Surviving Buggy Row

The Tyas family (sometimes known as ‘Tice’) were survivors. They survived the workhouse, eviction  and living in a slum, and while they were undeniably  truculent and liked a drink or two, they flourished and multiplied  against all the odds.

This story starts in December 1842 when their landlord, Michael Edwin of Dover, evicted them from their home in Hythe. He did not need to give a reason and did not do so (1). They moved to Dental Street in the town, but in February 1844, Richard, the pater familias, allegedly deserted his wife Harriet and their eight children: Edward, Richard, William, Esther, Filmer, John, Mary and Priscilla, who were all placed in the Elham Union Workhouse at Ethchinghill (2). He appeared before the local magistrates charged with this offence  but was discharged, and the family were reunited a week later (3). They were back again for another short stay in April that year, but thereafter managed to survive outside. They moved to Windmill Row, and another three children were born: George, James and Fanny.

Windmill Row was, to put it bluntly, filthy. In Hythe, it was commonly known as ‘Buggy Row’. Its sixteen houses had been built to accommodate temporarily the men of the Royal Waggon Train who dug the Royal Military Canal over forty years before. There were no internal stairs, and the tenants reached their upstairs rooms by means of ladders There were just four outside taps for all sixteen dwellings, none of which had a sink, and six outside water-closets. The local Sanitary Inspectors wrote to Hythe’s mayor in 1849 to complain about the state of the place, to no avail.  But the census shows that most of the people living there were not paupers, they were in work: there was just no other accommodation to be found at an affordable rent. The landlord knew that and was not motivated to make improvements.

Richard earned his living as a labourer and Harriet went out to work as a charwoman. By 1851, their two eldest sons had left home. Edward, at eighteen, had married his pregnant girlfriend, ten years older than him and already the mother of an illegitimate child. He had found work as a hotel porter.

Richard junior had joined the Merchant Navy as an apprentice in 1850, but left the next year, returning to marry Emily Moseley in St Leonard’s Church, Hythe. He, too, was just eighteen and Emily was pregnant. They went to live in London, where Richard worked as a groom, but a couple of years later were back in Kent. In 1854, he ‘borrowed’ a horse and cart from a Folkestone baker and drove it to Hastings to deliver some herring. However, having sold the fish, he spent the next few days drinking the proceeds. His remorse at the magistrates court enabled him to escape trial and he went to live in Ramsgate where he became a fly-master, hiring out horse-drawn transport.

William was the next to leave, but his first attempts at independent living were not successful and he had another stay in the workhouse in 1852. The first Tyas daughter, Esther, also went to London, and married there in 1858.

In 1854 Richard senior was charged with fighting with two of his own sons in Tontine Street in Folkestone and with striking one of his daughters in the melee. He was drunk at the time. When a constable came to break up the fight, he also resisted arrest. In court, he was very contrite and swore that if let off, he would take the pledge. The magistrate told him that if he intended to become a teetotaller the best place to start would be Dover gaol and sentenced him to fourteen days.

Tontine Street in Folkestone, where Richard Tyas brawled with his family…

and Dover Gaol, in the Maison Dieu, where he served his sentence

The fourth Tyas son, Filmer, was evidently a chip off the old block. In 1857 he was sentenced to twelve months in prison for assaulting a police constable, a term he served in Canterbury gaol. In 1861 he appeared in court charged with disorderly conduct at the Coopers’ Arms public house on the Bayle in Folkestone. Most of the family now lived in the town. Filmer ensured that drink was always available to him by lodging at another public house, the Princess Royal in the town, and later at the Engineer beerhouse in what is now Guildhall Street. Perhaps his behaviour was trying: the landlord told him to leave in 1868, but he refused and became violent. A constable was called and inevitably, Filmer assaulted him, too. He was taken to Folkestone police station, where his mother turned up and created such a disturbance that she, too, was arrested. At the subsequent court hearing, Filmer was charged seven shillings and sixpence, and Harriet was discharged.

The Princess Royal public house near the harbour in Folkestone

At the time of this last event, Filmer was a married man, but living separately from his wife. He had married Ann Tidmarsh at the church of St Mary and St Eanswythe on 6 April 1862, but thereafter she disappears from the public record. Filmer signed his name on his marriage certificate, so had a degree, at least, of literacy.

Filmer last appears in public records when he is in court again, this time charged with illegal prize fighting at a farm near Dover in 1874. The case collapsed because the witnesses were too frightened to testify. Filmer died aged only forty-four, and was buried on 8 January 1881.

His father, Richard, meanwhile had died in 1868, and Harriet moved in with her daughter Mary. Mary had married Thomas Fisher, a publican who kept the Eagle Inn in Guildhall Street. Her brother George, the youngest of the Tyas sons married and worked early in his life as a boatman, before taking over the licence of the Bradstone Arms in Folkestone in the late 1870s. Like Filmer, he died in early 1881. After his death, his widow Alice kept on the licence.

Priscilla, the third Tyas daughter, broke with family tradition and as far as is known had no connection with the licensed trade. On 17 August 1862, at the age of seventeen, she married Edward Bush Johnson in Folkestone parish church. Edward was a corporal in the Royal Artillery. Priscilla, like her younger brother George who witnessed the ceremony, could not write.

The youngest Tyas child, Fanny, married a mariner, Robert Weatherhead in 1866. They had at least seven children, but Fanny managed to combine her domestic duties with running a public house in Seagate Street in Folkestone.

Buggy Row in Hythe was, disgracefully,  not demolished until the 20th century. In 1888 Hythe’s Medical Officer of Health described it as ‘in a most dilapidated condition, the foundations and grounds impregnated with filth’, but the landlord ignored him. Three years later, the Ratepayers Association demanded that the dwellings be taken down as  ‘the ground, back and front, is a vast cesspool, growing more dangerous to health every day.’  Again, they were ignored.  The town council finally took action and condemned them in 1904, sixty years after the Tyas family had lived there.

  1. Kent Archives H1431
  2. Kent Archives G/El/AM
  3. Kent Archives Hy/JP1
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The Tragic Life of Louisa Kidder Staples

William Henry Kidder was born on 24 July 1827 to George and Mary Kidder. His father was a baker and the family lived in Saltwood.  William grew up to become a nineteenth century ‘man and van’, except that he had a horse and cart. He variously described himself as a carrier, potato dealer, greengrocer or hawker of vegetables. He formed a relationship with a young woman, Eliza Staples, who lived with him in Theatre Street in Hythe and who had two children with him, Louisa in 1857 and Ellen in 1862. Eliza died before Ellen’s first birthday and the child was sent to live with her Staples grandparents in Sellindge.  Louisa stayed with her father.

William started another relationship with Frances Turner, a young woman working as a servant in Sandgate. On 1 February 1865, when twenty- two-year old Frances was eight months pregnant, William married her in St Leonard’s church in Hythe. One, or both of them, was aiming for respectability. There was even a marriage announcement in the Maidstone Journal and Kentish Advertiser, and in the Canterbury Journal.

It was a stormy relationship from the start and Frances, or Fanny as she was known, appears to have been a woman whose temper was on a very short fuse. In September 1865, she was convicted of assaulting an elderly neighbour and fined. In November that year, Fanny complained to the police that William had kicked her while wearing his outdoor boots and then pushed her out of the house into the pouring rain. He said he would murder her if she went to court. He was starving her, she said, she had not eaten for two days, and he had ordered her not to suckle her infant daughter, Emma,  because ‘she should not live’. A warrant was issued for William’s arrest. Presumably Fanny withdrew the complaint, as it was taken no further.

According to witnesses who came forward later, Fanny loathed her step-daughter Louisa and treated her appallingly. She regularly beat the child with a broomstick so that she was covered in bruises. She hit her about the head and face hard enough to make her nose bleed and the girl was often seen with blood on her pinafore or with black eyes. She was dressed in rags with broken boots, fed only on scraps of bread and butter and made to sleep in a potato sack in a corner of the cellar. Fanny spoke of her as ‘that bitch.’ Neighbours complained to the police about Fanny’s behaviour, and for a while Louisa was removed from the family to her Staples grandparents, but William neglected to pay for her upkeep and she was returned home. Richard and Rebecca Staples still had six children of their own at home and their granddaughter Ellen, all supported on a railway labourer’s wage.

In June 1867, Fanny was accidentally thrown out of  her husband’s cart, and injured and returned to her family home in New Romney to convalesce. She took with her Louisa and her own child, Emma. On 25 August 1867, William went to fetch them back, but on arrival at the Turners’ house found that found that Fanny had gone out with Louisa, but returned without her. She was sitting weeping in the front room, her gown sodden.

William together with Fanny’s father, John Turner, took lanterns and went to search for Louisa. They soon found her, drowned in a shallow ditch. On their return to the house, Fanny said the child had fallen into the ditch, but William did not believe her and called the police. By the time they arrived, Fanny had changed her dress for a dry one, but the officers found her wet garments stuffed under her bed. They arrested her on suspicion of murder.

The news was all over Hythe by the next day.  Christiana Potter, the headmistress of the Girl’s School,  wrote in her log book on 26 August: received news that one of the scholars was dead – murdered by her mother.  There was no presumption of innocence from the start.

Fanny’s first hearing was at the magistrates’ court soon afterwards. She repeated the story that Louisa had fallen, and added that she had tried to save her, but the magistrates did not believe her either and remanded her in custody to stand trial for murder at the assizes in Maidstone. Meanwhile, Louisa was laid to rest in the churchyard at Sellindge.

Fanny appeared at the assizes in March 1868. William had refused to pay for a defence counsel for her, and the court had to appoint someone. In was in vain. The jury did not believe Fanny’s story that Louisa had been frightened by two horses and run away, or that she had tried to save her. The girl had drowned in less than a foot of water, and could easily have been extricated. It did not help that Fanny’s husband, both parents and a sister testified against her. After only twelve minutes the jury brought in a guilty verdict, and Fanny was sentenced to death.

Back in Maidstone prison, awaiting execution, she became sullen and ill-tempered, apparently complaining that she had been ill-used by the court. She showed no sign of remorse and instructed the Governor of the prison to write to William and tell him to stay away.

However, the tide of popular opinion, which had been against Fanny, began to turn. The Kentish Gazette of 24 March reported that she had been ‘very badly brought up and sadly neglected.’ It noted her illiteracy and complete ignorance of Christian teaching, and her good behaviour in service until she met William Kidder. He, the paper said, had behaved shamefully towards her and had treated his daughter almost as badly as Fanny had. Even worse, he had now taken one of Fanny’s sisters, a girl aged only seventeen, into his house to live with him. In Hythe, the mayor, James Watts, got up a petition for clemency to send to the Home Secretary. The citizens of New Romney did the same.

Fanny relented and dictated another letter to William asking him to visit. She had already received a visit from her parents. She did not admit her guilt to them or show any sign of contrition. The Home Secretary considered the petitions from Hythe and New Romney, but declined to intervene in the case and the execution was set for 2 April 1868.

On 1 April, Fanny’s mother and two of her sisters, one only a few months old visited. So too did William. It was a short interview. Fanny reproached him for having taken up with her sister and he left. His departure upset her, and she shrieked and wailed terribly. The prison chaplain told William to go home and remember that he was the cause of his wife’s suffering and to mend his ways. He went to the pub near the gaol instead and then back to Hythe.

His reception in the town was not a welcoming one. During the evening, a mob estimated to be three to four hundred strong paraded through the streets with an effigy of William which they burnt in front of his house while pelting the building with stones.

Executions were still public in April 1868. It was not until May of that year that legislation was passed to move the events inside the prison. On 2 April, at noon, Fanny was hanged in front of a crowd of two to three thousand people outside the main gate of Maidstone Prison, the last woman in England to be publicly executed. She had been composed during the morning, and dictated to the chaplain a letter to her parents saying she was sorry for her crime. Her last words on the scaffold were ‘Lord Jesus, forgive me’. Once dead, her body was left hanging for an hour, and then taken away for immediate burial within the prison grounds.

William Calcraft, Fanny’s executioner

William stayed in Hythe, with Emma, although it seems the relationship with Fanny’s sister did not endure. No subsequent census return shows him living with a woman, and he did not remarry, dying in 1908. Emma lived with him until she herself got married on 31 August 1891 in St Leonard’s church. Her husband, Benjamin Thomas Jones, was a groom working for the army in Hythe. They did not have children and lived quietly, a far as can be known, in Market Street in Hythe (now Dymchurch Road).