The Porters of Moyle Tower: Architecture, Hieroglyphics and Marilyn Monroe

Three  generations of the Porter family are buried in St Leonard’s churchyard:

Inscription To the memory of/Fred.W.Porter/born 19th October 1821/died 17th November 1901
Illegible of Sarah

Remainder hidden behind tree stump.

Inscription In loving memory/of/Christine Palmer/born Oct 29th 1891/died June 30th 1909

I am persuaded that he is able to guard/that which I have committed unto/Christ that day

Geoffrey Hill 1927

Gerard Edward Palmer/born April 16th 1895/died March 2nd 1946

Inscription In memory of Ida Hill/born 2nd June 1854/died 19th August 1905/widow of Samuel Hill who died/and was buried at Cannes February 1894

Also in memory of Geoffrey/only child of Samuel & Ida Hill/ who was buried in this churchyard/born 28th August 1890/died 17th May 1927

A Dieu

Inscription In/loving memory/of/Charles Willis Palmer/born 25th March 1850/died 18th November 1898

And of Freda his wife/died 3rd July 1955/ aged 95 years

The paterfamilias was Frederick William Porter, the second son of William Edward Porter and his wife Anne (née Coultate). He was born on 19 October 1821 in Rathmines, Dublin, where his father, who came from Kent, was Clerk of Recognizance at the Court of Chancery.   As a young man Frederick studied architecture under Louis Vulliamy  in London, and subsequently returned to Ireland and took up residence in Kent Terrace, Dalkey, a suburb of Dublin. This was a terrace of four houses on Barnhill Road which had been built by his father in 1839. He set up his own practice as an architect here and exhibited three architectural designs at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1843.

In October 1848, he married Sarah Moyle in Liverpool and the couple moved to London, where Sarah’s parents lived in some style in the exclusive Russell Square in Bloomsbury.  The next year  Frederick and W.A. Boulnois exhibited a design for a county lunatic asylum at the Royal Academy. Frederick’s practice was then at 13 Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia. He was still there when he became a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1855.  Five years after this he became Surveyor to the Clothworkers’ Company an ancient London Guild which also had properties in Co. Derry.  Frederick took on other work in Ireland, too: in 1868-70 he designed the Church of Ireland church at Castlerock, Co. Derry.  It is typical of the High Victorian interpretation of the Early English Gothic style. The stone used is very dark basalt with white Glasgow trim to the windows and doors and banding. The plan is cruciform with a three-sided chancel with an engaged north-western tower providing access. Gabled buttresses support the tower and walls. The lancet windows, often in groups of three, originally had diamond panes.

The Church at Castlerock, Co. Derry, designed by Frederick Porter.

At about this time, Frederick was advertising in the Building Trades Directory that he had built ‘residences in England, Ireland, Spain, Shanghai, &c.’ although there is no evidence that he travelled to these more exotic locations. Although continuing to practise in London until at least 1874, by 1877 he was building himself a seafront house in Hythe, named for his wife, Moyle Tower (it did, in fact, have a small tower at the back, complete with flagpole) and they spent their retirement there, during which time Frederick became in 1886, Mayor of Hythe, despite not being an alderman. In 1888 he became a magistrate for the county of Kent.

Image result for moyle tower hythe

Moyle Tower in the 1920s when it had been acquired by the Holiday Fellowship. The ‘tower’, no longer with its flagpole, is at the rear of the house.

His health started to deteriorate. By 1898 he was described as ‘an invalid’ who needed constant care, and the following year could only go out in a bath chair. He died on 17 November1901 and left the very tidy sum of £39, 801 in his will.

Sarah, raised a Presbyterian, had become an Anglican on her marriage, but was apparently very open-minded in matters of religion, and took a great deal of interest in Hythe’s non-conformist churches. Her funeral was attended by most of the local Salvation Army congregation. She was a well-known philanthropist and hosted annual parties, or ‘treats’, for up to fifty needy children at Moyle Tower. Each child was given a toy and a warm garment (the parties were held in winter) before a sit-down tea and games. Apart from these occasions, however, she preferred the working classes to be kept at a distance, and complained to Hythe council about the troupes of minstrels who performed on the beach near her house. She was also a supporter of the Society for the Preservation of the Beauty of Hythe. For the last thirty-four years of her life she was a semi-invalid, and devotedly cared for by a Miss Digance, a nurse. There were four other live-in servants to care for her, and for her daughter Freda who lived with her.   At Sarah’s death, the Moyle Tower flag was flown at half-mast.

Sarah died on 5 March 1912, and was laid to rest with her husband in St Leonard’s churchyard on 9 March in a grave lined with moss and decorated with primroses.  The house contents were removed and auctioned off, including a 7ft 6in mahogany sideboard, two grand pianos, Axminster and Oriental rugs, and French and Italian bedsteads. It was suggested that Moyle Tower should be bought by the council for use as municipal offices, but the idea came to nothing and it was put up for auction in June 1913. It had, according to the auctioneers, five reception rooms, twenty-one bedrooms and dressing rooms, stabling and a garage. Whoever bought it seems not to have used it and it was requisitioned on the outbreak of war by the army and used to house men of the Devon Regiment. After the war it was offered for sale again, before finally being bought by the Holiday Fellowship in 1923.  The organisation provided (and still does, as HF Holidays) affordable activity holidays in the UK and abroad, and Moyle Tower existed in this capacity until 1979.

Another view of Moyle Tower,   from the back

Then, with the refugee crisis of the Vietnamese boat people, the British Council for Aid to Refugees acquired the building and transformed it into a reception centre for ninety people. Furnished by donations, it opened its doors on 8 November.  All the refugees were eventually rehoused across the UK, and the centre closed in Spring 1981. It was by now something of a white elephant, and not long afterwards was demolished and a block of flats – Moyle Court – erected in its place. It is nice to know that Sarah’s name is still remembered.

 

Moyle Court, Hythe

The house, when the Porters owned it, had boasted quite a large detached garden with tennis courts at the end of Ladies Walk.  Sarah’s executors leased this to Hythe Council for a number of years and it was used by Hythe people for tennis, band concerts, and, in 1914, for a mass meeting in response to Kitchener’s call to arms. During the First World War, the garden was taken over by the WAAC, based at nearby Princes Parade, for sports.

The Porters had seven children, although one, their first-born, died in infancy.  The eldest survivor was Bertha, born in 1853. Remarkably for the time, she studied Egyptian hieroglyphics in London under Francis Llewellyn Griffiths, a noted Egyptologist, and at the University of Gottingen under Kurt Sethe. She edited the Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Reliefs, and Paintings and was also employed by Oxford University in compiling The Dictionary of National Biography, for which she completed over a hundred and fifty biographies before her retirement in 1929.  In London, she lived with her brother Horatio, who had inherited the Russell Square house, but later moved to Oxford where she took lodgings in the Banbury Road. She died in 1941.

A volume of the huge work started by Bertha Porter and completed by her assistant Rosalind Moss.

The next eldest was Ida. Born in 1855, she married Samuel Hill in 1889 in London. Their only child, Geoffrey was born the next year. Samuel died in February 1894 at the Villa Alpina in Cannes, aged only forty-three. It is not known why he was there – perhaps it was for his health.  Ida and Geoffrey moved in with her parents in Moyle Tower, and Ida became a hospital nurse, another unusual occupation for a well-off young woman at the time. She died in Tunbridge Wells.

Geoffrey, born on 28 August 1890, was orphaned just before his fifteenth birthday. He had been a boarder at Seabrook Lodge School in Seabrook Road, Hythe, run by Henry Strahan who was also the Mayor of Hythe, but nothing is known of his later education except that he attended Cambridge University. In the vacations, he stayed with his mother’s sister, Ethel, in Ashford. He then became a member of the London Stock Exchange.

When war broke out in 1914, he was among the first to join up, on 3 August. He served as a gunner until commissioned on 6 November 1915. He was described as being six feet tall with fair hair and blue eyes. He was wounded on 22 April 1916 and sent home, and it seems that he did not then return to active service. He re-enlisted as a driver in the Territorial Service in 1921, but was discharged from this at his own request after only a year. The circumstances of his death are not known, nor why he appears to be buried with his cousins Christine and Gerard Palmer but is also commemorated on his mother’s gravestone.

A potted history of Seabrook Lodge School where Geoffrey Hill boarded.

The next Porter daughter was Ethel, born in 1857, who married James Turner Welldon, a solicitor and first class cricketer who played for Cambridge and Kent. The couple lived in Ashford and had a daughter, Ethel Barrow Welldon.

Another daughter, Freda, was born to the Porters in 1858.  She grew up to marry, in 1887, Charles Willis Palmer, District Commissioner for Forests in Burma. He had been born in Paddington, the son of Edward and Caroline Palmer. His father was a superintendent on the Great Western Railway, and in 1857 took up a post as Agent for the East India Railway in Burma (then part of India). He later became Chairman of the Railway Board, and retired in 1873. Charles meanwhile was educated at Lancing College, where he was a keen cricketer, before following his father to Burma.  He lived and worked in Burma for some years, was married and widowed there and returned to the UK to marry Freda Porter.

Freda returned to Burma with him and all three of her children – Freda, Christine and Gerard – were born in the country. On their return to the UK, they came to live in Seabrook, next to Hythe, where Charles died in November 1898. Freda had moved away from Hythe to Farthing Common by the time of her death. The younger Freda became an English teacher and worked at a private school in Sandgate, before marrying a vicar who had been an assistant priest at Hythe, Arthur Octavius Scutt.  She was given away by her brother, Gerard.

The wedding took place in February 1914. Gerard, who had been educated at Lancing College, joined the London Regiment during the war which ensued and fought at Gallipoli. He became a Captain and was awarded the Military Cross ‘for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when leading his company in a raid. He was responsible for killing a number of the enemy and displayed great energy in superintending the destruction of the enemy’s works’.

.In peacetime, he became a travelling salesman, who only comes to attention when he was fined for drunk driving in Aberdeen in March 1939. Later that year he married Violet Quick in Brighton, and eventually died in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire.  He left an estate valued at just under £4000.

Of Christine Palmer, the middle Palmer child who died aged just eighteen, nothing is known.

Frederick and Sarah Porter finally had a son, Horatio, on 22 June 1861. He studied architecture under his father, and ultimately inherited his father’s position as Surveyor to the Clothworkers’ Company. He was also architect to the Sun & Patriotic Insurance Company and designed a new office for the company in College Green, Dublin, in 1908, continuing the Irish connection. It was described as ‘quite one of the best contributions to the street architecture of Dublin during recent years’ with a ‘quiet and restrained use made of the classical tradition that is specially appropriate to Dublin’. Horatio, who in later life called himself Horace, also designed proposed alterations to the Sun and Patriotic’s old premises in Trinity Street in 1912.  He was Mayor of Holborn from 1911 to 1912 and died unmarried in London on 29 July 1918.

College Green Dublin, the scene of Horatio Porter’s most important work.

The Porter’s last child was another daughter, Maud, born in 1866. She married Alderson Burrell Horne on 22 December 1887 at St George’s Church, Bloomsbury. He was an actor and theatrical producer known by the stage name Anmer Hall, and was evidently very successful, leaving at his death in 1954 an estate worth half a million pounds. The couple had a daughter, Janet, and a son, David, who became a distinguished character actor on the stage and later in film, appearing with Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe in The Prince and the Showgirl.

David Horne, actor, who died in 1970. He would have remembered Moyle Tower as a family home and perhaps seen its transformation.

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2 thoughts on “The Porters of Moyle Tower: Architecture, Hieroglyphics and Marilyn Monroe

  1. A nice piece. Well done. You can read the Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Reliefs, and Paintings online. Probably a bit out of date but I bet there is some good reading in there.

    Liked by 1 person

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