Spencer Mugridge - notes from Owen Williams

Spencer Mugridge red chestnut 001 copy
Spencer Mugridge 1930
Sue Craig
A team of oxen at work on the Stanmer estate.
Spencer Mugridge - sepia

Notes from Owen Williams, 1982, Falmer.

 “From about 1918 I came in contact with Spencer a great deal. At that time I would be about 16 and he appeared to be an old man with a fine white beard. He was very active and healthy.

‘Massy me’

I never heard him complain of any disabilities – he never used any bad language. His strongest terms were ‘By Jove’, ‘Lord have mercy on us’, or ‘me’, which in Sussex became ‘Massy me’. He was also very clean and tidy in his dress and habits, and a very hard worker.


‘Ask Spencer’

He also had a vast knowledge of agricultural work and of local events. To find out where a drainpipe or water pipe lay, it was always ‘Ask Spencer’. One of his duties was being sexton at Stanmer Church. I remember the sound of his heavy nailed boots walking up the aisle when he took the collection and the responses where he could use his ‘Lord have massy on us’. Perhaps I paint a picture of a saint, but it is a just picture of an honest, upright and God fearing man of that time.




The last man to plough with Oxen at Stanmer

“To my knowledge he came from Buxted in Sussex in his earlier years and for a long time worked on the home farm at Stanmer. Here he had his ox team and was very expert in ploughing with his team of oxen and the old Sussex plough. I think he had one of his sons as ox boy. These, as you perhaps know, had to prod the oxen with a long stick with a point at the end to keep the animals on the move. Spencer was the last man to plough with oxen at Stanmer. They were fast vanishing from the scene as slow and unwieldy, being replaced by horses.

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A multi talented worker

Farming was very different in those days. Spencer was a good general labourer. He could reap with sickle, mow with scythe, build a corn stack or hay stack. I have heard him talk about flailing corn in the barn. He must have been invaluable to a farmer – all this knowledge at the time for about 12 or 14 shillings a week.

“When the farm changed hands at Stanmer in the late eighteen hundreds, Spencer was taken on by the Earl of Chichester on the Estate as a carter and general labourer where there was much to do. From 1918 when I knew him he was keeping the Mansion supplied with firewood and coal, looking after various ponies and livestock, keeping roads and hedges around trimmed and tidy, assisting anywhere when required. Both the Earl and Countess thought a lot of him.

 Life at cottage no.2

“For many years he lived in cottage no.2 as you walk up the village street on the left. His wife died somewhere about 1930. This was a great loss to him, and tears would come to his eyes at the thought of it. Mrs Feast, a close neighbour, looked after him as much as she could. His requirements were small and he was a man of regular habits. His first duty at home was to light the fire and fetch the water.”

Spencer took a long last sleep

continued… “But on December 20th 1932 the neighbours noticed that all was quiet at the cottage, no smoke was rising from the chimney, curtains were not opened and there was no response to loud knocking on the doors. I was called to investigate. They thought he might be ill. I had to break a lower window to open the catch for entry. There was no sign of life downstairs, but upstairs he lay in bed as though asleep. Evidently he had gone to bed and took a long last sleep. An inquest reported death from natural causes. He had lived a long time well over the eighties. We missed him for a long time.

Winding the clock

“One of his duties was to wind the church clock up every morning. He had instructed me how this was done. The heavy weight had to be wound up by a crank handle to the bell flow from the bottom. He had counted the number of turns of the handle. I forget how many now.

“I hope I have painted a short picture of Spencer. Now I am getting on for his age close on eighty so have a good memory of these people and events.”

A note from Doris Williams (Owen’s wife), 1982, Falmer.

A Stanmer Memory

She says that the following was taken from an article entitled ‘A Stanmer Memory’ published in a now defunct Sussex magazine sometime around 1929/30, author unknown. (Subsequently identified as by Ellen G. Winter in the Sussex County Magazine, 1938) Spencer is not mentioned by name, but there is no doubt that he is the subject of the extract.

A fine old retainer

“I met a delightful personality in the person of a fine old retainer on the Stanmer Estate, whose duties were mainly voluntary and nominal, who was obviously available for a friendly conversation. He was still handsome, wearing a sombrero type hat, distinctly resembling Garibaldi.

They was wonderfully obstinate beasts

“I asked him if he had been accustomed to plough with a bullock team at Stanmer. He said he had done so, adding, ‘They was wonderful obstinate beasts’. He added, ‘One of the beasts was so obstinate we couldn’t get him up when he chose to lie down without lighting straw under him’. Nevertheless his bullocks were a fine team, he was proud of them, and the Earl had shown them at Lewes Fair. They won a first prize, ‘and the Earl gave me a fi’ pound note for myself’.

A modest couple

“Mr X added, ‘There were people who wanted me and my wife to offer as the handsomest couple in these parts’. I asked him if they did so. ‘No’, he replied, somewhat regretfully, ‘my wife said she wouldn’t. We were as God made us’. The chance of their taking that prize, if ‘my wife’ equalled her husband, was a good one.”

Extract from a letter to my father from Mrs Alice Elphick, a granddaughter of Spencer’s, early 1983, Eastbourne.

“My mother was Louisa Mugridge and I often stayed at Stanmer as a child.

My grandfather’s family

“Grandfather as a young man came to Stanmer from Buxted. I think his mother’s name was Tourle but I am not quite sure about that. His first wife died in childbirth and he married my Grandmother Alice Carter. They had about eight children. My mother was nearly the youngest and had she lived, would have been 84.

“There were three sons, Spencer, Trayton and Frederick.

“ Spencer died about 19 years.

“ Trayton was a Petty Officer and lived near Havant, had two children a boy and girl, who would be older than me. I am in my 70th year.

“Frederick had several children and lived in Sussex but I know very little about them.”

Oddments from “Turn Back the Years” by Doris Williams. Published in 1991. The story of Owen Williams on the Stanmer Estate.





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