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 great-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.