A remarkable woman

Rouser 2012
Rouser 2012

SUSANNAH Stacey of East Chiltington, near Lewes, better known as Grandma, was by any measure a remarkable woman - cook and counsellor,

friend to the poor and the sick, and a healer through strange herbal potions.

She was a curious mixture of well-bred Victorian lady and white witch, immortalised by Marcus Woodward in his The Mistress of Stantons Farm (Country Books).

The daughter of a wealthy Surrey family, she ran away at 19 to marry farmer William Stacey, a widower with five children, and her home became East Chiltington’s Stantons Farm.

Stantons became a place of pilgrimage for those who were troubled in mind or body and Grandma’s advice and medicines were never denied them.

She created a herb garden famous throughout the county and products from it were sought by doctors for miles around.

She had a herbal remedy for almost every human ailment, from lumbago to deafness, and was just as famous for her cures of domestic animals.

She could soothe a frenzied horse or pain-wracked dog by the touch of her hand or the sound of her voice.

How about this foxglove concoction as a cure for deafness: Bruise in a marble mortar, the flowers, leaves and stalks of fresh fox-glove; mix the juice with double the quantity of brandy, and keep it for use. The herb flowers in June and the juice will thus keep good till the return of that season.

The method of using it is to drop one drop in the ear every night, and then moisten a bit of lint with a little of the juice, put it also in the ear, and take it out next morning till the cure be completed.’

Rouser might give that a try!

Grandma died in 1893, but continued to be a source of help from beyond the grave.

During her lifetime she had planted banks of belladonna, or deadly nightshade, in Cripps Plantation on the Downs above East Chiltington.

As lethal as the name suggests if the plant is swallowed, she cultivated it for making belladonna plasters to ease various pains such as lumbago.

The First World War brought a tremendous demand for the plant, its external application causing dilation of the pupils of the eyes making examinations and operations easier and Grandma’s flourishing wild garden of the stuff found a new role.

n The Stantons, of course, attended the Chiltington parish church.

There is a story that the Rector, finding very few men came to church on Sunday, proclaimed that he would give sixpence to every male who attended.

On the first Sunday a good sprinkling of men earned their sixpences and were able to enjoy a jolly afternoon at the sign of the Old Hatch - but they did not come back to church to tend their souls.

When the Rector asked his clerk for the reason, he was told: ‘Well, sir, they what come says, ‘taint worth the money!’