‘A Very Excellent Grocer’

 

                                                                                       Dan West, in later years

 

Daniel John West was born in Iden, near Rye in Sussex, the second child of Thomas West, a baker and Caroline West, in 1846. He had an older and a younger sister. The family moved to Wittersham, where Thomas farmed 21 acres at Peening Quarter.  As a young man, Daniel worked as an assistant in a grocer’s shop in Tenterden High Street, owned by Thomas Winser. In Tenterden he met Alice Jemima Garnham, the fifth child of Benjamin and Frances Garnham. She was born in Lewes, Sussex, and baptised there on 9 March 1853. Her father became the landlord of the Woolpack Inn in Tenterden High Street.

See the source image

The Woolpack Inn in Tenterden, where Dan wooed Alice

Daniel and Alice married in 1874. It was time for Daniel to set up on his own account.

They moved to Hythe, where he established his own grocery business at 149 (now 11 & 13) High Street. He remained there for the rest of his life, though he soon acquired a second shop in the High Street at no. 37 (now no. 80). The second shop carried some grocery lines, but specialised in wines, spirits and bottled beers. According to the author Ford Madox Ford,  Daniel – or Dan as he was universally known – was ‘a very excellent grocer – I wish I knew his equal elsewhere’. Ford often visited his friend, Joseph Conrad in Postling and the pair would stop in Hythe en route to call on H.G.Wells in Sandgate.

Fordmadoxford.jpg

Ford Madox Ford, one of Dan’s customers

Once established, Dan found time for other activities. He became a fireman – and used his grocery assistants as callers-up when the rest of the Brigade needed rousing. The Brigade was then composed of volunteers and in common with most towns, the Hythe men suffered from the indifference of the Town Council. They had no protective clothing or uniforms until 1881; the brass helmets, the Victorian equivalent of the hard hat, did not arrive until 1891. The town’s water supply was routinely turned off at night, because so much was lost through the leaking mains. There was a key to turn it on, but the key-holder lived outside the town. Despite these disadvantages, the Brigade dealt successfully with several blazes during the eighteen eighties.

Daniel became a churchwarden and worked with the Vicar, T G Hall and his fellow-churchwarden Henry Bean Mackeson, to achieve the transformation of the interior of St Leonard’s church, a huge undertaking. He was a town councillor, too, and Mayor in 1889 & 1891. As a town councillor, he was influential in securing a proper water supply for the Fire Brigade, and in 1891, his wife, as Lady Mayoress, opened the Black Rock spring (off Horn Street) with a Guard of Honour of Hythe firemen.

He joined the Snowball Minstrels, a concert party, soon after his arrival in the town. At Annual Dinners and Smoking Concerts he could often be heard, his favourite songs being ‘Tantivy’, ‘Hurrah for the Loom and the Lathe,’ both songs now lost to us, and ‘Up with the Lark in the Morning’,  a music hall favourite whose chorus runs:

For I never drink hard it don’t suit me,
Nor toast my friend with a one, two, three,
Merry and wise is the motto for me,
And up with the lark in the morning.

Indeed, he must have been up with the lark every morning to achieve everything he did and to run a grocery which would have opened at 7 or 8 in the morning and closed its doors at about 10pm.

His wife, Alice, would also be up with the lark, or at least with the baby, every morning, as in the eleven years of her marriage she gave birth to six children: daughters Alice, Mildred, Frances and Florence and two sons, Guy and Gordon. Gordon was born just nine months before her death on 8 October 1885 of ‘a prolonged illness’. She was only thirty-two.

Earlier that year, Dan had caused a stir in the town by having his two shops connected by telephone, a sensible business move, but so radical that the Town Council only permitted it after four hours discussion and insisted it must be ‘at his own risk’. The safety, or otherwise, of telephone wires was imperfectly understood by laymen.

After a year as a widower, Dan married again, to Elizabeth Thompson, the second daughter of Robert Thompson, a GPO civil servant, and his wife Mary. She had worked as a dressmaker before her marriage. The couple had a daughter, Olive.

Dan West as Mayor of Hythe

In 1890, as Mayor, Dan called a public meeting to discuss a programme of band music and a sea regatta. Someone – possibly Edward Palmer, the editor of the Hythe Reporter – put forward the idea of a procession of decorated boats on the Royal Military Canal. Dan approved the idea and the inevitable committee was formed. The first-ever Venetian Fete was on Wednesday, 27th August and the event was a great success. The boats were illuminated, as were the bridges and the day ended with a two-hour firework display. With some intermissions, the fete has continued to this day.

A twenty-first century Venetian Fete

The 1898 fete included land-based decorated tents on the banks of the canal. Dan rigged his up to resemble a famous advertisement for Mazawattee tea (which he stocked), persuading one of his sons and a friend to dress up as old ladies enjoying a nice cup of tea together. He had, he said, intended to launch a balloon in the shape of an elephant – full-sized – but it suffered a last minute puncture.

The advertisement Dan copied in his tent. He even had a blue cloth and tea caddy

 

Dan’s approach to publicity was never discreet. Instead of large advertisements in the local papers, he arranged with the editors to have his name inserted at the end of several short news items on a page, making it impossible for the reader to ignore him. In one column, one might read:

Dan West for Wines and Spirits
Dan West for Bottled Beers
Dan West for Whitbread’s Ale
Dan West for Butter and Cream
Dan West for New Strawberry Jam
Dan West for Lemon Squash
Dan West for Bacon and Hams

Dan’s ads were sometimes incongruously placed

He even used his roof to advertise. On the back of the chimney and roof, facing away from the High Street where shoppers could see the window and down Mount Street, where they could not, the words: ‘West For Bottled Beer’, with an advertising sign beneath.

Dan West’s shop from Mount Street…

… and the same view today

Dan seems to have lived quietly during the early days of the twentieth century, perhaps building up his property portfolio. He had invested in the new builds on the Sandling Estate, as well as buying smaller houses in Hythe and ‘a country dwelling with a parcel of land’ at Bilsington. He owned nineteen buildings at the time of his death. Elsewhere, he had plenty to keep him occupied. He was also, as well as an alderman, a trustee of St Bartholmew’s Hospital (an alms-house) and an active member of the Freemasons and of the Folkestone, Hythe and Sandgate Grocers’ Association.

He comes to attention again in 1911 during the festivities to celebrate the coronation of George V in June. There was the customary torchlit parade in the evening – though by now there were as many motor vehicles as horse-drawn carts and horses taking part. Dan chose to ride, dressed, of all things, as Buffalo Bill. As he was by now a portly man in his mid-sixties, this sounds like a joke at his own expense – or perhaps to amuse his grandchildren.

He was still active when war broke out in 1914, but suffered a bad fall not long afterwards. He declined to take part in the rifle shooting classes ordered by the Town Council for all able-bodied men. Referring to his now great bulk, he said that ‘should any Huns appear in the High Street, I’ll fall on them: that should be sufficient.’ He was now said to weigh twenty-six stone and conducted his business sitting on a barrel in the middle of his shop.

He died in January 1917, and his funeral was attended by members of the Town Council, the Hythe Fire Brigade (in full uniform) and the local Lodge of Freemasons. He was remembered for years afterwards with affection for his good nature and as a successful businessman. As late as 1932, a local newspaper referred to him as the ‘leading grocer of the area’. Daniel was buried with Alice, his first wife.

Elizabeth, his widow, carried on living above the shop in the High Street until a year before her death in 1930, when her health was failing. She went on holiday in hope of a cure, but did not return. She is buried with Daniel.

Guy, as the elder son, took on the business, as ‘Dan West and Son.’. He had never known any other career, having worked as an assistant to his father until the latter’s death. Gordon,  meanwhile, went to work for a butcher before joining the South African Police in 1905.  Guy married Gertrude Agnes Banfield in Leyton, Essex, in October 1907 and brought her back to Hythe, where doubtless she, too worked in the business, although it may not have been her ideal occupation – her obituary describes her as ‘rather retiring’.  She had been born in Exeter, the daughter of Edwin Banfield, an accountant, and his wife Eliza.   The couple had a son, Dan, and a daughter, Nora. At least during the early days of their marriage, they lived in Twiss Road, Hythe.

Guy was excused service during the first World War as he was, at first, indispensable to his father and, after 1917, running the business single-handed. He did, however, serve in the Motor Volunteers and as a Special Constable. He seems otherwise to have taken little interest in town life. Perhaps he suffered from always being called, even in his wife’s obituary  ‘the son of Dan West, an Alderman and mayor’ – and this sixteen years after Dan’s death.

Gertrude died in 1933, after a two-year illness. Guy sold the business in 1937 and died himself in 1939. All Dan’s daughters had married and moved away from the town and Gordon did not return from South Africa.  There was to be no dynasty.

The West family plot in St Leonard’s churchyard, Hythe

Illegible memory/of/Alice J West/the beloved wife of D. J. West/who departed the 8th day of October 1885/in her 33rd year/after a prolonged illness
Also in loving memory of/Daniel John West/for many years churchwarden/of this parish/who died/12th January 1917/aged 71 years
There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God
Elizabeth West/died June 6th 1930/aged 80 years
To the memory of/Guy West/died 23 June 1939/aged 60 years
In loving memory/Gertrude A West/died Dec 18th 1933 /aged 59 years
Illegible Thomas
Illegible
In the midst of life we are in death.

 

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