‘Toby MP’ in Hythe

Henry Lucy by ‘Spy’

Henry Lucy was one of the most famous English political journalists of the Victorian era. He was both a serious commentator of parliamentary affairs and an accomplished humourist and parliamentary sketch-writer, acknowledged as the first great lobby correspondent. And he lived in Hythe – or at least weekended there.

Henry was born in Crosby, near Liverpool on 5 December 1842, the son of Robert Lucy, a rose-engine turner in the watch trade, and his wife, Margaret Ellen nee Kemp. He was baptized William Henry at St. Michael’s Church and the family moved to Everton, Liverpool soon afterwards. His mother taught him to read by the age of four and then he attended the private Crescent School until he was twelve. His first job was as junior clerk to Robert Smith, a hide merchant. In his spare time, he wrote poetry for the Liverpool Mercury and went to night school to learn Pitman’s shorthand.

It paid off and in 1864 he was appointed chief reporter on the Shrewsbury Chronicle, but also supplied ‘penny-a-liners’ of Shropshire news for London newspapers.

Then, in 1869, he took his life savings of £200 and went to live in Paris to learn French.

On his return, he became a reporter for the Pall Mall Gazette, who immediately took advantage of his knowledge of French and sent him on a mission to Belgium.  In 1873 he was despatched to report on the enquiry into the wreck of the Northfleet, an emigrant ship which in January, while riding at anchor off Dungeness, had been run down by a large steamer which then proceeded on her way. The enquiry was split between Dover and Lydd and providentially the drive between the two towns took him through Hythe, which charmed him with its ‘old-fashioned roofs and house fronts dating back beyond Stuart times’.

In October that year, he married Emily Anne White, the daughter of his old schoolmaster, and they started to visit the town for holidays.

Emily Lucy as a young woman   Photo: C. Melchers

At this stage, his career began to take off. He was Parliamentary reporter for the Daily News from 1873, took a trip to Canada in 1878 to report on a Royal visit and became Parliamentary sketch writer for Punch from 1881. Used the nom-de-plume ‘Toby, M.P.’ he wrote the weekly column ‘The Essence of Parliament’ for the next thirty-five years. In 1880, he also began writing for The Observer the ‘Cross Bench’ column, which continued for twenty-nine years

In August 1883 he and Emily bought from St John’s Hospital in Hythe a plot of land between North Road and Hillside Street in the town. (1). They paid £150 for it. (2) He wrote to his solicitor that he was thinking of asking Frederick Porter to design his house and asked for his address – it was Moyle Tower on the seafront in Hythe. (3)

The deeds to the house were destroyed during the second World War, so we don’t know if Frederick Porter obliged, but while Henry and Emily took a round-the world journey, the house took shape: ‘rock-built, red-tiled Whitethorn, where roses grow beyond compare, and through late spring nights the nightingale sings’. (4)

The Lucys’ ‘weekend cottage’, Whitethorn…                               Photo: C. Melchers

         

…and with its roses beyond compare    Photo: C. Melchers

The gardens were larger than at present and abutted the gardens of the Commandant of the School of Musketry. He and Henry were able to chat companionably over the garden wall.

Henry and Emily moved their furniture into the house in September 1884 though they maintained their London home at 42 Ashley Gardens

Henry loved Hythe and wrote fondly of it, though he was less impressed by the increasing number of ‘excursionists’. He appreciated the slow pace of life there. He wrote of the bathing establishment:

‘…regularly at the end of September the pump gets out of order, and the new year is far advanced before the solitary plumber of the place gets it put right. He begins to walk dreamily round the place at Easter. At Whitsuntide he brings down an iron vessel containing unmelted solder, and early in July the pump is mended. The mending of the pump is one of the epochs of Hythe, a sure harbinger of the approaching season.’ (5)

In 1886, Henry became editor of the Daily News, a short-lived post. He was busy compiling permanent records of his Punch parliamentary sketches, A Diary of Two Parliaments (2 vols., 1885–6); A Diary of the Salisbury Parliament, 1886–1892; A Diary of the Home Rule Parliament, 1892–1895; A Diary of the Unionist Parliament, 1895–1900 ; and The Balfourian Parliament, 1900–1905. These amount to a history of the Commons in its heyday, and have been extensively mined by historians.

Henry was also a long-time friend of Ernest Shackleton and raised funds for his expedition to the South Pole by using his influence to obtain a financial grant from Parliament. As a gesture of thanks, Shackleton named a mountain in Antarctica for him, Mount Henry Lucy.

Ernest Shackleton

Henry’s acquaintance was extensive and he moved in exalted circles. He was present at a dinner party in 1908 when Clementine Hozier met, for the second time, a young Winston Churchill, and this time fell in love. Henry was knighted in 1909 and he and Emily (now Lady Lucy) received over two hundred telegrams of congratulation from the great and the good. They included politicians, ambassadors, editors, actors, and bishops. One who wrote a letter was Herbert Beerbohm Tree, a hugely successful actor-manager

Sir Henry and Lady Lucy later in life                                                                                       Photos: C. Melchers

The title was perhaps only what he felt to be his due, as he believed that his father should have inherited the Lucy baronetcy together with the family estate at Charlcote, Warwickshire. He said that his father had lost touch with the titled family and on the death of one of them with no sons it went to a cousin who was more distant than his father. He said, though, that he was not bitter.

Henry died of bronchitis at Whitethorn, on 20 February 1924, aged eighty-one and was buried quietly in Saltwood as the snow fell on his grave. Whitethorn was in the parish of Saltwood and Emily had worshipped at the parish church there, rather than the closer St Leonard’s in Hythe. Henry, meanwhile, walked one of their succession of dogs on Sunday mornings.

His obituaries were mostly flattering, even reverent. The Times wrote: ‘Never in the House, but always of it, Lucy seemed to occupy for a long time a position of his own, as a species of familiar spirit or licensed jester, without which no Parliament was complete.’

But he was rich and famous and therefore bound to have his detractors. Ambrose Bierce, an American journalist wrote spitefully, ‘I knew Lucy very well – a little toadie, who afterwards toadied himself into a title.’

Henry left a huge sum of money, over a quarter of a million pounds, and was probably the wealthiest Victorian journalist who was not also a newspaper proprietor. In his will he endowed a ‘Sir William Henry Lucy Bed’ at Shrewsbury’s Royal Salop Infirmary ‘in memory of his pleasant connection with Shrewsbury’ as a journalist but also left legacies of £1000 each to forty seven other hospitals and benevolent institutions and  £3000 to Hythe charities. In December 1924, Lady Lucy got permission from Hythe Town Council to plant an avenue  of cypress trees from the Cricket Ground to South Road in Hythe and to erect a commemorative tablet. The avenue was to be known as ‘Lucy’s Walk’.  She also endowed a Lad’s Club in Saltwood, which still stands and is in regular use today, not far from the churchyard where Henry is buried. .

Emily continued to use Whitethorn and in 1935, she donated £1,000 to found the Sir Henry Lucy Scholarship at Merchant Taylors’ School, Crosby. She and Henry had no children of their own. She died in Hythe in 1937.

Emily in old age in her garden at Whitethorn   Photo: C. Melchers

In 1948 the orchard adjoining Whitethorn was sold for building and with it the main entrance gate in North Road, bearing the house name. The new building thus became ‘Whitethorn’ and the old house ‘Lucy’s’, and the steep lane next to it, ‘Lucy’s Hill’, though in all probability, that is what the locals had always called them.

A caricature of Henry Lucy, by Kate Carew

With thanks to Chris Melchers for additional information

  1. Kent Archives: EK2008/2 111(1-12)
  2. Kent Archives: EK 2008/2/Book 13
  3. Kent Archives: EK2008/2/112.
  4. Henry W. Lucy Sixty Years in the Wilderness,  London, Smith Elder, 1911, p84
  5. Henry W. Lucy Faces and Places, London: Henry & Co, 1892, p. 7

Reformatory Boys 1 – the Dearman Brothers

On 5 June 1875, two boys were admitted to the Royal Philanthropic School at Redhill: Edwin Dearman, who had turned twelve the day before, and his brother James, a month off his fourteenth birthday. They had just served twenty-one days in Canterbury prison, convicted by the Hythe magistrates of begging and vagrancy and were to spend a further four years at Redhill. Both already had previous convictions, for firing straw, wilful damage, vagrancy and petty theft.The notes taken on their admission make sad reading.

Edwin, at 4 feet 6 inches tall, was judged to be ‘undersized’ and had ‘an old face.’ James was 4 feet 8 inches tall. He had been employed at stone breaking on the roads at seven shillings and sixpence per week per week and greasing railway wagons at six shillings a week. Both were illiterate.

Their father was William Dearman, a sailor’s labourer, reported by the magistrates to be of a very bad character. He had himself been in prison twice. Their mother, Mary, was also apparently of a bad character. The family lived in Dental Street in Hythe.  The boys had an older brother, William who was serving in the 36th rifles, a sister Eliza who sold watercress at Folkestone and lived in Sandgate and there were also  younger sisters, Elizabeth, Susan and Clara.

The Hythe magistrates reported that the boys had been convicted on 15 May 1875 of ‘unlawfully wandering abroad and lodging in an unoccupied house without visible means of sustenance’. They noted:

This boy and his brother bear very bad characters and are sent out by their parents nearly every day to beg, their father being a confirmed drunkard. Unless they bring home some food they receive a severe beating which causes them frequently to stay out all night.

The magistrates had limited options for helping Edwin and James: the reform school was the best one, but its admission rules required that they serve a prison sentence first. When they arrived they were separated into different ‘houses’ (the school tried to model itself on the English public school system). Visitors were allowed, but the only recorded visit they received during their time at the School was from their mother in 1876.

Edwin was regularly caned  during his stay for fighting, stealing, lying and disobedience. After his discharge, he sold herrings in Hythe, but then got work at sea on the coal brigs plying between the north-east ports and Kent. In September 1882 he served seven days for assaulting a police officer. He got married in 1887 to Mary Jane Stockbridge, but the marriage did not last and by 1890 he was living with Elizabeth Austen, a widow, in Middle Wall, Whitstable, where many of the brigs berthed.

Whitstable Harbour in the 1890s, when Edwin Dearman lived there

They had a least two children together, but the relationship was often violent and both liked a drink.  By 1909, Elizabeth had left him, taking the children to Dover. Edwin went to Woolwich, where the same year he was homeless and arrested for being drunk and disorderly.

He must have rallied as in 1916, he enlisted in the Royal Navy, though he was over fifty. He was soon discharged, not for drunkenness or bad behaviour, but simply for being too old.

Edwin died in Stepney in 1937.

While at the reform school, James was better behaved at first, apart from some minor infringements of the rules, but in 1878 he stole from a cottage on the grounds and was birched and confined in the cells for four days. He continued throughout the rest of his stay to be difficult – he used tobacco, bullied younger boys and cut up his own boots. In May 1879, it was reported that he had, when he first came to the school been keen to emigrate to Australia or Canada, but his family brought pressure to bear on him, saying they wanted him at home. They could, they said, get employment for him at sea. He was released on licence to work in May that year.

The ‘work at sea’ did not materialise. The next year, Hythe Police reported to the school that he was occasionally hawking herrings, but then he got full-time employment with a local fish-dealer, Stephen Cloke.  They suspected he was sometimes up to no good, but could prove nothing.

Then on 30 June 1884, James married Minnie Cousine at St Leonard’s church. Her full name was Miriam Ann and she was the daughter of  a Frenchman, Louis, and an Englishwoman, Mary and has been born in Heathfield, Sussex.  The love of a good woman evidently turned James’s life around. For a start, the children started arriving – there would be fifteen eventually, though one died young. The family moved from a tiny cottage in Chapel Street, a narrow lane behind the High Street, to a slightly larger house in Frampton Road. Then, while continuing to work as a labourer and later fish seller  James joined the lifeboat crew in 1890, eventually becoming coxswain. When he retired in 1917, he held five medals for saving life and had been granted a Royal National Lifeboat Institution pension. He was, rather mysteriously, known to the lifeboat crew as ‘Charcoal’.

The Hythe Lifeboat crew in 1891. I think James is fourth from left…

…an enlargement shows a similarity to the verified picture of James below

When war was declared in 1914, James enlisted in the army, despite being over fifty, giving his age as thirty-eight years and four months. The truth was made known to his commanding officer by the sergeant-major, who knew him, and he was sent home.

The war and the succeeding years brought much sadness to the family.

In 1910, James and Minnie’s sixth chid, Sam, had joined the army and served with the East Kent Regiment, the Buffs. He was mobilised at the outbreak of war in 1914 and sent to France with the British Expeditionary Force on 27 December. Six weeks later, on 10 February 1915, he died of wounds.

Samuel Dearman 30 July 1893– 10 February 1915 

That same year, John, the second son, died of natural causes aged twenty-eight and Stephen, the third son, who worked as a brewer’s drayman, joined up. He was wounded, invalided home, sent back to the front, was gassed and finally was taken prisoner in March 1918. He was home in time for Christmas that year. The sixth child, Edwin (or Edward) served in the Royal Field Artillery, but survived.

In June 1917, James and Minnie’s eighth child, seventeen-year-old Ben, was walking with his brother and two friends along the canal bank when they met two other boys, one of whom, the  fourteen-year-old, ‘Teddy’ , was carrying a rifle (for which he had a licence), as he planned to shoot rats. None of the boys actually saw what happened and at the inquest there was some disagreement as to whether Teddy knew the gun was loaded, as he was carrying cartridges in a tin box. They heard a shot and saw Benjamin fall, with his hand to his stomach. A local man and a soldier came to help and a doctor was called. Benjamin was taken home and then transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Folkestone, where he died following an operation. The coroner’s verdict was ‘Accidental Death’.

The fifth child, Bill, a milkman, presumably unfit for overseas service, joined the Labour Corps during WW1, but was suffering from TB, which was aggravated by the work he carried out. He was a patient in the Royal Herbert Hospital, Woolwich for a while, but died at home on 28 July 1919.

The Commonwealth War Grave of William Dearman ( 30 November 1894 – 28 July 1919) in Horn Street Cemetery, Hythe

In 1922, both the eldest child, James Lewis (or sometimes Lewis James) and the eleventh, Polly died. James was thirty-nine and Polly nineteen. In 1927, their youngest sister, Kathleen (or Catherine) died ‘after a long illness’. Was the TB which carried off Bill to blame for all these adult deaths?

James died in 1936. His was a hard life, bravely lived. Minnie survived him by twelve years. She received help in her widowhood from the trustees of St Bartholomew’s Hospital. (1)

James and Minnie Dearman                                    Photos: Dave Lear

  1. Kent Archives EK2008/2 Book 19

Details of the brothers’ convictions, background and stay at the reform school are in Surrey County Archives 2271/10/16 pp 308-9

With thanks to Kathryne Maher for additional information and to Dave Lear for the photos of James & Minnie