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A spot of family history

May 1995 | by Bernard Honeysett

My paternal grandfather David Honeysett (1840 1925) had a daughter who died in infancy, and two sons John and Joseph, there being two years’ difference between their ages. My father was born on 14 April 1881 and his mother was buried the following Christmas Day. I have heard him relate how after the funeral his father went down the road from his small farm in an isolated part of the country to see if he could find a woman to give some attention to his babies. Soon after, his parents took the younger boy, and he managed to care for,the two-year-old, often having to tie him to the leg of the table while he attended to the farm.

Both boys grew up and worked on their father’s farm, never receiving any wages, as was the custom in those days, but both receiving the gift of a silver watch when they were fourteen years of age. The logic was that when their father died they would inherit what he had – and what they had helped him to obtain! They eventually owned their own farms and for many years farmed two adjacent farms, Cowden and Tilley Farm, East Sussex, in the south of England. They were certainly hard times.

My grandfather married again, but enjoyed only a few years of married life. He was a hard-working, God-fearing man. All his life he attended the small Strict and Particular Baptist Chapel at Bodle Street, a village in Sussex, though he never made an open profession by baptism and membership. He was the eldest of eight children, all of whom, I believe, lived to be over eighty, and two over ninety years of age. I well remember my grandfather and particularly his funeral on 19 June 1925. All his brothers and sisters were present and, as was the custom, the coffin was carried on a Sussex wagon. The bearers wore white Sussex smocks (an everyday outer garment of white worn over the other clothes), which was a custom peculiar to the south of England. A smock owned and worn by my grandfather is an exhibit on permanent loan at Michelham Priory, near Hailsharn, East Sussex.

It was a very hot day, and I well remember the dust made by the horses and wagon and the numerous landaus which followed as we slowly traversed the two miles from the farm to the chapel. There were no tarred by-roads in those days! I also had on my first pair of long trousers! I do not believe that any of my grandfather’s brothers and sisters were converted, and so we grandchildren were pushed into the carriage with the conducting parson as they did not want to ride with him.

My paternal great-grandfather, also named David, began to farm in a very small way in the early part of the nineteenth century, first owning one cow which he tethered on the grass verge beside the road. Later, he rented a small farm and by hard work he came to live comfortably for those days. He and his wife kept all their money in the house and she was always the banker. I have heard my father say that if they ever needed any financial help, the old chap would say, ‘You must go and see mother.’ I believe they were both godly folk, being founder members and lifelong attenders of the chapel at Bodle Street. They died within a day or two of each other in 1894, and were buried together.

I think it is unique that my great-grandfather was buried on the spot where he was born, and this was very closely involved in the history of Bodle Street chapel. Early in the nineteenth century, a Mr. Rainsford walked the twenty-five miles from Brighton to preach in a wheelwright’s shop in the village. After a few visits, the congregation increased and he preached in the open air on what was called ‘The Green’. The outcome was that a chapel (Ebenezer) was built on this spot in 1835. Through one of these early sermons preached by Rainsford, a young man who had come to ridicule was convicted of his sin and saved. When he fell seriously ill, it was his wish that he might be buried on the spot where he was ‘born again’ and this was granted. Part of the floor of the chapel, three seats from the back, was taken up and the young man was interred. For years my family occupied this pew, but no record or tablet has ever commemorated this interesting account of God’s sovereign work.

During my great-grandfather’s lifetime the chapel purchased the cottage and garden adjoining for a graveyard. This happened to be the cottage where he was born, and so when it was demolished and the ground used for a graveyard it came about that he was buried on the spot where he had entered the world.

I feel certain that many of my forebears will rise to eternal bliss from that sacred piece of ground on the great resurrection morn when the last trump shall awaken the whole of Adam’s posterity to appear before their Creator and Judge.

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