Cordite and Milk Stout – the Abel sisters

The story starts with two brothers, Frederick Augustus Abel, the elder of the two, and John Sangster Abel.

Frederick was born on 17 July 1827 in Woolwich, then in Kent.   At seventeen, he started to study  chemistry at the Royal Polytechnic Institution and in 1845 became one of the original twenty-six students of A.W. von Hofmann at the newly-founded Royal College of Chemistry. In 1852 he was appointed lecturer in chemistry at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, succeeding Michael Faraday, who had held that post since 1829. From 1854 until 1888 Abel served as ordnance chemist at the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, establishing himself as the leading British authority on explosives.

Together with Sir James Dewar, he invented cordite, later adopted as the standard explosive of the British army. Abel also made studies of dust explosions in coal mines, invented a device for testing the flash point of petroleum and found a way to prevent guncotton from exploding spontaneously.

He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1860, knighted in 1883, and created a baronet in 1893.

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Frederick Augustus Abel as a young man

His first wife was Sarah Selina Blanch who had been born in Bath in 1826, the daughter of James and Elizabeth Blanch of Bristol. They married on 16 December 1854. There were no children of the marriage, and Sarah did not live to see her husband’s most important invention. She developed cancer and on 29 May 1888, on returning from a trip to the Continent for her health, died in Hythe.

The grave of Sarah Selina Abel nee Blanch, which she shares with her adopted daughter. 

John Sangster Abel was one of Frederick’s younger brothers. He emigrated to Chile, to Copiapo Province, which is in a rich copper and silver mining district. Perhaps he was seeking his fortune there. He married a Chilean woman, Jenoveva Recabarren. their daughter Luisa Isabella Aspasia Abel was born there on 22 June 1866 and baptised at Rosario on 9 July that year. The next year, on 17 August 1867, another daughter, Carlota Jenoveva Abel was born. A brother for the girls, Juan Carlos Abel, followed in 1869.

Before 1875, the children’s parents were both dead, and they were sent to England to live with their Abel relations, being adopted by the childless Frederick and Sarah.

According to her obituary, Luisa, who did not marry, first visited Hythe in 1890, and was so impressed with the town she decided to make it her home.  She played a full part in the life of the parish church, St Leonard’s, being a member of the choir and the Parochial Church Council, and taking responsibility for decorating the altars with flowers each week. She was also involved with the local British Legion.  She died in 1932, and was given a splendid funeral attended by the great and good of the town. The next year, a stained glass window dedicated to St Dunstan was erected in the church in her memory, paid for by her sister.


The window (on the right) in the south transept of St Leonard’s Church in memory of Luisa Abel

Carlota Abel married George Laurie Mackeson, of the Hythe brewing family on 29 April 1893 at Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Street, Chelsea. The couple also lived in Hythe, at The Dene in Hillside Street. Their were no children of the marriage.

Carlota enrolled in the Women’s Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) in May 1912,  and worked as a nurse at the Bevan Military Hospital in nearby Sandgate during the First World war, She started her service there on 8 October 1914  but was forced to leave in July 1918, having contracted septic poisoning while nursing.  She finished the war as a Staff Nurse.  In the 1930s, she and George travelled twice to South America, perhaps to visit her birth family.

George Laurie Mackeson was born in Hythe on 19 November 1865, the second son of Henry Bean Mackeson, owner of the Hythe brewery, and Annie Adair Mackeson. He was educated at Uppingham School before joining the family business.  He was associated with it until it was taken over by Whitbread in 1929, and was working there when it introduced its Milk Stout in 1907.

He was a great supporter of both Kent County Cricket Club and of Hythe Cricket Club in particular  and became President of both. He owned the land on which the Hythe club played and left it to his nephews, asking them to ensure that the game would continue to be played on the site. His obituary described him as ‘an old English gentleman who seemed to have survived from the Victorian age.’

George died in 1950, and Carlota in 1960, aged 93.

The grave of George Laurie Mackeson and his wife Carlota



Five Generations of Soldiers and Seafarers

In St Leonard’s churchyard in Hythe are commemorated five generations of the same family, many of whom served their country on land or at sea.

Generation one

The dynasty started with James Nelson, who was born in Scotland in 1781 and who joined the British army as a young man. He served as a private, first with the 78th West Highlanders, a regiment set up specifically to fight the French, and later with the Royal Staff Corps, a short-lived set-up, founded in 1800 and disbanded in 1837. It was a combat engineer Corps during the Peninsular campaign, and James served with it at the battle of Corunna in January 1809.

It is likely that he travelled there from Hythe with Sir John Moore’s forces, who had been sent to Spain to assist in resistance to Napoleonic rule. The little town of Hythe, with a population of under two thousand, was swamped by the presence of ten thousand troops at the height of the Napoleonic wars. Weatherboard accommodation and a temporary military hospital were built at the western end of the town and William Cobbett wrote that ’the hills are covered in barracks’.   Moore himself was based at Shorncliffe barracks, just a couple of miles away. He did not return from Corunna with his men. He was buried wrapped in his military cloak in the town ramparts, dying after he heard that the French had lost the day. Hythe commemorates him with a road named for him, and another for the battle in which he died, and he has a memorial on the seafront at nearby Sandgate.

After the battle of Corunna, the returning troops were paraded at Hythe, but were in a sad state. Unceremoniously disembarked at Dover, they had been obliged to make their own way back to the town. The hospital was full of the dying and injured, and the presence of maimed soldiers in the town was a common sight.

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Sir John Moore is fatally wounded at the Battle of Corunna…


…and his memorial in Sandgate, where he lodged.

In 1813, James was back on the Iberian Peninsula, this time with the Duke of Wellington, who led the British forces there. On 21 June of that year, he fought in the battle of Vitoria, which finally ended the Napoleonic domination there.

Between the two battles, James had married Jane Hills, and their first son, James, was born the next year in Hythe.  Another son William was born in 1813, and then another, Henry, in France in 1817. Presumably Jane had accompanied her husband there. The birth is recorded in military records. A daughter, Jane, was born in Chatham in 1820, the year her father took James took his army pension of a shilling a week. Finally, another son, John, was born in 1825 in Hythe.

James had taken his family back to the town where he had been stationed,  and turned his hand to buying and selling. He worked as beerseller, dealer and chapman (trader or peddler) and grazier with land on the Innings between the town of Hythe and the coast. He lived with his family in Shoemakers Bridge Place, at what was to become in the next generation of the family, the Nelson’s Head Public House.

His wife, Jane Nelson nee Hills was baptized on 3 April 1785 at Chiddingstone, Kent, the  daughter of  John Hills and his wife Elisabeth. She married James Nelson on 13 August  1811 at Newington-next- Hythe.

Generation Two

The son born to James and Jane in France was Henry Nelson. As a young man, he first tried his hand as a slipper maker in London, but was perhaps unsuccessful and returned to Hythe where he worked as a labourer before he took over the licence of the Nelson’s Head public house in Bank Street from his brother John.  He married Mary Anne Back in Cheriton on 28 September 1836


The building in Hythe, now a restaurant, which used to be The Nelson’s Head public house


Generation Three

Their eldest  son was Henry James Nelson.  He worked as an errand boy before joining the Land Transport corps, a very short-lived organisation founded in 1855 to deal with transport in the Crimea, where Britain was fighting Russia, and disbanded in 1856. It had been set up as a quasi-military organisation and recruited both civilians and regular army officers. Henry James died when the corps was involved in the siege of Sevastopol. The town was the home of the Russian tsar’s fleet, and a prime target for the British and their allies. It was besieged for a year from September 1854 to September 1855, and saw fierce fighting. It was presumably during the unsuccessful bombardment which started in April 1855 that young Henry died. He can only have been in the Crimea a matter of weeks.

The Siege of Sevastopol

The eldest daughter of Henry Nelson and Mary Anne Back was Jane Frances Nelson. She did not marry, but spent many years keeping house for her father’s brother, John Nelson. In her old age, she lived with her widowed younger sister Annie in Rosebery House, Parkfields, Hythe (now in Albert Road). Jemima Elizabeth Nelson was the sixth child of Henry and Mary Ann Nelson. She became a school teacher, and after a period teaching in Buckinghamshire, she returned to Hythe where she taught and lived with her parents until their deaths. In later life she lived in Corunna Cottage in Parkfields next door to her sisters Annie and Jane Frances. She did not marry.

Another sister, Alice Mary Nelson, who died as an infant is also buried in the churchyard.

The fourth child of Henry Nelson and Mary Ann was Charles Rice Nelson, born in Hythe in 1844 and baptised there on 1 December 1844.  He was apprenticed to a carpenter as a young man and carried on his trade after his marriage to Catherine Godfrey in on 12 November 1866. The couple lived in Theatre Street Hythe. For a few years, Charles also took on the licence of the Bell Inn in East Street, Hythe, but later returned to carpentry living in Nelson Villa in Albion Street.  After his retirement, he took employment as a collector for the gas company and secretary to a friendly society. Catherine died in 1915. The couple had ten children.

Image result for the bell inn hytheThe The Bell Inn, Hythe

Generation Four

John Henry Charles Nelson was the eldest child of Charles Rice Nelson and his wife Catherine. His first job was as an office errand boy, but he went on to become a builder and house decorator, and lived at 2 Bank Street Hythe.  He married Mildred Stoakes who was born in Stanford, not far from Hythe, the sixth child of John Stoakes, a master carpenter, and his wife Thomasina Dora. Before her marriage, she was in service with Dr Arthur Randall Davies in the High Street. She married John Henry Charles Nelson in 1893 in London, and they had six children.

The second son of Charles Rice Nelson and Catherine,   Edward James Nelson was baptised in Hythe on 13 September 1868 and died in London just after his eighteenth birthday.

The third son, Charles Rice Nelson jnr was baptised in Hythe on 14 June 1874.   As a young man he worked as a book stall assistant before joining the merchant navy as a general servant. He was among the 334 lost when his ship the ss Persia, on her way to India, was torpedoed seventy miles off Crete by a German submarine on 30 December 1915. SS Persia was attacked at 1.10 pm on a rising sea. She was struck on the port side and within five minutes the port side boiler exploded. She sank quickly. Passengers had collected their lifebelts and made their way to the lifeboats, but the incline of the ship hindered their launching and passengers slipped on the steeply canted deck and were washed overboard. It was reported two of the life boats floundered and went down. Four life boats made their way to safety and many of the remaining survivors were picked up by a trawler some 30 hours after the sinking, but Charles was not among them.

His name is recorded on the Tower Hill memorial in London

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The SS Persia

Henry Nelson was the fourth son of Charles Rice Nelson and Catherine. He started his working life as a servant with the Blyth family of Saltwood near Hythe, but very soon joined the Merchant Navy where he worked as a steward. His ship, the P&O -owned SS Kaisar-i-hind was launched in 1914 as luxury passenger ship sailing to India and Australia. She was requisitioned by the Royal Navy for transporting troops to the Middle East and India, and survived several attempts to torpedo her. Henry’s death, officially recorded as pleuro-pneumonia, appears to have been from natural causes, and may have stemmed from an infection or underlying condition.

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The SS Kaiser-I-hind

His sister Flora, the second daughter of Charles Rice Nelson and Catherine, married Henry Beckwith, a merchant navy officer, and moved to Gravesend, where the marital home was called ‘Nelson Villa.’

Generation Five

Charles Edward Beckwith, the second son of Henry and Flora Beckwith, born on 26 October 1910, also went to sea, but chose the Royal Navy. He attended Dartmouth College, and saw action in both World War II and the Korean War. He later served in North Africa, Hong Kong, Malta and Gibraltar as Paymaster, and on leaving the navy took employment with the shipping line Niarchos. He then lived in Hampstead, but on retirement moved to Hythe, where he was a generous benefactor of St Leonard’s Church and an instigator and great supporter of musical performance there.




Inscription In/loving memory/of/Edward James Nelson/the beloved son of/ Charles Rice and Catherine Nelson/who died 21st October 1886/aged 18 years

Also/Charles Rice Nelson/Late of P&O. SS Persia/who was drowned at sea/30th December 1915/aged 41 years

Also/Henry Nelson/late of P&O SS Kaisar I-Hind/who died of pneumonia 31st May 1918/in hospital at Alexandria/aged 41 years

And of/Charles Rice Nelson/who died 5th November 1925/aged 81 years

Commander/Charles Edward Beckwith/son of/Henry and Flora Beckwith/nee Nelson/died 27th July 2002/aged 91 years


Inscription  In memory of/James Nelson/born 16th June illegible/died 16th Novr illegible

And he said unto me my illegible/ for the illegible/..this made perf.. illegible

Also of John Henry Charles/Nelson/died 23rd March 1942/aged 75 years

And of/Mildred Nelson/died 12th Novr 1943/aged 76 years


Inscription Illegible/Henry Nelson/born 8th March 1817/died 26th August 1881

Illegible died 20th January 1898

And/Jane Frances/daughter of the above/born 2nd May 1842/died7th January 1922

Jemima Elizabeth Nelson/born 6th October 1849/died28th October 1926


Inscription In memory of/James Nelson, formerly of the 78th West Highlanders,/and the Royal Staff Corps who after/serving his King and Country in Holland, Spain and France from 1800/ to 1821  settled at Hythe and died/April 29th 1849 aged 68 years

Also of Jane his wife/died April 13th 1848 aged 65 years

Also of Henry Nelson/grandson of the above/Sub Superintendant Land Transport/Corps who died before Sebastapol/ June 4th 1855 at the early age of 17 years.

Enter not into judgement with Thy /servant O Lord



Headstone: Illegible memory/Alice Mary/the beloved daughter of/Henry & Mary-Ann/Nelson/who departed this life/January 26th 1866/aged illegible years and 10 months

Remainder illegible

Footstone: A M N 1866