A Sussex Life – Hardback

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Edited by Dave Arthur

The memories of Gilbert Sargent, Countryman

DAVE ARTHUR FIRST MET GILLIE SARGENT IN 1980, when recording a series of radio pro­grammes on country people’s reminiscences. He was immediately struck by the clarity of the old man’ memories, which stretched back to a country child­hood nearly a century before. Tiny and wiry in build, Sargent was very definitely a ‘character’, with a formidable will and a caustic wit. The two men soon became friends, and instead of a mere forty-minute radio programme, Gillie’s memories, recorded in a series of meetings, eventually filled over thirty hours of tape.

Gilbert argent had spent most of his long life in his native Sussex. Born in 1889, the son of a gardener, he had been brought up in the village of Catsfield, near Battle. The family’s house consisted of just two rooms and life was obviously hard – Gillie’s mother took in washing to make ends meet, and even before they finally left school at twelve, the children too were ex­pected to earn a few pennies to help out. But Gillie’ account of his life is a positive one – ‘for all that it was a good life really’ – and he is a fund of information on every aspect of Sus ex country life before the First World War. He describes everything from the diet (which included rooks, sparrows, wild birds’ eggs and badgers) to children’s games, ‘cures’ for illnesses (a dirty sock for a sore throat, moles’ feet for protection against toothache), how to master horses, village life and entertainments, church, and attitudes to the ‘Lord and Lady’ at the big house. Interspersed with this we hear about Gillie’s own life, including his schooldays , a trip to London during which he saw Queen Victoria (‘all bums and bosoms’), hi work a a chauffeur and gamekeeper, and his experiences during the War in Belgium and Italy.

The oral material has been skilfully arranged by Dave Arthur, who has also added illuminating back­ground information to amplify the main text. Always interesting and often hilarious, this unsentimental first-hand account is both a valuable historical docu­ment and a joy to read.

125 pages 64 illustrations