George Cosstick spent all of his working life – except for the war years when he was in the Royal Navy – working as a chauffeur.
He was with R.C. Burton Rowe, who lived at Gildridge, Whitesmith, until Mr Rowe’s death and continued working for Mrs Rowe until she sold Gildridge and moved away.
George’s son Richard wrote this story: ‘Life as a Chauffeur and working for Gentry 1928-1956 in Sussex’. He brought the information together originally for the Chiddingly Oral History group.
Mr Rowe always had Humber Cars, a new one each year, these were filled with petrol at Park Corner Garage owned by Mr Jones, where Mr Rowe had an account.
All brands of petrol were available here, Shell, Esso, Power, Cleveland Disscoll etc. Best Petrol was about 1/6 a gallon in the early days (7.5p today). Full tank for the Humber was about 19 shillings (95p)
The car had to be cleaned after ever trip out, regardless of the time of return. Mr Rowe would not go out in a dirty car and as a child I can remember father being very late home often, as the car had to be cleaned ready for the trip to Lewes Station at 8am next morning, for Mr Rowe to catch the train to London.
In those days at Lewes Station the various chauffeurs would be there, either taking or collecting their employers, and so ‘your car’ had to be the smartest and cleanest in the line!
Life as a Chauffeur was tough, as one was always on call, anytime night or day, many Sunday lunchtimes were spoilt as the phone would ring and father was expected to go at once to take Mr and Mrs Rowe out, often to Bournemouth.
Father would rush upstairs and change into his uniform, very smart, and cycle to Gildridge, get the car at the door ready for them to get into, all of this with often only 30 minutes warning.
My Mother worked in the house for many years, as cook, cleaner, waiting at table, all the jobs that were required of her.
Before the water was on tap (see later) this included taking hot water to the bedrooms in the mornings in brass hot water cans that one can still see in antique shops today.
Mother had worked at Gildridge in the days before Mr Rowe when it was owned by the King family.
In those days, Gildridge had three full time gardeners and one part time. The garden was sometimes opened to the public. The saying was almost true, that if a leaf fell from a tree it had to be picked up!
Gildridge gardens were just under four acres and included ornamental pools which ran from the top of the gardens right down through various size pools, to a large bottom pool where the water was pumped back up to the top.
Mr Westgate was the head gardener. He lived at East Hoathly and could grow anything. As Gildridge did not have greenhouses he used cold frames to bring plants on.
Fruits of all types were grown in the large fruit enclosure. A special brick building was built at the bottom of the garden to store the fruit. This building was the size of a small house.
The herbaceous border was five yards deep on two sides of a long border and full of flowers. There was a large rose garden, with crab apple trees set on each corner.
Lawns were hand mowed with an Atco Mower, it was about quarter of a mile down the lawn so going up and down meant there was a lot of walking.
Of course no one was allowed to walk in front of the house for any reason when Mr or Mrs Rowe were in residence, so mowing at the front was always done when they were out.
Every time one wished to go to the top of the garden from the bottom it had to be via the back of the house.
Gildridge had its own drinking water supply. Mr Rowe had a bore hole drilled and a pump house built, which contained three tall round tanks almost roof high.
Water was pumped into the first one, allowed to settle, treated with acid to purify, then allowed into the second tank for more treatment and then into the third, by which time it was fit for drinking and was pumped into the house for this and washing etc.
A large tank was also erected, outside at the top of the drive beside the pump house again for more water reserve.
Gildridge was a fine house, surrounded with superb grounds and was much loved by its owners. As for the employees it was a grand place to work and as most stayed for many years, it became part of their lives.
It was often hard work but they knew that back then that someone was always ready to jump into your job given the chance.
Until the War broke out in 1939 employment was hard to find so it was best to get on with the job in hand and ‘be glad that one had a job to do’.
One did not know then that life would never return as it had been for so many. The war changed everything.
Find local businesses in our Uckfield Directory