James Watts: Becoming Respectable

James Watts,  the third son of James Watts senior, acquired most of his father’s arable and grazing lands after the latter’s death. He did not, though,  inherit it. His father’s will was rigorously fair. All his children, male or female, were to inherit an equal share of the rest of his estate. If James wanted the land, he was to be given first option to buy it at a price agreed by the executors and the profits then divided between all the children. When James senior made his will, in 1826, he had two sons older than James, but presumably saw in this third son the potential to make the most of the land and the business acumen to acquire the money needed.

James was born in 1806 and baptised in St Leonard’s church, Hythe, on 11 May that year. He was not entirely a chip off the old block. His father and brother were both active members of the local Conservative Club and outspoken members of Hythe Town council. James however, did not become a councillor until 1842, though he was, of course, a Conservative. In fact it seems that he left Hythe after his marriage for a while and lived in London, where his first two children were born in September 1837 and 1838. He was back in Hythe for the birth of the third child in 1839.

James was undoubtedly respectable. He did not spend fourteen hours a day in the saddle, or throw extravagant banquets like his father; nor get himself violently ejected from the council chamber or become bankrupt like his brother Edward. He became a coal merchant and grazier, and did his civic duty. He was mayor of Hythe no fewer than eleven times, none of which excited much comment in the local press beyond the platitudes of conventional congratulations.  His obituaries are bland. He was ‘competent’; ‘clear and straightforward;’ ‘able and impartial’. He carried on as president of the Hythe Annual Benefit Society, founded by his father, which supported sick townsmen unable to work, and bailed out his brother when he was in dire financial straits. He seems to have been, in short, a ‘safe pair of hands’, the sort of man absolutely necessary to the smooth running of local government.

He had married Charlotte Mount, the daughter of an Aldington grazier, on 6 April 1835. They had seven children, all of whom grew to adulthood. The girls were educated at home by a governess and Charlotte had a nurse for the youngest.  The boys were sent away to school.  But in March 1869, tragedy struck the family.

Their eldest daughter Ellen was also the epitome of small town respectability. She visited the poor; she deputised at St Leonard’s church when the regular organist could not play; she accompanied vocalists at concerts and sometimes sang herself; and she taught in Sunday School. That March day, when she was twenty-nine years old, she went out at about 10am to visit the sick. Crossing the Green, she borrowed a pencil from a carter’s boy, wrote in her notebook then continued across the town to Green Lane, which runs parallel to the canal. She walked further along its banks for a while, then just beyond a bend, drowned herself in four feet of water.B

 

                          The quiet stretch of the Royal Military Canal where Ellen Watts ended her life. 

Her body was found by a bargeman soon afterwards. Her family and friends were at a loss to explain why she had taken her own life. She had seemed happy the evening before, they said. The inquest jury brought in the inevitable verdict that she had committed suicide while of unsound mind. Her notebook was found on the canal bank, under a tree, together with her umbrella.  The note she had written with the borrowed pencil was her farewell to her family and was read in court:

Oh, forgive me dear Mama and Papa and all the dear ones. I have tried so hard to do my duty, but I cannot. I feel I am not like other people; everyone looks so good. But God will not leave you comfortless. Oh, how I have loved you all, dear ones.

James had a vault hastily constructed in St Leonard’s churchyard,  cut into the side of the hill, and after her funeral, which was attended by hundreds of people, Ellen’s coffin was placed in it. The vicar’s wife, Mrs Sangar, placed a wreath of white flowers on it, before the vault was sealed.

                           The badly weathered stone closure on the Watts vault in St Leonard’s Churchyard

Ellen had been the third child of Hannah and James Watts. Her oldest brother, another James, became a clerk to his uncle Edward Watts, but seems never to have qualified as a solicitor himself and later worked on the London Stock Exchange. He lived in Surrey but played first class cricket for Kent between 1855 and 1860 (as a Gentleman, of course).  The next brother, born the year before Ellen, Edward,  became a clerk in the War Office and also lived in Surrey. After Ellen came Bertha, who married Dr John Hackney, a GP with a practice in Hythe High Street. Then came Georgiana, who rather less respectably married a man who was a travelling salesman for Burtons Ales. He died young and she returned as a widow to Hythe. The next sister, Mary Amelia married Commander Arthur Mansell RN: they are both buried in St Leonard’s churchyard. Finally, the youngest, Duncan, became a solicitor and went, like his brothers, to live in Surrey.

James died suddenly in 1872 and was buried in the vault he had built for Ellen. Charlotte outlived him by seventeen years and joined him there in 1889.

After her death, her surviving children gave to St Leonard’s Church a parcel of land at the end of Stade Street, where the family home had stood,  to provide for the building of St Michael’s Church, a so-called iron church.   At this time Hythe was developing fast; hundreds of houses were built on the south side of the Royal Military Canal near to Stade Street, to which working class families were attracted because of their modest rents. The Church wanted to provide for these people and, for a time, ‘mission type’ services were held in the nearby National School.  Once the Watts family had donated the site, a former vicar, the Reverend F.T. Scott, offered to pay for the building and an appeal for funds to furnish the church met with a good response.

See the source image                                               St Michael’s Church, Hythe, the ‘Tin Tabernacle’ 

The  flat pack church was ordered and erected within months and furnished with a wooden altar and pews, gas lighting and a coke stove for the winter months.  It was consecrated as St Michael’s church on 19 September 1893 and has since been sympathetically restored and is a real landmark in the town. Unlike their decaying gravestones, it is a living memorial to the presence of the Watts family in Hythe.

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Edward Watts, True Blue

Edward Watts was the second son of James and Hannah Watts, born in 1804, and became a solicitor, in partnership with a Mr Brockman. They had offices in Great Conduit Street, Hythe. In 1829, he was appointed Master Extraordinary in the Court of Chancery (responsible for taking affidavits for the court). At home, he became a town councillor, and like his father before him, a staunch Conservative.  Like his father, too, he could expect to remain a councillor for the rest of his life. However, he was living in interesting political times and this was not to be his future.

The Whig government of Lord Grey, having carried out reform of parliamentary constituencies in 1832, turned its attention to local government. A Royal Commission was appointed to investigate municipal boroughs. The Commission comprised eighteen men, nearly all Radicals, members of a loose political grouping who wanted to reform the way in which Great Britain was governed.  They came also to be known as Liberals. They investigated 285 towns, most of which were found wanting. As a result, the Municipal Corporations Act became law in 1835, requiring 178 town councils to reform their practices. Hythe was one of them.

Edward was by this time Town Clerk as well as a councillor. The Act specifically forbade this combination of offices and Edward resigned the councillorship. In January 1836, an election was called, the first in Hythe in which voting was along party political lines, Conservatives versus Liberals.  178 men were allowed to vote, and they voted in a Liberal majority. The Liberals also fielded a candidate for the post of Town Clerk, one George Sedgwick, another solicitor. He won the post, but the council were now faced with the fact that according to Edward’s contract, they had to buy him an annuity for life, which would, reportedly, use up all their funds for the next four years.  Rates would therefore have to increase substantially.

In May that year, Edward presented his claim for compensation. It was for £3306. 15s. 2d., about a quarter of a million pounds today. Voting had been close in the election, and there were claims that some men had been excluded from the list of voters erroneously. Edward acted for those among them who were Conservatives, and although the case failed he announced his intention of seeking a mandamus from the Court of King’s Bench to force the issue.

At the next annual election of councillors, late in 1836, Edward was voted in again as a town councillor. The council, however, for reasons which remain obscure, refused to accept this election as legal, and when Edward arrived at the council chamber to take his oath of office, the Mayor refused to hear it and told him to leave. Edward refused. The Mayor then instructed his constable, who was also the town gaoler, to eject him by force, and Edward was manhandled from the chamber.

Whether or not Edward sought a mandamus, we do not know, but he would not give up on the question of the Conservative voters who were disenfranchised in January 1836.  He got the MP for East Kent (a new constituency created by the Reform Act of 1832) to petition the House of Commons stating his case. There was no point in asking the Hythe MP to do this. Sir Stewart Marjoribanks was a Liberal himself.

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Sir Stewart Marjoribanks, MP for Hythe 1829-1837 and 1841-1847

Eventually, Edward won. Two Liberal councillors were charged with having ‘unlawfully, corruptly and designedly’ altered the borough’s rate book in no fewer that 300 cases to disenfranchise some men and give a vote to others (eligibility to vote was dependant among other things, on having paid all your rates). Their counsel’s only defence was that they were ‘ignorant and illiterate men’. They pleaded guilty and spent four months in Maidstone gaol.

Edward was reinstated as Town Clerk when George Sedgwick  failed to attend council meetings. He stayed in the post until his death over twenty years later. On 30 September 1840, in Reigate, he married Amelia Bunn, and the first of their nine children was born almost exactly a year later.

Legal matters aside, Edward was also very interested in the railways. He was one of the founder members of the Elham Valley Railway Company which wanted to run from Canterbury to Folkestone and worked tirelessly to bring the railway to Hythe, although he did not live to see the opening of either line.

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The site of part of the Elham Valley Railway which operated from 1887 to 1947 and is now a pleasant footpath.

                    The opening of Hythe Station. The line from Sandling was open from 1874 to 1951

Edward steered clear of further controversy, and now seemed to be living the respectable life of a small town solicitor and family man. Except that in 1855, he was declared bankrupt, owing over £90,000. This he attributed in court to heavy losses in the building of his new house,the depreciation of property and debts owing to him amounting to £27,000. The new family home was put on the market.  It had an acre of land, coach house and stabling, drawing room, dining room, library and eight bedrooms. Edward, rather than being sent to a debtor’s prison was given bail with sureties, presumably from his brother James,  and went to live in Islington but his family stayed in Hythe, in Marine Parade.  He was discharged as a bankrupt in 1856, returned to Hythe and continued to practice as a solicitor and act as Town Clerk.

However, the bankruptcy would not go away. In 1855, Edward had arranged a mortgage for a Mr Green, in which a friend of his, a Rev’d Formby advanced the money. Formby passed the cash to Edward, who delayed before passing it to Green and when he was declared bankrupt, the money was included in his assets. His brother, James, repaid Formby, but in 1858 the Reverend gentleman applied to the Court of Chancery to have Edward struck  off. The Lord Chancellor disagreed, but awarded costs against Edward. On his return to Hythe, the horses were taken out of his carriage and it was pulled through the street by delighted townsmen while the town band played and cheering crowds lined the streets.

The rest of Edward’s life was, as far as we know, quiet, though not without sadness.  Two sons, Ernest Edward and William Benjamin, died young at eleven years and a few months respectively. Asthmatic all his life, an attack of bronchitis eventually proved fatal for Edward and he died on 1 June 1867 aged sixty-two.

His family erected an impressive obelisk over his grave, with space enough for all his family’s names. It is, however, badly weathered, and only Edward’s name and the names of the sons who died as children can, just, be deciphered.

Of his three daughters, Matilda remained single; Josephine married Horatio Case and Alice married firstly Sir Edward Hay Drummond-Hay, the former Governor of St Helena and secondly Henry John Maxwell. The second son Albert became a solicitor in Wimbledon; the third, Percy, went to Ceylon as a tea planter and died there at the age of thirty-six; and the two youngest, Montague and Herbert became clerks in the Metropolitan Water Company and lived in Surrey.

After his death his widow moved with her youngest children to Westminster. She lived latterly with Matilda in Putney where she died in 1897

James Watts senior: a self-made man

 

An impressive obelisk and a vault set into the hillside, the last resting places of two brothers who dominated Hythe civic life in the mid years of the nineteenth century.  The passing visitor peering at the graves would be none the wiser, however, as the weather (or aggressive cleaning) has erased all but the merest trace of their names.

They were James and Edward Watts, the sons of another James Watts.

James Watts senior was born in 1778. He was the son of James Watts and Mary nee Goddard who came from New Romney. He was baptised in St Leonard’s church in Hythe on 12 July 1778. His parents were, according to his obituary, far from rich.  He had a younger brother, Edward.  Aged just twenty, he married Hannah Holmes, again in St Leonard’s church on 30 October 1798. By his early twenties was starting out on his business and political career. He first became licensee of the Red Lion public house, which was at the centre of the livestock market in Hythe and a good place for making contacts. He started to accrue land and livestock himself and set up a coal and seed business.

He handed over the licence of the Red Lion to his brother (who held it until his death in 1826) and before he was thirty, he had gone into  business with a John Dray, running a hoy service round the coast from Hythe to London (often quicker than travelling by the dreadful roads, and heavy goods could be carried, too).

The hoy was very soon joined by another, but disaster struck only weeks later when during a gale the ‘Swan’ was dismasted and the captain killed.  Despite this, the business thrived and in 1810, James was doing well enough to buy John Dray’s share of the business.

He capitalised on the increased military activity in the area resulting from the building of the Martello towers and the Military Canal and won contracts to supply the army with forage and provisions. Reportedly, in 1814 his transactions with these contracts alone exceeded £100,000 – about £3.5 million today. By the time he made his will in 1826, he was a wealthy man, with a house and grounds in Stade Street, Marrowbone Hall, and thousands of acres of grazing land on the Romney Marsh. Increasingly his name was linked with those of Finnis, Mackeson and Tritton, the families who formed Hythe’s plutocracy.

 

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The Red Lion in Hythe, one of the first business ventures of James watt senior. It has changed little over the years.

See the source image                            Two of the Hythe Martello Towers. They were built in the early nineteenth century as part of the coastal fortifications designed to deal with a potential French invasion

He took a great interest in local affairs. For many years he was quarter-master of the Elham troop of Yeomanry Cavalry (which dovetailed nicely with his business interests); he became a Town Councillor and was a staunch Conservative  though that was a word he disliked, preferring the old-fashioned ‘Tory’; and eventually he became Mayor of Hythe in 1843, dying during his third consecutive year in office. The position of Mayor could only be held by the comparatively wealthy, as a great deal of hospitality was expected of the incumbent at his own expense, and James Watts was noted for the liberality of his entertainments. He was liberal with his charity, too. The Christmas before his death he gave ‘upwards of forty score pounds of beef and several tons of coals’ to the poor of Hythe,

He was an enthusiastic fox hunter and member of the East Kent meet, and would reportedly often spend fourteen hours a day in the saddle, either hunting or visiting his lands.

He and his wife had nine children born almost yearly after their marriage. The eldest son, John, died aged thirty-two in 1832. His younger sister Sarah, the eldest daughter, married the widowed Robert Tassell, a paper manufacturer and farmer of West Malling in 1835, but died just two years later. Her daughter, Frances, had died two months before that.

The next child, another daughter, died aged eight in 1811. James and Edward, followed. Then there was a daughter, Anne, who died in her twenties; another, Harriet, who married John Taylor of Sene (or Sceene or Scene) farm near Hythe and became eventually the mother-in-law of Arthur Randall Davis; and two sons called William, born in 1811 and 1812 who died aged only a few months.

Hannah Watts died on 1 July 1845 and James only four days later, apparently of an ulcerated stomach.

His funeral was a grand affair. The shops in Hythe closed, the pews in St Leonard’s Church were draped in black and the great and good of the town all attended. The MP, Sir William Deedes, sent his carriage. He was buried in the churchyard, but the stone which must surely have marked his last resting place has either disappeared or become wholly illegible.

 

A Desperate Wife

 

In/loving memory of/Henry Rees/ (of Marine Parade Hythe)/who died September 20th 1880/aged 68 yearsAlso of/Zillah Anne/wife of the above named/Henry Rees/who fell asleep in Jesus/ Novr 29th 1893./aged 79 years
“ Not gone from memory or from love/but to her Father’s home above”
And of Josephus Chapman Rees/son of the above/who died April 8th 1900/aged 49 years

Henry Rees was born in Huntington, then part of Radnorshire, now in Herefordshire. His parents were Thomas Rees and Mary nee Evans. Thomas Rees was a distinguished scholar and independent minister of religion who arrived in the district in 1802. He wrote that he found the ‘moral and spiritual state of the neighbourhood truly deplorable’ and promptly set about preaching to convert locals to the paths of righteousness. This was not always well-received: while speaking at Gladrestry a bull was set loose among the crowd of listeners and at Eardisley, in 1804, he was shot at. He eventually, however, had charge of two chapels, at Huntington and nearby Gore, and was appointed schoolmaster of Goff’s School, a charitable foundation which used part of Huntington chapel as the schoolrooms. It had about seventy pupils.

The chapel and school at Huntington

Henry was the oldest son of Thomas and Mary, though there were at least six other children, and he also became a minister of religion. When his father died on 14 May 1858, he succeeded him in both his ministerial and school posts. This continued until Autumn 1861, when accusations were made against him, specifically that he had ‘behaved in an ill manner towards one of his pupils, a young girl’. The trustees of the charity, who ran the school, dismissed him from his position as master and he was expelled from his churches over what was described as ‘a matter of great imprudence.’


Henry and Zillah, his wife, sold up everything, including all their household effects, and moved to Hythe, where Zillah’s parents had retired.

Henry had married Zillah Anne Chapman on 29 March 1850. She had been born in Gravesend on 28 April 1814, the only son of Josephus and Susanna Chapman nee Martin. Her father, too, was an independent minister of religion, who baptised his daughter and conducted her wedding ceremony. He was, like Thomas and Henry Rees, both minister and schoolmaster at the chapel in Princes Street, Gravesend, which had two schoolrooms. After their marriage, Henry and Zillah lived with Henry’s parents in Huntington. They had two sons, Josephus and Henry, and a daughter, another Zillah.

Once in Hythe, the couple lived at West Parade, with their daughter – the boys were away at Shireland Hall School in Harborne, which accepted the sons of clergy of all denominations

West Parade, Hythe

Henry became the minister of the Ebenezer Chapel in Hythe, although he resigned from this position in January 1866 for undisclosed reasons. The congregation presented him with ten pounds, as a parting gift. He continued for a while to call himself a minister, though he had, in fact, became a rate collector, working for the town council. Had he lost his faith, or had the scandal followed him to Hythe? There is no way of knowing. From subsequent events, however, it seems that he had again strayed from the straight and narrow path.

In 1875, Zillah petitioned for divorce.

In 1875, divorce was not respectable. It was particularly unrespectable for the daughter of a minister of religion who was the wife of another minister to accuse her husband of adultery and either cruelty or desertion, for those were the criteria which had to be met for a woman to obtain a divorce (men had only to prove adultery). In fact, this possibility had only been available since 1857: before that it took an act of parliament to legally separate a couple. Zillah must have been desperate to take such an extreme step, but it was to no avail. She was unable to prove her case and it was dismissed the following year. However, she had not long to wait for her freedom.

In his later years, Henry suffered from heart disease. Out walking with one of his sons after supper on a September evening in 1880, he suffered a heart attack and died immediately.

After Henry’s death, Zillah remained at Hythe for a while, letting out rooms to make ends meet, though either her husband or her father, who died in 1879, had left her an annuity. Her lodgers, though, were refined ladies: Mary Guyon and her sister Elizabeth Barr, who had recently moved to the town from Bath. Mary was the widow of Lt. Col. Henry Guyon of the Bengal Army who had died in 1879. Elizabeth was a maiden lady. The sisters brought with them their nurse.

Zillah had rooms to spare because her children had flown the nest. Josephus and Henry had by 1880 set up in business in Witham, near Braintree in Essex, and their sister Zillah joined them as their housekeeper. Josephus had served an apprenticeship with a draper in Fareham, Hants. Once settled in the little town, Henry also acted as honorary organist at the Congregational church, but Josephus, meanwhile, seems to have defected to the Church of England. He attended Vestry meetings and was appointed as a parish overseer of the poor in 1882. Zillah, at least for the present, stayed true to her non-conformist roots and, in 1881, married Francis Richard Wheatley (‘Frank’), another draper, in the independent chapel at Witham. They lived with her brothers at their premises in the High Street.

The chapel at Witham where Henry was organist and where his sister married.

In 1888, Josephus and Henry moved to Newbury, Berkshire, where they set up again as drapers. Their mother joined them there: her lodgers had found permanent accommodation in Hillside Street, Hythe.
The Wheatleys, with their two children, moved to Lowestoft and set up their own, much larger drapery business. They were well off enough to employ a nurse for the children and two live-in servants as well as six assistants. It seems that they, too, changed their religious allegiances. In his later years, Frank was a churchwarden at the Anglican parish church

The Newbury stay was a short one. In about 1892, Josephus and Henry moved again, to Leamington in Warwickshire. Zillah, their mother, died there soon afterwards. The brothers opened another drapery in Warwick Street, this time specialising in black cloth of all sorts, which was useful for mourning, and also for maids’ outfits.

 

But Josephus died aged 49 in 1900, leaving Henry to carry on the business alone. He still traded as ‘Rees Brothers,’ but moved to different premises further down the road and changed his approach. The black fabrics were gone, and now he stocked ladies’ underwear and baby linen.

By 1911, his business seemed to be thriving, and he had five live-in assistants.  Like his brother Josephus, Henry did not marry.

He died in 1939 in Lothingland, Suffolk, the same registration district where his sister, Zillah Wheatley, had died three years previously.

The Preacher


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Almost hidden behind an old yew tree, the grave of the much-married Benjamin Sackett with its straightforward inscription:

Benjamin Sackett/b. 6 June 1811/d. 8 June 1885
Wesleyan local preacher 54 years
Mary Ann first wife/d. 18 Nov 1842
Lucy second wife/d. 4th March 1868
Emily third wife/ b. 11 May 1835/d. 8 March 1920
Wesleyan Sunday School teacher/60 years

Benjamin Sackett was born in St Lawrence, Thanet on 6 June 1811. His birth name was Benjamin Sackett Cox and he was the result the result of a union between another Benjamin Sackett and Ann Cox. His mother died in childbed, and he was taken in by his paternal grandparents, Jeremiah and Hannah. Nine of their own twelve children had died in infancy.
Jeremiah and Hannah were comfortably off. When he died, Jeremiah owned three houses as well as his own home in Sackett’s Hill, where the family had lived for generations and which can still be found in Broadstairs. It is only a ‘hill’ in Thanet terms, as it rises only a little above the flat landscape of the area.

Sackett’s Hill from the air (Google Maps)

Benjamin’s grandmother died in 1816 when he was only five, and his father married in 1815. It would seem unlikely that his wife would have wanted too much contact with an illegitimate by-blow. After a basic education at a day school, Benjamin was apprenticed to a miller, Henry Hudson, who had a windmill in Grange Road, about four miles from his grandparent’s home.

Henry Hudson’s Windmill later in the nineteenth century

 

During his apprenticeship, he started to attend the Wesleyan Chapel in Broadstairs, and when he was about eighteen years old, according to his son, he found ‘deliverance and joy and a greater love towards God.’ He started preaching soon afterwards, his first sermon being at his old school, where he spoke on the text ‘Almost Thou Persuadest Me to be a Christian’.

On 19 January 1934, now a fully-fledged miller, Benjamin married Mary Ann Cooper of Whitstable in St George the Martyr church, Ramsgate. It was an Anglican church. Although he had now become a Methodist, and although Methodists now worshipped separately from the Church of England, it would be another three years until couples could legally marry in a Methodist chapel. Benjamin and Mary Ann could not wait that long, since she was already three months pregnant. At his marriage, Benjamin used his legal name, Cox, for the last time. Henceforth, he was plain Benjamin Sackett, and all his children were baptised with that surname. Thanet was a long way from Hythe in early nineteenth century terms, and there was no reason why anyone in his new home should know about his unfortunate start in life.

Benjamin had found work in Hythe, working for Mr Horton, who owned several windmills, three in Hardway’s End (now St Leonard’s Road) and one in Windmill Street. This Mr Horton died the next year, but his son, and later his grandson continued with the business and Benjamin stayed with them for the next fifty years.

The Hope Inn in Stade Street, Hythe, with one of Mr Horton’s mills in the background

 

Benjamin and Mary Ann’s first son, another Benjamin, was born on 3 June 1834, followed by Jeremiah, named for his grandfather, on 10 December 1836. That year Benjamin senior  was admitted to the Dover Methodist Circuit as a lay preacher, and two weeks after his son’s birth, was out preaching on Christmas Day, getting lost in a snowstorm into the bargain.

A third son, Jabez, was born in 1841, but the next year, Mary Anne died giving birth to a daughter, Caroline, who within a week followed her mother to the grave. Benjamin needed a substitute mother for his sons, and found one in Lucy Lee, ten years his senior, whom he married in 1844. She became, again according to his son, ‘a true helpmeet for him, and an excellent mother to his children.’

He was certainly in need of one, as he had no leisure time at all. He worked long hours at the mill, six days a week, and Sundays were devoted to preaching. He would think nothing of a twenty-mile walk to a chapel.

His sons all grew up, and all became preachers, too. The eldest, Benjamin, became first a gardener and later a Congregational minister in London. The second, Jeremiah, started work with his father at the mill when he was twelve and also became a miller, though at a bad time: windmills were being abandoned in favour of steam mills. Eventually he moved to Manchester to work as a Missioner. Jabez, the youngest, became a school teacher in Rye and Yorkshire and later moved to Guernsey. All had numerous offspring.


Clockwise from top left: Benjamin Sackett jnr;  Jeremiah Sackett & his children; Jabez Sackett (The Sackett Family Association) 

After Lucy’s death in 1868, Benjamin married for a third time, to Emily Day, a Hythe woman. On Saturday 17 May 1885, aged seventy-four, he walked five miles to fulfil an appointment the next day. During the night he was taken ill and returned home on the following Wednesday. He died quietly, at home, in the early morning of 8 June 1885.
Emily, who was twenty years his junior, survived him by thirty-five years. She had taught at the Methodist Sunday School since she was a girl, and only gave up a year before her death, aged eighty-five in 1920.
She is buried in the same grave as Benjamin. Mary Ann,and Lucy lie elsewhere but are memorialised on the same stone.

 

What’s in a name?

Campbell Kelton Grave

In loving memory/of/ Major Frank Murray Campbell/died 8th March 1910
“Come unto me, ye weary, and I will give you rest”
In tender loving memory of /Major Percy St. G. Kelton/who died in Paris 28th of June 1924
R.I.P.

Two men who died fourteen years apart, both soldiers, apparently in two different countries with seemingly nothing to connect them, not even a name.
Frank Murray Campbell claimed on census returns to have been born in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire in about 1859, but there is no record anywhere in Hertfordshire or indeed anywhere in England of a birth registration or baptism in this name. In fact, there are no records at all of him until he married Julia Gertrude Kortoske Curtis, born in Canada, in London in 1880. She was probably the daughter of either Benjamin or Raphael Kortoske who traded in hats and caps in Montreal and London. The family changed their name to Curtis after a disastrous bankruptcy and fraud case was proved against them.
Frank and Julia went to South Africa, where their first daughter, Marion May, was born. On their return to London, they lived in Hampstead and Frank worked as a stockbroker. Two more children, Sybille and Edmund were born.

campbell

Frank in uniform                     (Photo Mrs Avril Williams) 
Frank joined the 4th Volunteer Battalion the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment in 1891 and attained the rank of major. Then in 1906, Julia sued for divorce. At that time, a woman could not obtain a divorce for adultery alone. There had to be an additional cause, such as cruelty.   By then Frank was living at 8 Beaconsfield Terrace, Hythe, the home of Rina Kelton.

Campbell Beaconsfield

Beaconsfield Terrace, Hythe, in the early years of the 20th century
Rina Henriette Kelton nee St Goar was the very rich widow of a stockbroker, originally called Carl Kahn. She had been born in Germany to a wealthy Jewish family. She and her husband moved to London and anglicised their name to Kelton in 1905, by which time, Carl had become Charles. They had two sons, Gerald and Percy.
She lived mostly in Park Lane in London but had a holiday home at Beaconsfield Terrace in Hythe, which she rented from Lady Evelyn Cooper-Key, the widow of an admiral. She was known in the seaside town for her largesse. There was not a church nor a charitable institution which did not benefit from her generosity and ’Madame Rina Kelton’, as she insisted on being called,  was often asked to open garden parties and sales of work. She endowed the School of Musketry with the Kelton Cup, to be competed for at football. How she managed to mix in respectable society while living with a divorced man is a mystery. It may be that she passed him off as her spouse. One oral history interviewee, speaking in the 1980s, remembers that she had a ‘husband’.
Frank died at Rina’s home, of a malignant tumour of the face. His sister, Violet Rachel Curtis was with him. She had married Louis Curtis (born Louis Kortoske and probably Julia’s brother or cousin) in 1875 and they too, had gone to South Africa, to Kimberley, after their marriage. Their daughter, another Marion was born there before they, too, returned to the UK.
Frank’s cremated remains were interred in St Leonard’s churchyard on 29 January 1914, four years after his death.
Percy St Goar Kelton was born Percy St Goar Kahn, the elder son of Charles and Rina Kahn. He was born in 1887 in London. Percy was educated at Harrow School and Queen’s College Cambridge , and served in the territorial division of the East Kent Regiment, ‘The Buffs’ from 1 May 1911. If he had an occupation, it has not been recorded. He lived with his mother whose residences were now at Hanover Square and ‘Castlemead’, Hythe. In 1910, he was ordered to pay damages to a Hythe carter whom he had injured while driving into him at night.
Called up at the outbreak of war, in September 1914 he was attached to the British Army Headquarters in Paris as was his brother, Gerald. They were possibly bilingual in German and English, as their parents were from Germany and their mother always kept German maids. This would have been useful at HQ. According to Percy’s own account, he was involved in fighting near Compiegne. He killed two German soldiers and took one prisoner. He took the bullet-riddled helmet of one of his victims and had it sent, via a French woman who was escaping, to his mother. In 1915, he was commissioned as a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps for temporary service.
He married Elizabeth MacBride, the daughter of Mr and Mrs William MacBride of New York, at St James’s Church, Spanish Place, London on 12 December 1917. American and British officers formed a guard of honour for the couple. By this time, he was serving with the West African Frontier Force. His medal card seems to show that although he had attained the rank of Captain, he worked after the war, until at least 1921, as a civilian  owner-driver for the force in the Gold Coast Regiment. He was mentioned in dispatches in early 1919, and in 1920 awarded the Military Order of Aviz by the King of Portugal – part of the Gold Coast (now Ghana) was a Portuguese colony.

campbell kelton medal card
Nothing further is known of him, except that at the time of his death was living at the Hotel Brioni on Brioni, an island off the coast of Istria. He died of peritonitis in Paris. Probate was granted to his brother Gerald, though he left only £253 19s 7d. His mother placed a death notice in the local press which states that he was awarded the Military Cross, but there is no supporting evidence for this, nor is there any indication that he became a major, as  Rina claimed on his gravestone.

His mother died in 1944 in Wokingham, aged eighty-five.

The Cobays Part 3 – Bond Street and Hythe Heroes

Robert, William Richard and Henry Thomas Cobay were the third, fourth and fifth sons of George and Hannah Cobay respectively. None married, all became mayors of Hythe and all spent their lives in what might loosely be described as the property business.
Robert, born in Quebec in 1849, and William, born Winchester in 1853, moved to Hackney as young men. They worked for a cabinet maker, Robert at first as his apprentice and later his works manager and William as his clerk. They lodged together, and with them was twenty-eight-year old Tom Robinson, a surveyor. Ten years later, they were all living in the same house in Amherst Road, Hackney, but the Cobays  had become house furnishers. Tom Robinson was now  a merchant’s clerk.
Their younger brother Henry, meanwhile, who had remained in Hythe set himself up as an auctioneer and house furnisher and by the time he was in his mid-twenties was employing five men. His business traded under the name Cobay Brothers, so presumably either Robert or William or both had an interest. In 1889, Messrs Cobay Bros sold at one auction alone a large house complete with its own lodge and servants’ cottages and five substantial building plots. Full particulars of the sale were to be obtained not from Henry in Hythe, but from Messrs Smee and Cobay of Finsbury Pavement, London.
William had set up another business, with Arthur Rosling Smee, trading as cabinet makers and upholsterers. In 1887 they refurbished the Palace Hotel in Hastings. Other hotel contracts followed: the Royal Links in Cromer, the Grand in Eastbourne, Brown’s in London’s Albemarle Street. By 1899 they had a showroom in Bond Street.

Cobay Smee & Cobay

They also had their own furniture manufactory in Moorfields.

cobay furniture

cobay furniture2

William, though, had business interests elsewhere. In the1890s, he headed a syndicate which bought land on the Leas in Folkestone from Earl Radnor, built the magnificent Metropole Hotel and then disposed of it to Gordon Hotels Ltd. William became a director of this organisation.

Cobay metropole

The Metropole Hotel in Folkestone not long after its opening. It still stands today, very little changed.

He purchased the derelict Seabrook Hotel in Hythe, refurbished it completely, and in the surrounding sixteen acres of scrubland created gardens, croquet lawns, tennis courts and a nine-hole golf course. It re-opened as the Imperial Hotel, which still welcomes guests today.

Cobay Imperial

The Imperial Hotel on the seafront at Hythe

The brothers, and Tom, had moved out of Hackney and into Grosvenor Square, but in 1903 both Tom, and Henry Cobay, who had remained in Hythe, died. Henry was only fifty. In 1905, Smee and Cobay completed their last big contract, the redecoration and refurbishment of the Royalty Theatre in Dean Street in 1905. The Times said their work made it ‘one of the brightest and prettiest theatres in London’.

Then in July, the London Gazette announced that Smee and Cobay would cease trading:

NOTICE is hereby given, that the Partnership heretofore
subsisting between us the undersigned,
Arthur Rosling Smee and William Richard Cobay,
carrying on business as Cabinet Makers and Upholsterers,
at 139, New Bond-street, in the county of
London, under the style or firm of SMEE AND COBAY,
has been dissolved by mutual consent as and from the
first day of January, 1906. All debts due to and owing
by the said late firm will be received and paid by the
said Arthur Rosling Smee.—Dated this 21st day of July,
1905.
ARTHUR ROSLING SMEE.
WILLIAM RICHARD COBAY

William returned to Hythe and lived with Robert, as had their parents and siblings before them, in the house at 40 High Street, but they did not give up the house in Grosvenor Square and were still listed as ratepayers for several more years, until William bought a house at Hyde Park . He, at least, still had business interests in London. He was chairman of the Apollo Theatre in London, and had a financial interest in two Birmingham theatres, but still had local interests and established the Metropole Laundry in Hythe. It serviced both the Imperial and the Metropole Hotels and provided employment for many Hythe women. The laundry’s steam whistle blew promptly at a quarter to eight each morning to summon them to work.

Both Robert and William now involved themselves in local politics. Their brother Henry had, like his father, been three times mayor of Hythe. Robert was mayor, too, in 1911. But it was William’s mayoralty during World War One which had the greatest impact.

Cobay William

William in mayoral robes and chain

Although not an Alderman, he was elected as Mayor in 1914 and re-elected unanimously every year until 1918. During this time he donated to and raised over £23,000 for various good causes, including the Belgian Relief Fund and the Red Cross. He laid out ornamental gardens in Ladies Walk, which leads from the Royal Military Canal to the sea, and beautified the canal banks. He argued that the war would be over some day and that Hythe must be prepared to welcome its visitors again. He visited sick and wounded soldiers and took an interest in the welfare of their families.
One of these families comprised the widow and children of Frank Fisher, a grocery assistant who had been killed in November 1917. His wife, Flo, had been very ill since the birth of their fifth child, but Frank was conscripted regardless. He was killed eleven days after he arrived in France. William set up a fund to help his family and headed the subscription list with £5. A week later it had reached £62. 5 .0. and William decided to extend the beneficiaries to include all families bereaved and left in need by the war and those men incapacitated through war service. He called it the Hythe Heroes Fund.
A year later he had the £2000 he wanted and applications were invited. The names of recipients were kept secret.
He seems to have been genuinely loved by the people of Hythe. When the war was over he was granted the Freedom of the Town, a rarely-bestowed honour. There was talk that he would soon be knighted, but he died before that could happen.
He died in at his Hyde Park house following an operation for an unspecified complaint. His funeral was a grand affair. He could have opted for a grand grave, but he chose instead to lie with his parents and brother Henry in St Leonard’s churchyard. He left, in his will, £79,199.
The last remaining Cobay brother, Robert, took William’s death badly. He tried to take on William’s business interests as well as continuing to run Cobay Bros in Hythe. He became chairman of the Imperial Hotel, the Metropole Laundry and the Sandling, Saltwood and Hythe Estate, but by 1922 his health had broken down and he died two years later, leaving £100, 337 in his will.
A Mr Butler bought the auctioneer’s business. The furniture from the family home in the High Street was sold off and Mr Butler auctioned the fifty oil paintings and the Axminster carpets on behalf of Robert’s executors.
Before he died, Robert had left Hythe one last gift. He ordered a set of oak panels, with gilt lettering, to be hung in the Town Hall in memory of his brother William. It lists all the mayors of the town. It is still there today, the name of Cobay appearing eleven times.

The Cobays Part 2 – Ontario and Hythe

Margaret Cobay, the eldest child and only surviving daughter of George and Hannah Cobay, married Charles Donatus Bailey on 15 November 1871 in Hythe.  He described himself on the marriage certificate as a gentleman, though he had told the census enumerator a few months earlier that he was an innkeeper, and, in fact, he was landlord of the White Hart in Hythe High Street. He was the son of a plumber and had been born in Hythe. The couple had three children in the next five years, although two died as infants and then Charles died, aged only thirty-eight, in 1876. Early the following year, Margaret gave birth to their fourth child, a daughter. She moved back to live with her father at 40 (now 86) High Street, Hythe with her two daughters and lived there for the rest of her life. Her daughters, Frances and Ellen, both married and her brother Henry moved in after her father’s death. She died aged seventy-seven on 6 August 1916.

86 High Street, Hythe, the former Cobay home.

George, the firstborn son of George and Hannah Cobay, was born in Cephalonia on 4 July 1843. In 1865, he applied to join the Inland Revenue, but needed to prove evidence that he was in good heath. A Hythe physician, Charles Fagge, wrote to the Revenue to say that he had examined George and that he was free from any defects or diseases.

He was duly appointed as an excise officer, and worked in Maidstone. However, he had perhaps inherited his father’s wanderlust, as he is next heard of in Ontario, Canada, where, on his thirtieth birthday, he got married. He took a couple of years off his age, perhaps to disguise the discrepancy between his age and that of his bride. Esther Geraldine Hoyt was only seventeen when they married on 4 July 1873.  She was the daughter of Samuel and Emmeline Hoyt. George said he was a ‘baggage master’.  The couple married in Brantford, a tiny settlement with a population in 1869 of  700. It did, however, have a railway station, which is perhaps where George worked.

Brantford Ontario in 1875, when George Cobay junior lived there (www. history.map.com)

They had two children, Mildred Edina Margaret in 1875 and George Robert in 1877, but sometime in the next three years George died.  By 1880 Esther has moved back into her father’s home, a widow. Only little George Robert is with her, so probably her daughter also had died.  She married again in 1882 and had other children.

George Robert grew up and married, moved to Toronto and had children of his own.

John Cobay, the fourth child of George and Hannah, first tried his hand at farming, at Palm Tree Farm, Lyminge, a village not far from Hythe. He was there when he married Julia Burch, a miller’s daughter, at Newington parish church on 27 November 1872, and his daughter Louisa Julia was born there in 1873. Another daughter, Lizzie Ethel was born the following year. By 1881, however, John had taken on the licence of the White Hart inn, vacated when his brother-in-law Charles Bailey died. Here he remained until his death.

The White Hart in Hythe

A frequent customer was the author Joseph Conrad, who lived at nearby Postling in the early years of the twentieth century. He was sometimes visited there by Ford Madox Ford who accompanied him on his weekly trips into Hythe in a pony and trap. Ford in his memoir describes how at the White Hart

the benign, dark, statuesque and really beautiful Miss Cobay presided in the dimmer recess of that very old tavern.

He says that Louisa was

…invariably silent. The writer at least never heard her utter one word, except that, years after, motoring through that ancient Cinque Port, the writer, for old time’s sake, took a drink at the bar of the White Hart, and Miss Cobay with her enigmatic gaze asked after Mr. Conrad.

 

Image result for joseph conrad

Joseph Conrad

Ford Madox Ford

 

After refreshments, the pair would often continue to Sandgate, to visit their friend H G Wells who had a house there.

John died in 1907, of influenza. Julia, with Louisa’s help, continued to run the White Hart after his death for at least four years. Her brothers regularly held their auctions there.

Lizzie had married, in 1894, Stephen Katinakis at St Leonard’s church in Hythe and moved to Devon. By 1939, she was widowed and she and Louisa, who never married, lived together with Ethel’s only daughter, Betty, in Wiltie Gardens, Folkestone.

 

The ornate but now nearly illegible grave of Charles Donatus Bailey & his family. The inscription reads:

In memory of/Charles Donatus Bailey/who died illegible June 1876/aged 38 years
Also Charles illegible/son of the above/who died 5th April 1875 aged illegible months
Also Ellen Elizabeth illegible/who died 8th June 1876/aged 10 months
Remainder illegible

 

And next to it the grave of John and Julia Cobay. Their inscrptions says:

In loving memory/of/John Cobay/died 21st January 1907/in his 62nd year
Also Julia his wife/born Dec 20th 1846/died Jan 19th 1927

 

To be continued…

The Cobays Part 1 – A Lincolnshire Lad

As the seventeen-year-old George Cobay left his Lincolnshire village on a cold February day in 1833, could he, an illiterate labourer, have imagined that he would live into the next century, that he would become Speaker of the Cinque Ports, that three of his sons would be mayors of Hythe, that two of them would have businesses in London’s exclusive Bond Street or that he himself would die full of honours and that a Baronet would send a wreath to his funeral? Probably not. What he clearly had though was a desire to see more of the world than Claypole (population 593) could offer.

George was born on 3 October 1815 in Claypole. He started his working life as a labourer, but when he was seventeen he joined the army, making his mark on his attestation papers – he could not write. He served in the 19th Regiment of Foot, where he rose in 1843 to the rank of Sergeant and his character and conduct were judged to be excellent. Judging by his later career, he must also have learned to write. He spent over ten years abroad, in the Mediterranean, the West Indies and North America before being discharged as unfit after twenty-one years in 1854. He was then thirty-nine and was diagnosed as having ‘chronic rheumatism originating and caused by length of service and constitutional infirmity’. George was five feet six inches tall, with hazel eyes and a sallow complexion.

Presumably some of his service in the United Kingdom was in Ireland, because by the time he was twenty-four he was married to Hannah, a Co. Cork woman. She travelled with him on his postings. Her eight children were born in Dublin, Malta, Canada, Cephalonia, at sea in the Mediterranean, Winchester and the last in Hythe, where the family settled immediately George left the army.

Why Hythe? The link is the new School of Musketry in the town. Colonel Hay, the first Commanding Officer, who arrived in the town in June 1853, had appointed that August the first instructor, Sergeant MacKay of the 19th Foot. He was the same rank and from the same Regiment as George. They must have been known to each other. Did Sergeant McKay recommend the place to George? Or recommend George to Colonel Hay? Quite possibly. At any rate, George took the civilian post of mess master at the School.

Image result for school of musketry hythe kent

By 1861 he had acquired the licence of the Swan Hotel in the High Street. It was a large coaching inn and likely to profit from the large numbers of officers and NCOs visiting the town. It was also conveniently situated near the Town Hall and could provide dinners and banquets for civic functions.

He prospered, becoming as well as a landlord,  a landowner. He acquired a parcel of land off Donkey Street on the Romney Marsh and started to call himself a grazier rather than an innkeeper. In 1877 he was able to give Hythe Cricket Club his land next to Ladies Walk in the town. That was the year that Hannah died, aged only fifty-six.

Six of her eight children had survived to adulthood, though two infant daughters, Mary, born in Malta and Maria, born in Quebec, did not. She had seen the eldest three, Margaret, George and John married. The three younger sons, Henry, William and Robert, were well on the way to becoming successful business men, and she had become a grandmother.

George had also become a Town Councillor  in the 1860s, retiring in 1898, and a JP – he was still on the bench only four months before his death.  He was mayor of Hythe in 1881 and 1882 and Speaker of the Cinque Ports in 1882. He was, according to the local newspaper, greatly respected in these roles as well as in private life. His illness was reported in the papers in early August 1900. Until then, he had been in robust good health and enjoyed taking long walks. The chronic rheumatism of his army days seems to have been cured by Hythe’s sea air. His funeral was a grand affair at St Leonard’s church, attended by the great and good of Hythe, and graced by a wreath from the town’s MP, Edward Sassoon, Bart.

The grave of Robert and Hannah Cobay and of their three unmarried sons, Henry, William and Robert. The inscription reads:

In/affectionate/remembrance/of/Hannah the beloved wife of/George Cobay/who died 27th June 1877/aged 56 years
Also of George Cobay/husband of the above/who died 12th August 1900/in his 85th year
Also of Henry Thomas Cobay/son of the above/who died 30th November 1903/in his 50th year
Also of their sons/William Richard Cobay/died 26th March 1920, in his 68th year
And/ Robert Cobay/died 9th May 1924 in his 67th year

To be continued…

‘Tim’ Shelford and His Daughters

 

Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when he comes finds watching St Luke XII
In/memory/of/Thomas Shelford C.M.G./late of Singapore/died 12th January 1900, aged 60
Born at Preston Suffolk/died at Guildford Surrey
Also of Jessie Fullarton Shelford/wife of the above/died 29th March 1928. aged illegible
Also of Gwen More Shelford/born 21st Sept 1877/died 12th Dec 1961
Also of/Edith Shelford/died 5th February 1953. aged 73

 

Thomas Shelford was born on 23 November 1839, the fifth child and third son of William Heard Shelford, rector of Preston, Suffolk, and his wife Emily Frost Shelford, nee Snape, the daughter of another rector. His elder brothers William and Leonard became an engineer and a clergyman respectively, but Thomas was delicate, with a weak chest, and when his father died in 1856, he moved with his mother to Bury St Edmunds. She maintained him and his five younger siblings on income from her properties.

In 1861 or ’62, however, he travelled to South Africa and then on to Singapore, arriving in 1863. He joined a firm of merchants as an assistant, but, by the time of his retirement had become a partner and a significant player in Singapore’s civic and political life. Known to his friends as ‘Tim’, he became in 1872 Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and its representative in the Legislative Council of Singapore and later part-funded the re-launch of the daily newspaper the Singapore Free Press. He was appointed Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1892, a rare honour outside the civil service and the military

The town hall in Singapore

He married firstly Flora Hastings Lawrie, on 24 December 1867 at St Andrew’s church Singapore.

St Andrew’s church, Singapore

She was the daughter of George James and Laura Lawrie, who are both buried in St Leonard’s Churchyard, Hythe. They had five children before her death on 24 August 1873. She died, aged only thirty-two, while visiting her parents in Ayrshire, shortly after giving birth to a daughter.
‘Tim’ remained a widower for eleven years, before marrying another Scotswoman, Jessie Fullarton Baird in 1876. She was the daughter of Alexander Baird and Margaret nee Cowan, and was born in Ochiltree, Ayrshire, where her father was a cattle dealer and innkeeper.

‘Tim’ Shelford retired in 1897 and returned with his wife and the couple’s two daughters to the UK, where they lived in Guildford.  Apparently his wife and daughters could not adapt to life in the East.  Why he is buried in St Leonard’s remains a mystery. His former parents-in-law, the Lawries were dead and buried in St Leonards, and his first wife’s sister, Annie Adair Mackeson was still alive and living in the town. After her husband’s death, Jessie and her daughters also moved there, living at a house called ‘Holmwood’ and later at another called ‘The Dentalls.’

Mary Gwenmore Shelford (known as ‘Gwenmore’) was born 21 Sept 1877 in Wandsworth, the elder daughter of Thomas Shelford and his second wife, Jessie. Her younger sister, Edith, was born in the Straits Settlement of Malaysia. When the family moved to Hythe after their father’s death, Gwenmore and Edith both became Sunday School teachers at St Leonard’s church, and set up a children’s library there.

In early January 1907, notices appeared in the press announcing the engagement of Gwenmore to the Revd. Frank Hay Gillingham, a military chaplain and first-class cricketer who played for Essex. The marriage never took place. Frank eventually married someone else, but Gwenmore did not.

During the First World War she worked with the V.A.D at the Bevan Hospital in Sandgate as assistant to the Keeper of Linen (her sister Edith) for twenty-six hours a week for the duration. She died in Hythe, where she had been living at the Imperial Hotel. Edith had predeceased her by eight years.


In/loving memory of/Robert Lawrence St Colum Bland/born 22nd October 1905/died 26th January 1907
“Not my will but Thine be done”

Laura, the older half-sister of Gwenmore and Edith had married Captain Robert Norman Bland. They lived in Singapore where Robert was Resident Councillor of Malacca. Robert junior was their third child, and died during a visit to the UK. He and his mother were staying at Saltwood Gardens in Hythe. He is buried next to his grandfather and not far from his maternal great-grandparents George James and Laura Lawrie.