Members of the Bridge Cottage Book Club – TOMBS & TOMES met on Tuesday 24th July to talk about the JULY book pick – ‘Chickenfeed’ by Minette Walters.
Based on the true story of the ‘chicken farm murder’ which took place in Blackness Road, Crowborough, East Sussex in December, 1924. Norman Thorne was found guilty of the murder of Elsie Cameron, but even at the time of his execution there were doubts about his guilt. Still swearing his innocence, Norman Thorne was hanged on 22 April 1925.
Minette Walters wrote this Quick Read in 2006 for the reading scheme. Quick Reads are short, fast-paced books aimed at adult emergent readers. They were launched by the former Prime Minister Tony Blair on World Book Day (2 March 2006) with the aim of encouraging adults to pick up a book and develop a love of reading. The ‘Quickread’ initiative works with well-known authors to distribute short and engaging stories across libraries, prisons, colleges, hospitals and adult-learning organisations.
Book club members found the true story to be an interesting one, but felt the style of writing was very simplistic. As this was written specifically for the Quick Reads scheme we understood the reason for this. It was noted that this was not the usual writing style for Walters, who is known as the ‘Queen of British crime fiction’. As a Quick Read it works well as it provides the reader with an intriguing plot and accessible narrative for a reluctant or infrequent reader.
In the book we learn about Elsie, girlfriend of Norman. Elsie is introduced as a very demanding and unstable character who is on medication from her GP for her ‘nerves’. It was discussed that in today’s standards society is a lot more aware and sympathetic towards mental health issues. The behaviours Elsie exhibits show signs of what we know today as Borderline Personality Disorder.
It was felt that Norman was a naive character and whilst members did not believe he intended to commit murder it was felt his actions subsequent to Elsie’s death were very callous and devoid of feeling. But the reflection was made that Norman spent day in and day out rearing chickens and then slaughtering/plucking them to sell, so may have become desensitized to the act of carving up Elsie’s body in an attempt to hide her death.
This book was an interesting read for members as it was based on a local true story. It also gave readers an insight into the local industry of chicken farming, which was very popular at the time in Sussex. As our book club focuses on historical fiction all members were satisfied they had learnt more about their local area, but felt the book only deserved 2 stars. Whilst the content was interesting, the lack of an in-depth plot development was frustrating, but it was understood this was to fit the brief for the ‘Quick Read’ so was therefore understood.
TOMBS & TOMES book club rating:
Chicken farming was a major industry in the Weald of Sussex during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The term ‘chicken higgler’ was used to describe people who scoured the countryside for suitable chickens to take back to their farm for fattening before being sent on the train to London. Uckfield and District Preservation Society produced an article on this subject in volume six of the Society’s Hindsight publication.
Here pictured is a piece of farming equipment, now part of our UDPS collection, used by the chicken industry during the 19th century. It is called a chicken crammer and was used force feed the chickens to fatten them ready to sell at market.
In Uckfield there are a series of wooden sculptures that were created from trees felled in the great storm of 1987. One of these sculptures depicts a ‘chicken higgler’ (pictured below) as a nod to this local trade.