Burwash is the East Sussex village to which Kipling moved in 1902, to the Jacobean house called “Bateman’s.” The Burwash Institute, intended to he a centre of village life, was the result of four years’ work led hv Kipling’s neighbor Col. A. Sutherland Harris. Money was raised by church bazaars, jumble sales, concerts, and subscriptions. The construction ot the building, at the west, or Batemans, end of the illage, was carried out by Stephen Lusted, of a long-established Burwash family, who had died at the end of the preceding August.
He must have been the original of ‘Mr Springett’ in “The Wrong Thing” in Rewards and Fairies In that tale, speaking of the Village Hall, he says:
‘‘… I don’t mind tellin’ you, Mus’ Dan,’ he said, ‘that the Hall will be my last job top of this mortal earth. I didn’t make ten pounds—no, nor yet five—out o’ the whole contrac’, but my name’s lettered on the foundation stone—Ralph Springett, Builder—and the stone she’s bedded on four foot good concrete. If she shifts any time these five hundred years, I’ll surely turn in my grave. I told the Lunnon architec’ so when he come down to oversee my work.’
Three days after giving this speech to the village Kipling left for Stockholm to accept the Nobel Prize.
I DO NOT FORGET that, when speaking here, one is speaking to men whose names stand unchanged in the parish registers century after century, and yet our village is not extremely old. Its recorded history, as you know, extends for scarcely seven hundred years, though there is evidence to show that when William the Conqueror sent his income tax through the Weald, he found Burwash a village quite old and rich enough to pay King’s taxes. That takes us back 1,000 vears.
Fairly assuming that our village, whose existence for 1,000 years is thus shown, always existed; men do not cling to one spot so long without a good reason. It must have been a sound place to defend, and, as a good many have described it since, a sound place to live in. I am not an archaeologist, and do not want to have things thrown at me for suggesting that Burwash might have been a county city in prehistoric times. Speaking within a point of strict moderation, there must have been a village for an unbroken period of 2,000 years, and there must have been an organised v illage life, lived by people like ourselves, with a stubborn passion for managing their own af fairs, and a strong capacity for supplying their own wants. It was extremely difficult in early days to get at the village in any way, however, and what recreation in the way of dances, village sports, etc., it could not make for itself, it went without. These privations produced the self-contained, self-controlling element of English life which comes down to us (like the village), without change, from the far past.
When our predecessors decided on a common action for a common need, they discussed the matter amongst themselves, from every conceivable point of view, and they then collected subscriptions in cash or in kind amongst themselves, or by means of raids into other parishes. They did not know anything about jumble sales or such things; they apportioned the work amongst their own people, and they then criticised and offered suggestions about the works in every stage in that work’s development, and whatever the illage decided to do, whether it was a meeting in a tavern, sports in a meadow, or mystery play in a barn, all the village was equally concerned.
Today’s ceremony is no more than a repetition of that ancient precedent. Our Chairman has given us a very interesting account of the steps whereby this Institute comes to be an accomplished fact. He does not dwell on his public-spirited labours, or the labours of his committee, or the unstinted time and trouble and the sustained interest which both he and they devoted towards the realisation of our object; but everything he has told us could not have been understood by the village man 500, 1,000 or 2,000 years ago. If they returned to life they could not understand how the village needed a place for men to go for recreation immediately after the day’s work, and where, on all occasions, the lighter side of the village life could be pleasantly and intimately enjoyed.
They could perfectly realise the village pride that rejoiced because it had added something of good comfort and distinction to the place. In this village pride our forefathers were reared. It is largely to the working of that sane and honest pride that their descendants, the world over, learnt to build cities and found nations. It was true they might have found some difficulty in finding an equivalent for such words as “billiard table.” It is specially good to think that they have not departed from this last tradition, and that the work of the Institute has been done by the men in the village. We can comprehend how the builder, Stephen Lusted, would have liked to see the completion of his work—it was the crown of his life and his labours, the corner-stone of the whole: his memory will not soon be forgotten.
I wish to dedicate a little shrine to two good things—clean amusement and good fellowship, and trust that the years that take us away may suffer others to remain in its intention. It is impossible to build heaven and earth with brick and mortar and the most florid resolutions. We can only attempt from time to time to make life more gracious and more kindly for all. Men for generations before us have each and everyone, according to their lights and in their own way, done their best in the village. Please God, many more will follow them;—for the present moment it is our turn.
In conclusion, I am delighted to declare the Burwash Institute open.
—Sussex Express, Surrey Standard and Kent Mail, 7 December 1907.