhurst Park, and Edwards son Frank also began work an assistant keeper on leaving school in 1911. Frank writes in The life of Frank Wells (in his own words);
My wages, I thought, were not extortionate at three shillings a week, of which I gave my mother two, and put my one-shilling away each week for a rainy day. My father was glad, as it is a lot of work trying to teach a new boy, and I already knew just what there was to do, and quite capable of doing it, so I was off to a good start. February and March are probably the most lenient days a keeper has, consisting chiefly of vermin shooting, when a few useful shots are invited to take part, and they were all good shots. Nothing was allowed to get away and suffer. If they leave these vermin alone, they will swamp the countryside and eventually take to the town and dustbins like stray cats. The vermin bag usually consisted of jays and magpies, as grey squirrels were not in this country then, just the little friendly squirrel that did little or no harm.
We went through March with our vermin destroying, and whitewashing coops and sitting boxes ready for hatching time in the beginning of May. The penned pheasants were already beginning to lay, and each evening we would go and look in the nests we had made for them, bring the eggs home, and using the sitting room, lay the eggs carefully on the carpet and each evening roll the eggs over so that the yolks remained central. When we had enough eggs we put them under the hens, which had been put on their nests ready to receive them, giving them, according to their size, fifteen to twenty each. Then every morning wed take the hens off their nest and put them in coops with food and water, allow them twenty minutes, so that their eggs kept warm, and then replace them on the nests. This was repeated for twenty-four days, and then the eggs would be hatching. When the pheasant chicks were strong enough, in about an hour, they were taken to the rearing field, which would be all mine for a couple of months, to guard them against vermin. While my father and uncle were attending to the hatching pheasants, I would cook the food for them for the day, and the 7 a.m. food for the next morning. It consisted of 200 eggs to boil, fifteen pounds of rice, biscuit meal, mutton greaves and rice, and then I left it ready for them. Then Id run in and have my breakfast and out to the rearing fields until ten at night, go home, have supper, hit the pillow and fall fast asleep until five oclock the next morning. It probably sounds like slavery to the present day teenagers, but it was a pleasant life in the open air and never boring, nor was there waiting for the clock to reach knocking off time. The cooking and rearing continued until all the birds had been transferred to the woods and then the cooking was relaxed and there was a easier feed to prepare, but this got heavier daily to carry, round a mile or two of woods, twice a day and with lesser hours in which to do it as the days shortened. It really amounted to six months rearing, four months shooting and two months to do all your odd jobs and prepare to repeat the performance. The preparation for the next season was applied by all the keepers on surrounding estates, and often we joined up with one another to make a larger team of guns, and when you got a dozen Gamekeepers together there was very, very little missed.
The Wells family lived at Tilkhurst Cottage until 1931, Edward employed as the head Gamekeeper of which his daughter-in-law writes in From the Beginning .
Mr Ted Wells was the head Gamekeeper in control on the thousand acres at Imberhorne. He was regarded by every small boy intent on bird-nesting as the wicked ogre stalking the enchanted forest, and they fled in terror at his approach. It almost seemed that he knew every blade of grass and each growing thing on the estate, and anyone wanting a branch of a tree cut off met with instant refusal.
However, in 1931 Edward Wells was appointed Farm Bailiff at Imberhorne Farm on the death of the old Bailiff, Thomas Pentecost; the Wells family taking up residence at Imberhorne Farmhouse. It has been stated by several members of the Wells family that Edward was not a farmer, a Gamekeeper yes, but a farmer no. However, he had the respect of those he employed and it was considered by his daughter-in-law Lucy, that to be seen on the Farm he was the monarch of all he surveys; the distant fields with his flocks and herds Lucy also writes of Edward Wells in Sunshine and Showers: He resembled the countryman in my poem which had been written years ago:
I aint book-larned nor what youd call a studious sort ochap,
Theres lots oreally simple things youd beat me at mayhap;
An yet I tell you modest-like, Ive knowledge without end
I know the signs o Natures growth. Each bird an beasts my friend.
An every day I find that God has summat good to give;
I only say one prayer to Him: I thank Thee that I live!
For tho I aint religious mind, nor what youd call a saint
Im happy as the day is long an theres real good folk what aint.
An as I tramp up dale an down with Friend Dog at my heels
I feel Im Natures confidant theres nothing she conceals.
She tells me secrets of oftentimes in whispered sob an sigh,
Proclaims, maybe, some wondrous birth with soft, insistent cry.
Theres two strong hands been given me Im lean an brown mysel.
An think you, mate, as I can tell you aught but All is well?
The earth, as far as eye can see, is mine these beasts my court.
My throne is strong as any kings. An the proud old hills my fort.
Not knowing that I would ever meet him in the flesh there he was to the life. His knowledge of the countryside wasnt leaned from dusty volumes but from experience. Not every bird and beast was his friend though not vermin: a burst from his Purdy twelve-bore double-barrelled gun was his answer to some of the forces of Nature.
However, by 1945 Edward Wells was confined to Imberhorne Farmhouse with a thrombosis of his leg and died there in 1953, Amy having already pre-deceased him.
Edward and Amy Wells children:
Frank, their first born son and child, took over from his father as Head Gamekeeper in 1931 (for further information see below).
George Wilfred (known as Wilfred), their second son and child, died aged ninety-one in the Deben area of Suffolk in 1990.
Mary, their first daughter and third child, married Frank Robert Myson in the winter of 1923. Frank Myson had been born in 1900 in the Horsham area of Sussex and was a postman by occupation. Mary, Frank and their son John lived at East Lodge situated at the top of Heathcote Drive, which at the time was a continuation of Chapmans Lane (the Imberhorne housing estate having not yet been constructed). However, after the deaths of Sir Edward Blount and his wife in 1953 [for further information see Handout, The Blounts of Imberhorne, JGS/SJC 01/06] the Imberhorne estate was put up for auction and the Myson family were obliged to vacate their estate property, moving to 14, North End, Felbridge, East Grinstead, where Mary and Frank lived out their days.
Agnes, their second daughter and fourth child, moved away from the area and married Raymond W Eveleigh in 1931 in the Bridport registration district of Dorset.
Amy, their third daughter and fifth child, went into service, eventually marrying Edward David Brayshaw in 1935 in the Kensington registration district. Amy and Edward had at least one child, David born in the spring of 1937 in the Newton Abbot registration district, Devon. In 1945 Amy moved back to the area living in one of the Imberhorne Farm Cottages, being employed as cook at Imberhorne, the Blounts Catholic School where she stayed for twenty-five years. In her book, From the Beginning . written in 1983, Amys sister-in-law Lucy (Franks wife) recalls that Amy lived in her cottage for over forty years and was quite content to stay there until her death, and in her previous book Sunshine and Showers she refers to Amys gentle and sentimental nature stating that she was silly over animals to the extent that she had often cried buckets to see them punished for disobeying an order and that she had never come to terms with the Gamekeepers way of life.
Gladys, their fourth daughter and sixth child, also produced a few recollections and childhood memories of Imberhorne School. Gladys recalls that:
All the Wells children attended the school known as Imberhorne Roman Catholic School, it did not change its name to St Peters Primary School until after Imberhorne Secondary School was built circa 1960. Whilst at St Peters [Imberhorne Roman Catholic School] I remember appearing in two plays at the Whitehall, The Three Bears, and Snow White, playing Snow White in the latter production.
The nuns taught the children songs and Amy [Gladys older sister] was the best singer in the family. One of the songs taught us was Peggy ONeil, and two lines stand out in my memory: When Im dead, dont bury me at all, Just pickle my bones in alcohol. The Sisters associated with the School whilst I attended it between 1915 and 1925 were; Sister Alpohonsus (Head), Sister Martna (cook and housekeeper), Sister Gertrude, Sister Cammilus, and, but possibly a little later, Sister Winifred. I remember Father Burke and Father Marney, but probably through the Roman Catholic Church that was also built by the Blount family and I also remember that after First Communion we had hard boiled eggs.
Gladys married Thomas Crispin in 1935 in the Uckfield registration district of Sussex, and they had at least one child, Monica born in 1937 in the Romford registration district. In later life Gladys, by then Gladys Allen, moved back to the area, living in Crescent Road, East Grinstead.
Bernard, their second son and seventh child (known as Bernie), didnt follow in either his fathers or brothers footsteps onto the land but went to work for his uncle George Wells, the builder of Turners Hill. In 1941 he left Imberhorne to go to war returning in 1946 where he lived with his parents at Imberhorne Farmhouse, along with his wife after marriage, until 1953 when they moved to Birchdale.
Like his brother Frank and sister Gladys, Bernie also preserved some of his memories together with his nephew John Myson, not in writing but spoken word, in April 2003, Bernie then aged of ninety-one. The following are extracts from their conversation, Bernies words denoted thus, and John Mysons words denoted thus. Any questions posed being denoted thus.
I went there [Imberhorne Farmhouse] in the early 30s, I was twenty-one in 1933 so I know I was there then cos I had my 21st birthday there. We left there in 1953. The whole family went together, the family at that time was you [Bernie], Frank was married, Wilfred, Amy (wasnt living at the farm she had gone into service). At Imberhorne Farmhouse, you went into the big room at the back, which was the game room. The toilet was outside. The dairy is underneath, Mrs Brand used to make all the butter and skim the milk, we used to have the skimmed milk and the cream went up the house and made the butter.
Chapmans Lane was the road. We lived at the lodge, mothers parents [Edward and Amy Wells] lived at the farm [Imberhorne] and she had her bicycle and every day she would say Im going down home, which I could never understand cos home to me was East Lodge, but home to her was going down to see her mother. And she cycled down there and as you go down the lane past the School the lane dips down and then up, that was so that the Big House couldnt see the hoy-de-floy. The only thing you could see, if you were in the Chapel, you could see the top of a cart of hay, just the top of it.
Heading from Imberhorne Farm up Chapmans Lane, the first building you came to was Chapmans Farm. The second one was a more recent building. Where the Bonifaces lived. Parsons lived in the one nearest Imberhorne Farm and the one next to the school, Boniface the butler lived in. Chapmans Lane had posts to keep the footpath reasonably dry, the rest was very rutted. I have a story about this young man [Bernie] who pulled them all up. I did apologise. He went to the Squire and told him what he had done. I went to the butler and asked to see Mr Blount, this was the next morning, mind you Id had a few. Butler said yes, he was sitting in the chair, What do you want young Bern? So I said I got an apology Sir to make, all those posts that you put in from the School up to the Lodge, I kindly pulled out. I was not slightly inebriated, I was inebriated and he said my boy, Just put em back, and well say no more about it.
I didnt work on the farm I was a builder, if you want it exactly I was a foreman bricklayer. Hardly in 1933; that was later. As a young lad I worked at Hophurst Farm, well on the building you know. My uncle George done a lot of work there and thats when I started building, I was labouring then. When I started work for uncle George I put in all the toilets down there in the Farmhouse and Mrs Cushion was down there, and when I had done, she came to the door and said Have you done it right? She said Then you better measure this and she stuck her bum right in my I was only just in my apprentice. She couldnt get out the door when I was there.
What were the responsibilities of the bailiff?
Everything. Everything of the estate, that was his job, he had to run the estate. It was quite a job for my dad as he was head Gamekeeper you see before he went down there and that was a great responsibility cos you got to know all the sizes of the fields of the farm to be cropped. I remember that quite well cos he spent hours with the Squire walking on a Sunday morning into these 10 acres, 12 acres, 16 acres so he knew exactly, I suppose he was being told what he had to put into these places, I dont know. To be fair Edward Wells was a Gamekeeper but he wasnt a farmer. He didnt know anything about farming. For that matter Edward Blount was a gentleman farmer so he didnt know much about it either. At that stage they were much more interested in shooting, hence the Gamekeeper thing, so the rest would really be (correct me if Im wrong) the crops and the cattle and the dairy herds were really to supply the manor house; they supplied the manor house from it. They supplied the manor house to what they wanted, they had a lot of excess cos you see the corn and the barley was ground up the top and then that was sold off.
What breeds of animals were at Imberhorne?
Proper cows not black and white. They were brown. When you had to clear the farmhouse out did you ditch all the milk yields? Frank sold off the dairy herd for Edward Blount, he must have had the records. I cleared the farm out; most of it was furniture and every room. I opened the windows and got the farm carts up and sloshed everything out of the windows. They had a whole set of guns I took up to the police station. The ones that were in the back sheds, they were old ones, they were chucked in the dump. The dump was behind all the cottages near where the air raid shelter was. He [Bernie] dug that. On the day war broke out I was ten and I had just got a three piece bamboo fishing rod that cost my father 1/3d and I can see it now and we were sitting on that dammed embankment at the bottom of the pond and I had my rod across the path and the air raid siren went, September 3rd 1939, meant nothing to me and thundering along the path came four farm workers headed by uncle Bernie who shouted come on theres an air raid on up the farm and he trod on the end of my rod; I have never forgiven him, and I keep on telling him. We went up to the farm and the bathroom, it had a real bath, (that was the room if you went out of the Emmetts kitchen and go straight across, and the servants stairwell, the room behind that was the bathroom) and that was the only room that had one window and granny Amy Wells] thought that there would be a gas attack so she put blankets in the bath and hung them over the window, and we all stood in there. I dont think he [Bernie] was there (I werent there) and the all clear went and she [Amy Wells] said you all better get home quick as you can.
The air raid shelter was the other end, there was a swamp area down below there boggy and stuff. That was where the sewerage from the cows ran to and from the manure pit in the middle. You remember the cottages, there was a path down beside Mrs Cushions, right in the middle of them and the saw mills on the right and the dump was on the left. He [Bernie] is talking about behind the pond and where the farm cottages stop. There used to be a little Twitten there, but I dont think it is the same way now, and the end house was where the Coombers lived. At that age was when Juggy [Wren], the old farm hand, used to do all the sawing down there right by this dump. Everything went in there [the dump]. They had electric light there, generated their own. They generated their own electricity and it fluctuated wildly 101 volts very low voltage and they made that up the house and if the Squire came down the road everybody would have to turn out the lights as that was draining the manor. It was all made by batteries, very interesting as that was power for the house, power for us down there and he [Edward Blount] wouldnt see a bob go. We had no such luxuries at the lodge [East Lodge].
They brought the sheep in and we grazed them, that was in the Pond field. Of course they did have their own sheep. How can I put that, you know where the cows came out into the field, there, the sheep dip was in the same Pond field. The one straight across the farm road. Where the very first diesel tank was put when we had our first tractor. It was called Barn Field. There was no sign of a barn there, the sheep dip ran from the old pond, up top, and they had a thing you turned to fill the dip up. The first tractor on the farm was just pre the war. Taddy [Redman] was the first tractor driver. The combines all came in together, hired in, they had their supper by the railway; they stayed there overnight.
We had one, two carters, two cart horses at Imberhorne and two cart horses at Gullege, and one van horse. And then Sam [Samuel Brand] trained another colt so altogether there was two, two, one and a colt. There was piles of chicken. There was light Sussex, Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, Ducks (on the pond) Geese in the poultry place. What else did we also have? Yes Turkeys, black Turkeys it was quite a poultry place. They were all totally free range, the poultry field was enormous. What I always remember about the Turkeys is at Christmas time, the poultry man, which was Searle, Bert Searle, he used to hang them up by their legs all along the wall outside the poultry house and go along with his knife like this and cut their throats all the way down, it used to break my heart. He was a hard man but he had to be hard. Who did they used to supply turkeys to? I know Blount used to send an awful lot away. This was before the war, I was about seventeen. Bert was not there then. Yes he was. I only just remember the other one before him, he was deaf. I was going to school and then Bert Searle came so he was there an awful long time.
Mr Russell was a second cowman thats what he was. Mr Brand was a horseman; he used to take all the laundry down. They used to have a little covered cart and he used to trot into the yard down the drive. You have to remember that the Blounts owned the laundry where Johns house is on the London Road [14, North End], the top one of them was the laundry belonging to the manor. The laundry was right next to the school [North End School, now Fledglings] that was the Blounts laundry and that was were all the laundry was done. The woman who used to do the laundry was Edwards; I know that because I took her daughter out. Well thats true, she was pretty too.
What crops were grown at Imberhorne?
There was wheat, there was barley, there was potatoes, there was Swede thats the lot as that would have made all the straw and the doings. There was oats, there was one big crop was Kale that was to feed the cows, that was one big crop. They never done beans.
Did they harvest wood at Imberhorne?
I can tell you what happened there, dad [Edward Wells] sold the rights of the woods to his brother uncle George and he cut all those woods down that was just above the railway which was the furze on the right.
I would have been, what, only going to school when they cut that down. Just above the bridge [the railway bridge on Imberhorne Lane], which you go towards the lake, where uncle Frank lived, just above that was deep larch trees. The whole line of the larches was from the other side of the bridge; the whole line of the larches was from there down to the viaduct except for the lake ride and then over the lake ride was these fir trees. And I remember them cutting them down. I can remember that quite well, because the gypsies used to come up in the wood, up the road, they came up in there. I always remember this because my dad was then Gamekeeper and the gypsies were in these larch trees. They had a fire and were cooking and then up came dad (and I was only this high) and he said I must just go and turn these [gypsies] off boy, as he walked up there. I can remember it to this day the gypsies came and started sharpening their knives on this and it made no difference to him and he said Im going to give you fifteen minutes to get out of here, and if your not, then your caravan will be turned over and he meant it. Oh no you cant do that. Thats what Im giving you boy. When he came back they hadnt sort of moved and he stood with his two arms on the back of the wheels and he said Move or over she goes. And they got up and cleared everything and put it in this van, Theres the road and that is the way out and I will follow you until you get all the way down to Hazelden and then you can go where you like.
Being brought up like that I had the same sort of thing. I used to stand in the wood (in my late teens) in the night, as they used to get the poachers down by the viaduct. I used to stand in there until they had got all their nets set and then I used to go down and give them what I thought was right and take all the nets up and that takes quite a lot of doing in the middle of a night. And I always remember one night, I slipped up cos I used to watch how many of them was there, make sure, normally there was only two, but I never saw the third one this one night and I never work up for about two hours cos I went down there and he was behind a tree and he clobbered me on the back of the neck.
What game was there?
There was only pheasant they reared, and there was a lot of them. At Tilkhurst we had thousands of eggs come there, that was for the young pheasants cos they reared them. In Franks thing [The Life of Frank Wells (in his own words)] it says he boiled 200 eggs a day plus other bits and pieces. It was the same as all these big estates. Then they took them out when they were big enough into the woods, into coups and let them go. There was one breed of pheasants at the Scaramangas [at Tiltwood at Crawley Down]; they had a breed with a black neck. Thats what caused all the trouble cos they [the pheasants] used to come in from Scaramangas to us and they thought we was pinching their birds and so this went on and on and on. You could do nothing about it cos their breed of bird was that but they all intermixed and we had a lot of trouble.
What was their normal shoot?
Anything up to 3 - 400 birds, that was a shoot, terrific, that was Lord Ashburton, Lord Mackie and all these coming from America. It was a big shoot.
What was it like during the War at Imberhorne?
During the war they [the Ministry] made them grow mustard. Mum said the planes used to come over and they dropped a bomb on the yellow field. One bomb landed in Pond field.
Mr Pusey, he was the ministry of health advisor, and was brought in to farms that were not very good. He soon went native. They [those operating Imberhorne Farm] were not producing; Imberhorne was probably below the red line. Grand-dad wasnt a farmer and neither was Mr Blount. Mr Pusey turned up to advise as to what they should or should not do. They got on famously, he was very helpful. Mr Blount could never bring himself to sack anyone as they had nowhere to go. Most were in tied cottages.
I havent been down the Farm since I left there in 1953. I dont think anything was built after I got there in 1933  till I left. I can still see it now, the stables, coach house, where the carts were, then along the other way where the bulls were, the ferret hutch, the garage down the bottom, then the milking sheds, the pig sties up that way.
As established above, Frank was born at Tilkhurst Farmhouse on the 3rd November 1897. As his mother Amy was a practising Catholic, Frank, like all his brothers and sister, attended Imberhorne School (the Blounts Roman Catholic School) until 1911 when he passed his final examination paper early enabling him to leave school and start work as an assistant Gamekeeper along side his father Edward and uncle James Wells on the Imberhorne estate.
Within a year, Franks wages had risen from three shillings to ten shillings and he had also been supplied with a tailor-made keepers uniform consisting of a jacket, waistcoat, breeches, shirts, ties, boots, leggings, hat and coat. Frank had also been given his own beat, or in other words a 200 acre wood of my own to be responsible for, to feed the pheasants, to trap and guard against poachers, and take the can on shooting days if they were not as good as expected.
By 1914 Frank was attending his own beat and was near enough his own boss when rumours began to circulate about war with Germany. His initial reaction was to ignore the rumours as Germany was a million miles away from me. However, at the age of sixteen he attended a meeting at the Whitehall in East Grinstead where he heard about what could happen if Germany ever invaded the country. That did it; I would go and stop them ever getting here and into my woods. I joined the army, but to do it, of course, I had to tell a lie and say I was eighteen, but I was in and when I told my father I thought hed have a fit, but he took it very quietly. After initial training, as part of the Royal Sussex Regiment, Frank left Southampton on board the paddle steamer The Margarita bound for France. After a period of time in France the Regiment were marched under the cover of darkness to Bethune and on arrival were greeted by the news that they would be in the front line trenches that night and that many may not be on this earth tomorrow.
With no time to rest, the Regiment were marched to Vermiels where, at dawn, Frank got his first sight of War.
Dead men, dead horses and wounded men returning from the front lines as best that they could, some on their hands and knees, some being carried by stretcher bearers, avoiding treading on dead men was difficult in the semi darkness .
We were very soon in a trench full of mud and water and bodies. That was my first insight of war but not my last. Shellfire was keeping us awake together with hunger. We extended along the trench, tied together with ammunition boxes, rifle, and full pack, and covered in mud. When we were halted, the order came along the line for us to make ourselves comfortable and snatch a meal of bully beef and biscuit, as we would be advancing at dusk. There wasnt any room to sit, even if the trench had been devoid of mud and water, so we leaned up against the trench and ate our bully and mud, it was delicious. In spite of the gunfire we slept standing up, with our head on the top of the trench.
Dusk must have been a bit late that night for it was midnight before they came along the line for us to advance in extended order, keeping our right hand man in sight and drop to the ground at any lights in the sky, and there were many. If they lasted above a minute I was asleep, but we finally reached some coal slag heaps and following my right hand man, circled them and dropped into a shallow trench where looking over the top were two or three kilted Seaforth Highlanders. They greeted us with Oh jock, am I pleased to see you, and Jerry sounds as though he's coming over. I heard a lot of shouting but I didnt know what they had to shout about, not at that minute, but I did at the next. Hell let loose, concussion bombs by the gross, coming from the slag heaps behind us, and from that moment I remember nothing until I heard voices and a language I had not heard before. My first thought was we had captured a lot of prisoners but it was just the opposite, they had captured us.
Sometime after becoming a Prisoner of War, Frank broke his leg and fortuitously he was transferred to a hospital for medical treatment and was eventually exchanged for German prisoners, being transported to Switzerland. On his return to England, Frank contracted Spanish Flu that had him again hospitalised, fortunately he recovered but on arrival home he found that his entire family were in bed with flu. After a months leave he reported back for duty and was assigned to the Military Foot Police based in Kent.
After being demobbed Frank returned home and began looking for a job, initially not in keepering. However, with the absence of male workers during World War I, a lot of jobs had been let slip on the Blounts Imberhorne estate which was now in need of some experienced workers and as Frank writes:
before I could travel around looking for one [job], the farm bailiff begged me to return to my old job, the rabbits were eating everything. So with my father, we set about reducing their numbers. It was a long and strenuous job, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, but by degrees we won. My next job was to catch the poachers, and that again was a long job there were so many, but it was done with many a rough up but they were tamed. Then followed a combination of vermin elimination and ride trimming, coupled with some assistance with the hay and harvest, and the rest of the time was my own. I became secretary of our Working Mens Club, the only entertainment in the area. I had learnt to play the violin fairly well, and with my brother, a very good pianist, we ran dancing classes one night a week at the Club, which met with great success. In the winter months this induced me to form a band of three and a pianist, and run proper dances, which again were attended by quite a lot of people. When the dance was over at mid-night, I would give my violin to my brother to take home, while I took a walk through the woods to see there were no night poachers. With the decrease of vermin, game began to increase. Mr. Blount, the owner of the estate, was able to enjoy a little shoot of both pheasants and partridge.
In 1926, as a result of the General Strike, Frank decided to join the Special Police that added to his work load. He also decided around this time that perhaps he should be thinking about finding a wife and settling down. This he did when he met a young nurse called Lucy Freeman from Wolverhampton, who was working at High Grove Sanatorium in Imberhorne Lane (now the site of the Amenity Tip). Lucy now takes up the story:
One cold and frosty morning our grounds [High Grove Sanatorium] were invaded by a group of stalwart young men armed with guns and the alarming paraphernalia of the countryman at work. They were the Gamekeeper and the boys out for a days rabbiting; but judging from the fluttering of several feminine hearts they might have been a band of roving Norsemen come to ravage our coasts and any defenceless maidens they could lay hands on. Let it be said that we were about as defenceless as a lioness with young, thanks to Matrons teaching, though not entirely proof against the blandishments of the opposite sex. So when cupid began shooting his arrows I was one of the first to be hit, falling for Frank Wells, the Man with the Gun who was Gamekeeper on this two thousand acre estate [Blounts Imberhorne estate]. He might have come from another planet, for his like had not been seen on the streets of my home town
Writing many years later, of their first meeting and Franks father Edward Wells, Lucy writes in From the Beginning .:
This particular man had a faint air of breeding, if a slightly arrogant one. He dressed in fustian and carried a gun; there were always a couple of dogs at his heels . He was the Gamekeepers son. It is perhaps not all that strange that the whole family should have this somewhat aloof attitude towards others. After all they have lived in the seclusion of a private park for most of their lives twenty-seven acres to play in and nobody to say that any part of it was forbidden territory, with only the gnarled old oaks and elms to watch them at their games.
Frank Wells had an indefinable air of pride about him not personal pride but for the land under his charge. Like his father he was completely wrapped up in the estate and nothing must interfere with that. He worked seven days a week, very rarely taking a half-day off; and when there was a rumour that poachers were about he and his father combed the woods at night. They used the royal we when speaking of their work; we have a field of flax that wants pulling; or we have to get the binder on to the wheat or oats or barley always working in unison. Both were Gamekeepers yet were prepared to turn their hands to anything.
Frank writes that he met Lucy while teaching dancing, presumably at the Club, and Lucy does write that she and a few other nurses were allowed out by Matron to attend the local dances held at the hall at Kingscote, just down the road from the Sanatorium, so perhaps Frank had not noticed her when he and the boys invaded the grounds at High Grove.
After a short courtship, Frank and Lucy were married in Wolverhampton on 29th December 1926, although both Frank and Lucy give the year as 1927, but their marriage was registered in the December quarter of 1926 implying that they both must have lost a year by the time they wrote their memoirs. Of their marriage, Lucy writes that she was given away by her mother, her father having disappeared for the day saying I will not give any daughter of mine away to any man, and Frank writes Our wedding had been a very quiet one, as I could not afford to spray everybody with whiskey, we celebrated quietly with a nice cup of tea with milk in it.
Lucy Freeman had been born on 25th June 1897 in Wolverhampton, the daughter of Charles Henry Freeman and his wife Sarah Ann née Lovatt. Charles and Sarah had married in the spring of 1891, and besides Lucy they had three other children, Laurence born on 23rd June 1894, Margaret born in 1901 and Grace born on 29th June 1903 but who sadly died aged four and half in1908. Lucy describes her family as not a very close knit family, but with a strong gene of independent spirit inherited from her fathers families of Freeman and Darling, and a tendency for wander-lust passed down from her grandfather Freeman.
Lucys father, Charles Henry Freeman, had been born one of five children of Charles Walter Freeman and his wife Margaret Ann née Darling, in Shelton, Hanley, Staffordshire, in about 1867. Charles Walter Freeman (known as Walter) had been born in about 1832 in Shelton, one of at least three children, whose parents were Benjamin and Catherine Freeman, Benjamin being an engraver. Walter was educated to the age of twenty-one with parental expectations that he would become a lawyer but Walter disobeyed their wishes and became an engineer, resulting in him being disowned by the family, especially when he married Margaret Ann Darling on 22nd November 1866, the daughter of mere Schoolmaster James Darling of Cottingham, Yorkshire. Margaret, who had been born in Cottingham in about 1844, had lost a leg from the knee down when she was nineteen but was fiercely independent using only a crutch to get around, although she did have a prosthetic leg that she kept in a box which travelled everywhere that she went. She also had a fierce temper that was inherited by her grandson, Lucys father Charles Henry Freeman.
It was maintained by Lucys grandmother Margaret that her Darling family were the kinsfolk of Grace Horsley Darling, the lifeboat heroine from the lighthouse on the Fern Islands, Northumberland. It was Margarets belief that Grace was the daughter of one of her fathers cousins. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to prove a direct link between the two branches of the Darling families, although they do both come from the same area of Northumberland.
Unfortunately, Margaret was widowed early when Walter Freeman died young and as a result Lucys father Charles was sent out to work in a blacking factory at the age of eight. By the mid 1870s Charles had run away to America, leaving behind his widowed mother and four sisters. Charles eventually returned to England and became an apprentice carpenter and joiner. He met and married Sarah Ann Lovatt, and they made their home in Wolverhampton from where he ran a carpentry workshop, although Charles was still inclined to disappear regularly but always returned home, eventually.
As a carpenter and joiner, Charles Freeman patented several inventions including a glazing system for glass roofs, bulldog safety gutter brackets and a hinge for casement windows that enabled the wooden framed casement to be opened both sides to allow for easy cleaning. Lucys brother Laurence, known as Laurie, joined his fathers workshop and also trained as a carpenter and joiner, not that he had much say in the matter as Charles Freeman ruled his family with a firm hand. Lucy had always had a keen interest in writing, particularly poetry, but was not allowed to pursue a career in that field and her first job was working in an office before she trained as a dress maker under Madam Hollier. In the meantime, Lucys sister Margaret, who had also started work in an office, decided to train as a nurse and Lucy soon joined her at Yarnfield Isolation Hospital in Staffordshire, both eventually following their Matron (Miss Jane Ruddy) south to High Grove Sanatorium in 1926, where Lucy met Frank Wells.
Frank and Lucy Wells life on Blounts Imberhorne estate
On their marriage in December 1926, Frank Wells was offered a small cottage on the Blounts Imberhorne estate into which they moved in the spring of 1927. The property, known as Birches Cottages, was situated off the Crawley Down Road in Felbridge, the site of what is now known as Birches Bungalow.
Lucy had been warned by her family that for marrying a Gamekeeper she would live in a mud hut in the country but she was very happy with her new home and writes with delight:
It wasnt a mud hut lined with feathers as had been gloomily prophesied for me but, as mother had foretold, a cottage without electricity or running water. Yet during my four years occupation, and contrary to expectation, I rejoiced in it as Hannibal might have done in a new-found kingdom.
A narrow track, so overgrown with thorn bushes that it left only a ribbon of rough road to walk on, led to a low wicket gate which bore no name, no number; no outward and visible sign that the sturdy whitewashed cottage yonder was called The Birches, like those distant darling woods.
Twenty five yards from the gate the path ended in a miniature paved courtyard where stood The Pump, leaning next to the kitchen door as if seeking support as though after over a century of pandering to human needs it was more than a little weary. At a right-angle to the kitchen door, round the corner, stood a huge water butt for rainwater: velvet soft, and smelling of the ether, reflecting the moon and stars by night and the sun by day; or glistening with frost in winter when all we had to do was to crack the ice or, with gay abandon, pour a kettleful of hot water down the old pump and lo! like Moses striking the rock water came forth abundantly without that curse of civilisation, burst pipes.
Or I could dip a pail into that giant cask and go take a bath in one of the sheds: no pink alabaster bath, gold-plated taps and scented crystals here. Just a quick cold rinse in a zinc utensil with Lifebouy soap, but by golly, how good one felt after it!
A proud procession of sheds marched along the garden path. The man has yet to be met who does not crave one to which he can escape from the carping cares of a household and here were five. We had the coal-shed, the wood-shed (or pimp-shed as the natives called it) the wash-house; one for the lavatory, or earth-closet which had to be flushed constantly with buckets of water; and the last shed of all was devoted to what the keepers term their odds and bods skinning rabbits or plucking game intended for the Big House. There were endless jobs all day, and part of the night sometimes, when word got around that poachers were about .
Beyond this noble array of outbuildings were the four dog kennels, half as high as the cottage, iron-barred and sinister like a small fort, its heavy gates secured by clanking chains .
Standing four-square in a full acre of lawn and garden The Birches had right from the start been a Gamekeepers dwelling hence the railing enclosing those four kennels. The front of the cottage was at the back, its pretty creeper-covered porch facing a six-acre field where in Spring-time, wild daffodils grew blobs of gold dotted all over the place, miracles of loveliness. A seat at either side of the porch provided rest and shelter; but often two robins sat there, or they came into the sitting room and perched hopefully on the back of a chair no doubt looking for a stray crumb or two .
Most wives entering a house for the first time think at once of the cooking arrangements. The Birches had a solid fuel cooker newly installed called a Larbert Range which was as near perfection as anything ever is. It baked like a dream. And the black parts and the steel parts, ebony and ivory, were brushed and rubbed so regularly with much elbow grease that they shone like little sunbeams . In fact, there was the danger of becoming too house-proud; dusting and polishing the tiny domain was a constant pleasure.
The Birches really had eight rooms but we were allotted only half two up and two down, the other four being locked away to await the arrival of a suitable tenant who came nearly four years later; so that we were in sole possession all that time and felt as if we owned the place.
The kitchen floor was brick like the yard, and whatever is said of modern flooring may I speak from personal experience? Give me brick every time. It even took kindly to polish, and after many applications came to have the colour of a dark red rose; and with the firelight from the Larbert glinting on it, warm, comforting, glowing. A hand made rag rug added a touch of cosiness: these cost little more than the effort required to make them and seemed everlasting.
The narrow twisting stairs faced the back door, climbing to a landing about the size of a postage stamp, and on the left the small back bedroom facing front and on the right the biggest and best room facing back looking away to those pathless woods, the meadows and the wandering brook .
The sitting room was charming: casement windows on two sides with wide sills; floor to ceiling shelves in an alcove behind the front door just right for books. We couldnt afford much furniture so I purchased (for a few pence only) a tea chest or two from the grocer and made chintz covers for them. A piano had been sent down from Wolverhampton and a solid oak dining table which had cost four guineas new; a really beautiful sofa rug spread voluptuously across the hearth gave a touch of real luxury in fact, on reflection this was surely a wedding present from some kind friend, for we were not in a position to afford luxuries. There wasnt enough money for wall to wall carpeting either, so I stained the uneven old boards with permanganate of potash, polishing them until they gleamed .
One day, whilst at Birches Cottages, Lucy looked through a magazine that Frank had been reading called The Gamekeeper (later called The Gamekeeper and Countryside) and she decided, as a Gamekeepers wife, to submit an article, which to her amazement was accepted and printed. This began a twenty-five year career of writing for the magazine, at last fulfilling her childhood ambition of writing for a living.
Frank and Lucy remained at Birch Cottages until May 1931 when Frank was appointed head Gamekeeper, replacing his father Edward who had been appointed Farm Bailiff at Imberhorne Farm after the death of the old Bailiff, Thomas Pentecost. As Edward Wells appointment meant moving to Imberhorne Farmhouse, so for Frank, promotion meant moving from Birches Cottages to his fathers house at Tilkhurst, news that was not taken well by Lucy who writes; When we received orders to vacate the little cottage called The Birches my heart was sorely troubled. It was a house of extraordinary charm and only needed a caring hand to bring out the very best in it.
Continuing, Lucy writes:
What should have been a brighter future turned out to be just the opposite . From being an occasional visitor to the House in the Park I was now the prospective tenant and began to case the joint.
We now had a better house which had been built thirty four years earlier for the head Gamekeeper [Franks father Edward Wells] and his wife. It had six rooms but no bath room; running water but no electricity or gas; an outside lavatory which flushed and was an improvement on the one at The Birches. But so far away that the district nurses remarks about it, whenever she came, do not bear repeating.
There was more money too: two pounds a week instead of twenty five shillings. So far so good. Now for the snags. The road across the Park leading to the cottage was, more often than not, ankle deep in mud, and the journey to the shops two and a half miles each way. There wasnt then and there isnt now any public transport, so I bought a second-hand bicycle for seven shillings and sixpence. The chain kept coming off and if the wheels got stuck in a rut of earth I came off too .
A clash with authority came when we timidly asked the new bailiff if he would allow us to have the living room re-papered. Two handymen were employed on the estate to keep all the property in order, and ours was a simple request, especially as, believe it or not, the house hadnt been re-decorated since it was built in 1898 and it was now 1932. But simple request or not the answer to it was an emphatic refusal; until two little words from Franks mother turned the tide in our favour Its filthy she said with such an expression of disgust that I had to laugh. All right, we could have some wall paper on condition that it didnt cost more than four pence a roll.
My mother-in-law often said that her husband, Edward Wells, was bent on saving every halfpenny for his master: being as honest as the day is long he couldnt help himself .
Steps led from the backyard into the kitchen; two steep steps led from the kitchen into the living room; and nothing makes a tired housewife more tired than having to climb up and down steps a hundred times a day, but what couldnt be cured had to be endured. There were also steps at the front, but as this was seldom used it didnt matter much. What did mater was that it faced due south and when it rained, with a gale-force wind roaring across the Park it brought disaster, with the rain sweeping under the door, flooding the little hall and threatening to engulf the living room as well. They said that nothing could be done about it. I wrote to my father explaining the situation and hoping he would think of something. Back came a reply in the shape of a narrow strip of grooved wood with a hole plumb in the centre and instructions to nail the strip to the floor just inside the door. Why, since it was so simple, hadnt somebody else hit upon the idea? Anyway it worked: no more floods: the hole and the groove took them all .
Franks mother had cleverly pieced together scraps of torn linoleum trying to recreate some of the original design for reasons of ceremony perhaps. There must have been at least two hundred and fifty tacks to be dug out which would have damaged my new lino purchased through the Co-op club for a shilling a week. It had a blazing tile pattern in orange, cream and black; but this means I strove to impose my personality on these unfamiliar surroundings .
The stove was a sore trial. Or perhaps it was me: it had to be understood or managed to get the best results . But there were times when it behaved like a friend in human form and no amount of fuel, or cajolery, or threats, would make it function. Unless the wind was in a certain quarter the oven remained luke warm; and when it was hey-presto! with a hiss and gasp it became too hot to handle, as though Somebody was trying to take the mickey out of the foolish woman trying to blame any bad cooking on the oven. I bought a small paraffin stove which friends from town labelled the ultra-rapid because it took a full half-hour for the kettle to boil. Enough happened to fill a volume in eighteen years at the House in the Park: handles came off doors and we were shut in; handles came off doors and we were shut out, and no one knew why. What sounded like the postmans knock rat-tat! sent me scurrying to the door to find nobody, and he came twenty minutes later. Far be it from me to suggest that the House in the Park was haunted, yet there were some strange goings on.
However, for all its failings, Franks mother loved the House in the Park and on the day of the move she hadnt even taken the pictures down, hoping for a reprieve which never came. Although the house was challenging and Lucy wrote of its setting in From the Beginning .:
Tilkhurst Park was wondrously beautiful with woods all round and in Spring-time darkly, deeply, beautifully blue carpeted with bluebells; and in Autumn black-berries nearly the size of plums hanging on the bushes; and in between there was Summer and there was Winter, and Winter could be as lovely with stars and silver moonlight.
Frank and Lucy had been living in the House in the Park for two years when their family was completed by the birth of their daughter Sheila, born in the evening of a very wet St Swithuns Day, 15th July. They were still there when World War II broke out and Frank, having been a Special Constable before, was immediately called upon to join the War Reserve Police, which he did.
Frank writes that From the beginning to the end of the police force there was never a dull moment, and to relate all the incidents would fill a book, although in his memoirs he recants many incidents, some serious, some sad and some comical. By 1943 members of the War Reserve Police were as capable of dealing with most cases as full-time policemen and were just as capable of showing their authority.
As the war progressed, Frank writes:
I found a little more time, as the days drew out, to take a walk or two through the woods and view the situation, and I didnt like what I saw. The place was swarmed with rabbits and vermin, the rides overgrown and not a sign of any game. Of course there was no one to attend to them now and my father was getting old and the ministry was dictating what to grow and where to grow it, which was farming from the armchair. Not only was my father old, but so were most of the labourers on the estate. As the war began to be drawing to an end, I wondered what the situation would be, as it was not likely that there could be any more shooting, for Mr. Blount was now an invalid and certainly would not be able to shoot, and I doubted if he would want to retain a keeper just to clean up rabbits and vermin. I certainly did not want to have to resort to farm labourer. I also wondered at what stage the War Reserves would not be wanted, but for the time being there was still a lot to do. It was drawing near Christmas and after the blackout Christmases for the last four years and the bombs, they were entitled to expect a better one. There could be little difference on the police the duties, which would remain the same, but as Christmases had always been the same for me, as like policemen, I had been compelled to watch for poachers and feed the pheasants, ferrets and dogs, so it never excited me.
However, in early 1945 Frank was informed that Edward Blount wanted to speak to him and was told that Imberhorne Farm had received an A Order by the Ministry and that they would be taking over the farm and installing a new manager unless Edward Blount appointed a fresh manager. The result of being taken over would mean that Franks father and all the old farm workers would be replaced by new workers appointed by the Ministry. Franks response to the request to take over the farm was that,
he had not enough knowledge to take over a farm of this size, and that it wanted so much spent on it to modernize it, and it would cost a lot of money. He [Edward Blount] said, Please Frank, take it over. Im sure you will get us out of this mess. I know I havent got the money but if you can only convince the Ministry men. They want a decision from me next week, and will want to see and speak to you. I told him I would think this thing over, and I would see if I could be released from the police.
Frank wrote to the Chief of Police outlining his problem and was given consent to be released. In the meantime Frank had been puzzling about how to raise money to invest in the farm and writes:
so I went again to Mr. Blount and told him that I had been released and asked him if he would agree to a proposition I had got to make, which would give us a good kick off. He said, I will agree to any thing to retain my old faithfulls. So to get ten thousand pound to start with, I suggested we throw some of the timber that would soon be rotting away on the estate, he said he had never thought of that and he was delighted to agree. So began some of the hardest work I had ever done. The trees were chosen, measured and priced by our Estate agent, together with the purchaser. The throwing would be done as I wanted it and removed as the weather permitted. The money was to be paid as soon as possible during the throwing operation to allow me to obtain some modern machinery.
I bought two 3-furrowed ploughs, a new Fordson tractor and a large trailer. I had every field soil tested and began to apply the necessary fertilisers, and there were many. New fencing was needed nearly everywhere, as well as gateways. I found the old men inside jobs and not too strenuous, but I could see no prospects of building a drying plant for the grain so decided to use the old binder and stack the corn and thrash it for the time being. That year was the most hectic I had ever had. Mr. Pusey the Ministry man came two or three times a month and together we walked and talked over the whole programme. His reports must have gone to the Ministry as they never bothered me until time had elapsed and then they came, three of them and they spent the whole day delving into every thing taking notes, filling books and finally going to see Mr. Blount. As I was not on the phone, he sent the butler up to me to tell me the A Order was off, but that was a long way from the end of the journey. The modernisation had hardly begun; we had built thirty-two large corn ricks in a straight row up the nearest field and allowed room to build straw stacks for each one. It meant a lot of work but without a drying plant there was no alternative. Today it is combine harvester, bailer, trailer and drying plant; the lot can be done by two men. But as things began to improve on the farm, Mr. Blounts health became worse and as climbing stairs was almost an impossibility. I helped the butler every night to carry him up, and as the head gardeners house became empty at his death, I asked Mr. Blount if I could occupy it to be nearer the Manor and farm, and have the use of a telephone, and he agreed at once.
The house in question had been built in 1908 for the head gardener Frank Stock, situated just north of the railway bridge in Imberhorne Lane, called West Lodge (now part of Otterbourne Court, a small development of houses built within the original grounds of West Lodge). After the death of Frank Stock and his wife, the property had stood empty for months until offered to Frank in February 1950, Lucy writing, No longer will the House in the Park have to suffer my presence, and that makes two of us very happy.
Of her new home Lucy writes:
It was a beautiful little lodge, West Lodge, standing in an acre of ground. With beech trees and birch trees and sweet-scented lime; and a tall wellingtonia towering over all. Spring time brought a host of daffodils, reminding me of The Birches; deep purple crocuses and the coral-pink flowers of the japonica; the sulphur yellow of the forsythia, a razzle-dazzle of colour which we would hesitate to wear, but Nature could. Rhododendrons marched in a straight line across the lawn .
A massive timber and iron gate guarded the drive, its red brick pillars surmounted by what Emily Bronte called round stone pumpkins pediments is the correct name for them. Matching bricks continued in a half-circle bordering the front lawn and before World War Two were ornamented with iron chains, but these were removed to use as ammunition against the enemy.
Feeling that I had inherited the earth I wrote my piece for The Gamekeeper and Countryside. And now for weal or woe we are going to live in the charming little lodge near the Manor House. With its gables and casements, its air of belonging to the landscape, it is essentially a bit of the Old Country. From every window there is a fine view, up the road, down the road, over the humpbacked old stone bridge beneath which trains thunder towards cities and towns most of us have only dimly heard of. The entrance hall has a floor of rosy-hued tiles: it mutely asks for one of those lovely rum-tubs girt with gleaming metal bands, or a centuries-old coffer Also, twinkling in the rooms like diadems of jewels there is gas. It was dusk yesterday when I entered the sheltering porch of the front door and the empty house seemed to be waiting, gentle and friendly .
Coming from the backwoods where we had struggled with paraffin lamps for eighteen years our new home was the height of luxury; and now we could have a fuel stove. The lodge had been sadly neglected for thirty nine years so any improvements were gradual; but all work there was a labour of love .
West Lodge had been built for the new gardener and his wife when they married and they had never left it. I never lost the feeling that it was waiting for something or somebody . There had never been any children to play in the lovely wild wood where the daffodils grew, or romp through the big rooms. In all the years I had passed along the road no visitor had been seen to call: Mr. and Mrs. S. did no entertaining .
When we went inside we noted the thickness of the doors and how they all upstairs, downstairs had Norfolk latches instead of knobs: even gold-plated knobs such as kings have could not compare with these beautiful Norfolk latches to my mind. There were sixteen vast windows, and they nearly all had to be prised open because some of the rooms had never been lived in and the windows had been kept closed. It took me over an hour to clean the three big ones in the living room; more often than not there wasnt time to finish them .
The floors were stained a mucky brown colour, which I had a go at removing. There is a beauty in naked wood where you can see the grain. I tried sanding the boards with a hand-operated machine, but it jumped about like a living thing. So wearing rubber gloves and a yashmak (English version) and with wire wool and caustic soda began what was to be almost a losing battle, for even after weeks and months the dark brown paint still showed in places. All the walls were distempered a depressing shade of sage green and I craved for something lighter and brighter and, almost fearfully (remembering the arguments at the House in the Park), asked if some decorating could be done.
The Lord of the Manor gave orders for the estate handyman to come in and soon he was setting up what he called his trustles and began to slosh colour around like Vincent van Gogh himself .
One had to be careful that the portals were locked to avoid embarrassment, for the kitchen was also the bathroom. A tin contraption on hinges rested against the wall, water being heated in a copper in the corner by a fire lighted underneath, when the bath was pulled down and the water ladled in which, far from having any cleansing qualities, was thick and brown and rancid. Still, we had a fitted bath which was an improvement on the other two houses .
It would be nice to think that the house came to life a bit whilst we were there.
By 1952 Edward Blounts health had become a serious concern and sadly in February 1953 he died. Frank writing in his memoirs states:
I carried along with the farm and estate as though it was mine, for the young ladies had no idea of farming and were too grieved to think about it. Their mother at the same time was not well and the death of Sir Blount did nothing to improve her health, in fact it added to her health problems. The worry of death duties and everything else that property involved, so she actually took no real active part in making decisions and this left the eldest daughter to act where she could. So the management went on as best as we could between us. I had no idea what would happen or if they would be able to carry on with the estate after all the legal proceedings had finished, which would most certainly leave them much less capital to go along with. So until some decision had been made I went along as though the farm was mine, without spending any more money than I could help. The animals had to be fed, the crops attended to, the bills, which were unavoidable, settled, the men their wages and the general maintenance of the houses and farm buildings kept up, and so we went along. But a few months after Mr. Blounts death, Mrs. Blount was taken to hospital and after a very short stay she died and that did nothing to improve matters, but the uncertainty soon ended when Clare the eldest daughter told me that at least half of the estate would have to be sold to enable the payment of death duties, and she was seeing the estate agents to assess the best half to sell. I did not have to wait long before she told me that they would have to sell Imberhorne and Gulledge Farms and retain Tilkhurst.
This really gave me a headache for Tilkhurst had been sadly neglected by former bailiffs, being the furthest farm from headquarters and half an hours walk for men to get to it, so fences, buildings and fertilizing had been forgotten, and now I was to be burdened with it. To renew all the fences, repair or renew all the buildings, add to them to accommodate at least 200 head of cattle, as the farm was not suited for grain, being very hilly. A new house was to be built for the two young ladies to live in and a site was chosen. An addition had to be added to the two existing cottages to house one more man. Electricity had to be brought over head for the new house, the three cottages and taken to the farm for all the buildings, and the existing farm house, which although still standing was no longer safe, having been up since 1400, with very old oak beams and heavily tiled. So we prepared the two farms for sale. I now took advantage of having all the men at my disposal, as I would do nothing further about cultivations on Imberhorne or Gulledge. I would use these men, while I had them, to go all out and try and clean up Tilkhurst. I knew I should not have them for long so I put the pressure on to put up new fences so that I could turn cattle out as soon as fields were ready. There was so much to do that it was a job to know where to start.
With the break up and sale of the Imberhorne estate and the disposal of all the tied properties, Frank and Lucy took up the offer of purchasing West Lodge where they remained until shortly after Franks retirement from service as Farm Bailiff for the Misses Blounts of Tilkhurst in 1973, thus ending the Wells association with Imberhorne that had been started by his father in 1896. Shortly after his retirement, with Frank now unable to drive, Frank and Lucy decided to sell West Lodge and move to East Grinstead, Frank writes:
West Lodge now belonged to me, but it required a lot of work having an acre of ground to keep tidy and two long hedges, but I would not have it for long as my wife fell down and broke her hip and was taken to Pembury to have it pinned. She was away three weeks. I was left do the shopping, cooking my meals and going to Pembury, to say nothing of farming. My eyes were giving me considerable trouble now; I had two cataracts, which was affecting my driving. I should have to move and get near to the town.
In their new home in East Grinstead, Frank kept himself busy by taking a little job at the local vets in Maypole Road keeping their grounds tidy, whilst Lucy set about writing her memories, producing five books in six years, three of which were published. Then, with her health failing, Lucy died in January 1986. Frank, then on his own, set about writing his own memoirs which have never been published. Frank survived for a further year and died in February 1987, in his ninetieth year.
Census Records, 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911
Crossroads Village by Eric Dawes
Handout, Harts Hall, SJC 07/05, FHA
The Life of Frank Wells (in his own words), Head Gamekeeper of Imberhorne Estate & Farm Bailiff of Tilkhurst Farm, by Frank Wells
Documented memories of John Myson, FHA
Gather Ye Rosebuds by Lucy Wells
From the Beginning by Lucy Wells
Sunshine and Showers by Lucy Wells
Documented memories of Bernie Wells, FHA
Documented memories of Gladys Allen, formerly Crispin née Wells, FHA
Handout, The Blounts of Imberhorne, JGS/SJC 01/06
Felbridge Parish Registers, FHA
Imberhorne and Gulledge Farms Sale Catalogue, FHA
Many thanks are extended to Bernie Wells and John Myson for their documented memories, and to Brian Warner for the use of his extended family tree work.
Texts of all Handouts referred to in this document can be found on FHG website; www.felbridge.org.uk