Men of the cloth often have hidden talents but they do not come much more unusual than the late Rev John Baker’s. The rector of Newick was a magician – and a semi-professional one at that.
He gave his first public show in 1963 and his repertoire of tricks was enormous with more than 400 effects and illusions, though he drew the line at fire-eating. ‘Presto John’, a member of the British Ring and the International Brotherhood of Magicians, regularly baffled audiences with his shows at clubs, schools and playgroups.
Most of the parish have interests outside their normal jobs and careers, too. There are more than 40 different clubs and societies to choose from in a village that has successfully absorbed a massive population boom, rising from 950 to 2,500 since the Second World War.
Those that choose amateur dramatics or cricket are following in some distinguished footsteps: Derek Bogaerde, better-known to the world’s cinemagoers (and novel readers) as the late Sir Dirk Bogarde, had his first major stage part with the Newick Amateur Dramatic Society in the 1934 production of Journey’s End and on the cricket pitch the village spawned James and John Langridge in the 1920s. In a county famous for its cricketing brothers, both played for Sussex and James for England. James was the bowler of the two, while his brother was a batsman and clever slip fielder – a formidable combination and the entry ‘caught Langridge (John) bowled Langridge (James)’ occurs 133 times in score books.
Among those who encouraged the Langridge boys to develop their skills to the full was Thomas Baden Powell, cousin of the founder of the Scout movement. This small but dynamic eccentric owned much property in Newick and his passion for sport, and cricket in particular, helped him to overcome curvature of the spine and a club foot to be a good all-rounder himself.
Thomas gave the village schoolboys the use of his beautiful private cricket ground where he staged regular matches with his own elevens taking on some high-powered opposition. It was considered a great honour to be invited to play and anyone who refused was never asked again. He staged lavish sportsmen’s suppers every year at The Bull, with plenty of free tobacco and drink, and visiting teams always remembered the tea they were provided with at Mr Helmsley’s bakery.
Even in his declining years when he was pushed around the village in a wheelbarrow padded in red velvet (a bathchair had proved too uncomfortable) cricket was never far from Thomas’s thoughts and when a hairdresser called to give him a trim he found him in bed wearing his cricket cap.
A cricket match at Newick in May 1737 brought one of the most bizarre entries in the parish registers: “John Boots killed by running against another man on crossing wicket’.
And it was a love of the game that gave the village one of its more peculiar houses. One of Lord Sheffield’s butlers used to love watching the cricket on his master’s ground (see Sheffield Park) and even after getting the sack was anxious to see the play so he built himself a three-storey house at the highest point in Newick in Allington Road with an additional tower on top which housed a telescope so the butler could get a good view of the cricket three miles away and of the ships in the distant Channel. The tower was later struck by lightning and had to be dismantled.
Memories of Newick in the early years of the 20th century paint a picture of self-sufficiency. It had a snob’s (or shoemender); a blacksmith; a shop selling tea, sugar, sweets and shag by the pennyworth; two grocers who also stocked secondhand furniture, lino and carpets; a hairdresser’s; a tailor (appropriately run by Mr Cutting) and a cottage hospital opened in 1869 to accommodate seven of the poor when suffering from noninfectious disease or accident’.
A cattle market was held on the green and a white horsedrawn bus plied back and forth from the village to the railway station at 6d a ride.
Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 1897 were a day of great festivity and left the village with a useful reminder of the occasion in the form of a parish pump, erected by local plumber Richard Fuller over a well sunk by Arthur and Jack Wood. Church bells rang, a band played and there were sports and tea for the entire village. In the evening there was beer for the men (a limit of two pints each was agreed upon after much discussion), a bonfire and fireworks. The day closed with the National Anthem at 10.30 pm.
Elias Hurion Neve was for nearly 50 years master of Newick Boys School in the 19th century, by all accounts an awesome personality who was assisted in the teaching by his niece Mary Collins, whose addiction to snuff and ‘row of flat curls on her forehead’ make her sound a formidable character, too. A series of masters were appointed after Elias’ death in 1873, none of whom stayed for long. Mr T. Jones was on such bad terms with the school managers that when he resigned in 1881 he recorded in the school log: ‘Gave up charge of this school, I trust that my successor will find a smoother way prepared for him than what I had prepared for me, and I hope that by me getting the school in good working order he will merit all the praise; but not from the managers will he get it.’
The girls went to Lady Vernon’s School, established by Louisa Barbara Mansell of Newick Place, endowed with many virtues and with many accomplishments for amusements and Society’, who in 1771 gave three cottages as a school and set up a charity to provide a yearly salary for a schoolmistress to teach 12 poor girls from the parish ‘reading, writing, needlework and whatever the owner of Newick Park should wish to make them useful servants.’ Each girl was allowed 25s a year from the income of the Trust to be spent on clothing and a further £10 was made available for the schoolmistress to have an assistant.
Though her school has been absorbed by state education, the Lady Vernon Trust survives to this day and Newick girls are able to draw grants for a wide variety of educational activities.
The old turnpike toll house still stands beside the busy A272 and Blind Lane may well have got its name from the toll fee dodgers, who used it as a bypass well out of sight of the toll house to avoid payments which could be hefty: ‘For every horse or other beast drawing a coach 6d; for 1st horse or other beast drawing a wagon 7%d and for every other beast 5d. For a dog or goat drawing any carriage 1d. Drove of oxen cows or cattle 10d per score; sheep, calves or swine 5d per score. For every vehicle moved by steam, gas or mechanism 5s.’ Tolls were doubled in the winter months for all laden vehicles.