An Unlikely Philanthropist

Alfred Bull lived an ordinary, industrious and dutiful life, until, in his old age, he became unexpectedly the most talked about man in Hythe.

He was  the son of Harry and Mary Ann Bull and was born on 30 September 1814 in Lewes where he was baptised in January the next year. He was the middle child of a family of nine. His father, who had previously been in partnership with his own brother Charles as a wool stapler, had set up a grocery business in the High Street the year before Alfred’s birth. He ran into financial difficulties and sold the business in 1827 to pay off his creditors, but opened a hatter’s shop and a stationery shop soon afterwards. He died in 1840. Coming from such a large family, Alfred could not have expected to inherit (if, indeed his father left anything), and having completed his apprenticeship with a Lewes draper he moved away to Kent where he worked for Lewis and Hyland, drapers of Ashford.

He was nearly thirty when he moved to Hythe and set up shop on his own account. He leased two adjacent High Street shops which were already trading as draper’s ; in 1846, he was able to buy them at auction and he then converted them into one premises. He lived over the shop and insured his furniture and effects for £100 and his stock in trade for £300(1). Remarkably, the shop is still there and is still a draper’s, now trading as Eldridge’s.

Eldridge’s as it was in about 1900…


… and as it is today  

The alley next to it is still called Bull’s Passage

Now established, he could propose marriage and on 24 April 1845, at St Mary’s church in Ashford, he married Maria Cobb, a tailor’s daughter.

His business prospered. For a while his brother Henry, also a draper, worked with him and in 1851 they employed two male live-in assistants. Ten years later, things were very different. The babies started arriving a couple of years after the marriage of Alfred and Maria and came at regular intervals thereafter. Maria died, aged only thirty-seven, two months after giving birth to her sixth child, a fourth daughter. Alfred, widowed, with a family of six children under ten and a business to run, turned to his family in Lewes for help.

His older unmarried sister, Maria, moved in as housekeeper and stayed with Alfred until her own death aged fifty-nine in 1864. Alfred’s youngest child was still then only ten, so another maiden sister, Frances, took over. She died in 1873, by which time Alfred had retired and the children all grown. The sisters are buried next to Alfred’s wife in St Leonards’s churchyard.

                                                  Sacred/ to the memory of/ Maria Bull/ died 24 May/ 1864/ aged 59 Years
                                             Also of Frances Bull/ sister of the above/ who died at Hythe/17th May 1873/ aged 51.

                                  Sacred/ to the memory of/ Maria/ the beloved wife of/ Alfred Bull/ who died October 24th 1858/ aged 37.


The business was sold to Leonard Lorden, another draper, who sold it in 1896 to George Eldridge, whose name it has retained through various changes of ownership. Alfred, meanwhile, retired to Hardwick House, near the Bell Inn. This was  in the parish of Newington-next-Hythe and he was obliged to relinquish his posts as Hythe town councillor and JP which he had held for many years, performing his duties conscientiously but quietly. He was able, however, to remain as a trustee of St Bartholomew’s almshouse in the town and from 1886 served on the Burial Board.  With him lived his three unmarried daughters, Mary Anne, Ellen and Maria.

Then once more there was another huge change in his life, caused by another death. One of his father’s brothers, Thomas Friend Bull had married and had a son of his own, called Charles. This Charles was articled to a Lewes solicitor, then joined the London firm of Palmer France & Palmer in 1845 . He eventually became a partner and the firm became Palmer & Bull. He had a London house in Bedford Square and a country residence in Billingshurst and was under-sheriff for Sussex for many years. He was also very rich, a lifelong bachelor and his unmarried only sister was dead. He died himself, suddenly, in spring 1890.

Inexplicably, for a solicitor whose doctor had told him he had a weak heart, he died intestate. Alfred, now seventy-five, was his nearest relative and inherited his fortune, a whopping £133, 358. That is about £10 million today.  Alfred did what lottery winners do now – bought himself and his daughters a big new house. Called ‘The Gables,’ it was in Shorncliffe Road, Folkestone, and was described by the auctioneer as ‘a mansion’. The family employed three live-in servants.

Then Alfred’s thoughts turned to philanthropy. He purchased a plot of land on the south-eastern corner of Mount Street  in Hythe and paid for – at a cost of £4000 –  the erection of a two-storey building to be a public facility for the town of Hythe. Building started in 1891. It was carpeted and furnished and heated by Perkin’s patent hot water apparatus. On the ground floor were a library, a room for reading and games, and a ladies’ room.  A wide staircase led to a magnificent hall which could seat nearly four hundred, with smaller rooms that could be used as dressing-rooms.

Alfred also built a row of model cottages, still called Bull’s cottages, in St Leonard’s Road, with the rental income to be used for the maintenance of what was to be called simply The Institute. It was to be administered by three trustees who Alfred appointed. He was now to aged and too ill to take on the task himself. He chose two Hythe businessmen, Robert Worthington, a coachbuilder , and Leonard Lorden, to whom he had sold his business. The other trustee was Robert Sidle, ‘gentleman’. The trustees had very little restriction on how the Institute could be used –  ‘as a public reading room, Mechanics’ Institute, museum, lecture room, class room, gymnasium or recreation room, for the holding of public and private meetings, concerts, theatricals, lectures, classes, exhibitions and other entertainments of every description for the benefit of the inhabitants of and visitors to the Borough of Hythe’ The trustees could levy or raise entrance fees and/or subscriptions to provide funds and could, if they wished, sell the property(2).

 The first of the row of Bull’s Cottages, tucked away behind St Leonard’s Road, Hythe

Alfred laid the foundation stone in 1891. Under the stone was buried a sealed bottle containing a national daily paper, the current issue of the Hythe Reporter newspaper and a copy of the inscription on the stone: This stone was laid by Alfred Bull Esq., J.P., on the 2nd November, 1891. There was no mention that he had paid for the building.

The opening ceremony took place shortly before Christmas 1892. Alfred was in poor health and his elder son, Frederick, another draper, had died earlier that year, so it was a quiet event.  Later in December he gave a dinner at the White Hart hotel in Hythe for the workmen engaged on the building but could not himself be present. In February 1893 he invited to tea at the Institute all Hythe inhabitants over the age of sixty. A hundred and one accepted and his daughter Ellen represented him at the event. The Institute, though it often struggled financially (Bull’s Cottages brought in only £60 a year) was a popular local amenity, especially the large hall with its space for entertainments of all kinds.

By March 1893, his health was  worse and he resigned from his post as Trustee of the Hythe hospitals.  According to his daughter Mary Anne, the only time he went out was when they took him for a drive on good days. (3)

Alfred died in 1894, having enjoyed his good fortune for only four years and was buried in Folkestone cemetery. The Folkestone Herald said when he died that ‘his name will have a permanent endurance and be embalmed in grateful recollection in Hythe.’   This was unfortunately not true, partly because of his own modesty. Had he decided to call his building ‘The Bull Institute’ following the example of J. D. Beaney who founded the Beaney Institute in Canterbury, he might be better known.  Modernisation was against him too: in the 1960s, a road widening scheme required the demolition of the Institute, whose foundations now lie under Prospect Road.

After his death, his surviving children proved that being rich does not necessarily make you happy. Mary Anne, the eldest daughter, became engaged to a widowed Rye brewer and wine merchant in 1893. The wedding was planned for April 1894,  but her intended, Herbert Chapman, died suddenly of ‘a painful malady of the head’ days before the event.  In August that year Thomas, her brother, contested his father’s will in the Probate Court. He had been left only £8000 and claimed that the three sisters who had lived with Alfred had exerted undue influence over him.  The case dragged on for three years until it was settled out of court. How much Thomas actually received  is not known. Then Emma, the only daughter who married, died aged forty-six of cancer of the liver in 1899.

The other sisters did not continue living together. ‘The Gables’ was sold to a retired General (later it became the Radnor Hotel and, during the 1940s, Folkestone Police Station).  Mary Anne returned, alone, to the family’s old home, Hardwick House in Hythe and died there aged fifty-five. Everything she owned was auctioned off by her executors, who were her solicitor and the brother of her dead fiancé. Ellen went to live in Bournemouth with a paid companion. She died there aged fifty-one . Maria moved to Tonbridge and died in 1918. She left a will but the named executors, her sisters, had all died many years before so her brother Thomas’s attorney handled her estate.

The sisters may have lived apart in life, but they sleep together in death.  Mary Ann and Maria rest in one grave in Folkestone cemetery,  and the adjacent plot, with an identical headstone, is occupied by Alfred and Ellen.

The identical graves of Alfred, Mary Anne, Ellen and Maria Bull


Thomas had emigrated to Ontario in the early 1870s. He married there, moved to Saskatchewan and then to Santa Clara in California. He had the reputation of being a ‘remittance man’ his father paying him to stay out of the UK. Along the way, he and his wife had eleven children.  He used his inheritance to set up in business as a fruit farmer and later a rancher, but it seems he spent it unwisely. He died in 1931, aged eighty.

Thomas Bull of Santa Clara and his grave and that of his daughter Kate


There is a postscript, or rather two. When the Institute was demolished, the foundation stone was saved and placed near the site.

And in 1999, a great-great grandson of Alfred visited Hythe from Santa Clara. He called in at his ancestor’s old shop and presented to Hythe Library a picture of Alfred, which still hangs there today.

With thanks to Kenneth Brown Jr and Richard Brown for additional information

  1.  Kent Archives: U2593/B24/51
  2.  Kent Archives: EK/U17/T1
  3. Kent Archives EK/2008/2/134F(2)

An Institutional Life

Adolphus Harry Peter Valder was born in Hythe on 9 January 1839 and baptised in St Leonard’s church there. He was the son of Henry Robert Valder, a tailor of Theatre Street, Hythe, and his wife Elizabeth nee Castle. The parents lived respectable, quiet lives, although Henry was occasionally fined for failing to pay the pavement rate. Elizabeth may have suffered from dementia at the end. In 1890, she was asked to leave St John’s Almshouse where, as a sober and respectable widow she had been give a place some ten years earlier, for using abusive and threatening language (1). She died two years later, aged 79.

Adolphus Valder used all his Christian names at will during his life. He was sometimes Adolphus, sometimes Harry or Henry and occasionally Peter. In 1858 he decided to be Thomas Castle instead, and joined the British Army at Aldershot under this name. He was 5 feet five inches tall with light brown hair and grey eyes and served in the West Kent Regiment as a bandsman. He was in Malta for nearly five years and was later posted to Gibraltar, where he was discharged in May 1866 as unfit for further service. He had ophthalmia, which the examining physician thought would improve once he was back in the UK. His conduct was described as ‘very good’.

See the source image

The cap badge of the Royal West Kent Regiment. The motto is Invicta – undefeated. 

He married Ann Castle Savage, daughter of Thomas Castle Savage, a bricklayer in September 1868 in St Leonard’s church in Hythe. They went at first to live in Westminster, then Islington. In 1871 Adolphus (then going by the name of Harry) told the census enumerator that he was an officer of HM Customs, which seems unlikely. Later he would describe himself as either a labourer or an army musician.

By 1874 the couple, now with two sons, were back in Hythe. In December 1876, now with another son, they were admitted to the Elham Union Workhouse in Etchinghill.  A fourth son was born there early the next year and the family were discharged on 30 April 1877 (2). In October, Ann and the boys were back, and were joined by Adolphus after Christmas. He then absconded, but was arrested and imprisoned in Dover for deserting his family. The authorities took Ann and her sons to Dover to re-join him. By October, they were all back in Etchinghill.

Thereafter there is a continuous pattern of Adolphus being in prison and his wife and family in the workhouse. Another son, Louis (sometimes Lewis),  was born and the couple’s last child and only daughter, Jane, was born n the workhouse in 1883. The child had to return to the workhouse alone when she was five, as Adolphus was back in prison.

At every other census until 1911, both Adolphus and Ann are to be found in the workhouse, although it seems their stay was not continuous, as in 1902 their son Harry told the army that they were living in Stade Street, Hythe. In 1905, Adolphus wrote to the Incorporated Soldiers and Sailors Help Society, asking for assistance (3). The Society was founded in 1899 with Princess Christian, Queen Victoria’s third daughter and a founder of the Red Cross, as its first President and still exists today as the Forces Help Society. He explained that he had joined the army under a false name and that since then he had been trying, without success, to get a peddler’s licence (he had left the army thirty-nine years previously).  He wanted, he said, to get ‘a living and at the same time get my wife little extras that we are unable to get now.’ He enclosed testimonials, one of which confirmed that Ann was ‘incapable of doing anything’, though it does not say why.  The outcome of his request is not on record.

Both Adolphus and Ann died in the workhouse, he in March 1913 and Ann in August 1915. Both were buried in St Leonard’s churchyard.

Considering their poor start in life and what must have been a rackety upbringing, the Valder children led, as far as can be told, stable and industrious lives.

The eldest child, Charles was born in Westminster on 17 August 1869. His name was registered as Charlie Castle Valder, but he always preferred to use ‘Charles’. In 1884 he was apprenticed to Frederick Court a tailor of Greenstreet, a hamlet near Faversham. He served his six-year term, but in December 1892 went to Shornecliffe, an army base near Hythe and joined the Royal West Kent Regiment. He gave his occupation as ‘musician and tailor.’ Presumably his father had taught him to play an instrument, too. He was five feet four inches tall, with grey eyes and fair hair, and said that he was a Wesleyan. He stayed in the army, as a private, until 14 December 1913, exactly twenty-one years. During this time, he served in the Republic of Ireland, Malta and at various postings in England. On 31 March 1902, at the parish church in Watford, he married Sarah Rushby, and they set up home in Cheriton, the nearest residential area to Shorncliffe army base. There were no children of the marriage. In October 1914, Charles re-enlisted, this time in the Labour Corps. He was soon promoted to corporal and spent the war in the UK, being discharged as medically unfit – he had ‘myalgia’ (muscle pain)- in October 1917. He then found employment as a postman and later as a general labourer and the couple continued to live in Cheriton until Charles’s death in 1949.

When Charles joined the West Kent Regiment, he was following in the footsteps not only of his father but of his younger brother, Harry, who had enlisted two and a half years earlier at the age of eighteen. He gave his occupation as groom. He, too, was five feet four inches tall, with blue eyes and light brown hair. He served in Malakand, near the Khyber Pass, and in South Africa, where he was severely wounded, which is presumably why, in 1901, he was staying with relatives in Foord Road in Folkestone.

Winston Churchill also served at Malakand and wrote about his experiences

Harry was discharged from the army in 1902, worked as a labourer for a while and re-enlisted in 1903, for a short-term engagement, by which time he had grown to five feet five inches tall. He was finally discharged in November 1907 and died in the Ashford area in 1944.

The third son, Ernest, was born in 11 January 1874 in Hythe & baptised there 18 March, where he was given the names Ernest Tom Castle Valder. By 1891, when his parents were in the workhouse, he was working as a porter at the Seabrook Hotel (later the Imperial), a live-in position.

The Imperial Hotel , Hythe in the early years of the 20th century

He moved to Southwark, but stayed in the hospitality sector, working as a potman. He married Amy Alice Murray in 1897, and the couple had two sons and a daughter. He enlisted in the army in 1916, by which time he was running a lodging house in Walworth, and like his older brother Charles served in the Labour Corps in the UK, though his record shows that he was often afflicted with bronchitis. By the beginning of the second world war he was living in Lewisham, where he died in 1951.

His younger brother Louis Castle Valder was born on 4 June 1876. He made his living in steam laundries, working at first in Cheriton, where he had made his home with his wife, and later in Hammersmith.

Foster’s Steam Laundry, Cheriton, in 1903. Is Louis Valder one of the eight men pictured?


He had married Ada Florence Perry in Cheriton parish church on 21 April 1901 and they had two sons. He also enlisted during the first world war, enlisting in December 1915 and being mobilised in June 1916. Like his brothers, he was a short man, only five feet one and a half inches tall. He served with the Essex Regiment as a private.

The fifth Valder son was Sidney Castle Valder born in the workhouse in 1877, and who died in Lyminge in 1903. Between those two dates there is no information about him on the public record.

The only daughter, Jane, worked as a servant as a young woman, and married in 1908 in London James Corboy, a railway porter.  They had at least one daughter. Jane died in 1919, perhaps as a result of the ‘Spanish flu’ epidemic that killed so many.

There remains the question of why, since they were all in paid employment, the Valder children did not support their parents and keep them out of the workhouse. Had they given up on their father and his undoubtedly erratic ways?  It could be that the parents did not want to take assistance. Or that help was given but frittered away. Or even that Adolphus and Ann had become so habituated to the workhouse and had so many acquaintances there – many elderly couples were regular visitors –  that it became, however dreary, a second home.

  1. Records of St John’s & St Bartholomew’s Hospitals EK2008/2/90h

2.    Kent Archives G/EL/W1A

3.    Kent Archives Fo/Z2/C2

Making Good

William Buckland Hythe Taffenden was baptised on 24 May 1825 in St Leonard’s Church, Hythe. It is an odd collection of names, and he never used this second and third given names. Buckland is a small parish near Dover, or could be a surname; ‘Hythe’ speaks for itself. The reason behind the names can only have been known to William’s mother, who gave her name as ‘Lydia Taffenden’ to the curate who performed the baptism, but there are no records confirming the existence of anyone of this name. The surname is unusual, confined then almost entirely to Kent and found mostly in the area around Ashford.

Whatever the circumstances of his birth, what can be certain is that he was illegitimate, or ‘base-born’ according to the curate. He was first admitted to Elham Union workhouse in 1839, when he was fourteen and described as ‘a servant, bastard’ (1). He clearly disliked the place, as he was intended to, and later that year he and a twenty-year-old man from Folkestone, Richard Marsh, escaped together, but William was found the next day and brought back. His sin was compounded by the fact that he had escaped wearing the workhouse’s clothing, so was guilty of theft as well.

The next year, the authorities found him a place in service, with Francis Pittock, a surgeon who lived in at Mount Pleasant in Sellindge. It was not a successful venture, and he lost the place and was returned to the workhouse in December 1841. Three months later, on 30 March 1842, he went to Dover and joined the army. The recruiting sergeant described him as 5ft 4 inches tall, only just tall enough, but probably still growing, blue eyed and with a fresh complexion.

The army was his life for the next twenty years and two hundred and nineteen days. Here he found the stability that turned his life around. He had joined the 2nd Battalion, the Rifle Brigade, a Regiment first raised in 1800 as an elite and ‘Experimental Corps of Riflemen’. It trained its men as ‘sharpshooters, scouts and skirmishers’, arming them with rifles which were more accurate and had a longer range than the musket, but took longer to load.

A soldier of the Rifle Brigade, early nineteenth century

The idea of individual soldiers hitting specific targets seemed unorthodox at the time, with the conventional tactic of the mass volley being favoured. The Regiment was trained to use natural cover (wearing green instead of the traditional red, in order to camouflage the soldiers), worked in pairs in the open and trained to think for themselves in order to harass the enemy. The Regiment became an invaluable part of any campaign and was present at most actions of the British Empire including Waterloo in 1815, the Crimean War 1854–1856, and the Indian Mutiny 1857–1859.

William was sent first to Canada, where he spent ten years. Some of this, at least, was spent in Kingston, Ontario. Standing at the head of the St Lawrence River, the city was heavily fortified against attacks from the United States, and the British had a large garrison there. In 1851 William was listed as being posted there as a private – a rank he held throughout his military career.

The harbour in front of the garrison at Kingston, Ontario, in the mid-nineteenth century

From Canada, William was sent to Turkey and on to Sevastopol in the Crimea, where he took part in the battles which characterised the long siege from 1854 to 1855.


                                                                                  A rifleman in the Crimea

He was then sent to India and took part in the actions to relieve the siege of Lucknow, which as part of the Indian Mutiny was held by rebelling forces from 1857 to 1858.

The aftermath of the Siege of Lucknow: the ruins of the British Residency

From there he went to Subathu, a fortified town near Simla.

William finally sought discharge from the army in October 1863. He was suffering from dyspepsia when he exerted himself and doctors considered that his long and active career, together with advancing years, had rendered him unfit for further service. He had been awarded four Good Conduct badges, the Crimean Medal and clasp for Sevastopol, the Turkish Medal, the Indian Medal and clasp for Lucknow, and the Long Service Medal. He was sent home and finally discharged on 24 May 1864.

During his army years, he had found time to marry, as on his return home he was described as a widower, but no trace remains of his wife or of any children born to them. Once back in England, he joined the newly-formed Kent Police, and worked at first in Canterbury before being sent to Smarden, near Ashford, where his badge number was 2 and where he lived in Round About Street.

Then, in 1873, he married again, to Eliza Samways, a widow from Dorset. He was sent to police the little village of Preston, near Wingham, in Kent. In 1885 he retired from the police force at the age of sixty, as a constable, first class, and was given a gratuity of £40. This, together with his army pension and whatever funds his wife brought to their union, enabled him and Eliza to live comfortably, at first in Chislet, near Canterbury, and then in Thanington, on the outskirts of the city. William was a ratepayer, and entitled to vote. Not bad for a base-born workhouse boy.

The couple moved to Lambeth in about 1899, and it was there that both of them died, Eliza in 1900 and, aged 82, William in 1907.

  1. Kent Archives G/EL/W1a

The Hole Family Part 2

The first part of this blog was published in 2016, before I discovered the sad story of Elizabeth Back, nee Hole. I am indebted to David Haynes of Queensland for this extra information.  

Elizabeth Hole, the eldest child of James and Elizabeth Hole of Hythe was born on 24 September 1814. She became a servant and married Daniel Back (or sometimes Beck) in Marylebone, London in 1837. He was also a domestic servant. Less than two years later, they emigrated to Australia, leaving from Plymouth on 13th May 1839 aboard the Lady Raffles with 234 other souls and their baby son, another Daniel. They arrived in September. They were enticed into applying for emigration to the new colony of New South Wales by advertisements posted in London and other cities. This whole adventure must have seemed quite attractive at the time: their passage was paid for and employment was virtually assured once they arrived in Sydney. This was the so-called Bounty system, separate from the Government sponsored scheme.

                                                                         An example of Bounty emigration advertising


This opportunity seemed almost too good to be true and it was. Once there, Elizabeth and Daniel and all their co-emigrants were abandoned, left to fend for themselves. The jobs and housing did not materialise and there was no room in the Government-run accommodation.  Elizabeth gave birth again in 1840, to a daughter, Susan but there is no further trace of either of her children. It seems probable that they died.

Elizabeth left Australia, and Daniel, in about 1842. We don’t know whether it was the country or the man she wanted to escape, but she must have been desperate enough to find her own fare. Daniel remained in the new colony and soon developed a new partnership with another woman with whom he had six children before marrying her in 1858. He must have assumed that Elizabeth was dead.

She was not. She had entered the service of Mrs Elizabeth Frederica Crofts, the wife of Peter Guerin Crofts, the retired rector of St. John-sub-Castro in Lewes. She was his second wife and twenty years his junior and Elizabeth was her ladies maid. Their house, in Lewes,  was vast (it is now the HQ of Sussex Police) and required a live-in staff of eight, including a butler, coachman and footman.

See the source image

Malling House

The fact that it was in Lewes is significant: Daniel Back had been born near there, his family still lived nearby, so it seems that when she returned from Australia, Elizabeth went to her in-laws rather than her own family in Hythe. It is entirely possible that she was expecting Daniel to join her there.

Peter Crofts died in 1859, but Elizabeth stayed with her mistress until the latter’s death in 1878.  She then returned to Hythe where she lived in Stade Street and described herself as an annuitant and widow.  It is likely that Mrs Crofts remembered her faithful servant in her will and provided a pension so that she would not end her life in poverty. Her old age, though, according to her gravestone, was not a happy time.

She is buried with her sister Mary Hole, born in 1818, who alone of the siblings did not marry. She went to Ashford to live with her brother Thomas, and later with one of his daughters. Eventually she, too, returned to Hythe and lived in St Bartholomew’s almshouse in the town.

Image result for centuries hythe

The former St Bartholomew’s Almshouse in Hythe, now a private dwelling


In/loving memory/of/Elizabeth Back/who died 3rd March 1890/aged 75 years
Afflictions sore long time she bore/physicians were in vain/til death did cease and God did please/to ease her of her pain
Also of Mary Hole/sister of the above/who died11th December 1900/in her 82nd year
Well done good and faithful servant/enter thou into the joy of thy Lord