Posts Tagged ‘Ringmer’

Family History at Ringmer

January 15, 2016

Ringmer is a village in Sussex, not far from Lewes. It is one of those places where you can walk the streets and you are always looking at family history. Yet in many ways, it isn’t a main hub. Let’s take a look at some of the Ringmer family locations.

Great Grandfather was something of a woodman. He spent his life in and around the area, but moved frequently to be in a location close by the current job. We know that his eldest daughter was born at this cottage – Acorn Cottage in 1880 and the family were there still for the 1881 census.


After that the many homes the family had were in different parishes and it wasn’t really until retirement beckoned that old George and his wife Sarah Ann returned to Ringmer. The 1911 census shows them living at the less than delightfully named Pest House Cottage.


Later, my dad remembered them at brickyard Cottage. These cottages were entirely rebuilt in 1977 and are called Jubilee Cottages.


George’s brother, Harry, was a Ringmer blacksmith. I do not actually know where he worked but there is an old smithy in Ringmer – well it could have been there.


George and Sarah’s daughter, Sue married at Ringmer church so that’s worthy of seeing.


Another of George’s brothers, William, is buried in the churchyard along with his wife.

But returning to Sue – she cooked school dinners at Ringmer School so the school is of interest to me but I have no photo. I’d always assumed that she and her husband (Percy Ford) lived in Ringmer but recently the UK National Identity Card information was partially put on line. This gives dwelling locations in 1939 and it seems they lived in Chailey.

Finally, there is the war memorial on the green.


George and Sarah’s son called Harry was killed in World War One and he is commemorated on this memorial.


No wonder Ringmer means quite a lot to me!

Ringmer Smithy

July 30, 2013

Ringmer Smithy

Once upon a time my great great uncle, Harry Stevens, was a blacksmith at Ringmer so a picture of the smithy there is meaningful to me.


This is not a postcard from my youth or sent by ancestors. It is one I acquired much more recently.

It was in about the year 2000 that I caught the genealogy bug and started to find out more about ancestors and other relatives. Anyone called Harry mattered to me because I already knew I was the third generation to carry that name and my son was the fourth. I can now extend it at both ends and know that Harry the blacksmith made a 5th generation. His dad, my  great great grandfather made a 6th generation, there was a Harry in the previous generation, making a seventh generation and now I have a grandson who makes the eighth. There have been men called Harry in the family, all directly related to one another, since at least 1779.

Harry the blacksmith Stevens was born in 1849, probably in Isfield in Sussex.  In  1871 he was a blacksmith and the following year he married Ellen Medhurst.

In 1881 Harry was the Ringmer blacksmith living on the job and employing a man and a boy.

Ellen died in 1890. There had been no children and in 1891 Harry was back in Isfield, living with his mother.

Harry died in 1897.

I have no photos of Harry, but somewhere in the family there is a bill hook he made.

The postcard is not of Harry. In fact I do not know who is on it, but no doubt the scene is similar to the one Harry knew.

Meet the Relative – Great Aunt Sue

May 14, 2013


Emily Susan Stevens was born on 24th April 1882 at Ringmer in Sussex. Ten years later, her baby sister, my Granny, was born.

I never knew Sue – she died in 1944 so I shall let my dad tell of what he knew.

In saying that I have little memory of Aunt Sue before about 1930 I am reporting my memory, not facts. I am sure she came to visit us in Bexhill and there is a photograph of her with me, aged about 3, on the lawn at 62 Wick Street drawing still lemonade from one of those big stone jars.


She was unmarried and lived in Brighton. I suspect that a boy friend had been killed in the 1st world war and that his name may have been Macnamara because that name often cropped up in conversations between my elders. She was lively and attractive but decidedly on the plump side. I do not know how she lived but the impressions remain that she had some domestic function which was not quite that of a maid and that the Macnamara family came into it. After she came to live in Ringmer to look after aged parents she earned a living by working with and for the headmaster of the local school (Mr.Self) on an unusual project for the time. Many of his pupils in that sparsely populated area walked considerable distances to school relying on what they brought for midday meals which were usually unsatisfactory in quality even if not in quantity. Self and Aunt Sue set up a ‘kitchen’ in an outbuilding and equipped it with one copper, two 3-burner Valor oil stoves and a sink. They worked out a menu and bought food. Older girls acted in turn as kitchen and scullery maids; it was regarded as instruction in domestic science. At the end of morning school other children acted as servers. Meals were eaten at desks; there was nowhere else. Sue’s modest wage was the only labour cost and meals were so cheap that even poor families took them. I cannot remember the figure but I remember that my necessarily cost-conscious parents thought they were a good buy. I do not know that this pioneer venture, 20 years before an official school meals service, has ever been written up.


In 1932 Sue, aged 50, married widower Percy Ford and moved to 1 Elm Tree Cottages, adjoining Ringmer School – a service cottage that went with Percy’s job as the local roadman and clearly convenient for Aunt Sue. It is still there with little change except that the elm has gone. No. 2 was occupied by the policeman and still is. We went to the wedding in a hired car and from this I learnt the route and was then prepared to cycle over from time to time. There is a photograph of me and a school friend (Jimmy Gordon) with our bikes in front of the elm tree. Apart from the journey I have only one memory of the wedding – there was a pretty girl of about my age from the Ford side. I remember nothing about her except that she was Jennifer – a name I had never met except in poems or historical works and it fascinated me. A bit of that fascination remained 35 years on when I met the young lady I subsequently married, (not that being called Jennifer was the only attraction).


We spent one Christmas there – 1935 or 36. I had never spent a Christmas in wholly rural surroundings; Bexhill was more like a suburb. I enjoyed the experience which was also my first experience of a full moon as a practical asset rather than a decorative feature when there are street lights. My specific memories are both about food. I was disappointed to learn that we were to have beef for Christmas dinner. We had beef at home on ordinary Sundays and I looked for poultry or at least pork for Christmas. I changed my mind when it was served. Whereas beef in Bexhill meant small rolled joints, this was an aitch bone almost too heavy to lift which Percy had chosen on the hoof. It was already cooking before breakfast and it was a gastronomic treat. It was served garnished with, among other things, a ‘game bird’. I wanted to know if this was a pheasant or a partridge but nobody could say. It was pointed out that it could hardly be either of these preserved species. I never heard what species it was and as I am now the sole survivor from that Christmas dinner I suppose I shall never know! On Boxing Day we made our way to Firle for tea with the Toms family before returning to Bexhill. (Christmas festivities could not be prolonged in my childhood because days off meant no pay; there was always this negative side to Christmas and Bank Holidays.) That Christmas also marked my peak as a practical joker. I caught my cousin Julia (Hughes, see below) with a dribble glass and my cousin May Toms, wife of Frank, with an ink blot which I placed on a white linen table cloth as tea was being laid at Firle. Beside it I arranged an overturned ink bottle,, the stopper was still in place but nobody noticed. When May saw it she screamed and dashed to the scullery for a wet cloth. When she discovered the nature of the blot she attacked me with the wet cloth which was uncomfortable but worth it. My sister stayed once or twice with Aunt Sue who had a soft spot for her. I never did, though I made several visits by bike. The last time I saw her was in 1942 (I think) when with the girl friend I later married I took a days outing by bus from Tonbridge to Heathfield and Ringmer. I am glad Dimp met Aunt Sue – a bit of continuity between old contacts and new ones.

Aunt Sue died in July 1944 having been ill for some time with cancer complicated when she fractured a femur by falling in the garden. I could not get to the funeral: my mother and sister went and my sister inherited a few of her things including her sewing machine.

Percy survived her. I never saw him again but I heard of his death in the 50s from Aunt Nellie.

Great Granny and Grandad’s House

April 11, 2013

Great Granny and Grandad were regularly on the move. It was all in quite a limited area for Grandfather had to be near the work in the woods.  This was the house my dad knew – the one, effectively where the old folks retired.

I believe it was the right hand one of this pair of semis.


It looks OK, but I understand it was really quite squalid and the landlord did not maintain it all that well. This photo dates from around 1960 and was taken by my dad.

The small one below dates from about 1920, when Great Granny and Grandad lived there


The pair of homes were known as Brickyard Cottages and they were in the parish of Ringmer, but some way from the facilities of the village. They were along a long straight road known as The Broyle. It was about two miles from the village. Ringmer is in East Sussex, a few miles from Lewes.

It still is, but I guess it was completely rebuilt in 1977. It was renamed as well as Jubilee Cottages. Actually, the rebuild is not recognisably the same building but probably the accommodation is much improved.


Great Grandfather – George (Truggy) Stevens ended his days at this house in 1926. Great Granny –Sarah Ann (née) Crosby died in 1929. She was with her daughter in Firle at the time. Both are buried in Ringmer churchyard but there is no memorial stone.

As a sort of PS, I note in my father’s writing that he said this:

The cottages, little changed in the 1950s, were ‘restroyed’ in 1976, reshaped, colour-washed in yellow and renamed Jubilee Cottages: certainly more convenient and hygienic; less outwardly attractive and less in keeping with their environment but that has also changed over the years. ‘Development’ while modest by current Standards has eroded the sense of remoteness and mystery that the Broyle used to impart.

Meet the Relative – Aunt Nellie

March 8, 2013

I’ve been promising Aunt Nellie for a while for she has cropped up quite often on these pages. She wasn’t my aunt. She was my dad’s aunt – my great aunt.

Nellie was the first born child of my Great Grandparents, George and Sarah Ann Stevens. She was born in 1880 which means she was actually quite old when I first knew her (Said with caution, for I’m getting close to that age now). She was born in the parish of Ringmer in Acorn Cottage. That still exists.


This was in in 2001. I cannot imagine that my ancestors had all of this house. It looks far too grand.

Such evidence as there is suggest that Nellie, first born and female, was treated quite harshly by her father. Nellie was a dozen years older than my gran and she recalled a beating for mucking up some aspect of cooking when gran was born. By then, the family had moved many times – all within a small area, but the stability of home and friends that we seem to like would have been absent from Nellie’s early life.

In 1901 she was in service in Eastbourne but she then got taken on at Firle Place, the oh so grand home of Lord Gage. Nellie paid lip service to being subservient to ‘her betters’; but in truth she rather despised the aristocracy with their airs and graces. I am sure Nellie felt, and quite rightly too, that she was equal to anybody.

In Firle she met estate worker Frank Toms. The couple married in 1905. Son Frank arrived in 1906. Here are Nellie and son Frank in about 1908.


Nellie had  twins who died and then Arthur came in 1909.


There we see what turned out to be the Toms family of Nellie, young Frank, Arthur and Frank senior.

If my dad had holidays at all it was at Aunt Nellie’s house. Dad was enormously fond of aunt and uncle.

Nellie and Frank had something of an entrepreneurial spirit. Their cottage was on the main road between Lewes and Eastbourne. Nellie ran a sweet shop and tea room there – and here she is posing at the gate.


Frank senior died in 1952. Frank junior’s wife had died in 1951. Nellie upped sticks and moved to Crossways in Firle to be mother to her grandchildren. This was where I knew Nellie.

I picture her, sitting by the kitchen range, slicing runner beans to a degree of perfection I can’t manage. She’d be managing the range as well, making sure it was at a good temperature for whatever she was cooking.  She seemed eternally cheerful and every now and again her head would go back as she laughed. It has to be said that her laugh was rather a witch like cackle. I grew to love it. Crossways was not a bad house, but some features date from another age. The loo was outside the house – off the back porch. The water supply was there, but required work on a hand pump in the kitchen to get the water into the house. Whenever we visited, I was sent to the kitchen to do some pumping – making one less thing for old Nellie – she’d have been over 70 by then, to do.


That’s Nellie on the left in 1961 – she was 80 or 81 at the time, still laughing her head off. The other two, my grandparents, look more sombre. Granny is next to the runner beans.

Nellie died in 1969. I still often think of this happy and contented lady.

I ought to mention Arthur again. He was always a bit unstable and during world war two he beat up his mother, very severely. He ended up in a secure hospital. Nellie visited him, which took her out of Sussex, but apart from that and a chance trip to Switzerland when she was in service at Firle Place, she just didn’t travel. Her world was East Sussex.

You sometimes read travel blogs, written by people who just could not imagine how full and complete a life Nellie lived within her limited geographical horizons. Travelling is good, but it doesn’t have to be the be all and end all of life. Despite that limited geography, Nellie’s conversation was full of wit and wisdom.


A Card to Great Great Granny

February 24, 2013

Well, what a strange card this is.


We appear to have a barn yard with, amongst others, top hatted and newspaper reading babies hatching from giant hens’ eggs. This card was sent to my great great grandmother, Helen Stevens, in 1904


I find it interesting that the address could just be a person’s name and a village.

Unfortunately, the sender hasn’t signed it so I’m guessing just a bit.


The message reads, ‘We will be over next Friday night am going to kill the pig on Wednesday will bring you it ??? bone’. I’m not sure which bone was on its way to Helen.

There is evidence here to this being sent by my Great Aunt Nellie. She’d have been Helen Stevens’ granddaughter. Nellie and her husband, Frank, always kept a pig. Indeed, I’m told that in my early childhood our Christmas dinner was based around a bit of Aunt Nellie’s pig. She lived in Firle and that would have got a Lewes postmark. But in 1904 she wasn’t married, was in service and could hardly have kept a pig and, in any case, the handwriting is all wrong.

That handwriting, and the lack of punctuation and grammar, make me think this was sent by Sarah Ann Stevens, my great grandmother, and daughter in law of Helen.  Now I didn’t know that she and great grandfather George kept a pig.

They lived at Ringmer which does seem to be the initial postmark so it all ties in. Even the picture on the card ties in, for Great Granny called my grandmother her little china chick. I believe Granny was staying with her granny, Helen, at this time.

So, another lovely snippet of family history.

Harry Stevens (2)

February 17, 2013

Harry joined up in the army as a Private soldier when the war started.


He looks proud of his military role.


And here he is, on the right of a group of soldiers, probably in France.


That school had ‘taught Harry his letters’. The envelope below was presumably written by him and sent to his big sister back in Firle.


Harry was killed in action in the First World War. The war office sent a letter saying he died of injuries.



The chaplain, however, wrote to say he was gassed.


Press releases like the one below must have been very common in 1916


The newspaper account has both stories.


Harry was awarded, posthumously, the routine medals that all soldiers who served, like he did, were given.




This is inscribed, ‘The Great War for Civilisation 1914 – 1919’

The war was not very civilised for Harry and the victory medal must have felt very hollow for the next of kin.

But then in 1925 came, what seems to me, something of a wrong.


It would seem that Great Aunt Nellie had to pay for an extra message on Harry’s grave. The money was to have Thy will be done added on the stone.


Ringmer History Study Group have put the following information on their web site.

Henry Stevens

Died : 18 June 1916

Born in Ridgewood in 1885, Henry James Stevens became known to all his friends as ‘Harry’. His parents were George and Sarah Ann Stevens who had moved to Ringmer and at one time lived in Pest House Cottage. They then moved to Brick Yard Cottage, Middle Broyle, Ringmer and were still there at the time of their son’s death in 1916

Harry was working on the railway at Haywards Heath pre-war and it was from that town he enlisted into the 9th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment. His home was by then no longer in Ringmer as he had moved to Firle where two of his sisters lived. Harry trained with his Battalion until 31st August 1915 when it was sent to France. The training had been prolonged due to a chronic shortage of qualified instructors, uniforms and equipment. Initially formed on 13th September 1914, it took, for example, until July 1915 before the Division received its full allocation of rifles. Private Stevens, number G/3321 landed on 1st September at Boulogne with ‘C’ Company of the 9th Royal Sussex, one of the twelve Battalions of the 24th Division.

They were plunged straight into the war at the Battle of Loos on 25th September and suffered very severely with 379 of their number being casualties. Exhausted from continual marching and lack of sleep owing to the din of the artillery bombardment, the Division fared badly in the Battle and received much unfair criticism.

By March 1916 the Division was in Flanders in the Neuve Eglise area about nine miles south west of Ypres. They took their turn in front line trench duties in what was at that time a quiet sector. In mid-May Harry was granted a short home leave and returned to Sussex to see his family. On 17th June the Germans launched a gas attack, which was not however followed up by an infantry assault. The gas lasted about 40 minutes in three continuous waves. The men wore their gas helmets for one hour and twenty minutes. In addition to the gas, the Germans bombarded our trenches with artillery and machine gun fire. A large number of men suffered the effects of gas, as the protection offered by the masks of the day was limited. They also severely restricted the vision of the soldier and were therefore unpopular in close combat.

Harry was one of the many to succumb to the effects of the gas released in the early hours of 17th June. He was taken to a Casualty Clearing Station at Bailleul but did not recover and died there the following day. He was 31 when he died and is buried in the Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, his medals being sent to his parents in due course.

Adapted from Valiant Hearts of Ringmer by Geoff Bridger: Ammonite Press, 1993

A postcard from Great Granny

January 24, 2013

I learn much from the Edwardian post cards that my Gran saved. In terms of family history it may be trivial stuff, but somehow the pet names they used add a little something to people I never knew. We get confirmation of addresses lived at, for unlike the popular idea that ‘people didn’t move’ all I can say is that they jolly well did. Maybe not far from some home village, but some of them moved frequently.

Today we are looking at a card that was sent to my Granny, by her mother. Great Gran’s writing is near illegible, but we’ll do our best.image002


This is the front of the card and the message is clear. Actually, I rather imagine Great Gran was really saying, ‘I want my baby’ for my gran was the youngest of her children and the last to leave home.

Gran was in service in Buxted at the time.


Saxon Court was a minor country house and still exists. I believe it is now a nursing home. In 1907, when this card was sent, Gran would have been 15. I wonder if she had already met Obed, her future husband. We have shown a coded card he sent to Ethel. Click here to be reminded.

Now we come to the message.


Before attempting a full transcription I must comment on the salutation – my own china chicks’. There are several cards sent to my Gran which call her China Chicks. It must have been her mum’s affectionate name for her.

OK. A best I can do transcription!

My Own china chicks

There you are still want your ma poor little ch. Did they feed you with a shuvle and give you cold cabbage and lard and make your tum tum ache. Kit says little Mary sends her love. She looking for a letter. I am longing to see you again for it seems such a long time since I saw you last. Mr S wishes to be remembered with love from mater

In cards sent from great gran to gran, she always calls herself ‘mater’. This one looks less like mater than the others do, but I have transcribed it as such,

The unanswered questions – who was Kit, who was Mary and who was Mr S.

Also unanswered is just where was Great Gran living? In 1911 she and husband George were at the delightfully named Pest House Cottage on the outskirts of Ringmer but in 1901 they had been in the Rose Hill area of Isfield.


Meet the Ancestor – Truggy Stevens

December 24, 2012

George Stevens earned the sobriquet of Truggy’ because he was an avid gardener and user of the Sussex trug. He was my Great Grandfather – the son of Henry Stevens and Helen (née) Peirce who we have seen on this blog already.

George was born in 1854 – the fourth child of his parents. They lived in Isfield in Sussex.

By 1871 George, who still lived at home with his parents, was classed, unexpectedly, as an ‘Ag Lab’.

George married Sarah Ann Crosby in 1879. Their first child, my Great Aunt Nellie, was born the following year.

Censuses continue to describe George as an Ag Lab – in three different parishes. In 1881 the family were in Ringmer. In 1891 it was Ridgewood and in 1901 it was Isfield. My gran was born in 1892 in a different parish again – Little Horsted. What all of their known homes have in common is proximity to Plashetts Wood. We know that George was really more a woodman than a farm worker.

By 1911 they were back in Ringmer and George remained there for the rest of his life. He died in 1926 and is buried at Ringmer (no headstone).

Here is George, Truggy Stevens


He looks a kindly old chap but seems to have been remembered as rather harsh.