with S P B Mais
An extract from a BBC Radio broadcast of 28 October, 1938
And so I came down the waterside to this red-roofed town of Steyning. It is difficult to believe that it was once Steyning Harbour or St. Cuthman’s Port, and that Roman galleys and Saxon ships once anchored in this bay. There’s not much seaport left. You can’t even see the sea. It’s at least half a dozen miles away the other side of the Downs.
Steyning stands high and dry above the wet fields, and below the dry Downs. One of Sussex’s most popular inland towns, much more concerned with fat stock than lean fish, it is equally rich in history and architecture. Steyning may have been responsible for the Norman Conquest, for Edward the Confessor gave the site of her Saxon church to the monks of Fecamp, and Harold took them back again, and this brought William over to recapture them.
But Steyning’s most famous worthy was the Saxon shepherd, Saint Cuthman, who kept his flock in bounds by drawing a circle round them with his crook, and kept his mother in sight by wheeling her up and down in a wheelbarrow, and when the cord of the barrow broke in a hayfield, the haymakers laughed, and from that day to this, storms have always destroyed the crops in that field.
Today it is a very picturesque medley of gables and weather boarding and flint houses, and Georgian brick. It has also antique shops and tea houses, and these make one feel the first contamination of the seaboard. Down to this point we have been purely rural.
Now, Mrs. Howe, you’re a farmer’s wife and a farmer’s daughter. You remember what Sussex was, – and not very long ago, either.
MRS . HOWE :
I do. Before the war, when I was a child, Sussex was still old Sussex. We brewed beer, and baked bread, at home. Now we buy them, and they’re not as good. The miller would call for a sack of wheat and bring back the flour less ten per cent for grinding. From this beautiful stone ground flour we made bread to last a week in a brick oven, burning wood from the farm. I remember thorns gave the fiercest heat. Besides the loaves of yeast cake made on baking day we used to make coger cakes for the carters and shepherds to take out for their lunch. These coger cakes were made of flour mixed with a little chopped fat pork and water to a soft dough. A small slice of fat pork was then placed in the middle of the cake which weighed about half a pound when finished.
The wife and children of a farm labourer often got enough wheat by gleaning to keep the family in flour through the winter, and enough offal to keep the pig. We always reckoned to kill enough pigs in the winter to keep us in bacon, hams, and meat for the whole year. It made a lot of work salting and smoking the bacon and preserving the meat in brine, to say nothing of quantities of hog’s pudding, which I have often helped to make. We never wasted a scrap of the pig, even the lights were chopped up, mixed with groats and made into sausages. Black puddings were made by mixing groats and a little fat with blood from the pig.
There’ s still good puddings in Sussex, Mrs. Howe.
MRS . HOWE :
There certainly is. We make everything into puddings. The Sussex hard pudding, made of flour, salt and water, well boiled, has come down to us through hundreds of years.
About time somebody ate it.
MRS . HOWE :
It’s very good, and you all know it. Eel pudding, made from eels caught in the river Adur, where the fishing is free, has always been a favourite dish. We also make bacon puddings and rabbit puddings. Sussex drip pudding is delicious and is served with roast meat wherever Sussex people go.
We still make plenty of wine, elderberry for colds, blackberry, dandelion, parsnip, rhubarb, potato and mangold wines, usually for funerals and Christmas. These wines are very strong and a beautiful colour; only four years ago, I was at an exhibition where about 200 bottles of wine from various villages were shown for competition, and I was very proud to see that the blue ribbon went to a house in a small village in the Adur valley where recipes for wine-making had been handed down for generations.
I’ve been to France and I’ve been to Dover,
O-ver, o-ver, o-ver and o-ver.
Drink up your liquor and turn the horn over.
That’s an old Sussex Drinking song. A horn full of drink was handed to you on your hat, and without touching it with your hands you emptied the horn, and tossed it in the air before the song finished. If you didn’t, you had to try again. Do you remember that, Mr. Standing? I ought to tell you that Mr. Laddie Standing, who is 81, is better known in Steyning than St. Cuthman.
No, I don’t know as I’ve heard that song before, and I’ve got a very good memory, as well as knowing a bit about music. When I was in my early teens one or two of us chaps used to “muck about” with cornets, then the lads of the village thought it would be all right if we got together and formed a band. I was the first to give my name in, and the Steyning Band we’d formed met for practice at Beeding!
Anyhow, we stuck to it, and after a lot of practising we got our first engagement, – we were to play at Ashurst Club Feast. That was in 1879. I remember we assembled at the “Fountain” Pub, and then marched down Golden Lane to the field where the “do” was going to be held. Half-way down the lane, Bandmaster Green, who we used to call “Major”, told us to stop as he thought there was something wrong, and there was too, – half the band were playing “Golden Lock of Hair” and the other half were playing “Dear Little Jessie”. Anyhow, we sorted ourselves out, and finished the rest of the day in grand style. I remember it was a regular smart turn out, with most of the men dressed in their Sunday best, which at that time were smocks and half-high hats.
I was the first to join that band. All the rest are dead, but I’m still a playing member.
What do you play, Mr. Standing?
I started on the cornet. Now I’m playing the Tenor Sax, but I want to get on to the French Horn eventually. Of course, I’m still a member of Steyning Church Choir, and have been for sixty years.
You’ve seen a lot happen in Steyning.
I have. I remember coming up Church Street one day in the Nineties, with a barrow load of grass. I saw old Mr. Cripps flitting about Osborn House, which used to be the Registry Office, and, of course, I knew something was on. So I stopped and asked and just then a cab pulled up and out got Mr. Parnell and Mrs. O’Shea, just going in to be married.
A transcript of the full radio programme is available to read at Steyning Museum.
S.P.B. Mais was a distinguished author, journalist and broadcaster, railway enthusiast and rambler who lived in Southwick. He has a Wikipedia page here
S.P.B. Mais appeared on BBC Radio’s Desert Island Disks on January 4, 1960. See his choice of disks here
See an article about S.P.B. Mais and his walk for 1,300 Londoners from Steyning Station to see the sun rise at Chanctonbury Ring. It appears on Freddie Feest’s Worthing History website here
See other articles on the Steyning Museum website about the marriage of Charles Stewart Parnell and also the Norman Conquest, explaining both events as referred to in this broadcast by S.P.B. Mais.