Always a Man

William Lionel Man was born on 7 December 1832 at Halstead Hall, Halstead, Kent, the son of Harry Stoe Man and Louisa Caroline Man nee Fowle.  He was baptized on 13 January 1833 at St. Margaret’s, Halstead.

Halstead Hall was not the family seat. William’s father had bought it, using his wife’s money, in about 1828. He seems to have had little money of his own. He was declared bankrupt in 1818 and was incarcerated, for a while, in the Fleet prison in London. He paid his debts and was married the next year, but in 1824 was dismissed from his position as a purser in the Royal Navy for fiddling his expenses account. With the job went his navy pension. He was declared bankrupt again in 1843. Fortunately, the house was in his wife’s name.

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Halstead Hall

Harry was at best eccentric, at worst just plain bloody-minded.  He (illegally) drained and enclosed the village pond. He knocked down the gateposts of the church to make space for his wife’s carriage.  When angry, he whistled through the holes in his cheeks left by the passage of a pistol ball during a naval engagement with the French in 1802. His gravestone was inscribed:

I have said to corruption thou art my father/ to the worm thou art my mother and sister.

William was the couple’s eighth child of eleven.

The eldest, Eleanor, married in middle age to a Welshman who habitually talked to inanimate objects, including his boots. The next, Harry, became a  major in the Turkish Contingent and fought in the Crimean War. He never recovered from being thrown out of a window in St Petersburg and died aged forty-two. He always took off his hat when he saw a barrel of sugar because he had sugar investments. A younger brother, Septimus, got sunstroke in India, which, coupled with an unhappy love affair, unsettled his mind, though he succeeded in becoming a barrister.  He would walk about Paris dressed as an Admiral and when at Halstead Hall insisted on living in the basement where he played Spanish love songs on the guitar.

William started life conventionally enough, and he was articled to a solicitor in London. He then scandalised his family by marrying Rosa Cooper, who was not only an actress, but a Roman Catholic, too – or at least he said he did. There is no record of his marriage in England, Scotland or Wales, to ‘Rosa Cooper’, which may have been a stage name, or to anyone else.  So who was Rosa? She remains a mystery. She had been acting on the London stage since she was in her early teens, and some of her reviews refer to her as ‘the celebrated American comedienne.’ In 1850, she made her first appearance in a tragedy, as Lady Macbeth, with disastrous reviews, but she persevered until the reviews improved. She and William had a son, Horace, in 1856, but she continued to perform.

For a while, William combined the law with an interest in the stage.  At first, he seems to have acted as Rosa’s manager and publicist.

 

An 1856 advertisement for Rosa Cooper’s lectures. Her qualifications may have been exaggerated

By 1857, he had joined Rosa on the stage, performing as ‘Lionel Harding’. Perhaps he did not meet with huge initial success, as he left his lodgings in Swansea without paying he bill

 

In 1858, he and Rosa were performing in an entertainment entitled Matrimony at Greenwich.  Rosa’s performance was much praised. They then created the London Dramatic Company and went on tour, with mixed results. At Faversham they played to several near-empty houses in succession until they offered to give away a silver watch to one lucky audience member. The theatre that night was packed with boys and young men who cat-called and shouted ‘where’s the watch’ until the cast gave up and allegedly left town without paying for their lodgings. Better times came and in 1863 William and Rosa were performing together with William Montague’s company in Chelmsford and Cranbrook, where they were described as ‘popular favourites’ and Rosa ‘drew forth rapturous approbation’ as Lady Macbeth.

                                                                                Rosa Cooper as Lady Macbeth (www.manfamily.org)

Perhaps to the Man family’s relief, they then decided to perform in the colonies, leaving Horace with his paternal grandmother.  In 1865 they were in New Zealand, performing Shakespeare for the actor-manager Charles Dillon’s company. In 1870 they were in Sidney, where Rosa appeared in ‘her well-known and artistic realisation of the character of Lady Isabel in East Lynne’. This gave her the immortal lines: Dead! Dead! And never called me mother!

                                                                                   William Lionel Man as Hamlet (www.manfamily.org)

In 1872 they were giving ‘drawing-room entertainments’ in the Polytechnic Hall in Sidney with ‘very limited success’. It was a sad time for them: their son Horace had died the previous year aged fifteen. The circumstances of his death are unclear. According to his death certificate, he died of dropsy (oedema). This can be a symptom of heart or kidney disease. His death was not registered by a family member, of whom there were plenty at Halstead Hall, but by an unknown illiterate woman, Elizabeth Grosvenor,  who was ‘present at the death’.  The cause of death was not certified, which means he was not under the care of a doctor. His father, William, is described as ‘a lawyer’.

Five years later, Rosa was dead herself, of cholera, in Calcultta ( now Kolkata).

The next we hear of William is in 1880, when on 20 July at Holy Trinity church in Maidstone, he married Mary Fowle Starnes, a distant relation of his mother. They moved in with Mary’s aunt, Mary Cutbush, in King Street, Maidstone. William seems to have given up the stage on the death of Rosa: it was always she who drew the better reviews.  In 1881, he was making his living as a journalist.  He wrote under the pseudonym of ‘The Lounger’ commentaries which were syndicated to local newspapers. He also wrote a book Lecture on Shakespeare with the Reverend T. Archibald S. White, who delivered the lecture itself. The reverend gentleman’s full name was Thomas Archibald Starnes White, a relation of William’s wife.

William and Mary moved to Hythe in about 1890 and lived in Beaconsfield Terrace.

Beaconsfield Terrace, Hythe

Why Hythe? One attraction may have been the presence in nearby Sandgate of William’s brother, Edward Garnet Man, who lived in a house called ‘Halstead’.  He had spent much of his career in Burma and now passed his time writing letters to the newspapers, being a JP and supporting the Primrose League.

William did not go out of his way to make friends in Hythe and made it clear that he despised the mores  of polite society, the established church and humbug in general. He did, however, like the White Hart inn, which, according to his nephew Morrice, he frequented rather too often,  and he gave occasional recitations.

He died on 4 March at home in Hythe. An obituary published in the Folkestone Herald is fulsome. It tells us that he studied acting at Sadler’s Wells, where he met Rosa, who was then one of the stars of the company. The couple emigrated to Australia where they took a theatre in Melbourne.  His health had been broken by his experiences in India when Rosa died , so he retired to Hythe to improve his physical well-being. His later years were apparently spent trying to contact his old pals and help them:

Many a broken-down actor, poor scene shifter, and in one instance a poor old charwoman, who had formerly held some minor part in the Melbourne Theatre, can attribute the comparative ease and comfort of their declining years and their rescue from terrible poverty, to his kindness and generosity. 

Unfortunately, none of this chimes with what is verifiable about William’s life, and if he rescued ‘broken-down actors’ from lives of penury, then he was generous to a fault, as he left in his will only £399. 3s 9d. He was cremated on 6 April 1904 at Woking cemetery and his ashes were interred at St. Margaret’s, Halstead

Mary remained in Hythe until her death in1916. She left nearly £30,000 in her will. Perhaps it was her money that William was so generous with.

After her death, the couple’s nieces and nephews had a tablet erected to them in St Leonard’s church.

 

It is ironic that William is remembered in the church, a place he visited only to scoff at the clergy, but the plaque is at the back of the church, on the north aisle wall. It is above an area now used as a bar to serve wine and beer when concerts are held in the church. It seems an appropriate place for William.

There is a coat of arms on the plaque.

The motto reads Vir Semper – Always a Man. An expert in heraldry visited St Leonard’s church a few years ago and recorded all the coats of arms. His conclusion on the Man plaque was that ‘the arms, crest, and motto do not appear in the usual literature (BGA, GA2, Elvin, Fairbairn) in relation to the name Man’.

Sources: Millennial Halstead: A Kentish Villager History by Geoffrey Kitchener, M.A.

                http://www.manfamily.org  for details of William’s wider family. It also has a memoir of William by his nephew, Morrice.

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Armenia, India and Mesopotamia: the Finnis Grandchildren

Robert Finnis, upholsterer of Hythe,  had a great many grandchildren, despite the fact that three of his nine children died young and another three had no offspring. Of the three remaining, George had two daughters, one of whom died young. The other, Elizabeth, made, for a young woman brought up in Hythe, an extraordinary marriage, to Lazar Josef Constantine, an Armenian. His widowed mother had subsequently married Lord Congleton.  The connection can only have been through her Lynch cousins, two of whom also married Armenians (see below). Elizabeth was the last person to be buried in the Finnis vault at St Leonard’s church, in 1913.

Elizabeth, Robert’s eldest daughter, married Henry Blosse Lynch of Partry House, Co. Mayo, and gave birth to eleven sons.  Five of these, Henry, Robert, Michael, Stephen and Thomas, made their fortunes, and sometimes met their deaths, in exploring the Middle East.

Henry Blosse Lynch (junior) joined the Indian Navy at sixteen, taking part in a survey of the Persian Gulf.  He had a flair for languages, and learned Arabic, Hindustani and Farsi.   As a lieutenant, he was second-in-command of Colonel Chesney’s expedition to transport overland the components of two steamships across northern Syria to meet the Euphrates, there to re-assemble the steamships (the SS Euphrates and Tigris) and to navigate the Euphrates as far as the Iranian Gulf. The intention was to seek a new trade route with India and the Far East.  Henry commanded the Euphrates and his younger brother Robert, a lieutenant in the 26th regiment of the Bengal Army, the Tigris, the smaller vessel. Robert and twenty other men were drowned when a sudden storm capsized his vessel in May 1836.

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Henry returned, much feted, to England, later in 1836, was granted an audience with the king, William IV and wrote articles for the Royal Geographical Society. A minor and now forgotten poet, Henry Richardson, wrote a very long (eighty-eight page) poem,   The Loss of the Tigris; a poem. In two cantos. Inscribed to the commander, officers, and men of the Euphrates Expedition. An excerpt follows:

There were two brothers in the death-doomed bark;
And one escaped, the other’s life was reft;
And here the words of holy Scipture mark;
“One Shall be taken, and the other left!”
Dark and inscrutable are Wisdom’s laws!
But, Lynch you perished in a noble cause,
And your brother lives to carry through,
Bright deeds of glory denied to you.

In 1839, another younger brother, Michael, was sent out to Baghdad with three more disassembled steamships.  He also undertook some surveying work in Armenia and died there in 1840 aged twenty-eight. No poet eulogised his death.  There were, however, still two younger brothers left ( the very youngest, Frederick, had died aged twelve).  Henry understood the commercial potential of Mespotamia and Armenia and he succeeded in interesting his uncle, Thomas Quested Finnis, in importing goods, unobtainable elsewhere, for his provisions company, Finnis and Fisher. It is likely that he also received financial backing – Thomas Quested Finnis was very rich. The two younger brothers, Thomas Kerr and Stephen, duly set sail.

Stephen was only twenty-one, and he stayed for the next thirty years, establishing Stephen Lynch & Co. in Baghdad and Lynch Brothers & Co. in Basra as traders in commodities. In 1858, he founded the London and Baghdad Banking Association  and used this financial leverage to obtain from the British Foreign Office the sole right to navigate the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and to maintain two steamers on those rivers. He and Thomas Kerr then established the Euphrates and Tigris Steam Navigation Company and commissioned their own steamers, the peak of their achievement being the two-funnelled SS Blosse Lynch, 270 feet in length and 46 feet on the beam, in 1878. She was later used for river trips for tourists and remarkably, was pressed into service during World War 1, armed with 18-pounder field guns strapped to her decks.

view-of-baghdad-with-the-dijla-and-the-customs-house-william-perry-fogg-1874

The Dijla, another Lynch Brothers steamer, moored on the Tigris at Baghdad  (William Perry Fogg, 1874, Harvard Art Museum, Fogg Collection)

 

In the 1850s, Thomas Kerr, who had by then travelled extensively throughout Mesopotamia and Persia, was appointed Consul-General for Persia in London. He was made a Knight of the Order of the Lion and the Sun by the Shah of Persia  and married Harriet Sophia Taylor whose mother was Armenian and father the Brtish political resident at Baghdad.  Their son, Henry Finnis Blosse Lynch, continued his father’s exploration of Armenia and was widely published on the subject.

H. F. B. Lynch.png

Henry Finnis Blosse Lynch, traveller, business man and, briefly, Liberal MP for Ripon. He was a great- grandson of Robert Finnes

Stephen married an Armenian woman, Hosanna, the youngest daughter of Hatchick Mackertich, vice consul at Baghdad on 10 November 1859.

Henry, meanwhile, had moved on to India, married and eventually retired to Paris, where he died.

The other brothers led exemplary, if less adventurous, lives.  John Finnis became a barrister; Edward Patrick joined the Bombay Infantry and retired as a Lt. Colonel; George Quested  became a surgeon and at first joined his brothers in the Middle East, but on hearing of the dreadful depredations of the famine in Ireland, returned home to help. The family, together with others locally chartered the ship the Martha Washington to bring corn meal from America for their tenants. George Quested died of Typhus in 1848.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The obelisk commemorating George Quested Lynch at Partry House

 

Brownlow (by now his parents had run out of second Christian names)  became an Anglican church minister in Ballyhane, Co. Mayo. He was remembered by  one parishioner as a simple and trusting man. He was also, by his brothers’ standards, quite poor, having an income of only £165 a year from his parish which had no residence or glebe attached to it.

In the meantime, the cousins of the Lynch men were growing up. They were the sons and daughters of Col. John Finnes, who had been killed in the Indian Mutiny.

Robert Francis Finnis was the eldest son of John Finnes and his wife Sarah and was born on 13 June 1839 in Dinapore (now Dinapur) in India.  His uncle Thomas Quested Finnis enrolled him in the Company of Bowyers in 1862, but clearly Robert Francis was not cut out for a life of trade and by 1865 was a lieutenant in the Indian Navy. That year, at the church of St Bartholomew the Less in London, he married Ernestine Maria Sparks, daughter of R.H. Sparks of Charterhouse. He died at Tandil, Argentina, on 22 Nov 1868, by which time he was a former lieutenant, so not cut out for the navy, either.  Why he was there is unknown. The widowed Ernestine went on to marry twice more.

The memorial to Robert Francis Finnis and John Finnes in St Leonard’s church, Hythe. 

John, born barely a year after his brother in Burdwan, Bengal became a cadet in the Indian army at the age of sixteen, just after the death of his father in the Indian Mutiny.  He was commissioned lieutenant in December 1857, took part in campaigns at Oude, Shapore and  Dadoopore and went on the Mahsud Waziri expedition in  1881. He was promoted lieutenant-colonel in February 1884 and served on detachment to the 2nd Punjab Infantry as second-in-command. In September that year, while on leave at Mussoorie,  a hill station in the lower Himalayas, he had some decayed teeth removed by a dentist. An abscess formed in his jaw and, trying to relieve the pain, John took too much laudanum.  Although medical help was summoned, he died.

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Mussurrie Hill Station, where John Finnis died and is buried.

He had married, on 27 February1869 in Bengal, Florence Stanley McGowan.  At his death, Florence, still only thirty-four, was left with seven children, though another three had died young. She had an army pension, but John had been left nothing by Thomas Quested Finnis who had died the previous year, though he left £6000 for the children. She returned to England, living at first in London but latterly in  Dolgellau in Merionethshire with her daughters and sister. She died in 1916, not long after the death of her eldest son John Fortescue  Finnis, fighting in Mesopotamia.

The memorial to John Fortescue Finnis, great-grandson of Robert Finnis, in St Leonard’s church, Hythe. 


                                                                      John Fortescue Finnis, who left a widow and son

George Carruthers Finnis, the next son of John and Sarah,  was born in Calcutta on 2 July 1845. On the family’s return to England, he was raised by his uncle, Thomas Quested Finnis, who evidently discerned a kindred spirit. George was enrolled in the Company of Bowyers and worked for his uncle’s provisions company.  He maintained his family’s links with Hythe and married a local woman Emma Elizabeth Fagge, daughter of a Hythe physician, on 27 October 1870 in the parish church. His aunt Jane died the following year, and George appears to have inherited her house in Regent’s Park – at least, he lived there for the next twenty years. He also inherited £12,000 from Thomas Quested Finnis. He became a JP, but that was the extent of his civic life, and he died of pneumonia aged fifty-two.  Elizabeth went back to Hythe and she and George have their own memorial in St Leonard’s church.

The memorial to George Carruthers and Elizabeth Emma Finnis erected by their two sons

Another brother, Thomas Quested Finnis shunned the usual male Finnis occupations and became a dairy farmer in Pangbourne, where he died aged forty on 17 February 1890

Three daughters survived to adulthood. Louisa Jane married Captain Charles M’Laughlin a naval officer. Sophia Margaretta (Sophie) married Ross Willaume Hayter, then a civil servant,  and travelled the world with him, first to India, then to Canada in 1888 and finally the USA, though they both died in Hampshire.

Lucy Ann, the youngest child, not two years old when her father was killed, married Grimble Vallentin,  a distiller and Master of the Worshipful Company of Distillers. They had two daughters and a son, John, baptised in St Leonard’s church, Hythe in 1882. A career soldier, John Vallentin  served in South Africa from 1901 to 1903, and then on the North-West Frontier of India and Gibraltar.  He arrived in France soon after the outbreak of war , in October 1914. On 7 November 1914 at Zillebeke, Belgium, when leading an attack against the Germans under very heavy fire, he was struck down, but seeing that the other officer leading the attack had been killed, he rose and continued before being himself killed. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

His body was not recovered and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres. His Victoria Cross was presented to his widowed mother by George V at Buckingham Palace on 16th November 1916. She also had a plaque placed in St Leonard’s church in his memory

The memorial to John Franks Vallentin, VC, in St Leonard’s church


                                                                   John Franks Vallentin, a great-grandson of Robert Finnis

 

Mayorality and Mutiny: More Finnis Stories

There were three more Finnis sons born to Robert and Elizabeth before their family was complete.

Stephen, was the next-born, baptised in St Leonard’s church on 28 May 1798. He joined the army as a Cadet in 1817 and was commissioned lieutenant in the 29th Bengal Native Infantry the next year. He died at Dinapore (now Danapur), a British garrison town near Patna, on 1 August 1819, aged twenty-one. There appear to have been no heroics attached to his death and it is likely that, like so many before and since in the sub-continent, he succumbed to disease, or, in August, monsoon season, the combination of heat, humidity and mosquitos.

The next son was Thomas Quested Finnis, born in 1801. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to James Smith, bowyer, for a period of seven years from 6th December 1815, his father paying an indenture of £150. He later said he had wanted to join the navy, but that the death of his brother Robert at Lake Erie when Thomas was only eleven had changed his mind. Bows were then (and still are) in use for sporting and recreational purposes, but the purpose of his apprenticeship seems to have been trade.  He was admitted to the Freedom of the Bowyers’ Company in April 1823 and to the Freedom of the City of London in September. Now established, he could take a wife, and married Ann Lydia Ward on 28 March 1828 at St Matthew’s church, Brixton. Four years younger that him, she was the daughter of Henry William Ward, and had been born locally.

He went on to become a partner in a firm of provision merchants, Finnis and Fisher. Starting as grocers in London’s Tower Street, they gradually expanded into provisioning the many ships using the Port of London with goods like ‘marine soap’, which worked in sea water, and preserved meats, game and vegetables for long voyages. They started importing tobacco on their own account and pioneered trade to the port of Bussorah (now Basra) in Mesopotamia (Iraq). Thomas encouraged his Lynch nephews, sons of his sister Elizabeth, to explore the area and in 1851 received from them a set of marbles from Nineveh, some of which are now in the British museum.

Thomas Quested Finnis

He was busy in the civic life of the capital, too, his first appointment being in 1833 as Common Councillor for the Tower Ward, where his business was located. After that, the honours flowed in. He was created an Alderman as well as Sheriff in 1848 and was Deputy Governor of the Irish Society 1843/1844 – this was originally a land-owning and commercial enterprise set up by the London livery companies, but by the 1840s had a mainly charitable function. Thomas was ambitious and it was no secret that he wanted to be Lord Mayor of London. Mrs Caroline Chisolm, a social reformer working with emigrants to Australia, bought her beef for their voyage from him because, she said, ‘he would never be Lord Mayor if he gave the emigrants bad beef’.

Caroline Chisholm’s portrait on an Australian five dollar note

Thomas got his wish in 1856 and was the last Lord Mayor to have his parade on the River Thames.

Canaletto’s depiction of the Lord Mayor’s Parade on the Thames

The traditional dinner followed the procession, attended by the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston; the Chancellor of the Exchequer; the Duke of Cambridge; the Marquis of Salisbury and an assortment of South American ambassadors. During his year in office Thomas entertained the  Crown Prince of Prusia and raised half a million pounds to aid those affected by the Indian Mutiny (which included his own family). Ann Lydia assisted in the fund-raining and always presided at meetings of the ladies’ committees. In September 1857, she travelled to Southampton to meet the first British refugees from the fighting. Thomas was also a member of the Metropolitan Board of Works 1863 to 1866, the Thames Conservancy Board 1872 to 1883 and Treasurer of the Sons of the Clergy from 1874 to 1882.

He was also a member of the City Glee Club. This did not involve him having to sing, but to listen to the club’s professional singers perform catches and madrigals while, probably, enjoying a drink.

By the time he was forty, he was living in a mansion in Wanstead known as Park Gate, a sprawling house with gardens big enough to accommodate a boating lake. It was demolished in 1925, though its gatepost still stand.

 

Park Gate, pictured in 1888 (Wanstead Image Gallery)

Childless himself, Thomas took time to encourage and support his many nephews. Three of his sister Elizabeth’s sons benefited, as did his brother John’s sons, George, Robert, and John.  He gave a home to their unmarried sister, Louisa Jane, and gave a splendid wedding for her cousin, Elizabeth Ann when she married Lazas Josef Constantine, the son of Lady  Congleton.  All of them had lost their fathers. He and Ann Lydia also entertained local school children every year, had special gatherings for ‘ragged shoeblack boys’ and were patrons of Wanstead Infant Orphans Asylum.

However, on 27 November 1861, Ann Lydia, Thomas’s wife of over thirty years died, after three days illness.  Her body was taken to Hythe and buried in the family vault.

Thomas died at Park Gate on 29 November 1883, but the nephews and nieces were not forgotten in his will.  Louisa Jane, now married to Captain Charles M’Laughlin RN,  received the bulk of his £84,000 estate.  Her siblings also benefitted, as did  John Finnis’s widow Sarah and members of the Lynch family of Partry House Co. Mayo.

Thomas was buried in the family vault at St Leonard’s though there is no memorial there to him, or to his wife. There was, in fact, no memorial anywhere in the town until after the first World War, when a plaque was erected at his family home, Prospect House

The memorial to Thomas Quested Finnis and his younger brother John at Prospect House, Hythe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John was the last of the nine children of Robert and Elizabeth Finnis  and was born on 28th January 1804 in Hythe. He joined the armed services of the East India Company, effectively the government of India, on 4 March 1820 and served in the 11th regiment of the Bengal Army.  He was promoted lieutenant 1822 and thereafter his promotions were slow but steady until he became a full colonel in 1854.  He married Sarah Bridgetta Dorothea Roche in India on 2 January 1838 and they had nine children together though two died in 1856.

The Indian Mutiny broke out at 5.30 pm on 10 May 1857. John rode out to address the mutineers in an ill-fated attempt to defuse the situation. Both he and his horse were shot, he was thrown to the ground and shot to death, the first European to die in the conflict.

Colonel John Finnis, looking rather fierce

The Governor-General of India, Charles Canning, wrote personally to Thomas Quested Finnis to tell him of his brother’s death.

One version of the death of John Finnis….

and another. The ‘shot in the back’ version was most popular in the press

 

John’s grave in Meerut

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The East India Company awarded his son John a cadetship in Sept 1857 –  they said it was an unsolicited award, but wrote to tell Thomas, the Lord Mayor just the same.  The inhabitants of Tower Ward, who Thomas still represented, paid for a memorial to his brother in the church of St Dunstan in the East.


                       The memorial to John Finnis in St Dunstan’s Church, which was destroyed by enemy action in 1941

John’s wife, Sarah, brought her children, all except John, back to England and to Wanstead, where Thomas and Ann Lydia took them in. Sarah’s pension was only £281 12s 3d a year. After Ann Lydia’s death, Sarah acted as hostess for Thomas at the many civic and charitable events and entertainments held at Park Gate. She died in 1890, and is buried in Highgate Cemetery.

To be continued…

 

Cutting out La Chevrette and other Finnis stories

The Finnis family had a connection with Hythe lasting over a hundred and fifty years and are much memorialised in St Leonard’s church, and elsewhere. Who were they? Their origins were not very grand, but the family eventually included a VC, a Lord Mayor of London, explorers and a naval hero.

The first member of the Finnis family to live in Hythe was Robert, born in Dover in 1754, one of the four children of another Robert Finnis and his wife Ann, nee Spicer. He was apprenticed to a London upholsterer, and, once a master himself, decided to try his luck in Hythe, setting up shop in the High Street in 1776.

He took the sensible step of insuring all this highly flammable stock with the Sun Fire Insurance Company.

He flourished and four years later, on 29 December 1780 in St Leonard’s church, married Elizabeth Quested, the daughter of Stephen Quested and Elizabeth nee Groombridge. They set up home in Prospect House in Hythe and went on to have nine children over the next twenty-two years. Robert took on apprentices himself, leased innings land from the council for grazing sheep and invested in property. As befitted his status, he became a town councillor. In 1794, when the new town hall was built, Robert provided furniture and soft furnishings and was paid £45 14s 8d. That same year, he became Mayor of Hythe.  This was the first of six terms as mayor over the next twenty-six years. The mayorality seems at the time to have been filled by a rota of George and Messrs Tritton, Tournay and Shipdem, each taking their turn every four or five years.

Robert died on 9 August 1832, leaving £6949 12s 11d, a tidy sum for a shopkeeper. He ensured that his unmarried daughter, Sarah, was left freehold property and made specific provision for his widowed daughter, Elizabeth, who lived in Ireland. He also died possessed of a fine silver vase, the gift of Stewart Marjoribanks, MP.

See the source image Stewart Marjoribanks, MP

Marjoribanks had first became one of Hythe’s MPs (the town at this time had two) in 1820. He was a London wine merchant and first visited the town on the eve of the announcement of his candidacy, when he made ‘a liberal distribution of ale to the populace’. He was made a freeman of the town the next year. He served the town until 1837 as an increasingly radical Whig. At some point between 1820 and 1832, he made Robert the gift of the vase – we know this because it is mentioned in the will of Robert’s widow. Why would a politician give an upholsterer a valuable gift? In the early nineteenth century, the answer was obvious – as thanks for help during an election campaign. A little later it was rumoured in the press that Marjoribanks had rewarded another supporter, Thomas Garrett, by securing a plum job for his son. On that occasion, the recipient was subsequently charged with bribing voters. Did Robert Finnis take part in such activities? Possibly. It would not have been unusual for the time. The most we can take from the story is that Robert Finnis was a Whig voter.

His wife Elizabeth survived him by nearly six years. She left two freehold houses to her son George, the son who had stayed in Hythe; and her clothes, linen and half her plate to her unmarried daughter Sarah, except ‘the silver vase presented by Stewart Marjoribanks MP to my deceased husband.’ Sarah also got the furniture of her choice. Elizabeth left money – nineteen guineas each – for mourning clothes to her daughters, sister and daughters-in-law. They would have no excuse not to look the part of the grieving (but prosperous) family.

The sister, Ann, born in 1773, was younger than Elizabeth and, in the event, predeceased her by a year. There was a younger brother, too, Thomas, who served in the Royal Marines, retired with the rank of Captain and in his later years lived with his nephew George Finnis in Hythe. Both were buried, when the time came, with Elizabeth in the Finnis family vault. There are not many vaults at the church – the Mackeson’s have one, as do the Deedes family and the Shipdems, all wealthy and influential people (locally, at least).

The eldest child of Robert and Elizabeth, John Groombridge Finnis died at the age of four, and the second, Robert, met his end as a young man in Canada. His has own memorial plaque in St Leonard’s church, which describes his naval career.

 

He had joined the Royal Navy in 1797 at the age of fourteen, as a midshipman and served on HMS Beaulieu, part of the North Sea Fleet. In 1801, the ship was in a squadron of frigates keeping watch on the French and Spanish fleets at anchor in Brest. England was then at war with both countries. During the night of 21 July, nine of the squadron’s boats, one commanded by Robert, succeeded under heavy fire in capturing and setting lose one of the key French vessels, La Chevrette. In recognition of his leadership, Robert was promoted Lieutenant six weeks later.

‘The Cutting-out of La Chevrette’ (Bristol Museums Galleries & Archives)

By 1813, he was Captain of HMS Charlotte, a 17-gun sloop which got embroiled in a short-lived conflict with America, the result of the latter’s inability to trade with Europe as a result of the war there. In the first battle of the struggle, on 10 September at Lake Erie, Robert was killed outright in the first broadside. His commanding officer, Robert Heriot Barclay wrote: ‘Too soon, alas, was I deprived of the services of the noble and intrepid Captain Finnis, who soon after the commencement of the action fell, and him my greatest support.’ The Charlotte  was captured by the Americans, who won the day.

Robert’s funeral: he was buried together with five other officers on 11 September 1813 at South Bass Island, near Put-in-Bay, Lake Erie

The next child was a daughter, Elizabeth, baptised in St Leonard’s church on 17 May 1785. On 3 December 1803, aged just eighteen, she married Henry Blosse Lynch, a lieutenant in the 27th Foot based at Shorncliffe. He took her to his home, Partry House in Ballinrobe, County Mayo, where she gave birth to eleven sons – of whom, more later. Henry died in 1823 and Elizabeth in 1845.

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Partry House, Co. Mayo, set in an estate of 1500 acres

Another daughter followed, Sarah Maria, born in 1791. She never married, but was well-provided for by her parents and in her later days divided her time between Hythe and the homes of her sister Jane and her brother Thomas,  both of whom lived in London. She died in Hythe on 8 November 1880, leaving an estate of less than £7,000 to her brother Thomas Quested Finnis, her only surviving sibling.

George was the next Finnis child, born in 1793. He decided to follow his father’s example of solid hard work and civic duty. He went into partnership with John Ronalds, an auctioneer and his son Edward, an upholsterer. They traded not only in those two areas, but as estate agents, insurance agents, ironmongers and (bizarrely) bell-hangers. George was also a trustee of St Bartholomew’s alms-house and  JP both for Hythe and for Kent. He was mayor in 1828 and 1833 and looked set to follow his father’s record, but the upcoming young James Watts dominated council life for many years and George did not serve again as Mayor until 1849.

On 11 August 1830, he had married Anne Castle, a widow and together they had two daughters, though one, Jane Maria, died aged eight and is recorded on the same memorial as her father. The other was Elizabeth. Like his father, he supported Stewart Marjoribanks in the 1830 General Election. However, in 1837, it was reported that he now supported the Conservative Party. He died on 3 May 1850 at his sister Jane’s house in Regents’s Park. His wife died on 4 July 1856 in Hackney.

The next child born to Robert & Elizabeth Finnis was another girl, Jane, baptised on 17 May 1796. She married Thomas Pilcher a farmer of Cheriton in St Leonard’s church in June 1818.  Although he continued living in Cheriton, he was a Hythe jurat (councillor), probably because he had married the daughter of a freeman.  There were no children of the marriage and when Thomas died in 1844, he left all his land to his brother Jesse, presumably to keep it in the family. However, Jane was handsomely provided for, with a lump sum of £6000 and a life annuity of £400.

Jane left Cheriton and either bought or leased a house in London, 13 York Terrace in Marylebone, near Regent’s Park.  £6000 could go a very long way indeed in the 1840s.

See the source image

York Terrace, London NW1

Jane died on a visit to Hythe on 9 February 1871.

The memorial to the Finnis family in St Leonard’s Church

In a vault near the chancel/are interred the remains of/Robert Finnis Esq./one of the jurats/of this town and port/who died the 9th of August 1832/in the 79th year of his age
And of Elizabeth his wife/who died the 13th of May 1839/in the 77th year of her age
Also those of Ann Quested/the sister of the above named/Elizabeth Finnis/who died 29th May 1838/aged 65 years
Also of Capt. Thomas Quested R.M./who died 17th March 1845/aged 68 years
George Finnis Esq/Mayor of this town died 3rd May 1850/aged 56 years
Jane Maria, daughter of the above/died 3rd April 1844,/ aged 8 years
Also of Sarah Maria, daughter of the/above named Robert Finnis/died 10th November 1880 /aged 89 years
To the memory of/Lieut. Stephen Finnis/of the Bengal Army/who died at Dinapoor in the East Indies/the 1st of August 1819, aged 21
Also to his brother Colonel John Finnis/11th Reg. Bengal Army, aged 53, killed by the mutineer/ of the 20th reg. N.I at Meerut May 10th 

To be continued…

War and Peaceful Hythe

Henry James Schooles was born in Brussels, then part of the Netherlands, on 10 October 1815, one of the three children of Peter Schooles, a surgeon in the 81st Foot (Loyal Lincoln Volunteers) and his wife Eliza, nee Pipon. The regiment’s second battalion, of which Peter was a part, had been stationed there since Napoleon’s escape from Elba earlier that year. The regiment did not take part in the Battle of Waterloo, but it is likely that Peter was drafted in to deal with the aftermath of hundreds of injured soldiers.

See the source image

Brussels in 1815, full of British soldiers

The family were moved the next year to Ireland, where another son, Philip Alexander and a daughter Louisa, were born and where Peter endowed a medical facility in Bray, Co. Wicklow. He died in 1818.

Eliza remarried the following year but was soon widowed again and lost her younger son, too. She took Henry, his sister and her daughter by her second marriage to live in Jersey, her birthplace and died herself on the island aged only 46.

Henry’s early education is a mystery, but he graduated from the University of Glasgow with an M.D. in 1837, and enlisted in the British Army on 29 June 1839, joining his father’s old regiment as an Assistant Surgeon. Army Surgeons were required not only on the field of battle, but were employed at British garrisons across the Empire to attend soldiers, their wives and families when they contracted everyday – or more exotic – diseases. Although the medical officer was commissioned and wore the uniform of his regiment, he held no military rank and was entirely under the command of the Colonel of his regiment. He had no trained staff, just a few men detailed to him from the regiment, who usually had no medical knowledge or training.

Henry served at first in Gibraltar, but the regiment was then sent to the West Indies where on 23 February 1843, he married Catherine Louisa Mordaunt Semper in St Kitts. She was the daughter of Hugh Riley Semper, a plantation owner and his wife Caroline nee Fahie. She was one of at least three sisters.

Four years later, Henry became a fully-fledged surgeon and transferred to the 1st/69th Regiment of Foot. On 12 December 1847, he and Catherine arrived in Malta. It was a challenging time to be there. There had been many cases of what was called Common Continued Fever among the men and there was great debate among the army surgeons as to whether this was, or was not, a form of cholera. Henry, who attended an autopsy of one of the dead soon after his arrival, was convinced that it was. The average strength of the garrison was 2,534 men and in 1847-8 there were 29 deaths and on average only 1,550 men were fit and available for garrison duty.

The situation worsened in Autumn 1848 and the regiment was evacuated from its quarters while the rooms were fumigated and whitewashed following deaths there.

Malta in the mid-nineteenth century

The epidemic had run its course by the next year, when Catherine gave birth to her first child, a boy called Henry Rawlins Pipon Schooles. The garrison was not a healthy place for a child: of 220 sick children admitted to the garrison hospital that year, 34 died.

But little Henry survived and the regiment left Malta in 1850 for Barbados and in December 1853, Henry transferred to the King’s Royal Rifles, an infantry regiment that fought at most of the British Empire’s significant engagements during the nineteenth century. Henry served with the second battalion, and was sent to South Africa, where another son, Frederick, and a daughter, Kate were born and then on to India.

Henry and Catherine arrived in Delhi in time for the Indian Mutiny – or First War of Independence as it is known in India, and by the end of the insurrection, Henry had been promoted Surgeon Major.

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One representation of the 1857 mutiny

Then it was off to China where the regiment fought in the Second Opium Wars and assisted in the capture of the Taku (or Dagu) forts and the occupation of Peking (now Beijing).  The surgical work Henry would have done during these engagements would today be regarded as primitive. Without anaesthesia, surgeons could only amputate damaged limbs (which killed one in four patients), cut out embedded shrapnel, open skulls to remove blood clots, let blood (still popular as a ‘cure’) and splint fractures. Serious head, chest and abdominal injuries were untreatable.  If an injured man developed an infection in his wounds, it meant almost certain death.

China was followed by the more peaceful Canada, where Henry exchanged to the Staff and was appointed to the Rifle Battalion Depot in even more peaceful Winchester. In September 1864, he retired on half-pay with the honorary rank of Deputy Inspector General of Hospitals, and took the post of Medical Officer at the School of Musketry in Hythe – perhaps the ultimate in peacefulness.

See the source image

The School of Musketry in Hythe, 1853-1968

He and Catherine lived with Kate in Stade Street in the town. In 1868, Henry created something of a stir by refusing to pay a pavement rate of eleven shillings and sixpence to the Town Council, because, he said, his road was not drained and had never since he had lived there, been watered either (to keep down the dust). He was summoned to appear before the local magistrates who were not sympathetic and ordered him to pay up, with costs.

Presumably he did, and he also moved the family to the more salubrious Marine Parade, where he died suddenly on 12 May 1878.

Catherine remained in Hythe for some years after his death, but later moved to Kensington to live with a widowed sister. It was there that she died in 1907.

Henry James Schooles M.D/ surgeon general/born 10th October1815/died 12th May 1878
In loving memory of/Katherine Louisa Mordaunt

Peace perfect peace

The inscription on their grave is perhaps telling of how the years of warfare took their toll.

Their children prospered. Henry junior became a barrister, married and went to his mother’s home, the West Indies. There he became Attorney General first of the Leeward Islands and later of British Honduras, before returning to Europe He was knighted in 1905 and served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar until his death in 1913..

Frederick was educated at a small private school in Chepstow and later joined the army.  In 1884, when a captain, he created a minor scandal by eloping with his Colonel’s wife. They were married after she had been divorced. After her death in 1902, Frederick married again and moved with his new wife to Hythe, which he remembered from his parent’s time there. They lived in Brockhill Road until at least 1939.

Kate married a few months after her father’s death to Walter Rupert Kenyon-Slaney in St Leonard’s church in Hythe. He was a lieutenant in the Rifle Brigade.  The younger brother of a well-known MP, he had a distinguished military career  before retiring to Berkshire. As a widow, Kate  also moved to Hythe before her death in 1944. Her only son, Neville, died unmarried in 1963.

 

 

What’s in a name?

Campbell Kelton Grave

In loving memory/of/ Major Frank Murray Campbell/died 8th March 1910
“Come unto me, ye weary, and I will give you rest”
In tender loving memory of /Major Percy St. G. Kelton/who died in Paris 28th of June 1924
R.I.P.

Two men who died fourteen years apart, both soldiers, apparently in two different countries with seemingly nothing to connect them, not even a name.

Frank Murray Campbell claimed on census returns to have been born in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire in about 1859, but there is no record anywhere in Hertfordshire or indeed anywhere in England of a birth registration or baptism in this name. In fact, there are no records at all of him until he married Julia Gertrude Kortoske Curtis, born in Canada, in London in 1880. She was probably the daughter of either Benjamin or Raphael Kortoske who traded in hats and caps in Montreal and London. The family changed their name to Curtis after a disastrous bankruptcy and fraud case was proved against them.
Frank and Julia went to South Africa, where their first daughter, Marion May, was born. On their return to London, they lived in Hampstead and Frank worked as a stockbroker. Two more children, Sybille and Edmund were born.

campbell

Frank in uniform                     (Photo Mrs Avril Williams) 
Frank joined the 4th Volunteer Battalion the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment in 1891 and attained the rank of major. Then in 1906, Julia sued for divorce. At that time, a woman could not obtain a divorce for adultery alone. There had to be an additional cause, such as cruelty.   By then Frank was living at 8 Beaconsfield Terrace, Hythe, the home of Rina Kelton.

Campbell Beaconsfield

Beaconsfield Terrace, Hythe, in the early years of the 20th century
Rina Henriette Kelton nee St Goar was the very rich widow of a stockbroker, originally called Carl Kahn. She had been born in Germany on 25 October 1858 to a wealthy Jewish family. She and her husband moved to London. Carl – now Charles – died in 1905 and left a considerable sum of money to Rina and their two sons, Gerald and Percy, but stipulated that they must change their name to Kelton

Rina lived mostly in Park Lane in London but had a holiday home at Beaconsfield Terrace in Hythe, which she rented from Lady Evelyn Cooper-Key, the widow of an admiral. She was known in the seaside town for her largesse. There was not a church nor a charitable institution which did not benefit from her generosity and ’Madame Rina Kelton’, as she insisted on being called,  was often asked to open garden parties and sales of work. She endowed the School of Musketry with the Kelton Cup, to be competed for at football. How she managed to mix in respectable society while living with a divorced man is a mystery. It may be that she passed him off as her spouse. One oral history interviewee, speaking in the 1980s, remembers that she had a ‘husband’.

Frank died at Rina’s home, of a massive facial abscess due to a failed dental implant. One or more gaps in his dentition had been replaced by the teeth of a dead person. In the days before antibiotics, this was a risky procedure and in his case it failed catastrophically. Death must have been ultimately from organ failure due to sepsis and he would have been in agony in his last months.

Attempts at dental implants were not new and had been made with some success by the Etruscans, using oxen teeth and in first millennium South American using stone or Spondylus shells – and sometimes this was successful. From about 1600 attempts were made to use human teeth, but the results were usually at least unpleasant and at worst fatal. (1))

Frank was attended during his last illness by his sister, Violet Rachel Curtis. She had married Louis Curtis (born Louis Kortoske and probably Julia’s brother or cousin) in 1875 and they too, had gone to South Africa, to Kimberley, after their marriage. Their daughter, another Marion was born there before they, too, returned to the UK.

Frank’s cremated remains were interred in St Leonard’s churchyard on 29 January 1914, four years after his death.

Percy St Goar Kelton was born Percy St Goar Kahn on 28 December 1886, the elder son of Charles and Rina Kahn. he was educated at Harrow School, Queen’s College Cambridge and the University of Hanover.  He served in the territorial division of the East Kent Regiment, ‘The Buffs’ from August 1909 to 1913, when he resigned.  He was a man of independent means, with no need to work, and devoted himself  to gambling at cards and  horse racing. He lived with his mother whose residences were now at Hanover Square and ‘Castlemead’, Hythe.

In September 1914 he took his motor car to Paris and worked as a civilian driver attached to the British Army Headquarters in Paris. He also did some interpreting in interviews of German prisoners as he was bilingual.  Apart from that, his Commanding Officer said that he made a nuisance of himself, as he thought that being an unpaid chauffeur was beneath him.  He was, according to the same man, ‘bumptious, swaggering and loud’ and he ‘lied quite a lot’. (2)

According to Percy’s own account, he was involved in fighting near Compiegne. He killed two German soldiers and took one prisoner. He took the bullet-riddled helmet of one of his victims and had it sent, via a French woman who was escaping, to his mother. This sounds very much like one of Percy’s inventions, since as a civilian he was not involved in military action.

His behaviour was so erratic, that for a time he was suspected of being a spy and investigated in February 1915, but no evidence was found to support the allegation.

In 1915, he was commissioned as a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps for temporary service. However, a subsequent medical examination found that he was unfit for service either at home or abroad as he had undergone surgery for a hernia which left him unable to walk far or carry heavy weights.  Instead, he was sent to Shoreham in Sussex to work for the General Army Staff. (3)

He did, however, manage to join the West Africa Frontier Force, but in January 1917 contracted malaria. Six months later he was invalided home and was admitted to the London General Hospital. It must have been in this period that he met  Elizabeth MacBride, the daughter of Mr and Mrs William MacBride of New York, whom he married at St James’s Church, Spanish Place, London on 12 December 1917. American and British officers formed a guard of honour for the couple.

He then went back to Africa; whether Elizabeth went too is unknown. His medal card seems to show that although he had attained the rank of Captain, he worked after the war, until at least 1921, as a civilian  owner-driver for the force in the Gold Coast Regiment. He was mentioned in dispatches in early 1919, and in 1920 awarded the Military Order of Aviz by the King of Portugal – part of the Gold Coast (now Ghana) was a Portuguese colony.

campbell kelton medal card

Nothing further is known of him, except that at the time of his death was living at the Hotel Brioni on Brioni, an island off the coast of Istria. He died of peritonitis in Paris. Probate was granted to his brother Gerald, though he left only £253 19s 7d,  in Kelton family terms, a pittance. His mother placed a death notice in the local press which stated that he was awarded the Military Cross, but there is no supporting evidence for this, nor is there any indication that he became a major, as  Rina claimed on his gravestone.

His mother had moved to Folkestone by 1939, but died in 1944 in Wokingham, aged eighty-five.

  1. Details of Frank’s death and dental implants : Dr B.J.Williams MA, MRCS
  2. WO 339/16864  National Archive
  3. ibid.

The Cobays Part 3 – Bond Street and Hythe Heroes

Robert, William Richard and Henry Thomas Cobay were the third, fourth and fifth sons of George and Hannah Cobay respectively. None married, all became mayors of Hythe and all spent their lives in what might loosely be described as the property business.

Robert, born in Quebec in 1849, and William, born Winchester in 1853, moved to Hackney as young men. They worked for a cabinet maker, Robert at first as his apprentice and later his works manager and William as his clerk. They lodged together, and with them was twenty-eight-year old Tom Robinson, a surveyor. Ten years later, they were all living in the same house in Amherst Road, Hackney, but the Cobays  had become house furnishers. Tom Robinson was now  a merchant’s clerk.

Their younger brother Henry, meanwhile remained in Hythe. In 1874, William and Robert bought the Hythe  business of Finnis and Ronalds, upholsters, cabinet makers and auctioneers. They stayed in London, but Henry ran the business for them in Hythe without becoming a partner. In 1889, Messrs Cobay Bros sold at one auction alone a large house complete with its own lodge and servants’ cottages and five substantial building plots. Full particulars of the sale were to be obtained not from Henry in Hythe, but from Messrs Smee and Cobay of Finsbury Pavement, London.

William had set up another business, with Arthur Rosling Smee, trading as cabinet makers and upholsterers. In 1887 they refurbished the Palace Hotel in Hastings. Other hotel contracts followed: the Royal Links in Cromer, the Grand in Eastbourne, Brown’s in London’s Albemarle Street. By 1899 they had a showroom in Bond Street.

Cobay Smee & Cobay

They also had their own furniture manufactory in Moorfields.

cobay furniture

cobay furniture2

William, though, had business interests elsewhere. In the1890s, he headed a syndicate which bought land on the Leas in Folkestone from Earl Radnor, built the magnificent Metropole Hotel and then disposed of it to Gordon Hotels Ltd. William became a director of this organisation.

Cobay metropole

The Metropole Hotel in Folkestone not long after its opening. It still stands today, very little changed.

He purchased the derelict Seabrook Hotel in Hythe, refurbished it completely, and in the surrounding sixteen acres of scrubland created gardens, croquet lawns, tennis courts and a nine-hole golf course. It re-opened as the Imperial Hotel, which still welcomes guests today.

Cobay Imperial

The Imperial Hotel on the seafront at Hythe

The brothers, and Tom, had moved out of Hackney and into Grosvenor Square, but in 1903 both Tom, and Henry Cobay, who had remained in Hythe, died. Henry was only fifty. In 1905, Smee and Cobay completed their last big contract, the redecoration and refurbishment of the Royalty Theatre in Dean Street in 1905. The Times said their work made it ‘one of the brightest and prettiest theatres in London’.

Then in July, the London Gazette announced that Smee and Cobay would cease trading:

NOTICE is hereby given, that the Partnership heretofore
subsisting between us the undersigned,
Arthur Rosling Smee and William Richard Cobay,
carrying on business as Cabinet Makers and Upholsterers,
at 139, New Bond-street, in the county of
London, under the style or firm of SMEE AND COBAY,
has been dissolved by mutual consent as and from the
first day of January, 1906. All debts due to and owing
by the said late firm will be received and paid by the
said Arthur Rosling Smee.—Dated this 21st day of July,
1905.
ARTHUR ROSLING SMEE.
WILLIAM RICHARD COBAY

William returned to Hythe and lived with Robert, as had their parents and siblings before them, in the house at 40 High Street, but they did not give up the house in Grosvenor Square and were still listed as ratepayers for several more years, until William bought a house at Hyde Park . He, at least, still had business interests in London. He was chairman of the Apollo Theatre in London, and had a financial interest in two Birmingham theatres, but still had local interests and established the Metropole Laundry in Hythe. It serviced both the Imperial and the Metropole Hotels and provided employment for many Hythe women. The laundry’s steam whistle blew promptly at a quarter to eight each morning to summon them to work.

Both Robert and William now involved themselves in local politics. Their brother Henry had, like his father, been three times mayor of Hythe. Robert was mayor, too, in 1911. But it was William’s mayoralty during World War One which had the greatest impact.

Cobay William

William in mayoral robes and chain

Although not an Alderman, he was elected as Mayor in 1914 and re-elected unanimously every year until 1918. During this time he donated to and raised over £23,000 for various good causes, including the Belgian Relief Fund and the Red Cross. He laid out ornamental gardens in Ladies Walk, which leads from the Royal Military Canal to the sea, and beautified the canal banks. He argued that the war would be over some day and that Hythe must be prepared to welcome its visitors again. He visited sick and wounded soldiers and took an interest in the welfare of their families.
One of these families comprised the widow and children of Frank Fisher, a grocery assistant who had been killed in November 1917. His wife, Flo, had been very ill since the birth of their fifth child, but Frank was conscripted regardless. He was killed eleven days after he arrived in France. William set up a fund to help his family and headed the subscription list with £5. A week later it had reached £62. 5 .0. and William decided to extend the beneficiaries to include all families bereaved and left in need by the war and those men incapacitated through war service. He called it the Hythe Heroes Fund.
A year later he had the £2000 he wanted and applications were invited. The names of recipients were kept secret, but included 55 mothers, 37 widows, 32 incapacitated, 17 various relations, and 72 children.
He seems to have been genuinely loved by the people of Hythe. When the war was over he was granted the Freedom of the Town, a rarely-bestowed honour. There was talk that he would soon be knighted, but he died before that could happen.
He died in at his Hyde Park house following an operation for appendicitis. His funeral was a grand affair. He could have opted for a grand grave, but he chose instead to lie with his parents and brother Henry in St Leonard’s churchyard. He left, in his will, £79,199.
The last remaining Cobay brother, Robert, took William’s death badly. He tried to take on William’s business interests as well as continuing to run Cobay Bros in Hythe. He became chairman of the Imperial Hotel, the Metropole Laundry and the Sandling, Saltwood and Hythe Estate, but by 1922 his health had broken down and he died two years later, leaving £100, 337 in his will.
A Mr Butler bought the auctioneer’s business. The furniture from the family home in the High Street was sold off and Mr Butler auctioned the fifty oil paintings and the Axminster carpets on behalf of Robert’s executors.
Before he died, Robert had left Hythe one last gift. He ordered a set of oak panels, with gilt lettering, to be hung in the Town Hall in memory of his brother William. It lists all the mayors of the town. It is still there today, the name of Cobay appearing eleven times.

The Jeweller’s Son and the IRA

JCibbie
Cibbie/In loving memory/of/our darling son/Cyril Ball Ninnes/born January 21st 1892/died September 9th 1904
In every heart he knew fond love/a sanctuary in every human face/and when God missing him in Heaven said come/it did not seem a solitary place/I think he only flushed in sweet surprise/to see the golden floor beneath his eyes
In loving memory/of/Basil Evelyn St Clair Ninnes/who died at Sandgate/April illegible 1933 aged 39 years
In memory of/Antonia Frances Ninnes/died June 4th 1941
In memory of/Frederick Ninnes/who died 3rd August illegible/aged illegible
R.I.P.
Of such is the kingdom of Heaven

Benjamin Frederick Ninnes  was born in Tunbridge Wells, the son of James Walker Ninnes, a watchmaker, and his wife Frances. Benjamin also became a watchmaker, and at about the time of his marriage, set up shop at 32 (later 64) High Street Hythe.

Ninnes Ad

 

He expanded his business to include silver and gold smithing, providing medals and buttons to, among others, the army and the Metropolitan Police. He also dealt in antiques, counting the author Joseph Conrad, who for a time lived at Pent Farm in nearby Postling,  among his regular customers. He donated a silver challenge bowl to Hythe Golf Club. He died in Hythe in 1927.

He had married Antonia Frances Ball ,  the eldest child of William St James Ball, an army captain and Queen’s Foreign Service Messenger, and his wife Priscilla.  She was baptised in Richmond, Surrey, on 8 April 1869. The fact of her father’s occupation was clearly important to Antonia: she included it on the memorial to her older son in St Leonard’s Church and in the obituary to her younger son in the local newspaper. Antonia kept at least the antiques side of her husband’s business going after his death and took up golf and, in her fifties,  driving a motor car, though she was fined for dangerous driving in 1933

Cyril Ball Ninnes was the elder of the sons of Benjamin and Antonia Ninnes. He was born and died in Hythe, baptised on  27 Feb 1892 at St Leonard’s and buried at the same church on 12 Sept 1904. The gravestone in the churchyard bears the legend ‘Cibbie’. a contraction of his initials, CB.  He is also commemorated on a plaque on the south wall of the nave.

Cibbie2

 

The family lived at 5, Hillside Terrace in the town and Cyril was apparently educated at home by a governess. Perhaps he was a sickly child. He died at home.

The second son, Basil Evelyn St Clair Ninnes was born on 24 January 1895 in Hythe and was baptised in St Leonard’s church on 16 April that year. He was educated at Hazlewood school, where he played football and cricket for the school and was a chorister.
On 5 January 1908, he entered the Royal Naval College Osborne and at Christmas 1909 went on to the Royal Naval College Dartmouth where he excelled at cricket and hockey. He left in 1911 for a posting to the armoured cruiser HMS Cornwall which went on a six-month cruise of the Canary Islands, the West Indies and of North America before returning in July 1912. A month later he was posted to HMS King Edward VII, was appointed as a Midshipman in the Royal Navy on 15 September 1912 and was sent to Malta. His naval records show that while he was average at most things, he was regarded as a steady young man who would make a good officer.

However, back in the UK in he became ill and was admitted to Chatham Hospital in 1914, where he was treated for suspected TB. He was invalided out of the Navy in March 1915, but made a short-lived recovery and was commissioned as a temporary 2nd Lieutenant in the Administrative Branch of the Royal Air Force in June 1918. He was sent to France in October, but was almost immediately injured. Although he had hoped for a permanent commission, the return of ill-health meant that he was transferred to the Unemployed List on 6 September 1919.

He returned to his parent’s home the Blue House in Hillside Street, Hythe. What he did for the next year is unclear. It is possible he helped his father in the business. However, in December 1920 he joined the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary (ADRIC). This was a para-military police unit, which with very few exceptions, accepted only ex-officers from the British Army (or one of the Empire armies). They served as separate units from the Royal Irish Constabulary, which had little control over them. ADRIC should not be confused with the Black and Tans, which was made up of ex-British Other Ranks and served as part of the RIC.

Ninnes - ADRIC

In 1921 Basil was serving in Ireland with ‘L’ Company of the Auxiliaries which was stationed at West Muskerry, County Cork. The Company had to drive twice a week to Banteer to pick up supplies and drove the same route each time. A local unit of the Irish Republican Army had noted their routine and prepared an ambush for them. On 16 June 1921 the IRA men let the first convoy of the day pass by and return unhindered. The second convoy was also allowed to pass, but the ambush was arranged at the village of Rathcoole for their return. The convoy consisted of four vehicles and twenty-five personnel. Basil was travelling in the second vehicle. At 7.30pm the four lorries were passing through the ambush area on their return journey when three landmines, which had been placed on the road, exploded. One mine detonated as the last of the four lorries drove over it, a second mine was then detonated under the second vehicle in the convoy, and the final mine detonated under the leading vehicle which had turned around to go back to assist. A firefight developed. Most of the IRA positions were to the south of the road, but two sections were to the north to prevent the Auxiliaries using the walls on that side as shelter. The engagement lasted until about 9.45pm, when a stalemate was reached and the IRA withdrew without having sustained any casualties. Two Auxiliaries had died during the attack and a number had been badly injured, including Basil.
He was awarded £2000 compensation and went back to Hythe. He was still only twenty-six years old.
He maintained his links with the military, becoming club secretary of the Royal Air Force Club in Piccadilly, despite his very short association and continued to used his military rank of second lieutenant. In 1928 he became Secretary of the Folkestone Greyhound Racing Company, which was hoping to take a lease on fourteen acres of land off Danton Road, Cheriton, near Folkestone to build a track, complete with a ‘motor parking ground’. It was to open in 1929 and provide accommodation for ten thousand visitors. Greyhound racing in the area had previously been held at Westenhanger, but was stopped at the outbreak of war. The plan met with some local resistance on the grounds that it encouraged gambling, but in any event, the company seems to have collapsed within a very short time, and greyhound racing did not return to the area until the nineteen forties.

Ninnes greyhound 3 march 1928
In 1930 he married, in London, Ida Henrietta Blyth Tanare. Ida was the daughter of a local hotel manager and town councillor, James Tanare, who until his death had run with his wife the Royal Kent Hotel in Sandgate, near Hythe. Now Ida and her mother Sarah ran it together. Basil moved in with them at the hotel, which seems not to have been one of the most up-market outfits in the little town, its advertising being mostly based on its proximity to Shorncliffe camp, the nearby military base. By now, ill-health had forced his resignation as the RAF club’s secretary, and it was at the Royal Kent Hotel that he died on 7 April 1933.

Royal-Kent-Hotel-1908-Sandgate

Ida never remarried, but gave up the hotel business and ran an antiques shop in Folkestone. She died in 1952.

 

‘Safe Home at Last’: The Vicar who Transformed his Church

In loving memory/of/ Thomas Guppy Sarsfield Hall/ born September 2nd 1844/died Janry 11th 1922
“Safe home at last”
Also of Charlotte Sophia/his wife/born April 2nd 1855/passed on Feb 26th 1933
Also of their son, Robert/Sep 15.1876 – May 1939
Also in loving memory of/their grandson/Captain Peter F.S.Dobson/4.April 1918-23 Feb. 1966.
Also of their daughter Deborah Clare Dobson/mother of the above/ 26.Jan.1883 – 7. May 1971

In loving memory of/ T E F Sangar/ the only and dearly loved son of/ the late Reverend Sangar and Charlotte his wife/ who fell asleep 15th Dec 1892

Thomas Guppy Sarsfield Hall was born at Blackrock, County Cork, the second son of Robert Hall by his second wife Sarah nee Sarsfield Head. The family were well off but as the second son of a second wife, Thomas needed to take up a profession, so when he graduated from Peterhouse, Cambridge, he took holy orders and was sent as a curate to All Saints, the parish church of Bakewell in Derbyshire. He was then sent to a country parish near Maidstone. This was apparently very damp, and his already weak chest was affected – he had suffered as a young man from rheumatic fever – so the Archbishop sent him to Hythe as curate to recover. Here he fell in love with the boss’s daughter, Charlotte Sophia Sangar, daughter of the vicar of Hythe.

During their courtship, Thomas became vicar of St Faith’s church in Maidstone town centre, but Charlotte’s father decided that the time had come for him to retire, leaving the benefice of Hythe conveniently vacant. In 1873, Thomas and Charlotte were married and he became vicar of Hythe, a post he held for the next twenty-six years.

The church he inherited was apparently very dilapidated by this time, and the low, plaster ceilings created a dark and dismal interior. Thomas studied the history of the church assiduously, and became convinced that the architects and craftsmen who had worked on the enlargement of the church in the thirteenth century had left their work unfinished, probably interrupted by the carnage of the Black Death. He decided to put matters right.

Despite general apathy, and a ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’ attitude on the part of most of his parishioners, Thomas managed to enlist the interest and support of the influential – and rich – Mackeson family who lived in the town and still manged their brewery there. He raised the sum of £10,000 – perhaps half a million pounds in 2017 – and employed a top architect to remove the plaster ceilings over the nave and chancel, and in the chancel he put a great vaulted roof. It has been compared to the architecture of Canterbury Cathedral.

The remodelled chancel of St Leonard’s church

The modest plaque commemorating the work of Thomas Hall

St Leonard’s has one peculiarity, found in only one other church in England – an ossuary. Known as ‘the crypt’, even though it is not, the collection contains over a thousand skulls and innumerable long bones, all neatly stacked. Earlier historians have described them as the remains of Danish pirates, men who fell at the Battle of Hastings or victims of the Black Death, without any substantiation for these claims. Today, work is concentrating on scientific analysis to establish the bones’ origins.

The ‘crypt’ of St Leonard’s Church in 1907

Thomas interested himself in the bones, too, and published a booklet entitled The Crypt of St Leonard’s Church and the Human Remains Contained Therein. He came up with the novel conclusion, based on no evidence whatsoever, that when Hythe’s three other parish churches had fallen into decay, many centuries since, their graveyards had been dug up and the bones removed to St Leonard’s.

The pamphlet written by Thomas Hall on St Leonard’s Crypt

His other achievements while in office were to stop people grazing sheep in the churchyard, to be a trustee of St Bartholomew’s almshouse in Hythe, and to introduce St Leonard’s Parish magazine, a publication which still thrives today.

Over the years, he was offered other, more lucrative benefices, but refused to leave Hythe until in 1899 he suffered from a serious illness and applied to the Archbishop, Frederick Temple, for permission to resign, as he felt that he could no longer serve the parish as he wished. The Archbishop thanked Thomas for the ‘long and excellent service’ he had rendered to the church and accepted his request.

The parish raised enough money to buy him a Bechstein Grand piano, present him with a cheque and make a present of bangles to his wife. He was also given a magnificent illuminated copy of the address made to him when he left, with pictures of the church before and after its restoration.

After a period of rest, Thomas recovered enough to be appointed to the benefice of St John the Baptist, Dodington, near Sittingbourne, before retiring to 15 Castle Hill Avenue in Folkestone, where he died.
His funeral at St Leonard’s seems to have been marked by real sorrow at his parting. The great and the good of the town gave eulogies, the grave was lined with cypress and laurel, and on Sunday, a muffled peal was rung by the church bell ringers and the flag on the tower was flown at half-mast.

Thomas had met Charlotte in Hythe, and was married in the church here. All nine of his children were born in Hythe. In his retirement in Folkestone he was a frequent visitor, and he often said that Hythe was his real home. The great achievement of his working life, the remodelling of St Leonard’s was completed here, and it was St Leonard’s he chose for his last resting place. He clearly held the church, and the town, in great affection. The words ‘safe home at last’ on his gravestone surely have a double meaning.

Charlotte Sophia Hall nee Sangar was born at Shadwell Rectory, the only daughter of Benjamin Cox Sangar and his wife Charlotte nee Fothergill. Her father was Rector there from 1846-1872, before moving to St Leonard’s Church in Hythe, where he was vicar from 1862 to 1873. Charlotte, known to her family as ‘Lollie’, married Thomas Hall on 6 June 1873 in St Leonard’s church Hythe, in a ceremony officiated by the chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Perhaps her father was too ill to conduct the service himself, though he acted as a witness. He submitted a request to resign his living in the same week as the wedding, and retired to Eastbourne, where he died six months later.

Over the next nineteen years, nine children were born to Thomas and Charlotte, six daughters and three sons. Thomas had started life signing himself ‘Thomas Hall’. On his marriage certificate he was ‘Thomas Guppy Hall’, but in 1911 he signed his census return ‘T.G. Sarsfield Hall’. His sons added a hyphen and the family name became ‘Sarsfield-Hall.’

When Thomas died, Charlotte moved to Tunbridge Wells where she played a full part in civic life, particularly in the Girls’ Friendly Society, The Mothers’ Union and the women’s’ branch of the Conservative Party. She also continued to play competitive croquet, a sport she had taken up as a girl, and to win prizes at the All England Club’s tournaments in Wimbledon.

Thomas may have regarded Hythe as home, but perhaps Charlotte preferred Dodington. She named her house in St James’s Road for the place.

Robert Sarsfield-Hall, the couple’s eldest child, married Alice Walker. and the couple had four children.
Deborah Clare Dobson, nee Hall was born on 26 Jan 1883 and married Andrew Edward Augustus Dobson, an army officer on 10 June 1913 in Dodington church. The couple had two sons, one of whom was Peter, buried here. He was born in London and died in Canterbury.

Charlotte Hall had one sibling, Theophilus Edward Fothergill Sangar, who preferred to call himself plain ‘Edward’. He was born in 1856 and baptised in Shadwell. He attended school in Chelmsford and later became a railway clerk, living in Islington. He died in Hythe, though by that time his sister was no longer living in the town and was buried in the churchyard two days later, on 17 December 1892.

Friends and Bellringers

Three graves in St Leonard’s churchyard mark three generations of the Friend family.

In/affectionate remembrance/of/John Friend/born 26th August 1804/died 15th October 1881
Also/in loving memory of/Susannah/wife of the above/born 14th April 1807/died14th December 1888

In/ loving memory/of/Louisa Jane Friend/born 31st March 1849/died 20th July 1890

In loving remembrance of/William Thomas/second son of/John T. And Anne E. Friend/who died of consumption/the 2nd of May 1879/in the 19th year of his age

Also/John Thomas Friend/father of the above/died August 26th 1884/aged 54 years
In the midst of life we are in death

John Friend senior, the first of his family to come to Hythe, was born in Mersham, the third of the nine children of his father, who was in the service of the Knatchbull family. The Knatchbull baronets had lived (and still do) at the Mersham Hatch estate since the time of Henry VIII. The estate then covered about eight hundred acres, and the baronet during John’s youth, Sir Edward, was certainly in need of servants as he produced nineteen children with his three wives.
He was a country squire of the old school, who became MP for Canterbury and opposed any legislation which had even the whiff of liberalism, including the Corn Laws and Catholic Emancipation. He tore up his much-admired park, with its avenues of trees and homes for aged retainers, and had their dwellings transplanted to another spot where they could not spoil his view.

Mersham Hatch, the seat of the Knatchbull family

Whether John Friend did not want to work for this man, or whether there was no place for him, he did not follow in his father’s footsteps and became instead a shoemaker. He moved to Hythe and married there Susannah Divers. She was the daughter of Thomas and Susannah Divers of Ashford, and was baptised there on 17 May 1807. She and John were married in St Leonards church, Hythe, on 2 August 1828. They had eight children together over the next twenty-one years, though one, Elizabeth, died as a child.

In 1830, John was appointed the Parish Constable for the town of Hythe, an unpaid position which he combined with running his shoemaking business in the High Street. Policing was at that time a very parochial affair. Parish constables, often unwilling volunteers and just as often barely literate, confined their activities to their own towns. Then in 1829 Robert Peel established the Metropolitan Police and in 1835 an Act of Parliament required all English boroughs to set up a police force. The response in Kent, as elsewhere, was unenthusiastic, because the force had to be funded by ratepayers who saw in it no advantage over the existing arrangements. By 1837, only just over half of Kent towns had taken action, and in some places, such as Sandwich and Tenderden, the ‘force’ was a solitary constable. In Hythe, little changed. John Friend was re-named Chief Constable, even though he was the only officer, and he carried on making shoes.

In 1844 the Town Council offered to make it worth his while to give up his business and become a full-time policeman, to which he agreed. His house also functioned as the Police Station, which given that he had eight children cannot have made life easy for Susannah, his wife. The borough police forces continued to function until 1888, co-existing with the Kent County force after 1857, but by this time John had retired. He finally took his pension at the age of seventy in 1874.

When not policing or shoemaking, John’s great passion was bell-ringing. According to his obituary
‘He was well known throughout the county as a famous campanologist… He showed extraordinary aptitude in mastering the most intricate methods in the science and his achievements are recorded on tablets in the towers of the churches at Ashford, Hythe, Folkestone and many others in the county.’
As well as regular ringing, he enjoyed the challenge of ringing peals, which involved thousands of changes. He took part in at least fifteen peals at St Leonard’s and elsewhere, twelve of them as conductor – the one who calls the changes to the other ringers. He was the conductor for the record-breaking peal at Hythe with 13,440 changes on 4 May 1846. To quote the Kentish Gazette it was
…the greatest number of changes ever rung in the county by one set of men. It took seven hours and fifty-five minutes… although towards the end exhaustion was evidently manifest by a little irregularity.

The bell tower of St Leonard’s Church, Hythe

In 1860, John decided that one of the tenor bells at St Leonard’s should be replaced and two extra treble bells added to the existing six. He raised through public subscription only enough to pay for the two new bells, which he ordered from one George Stockham at a cost of £95. The bells were delivered and hung the next year, and a special peal was to be rung on 8 July followed by a celebratory dinner for all involved.

It was a disaster. The peal was scheduled to last from noon until six in the evening, but it soon became only too apparent that the new bells were discordant, and the terrible noise reportedly drove half the inhabitants of the town mad. The vicar, who lived across the road from the church, found the noise so unendurable that he could not finish his midday meal, and gave orders that the bells should be silenced.

John tried to make the best of a bad situation. At the official dinner that night, he praised the new bells, out of courtesy to Stockham, he later said. Stockham sent workmen to Hythe who for a fortnight chipped at the bells to try to get them to harmonise with the others, which was not wholly successful. The people who had subscribed were furious with John, and he refused to pay Stockham. Stockham sued him and won. The end result was that John was declared bankrupt in 1863.

Nothing stopped his bell-ringing, however, and he continued to ring until he could no longer get up the church tower stairs. In 1878 he and Susannah celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary in some style. The mayor of Hythe granted them the use of the town hall, and after some speeches, the whole party went up to the church where
‘… a select band performed some excellent scientific touches of a bob-major, treble bob-major, grandsire triples and grandsire caters.’
At the ‘substantial spread’ which followed back at the town hall, the company were entertained by hand bell ringers. What Susannah thought of all this is not recorded.

 

Hythe Town Hall, the scene of John and Susannah Friend’s Golden Wedding celebrations.

When John died, in 1881, his fellow-ringers acted as pall bearers at his funeral. His widow Susannah followed him to the grave seven years later and their youngest child, Louisa, seven months after that.

The eldest child of John and Susannah, John Thomas Friend, also became a bell-ringer, though he never achieved his father’s status. He was baptised in St Leonard’s church on 30 October 1830. By the time he was twenty-two, he was working in a shop in Tonbridge Wells owned by Henry Sawyer, grocer, tea dealer and cheesemonger. It was a large establishment in the High Street, employing several other assistants. If John had any ambitions to work in the retail trade, he soon dropped them, and by 1858 he had become a gardener and was living in Dover High Street. However, in 1861 he was employed as ‘High Bailiff in the County Court.’ The County Court was not located in a single town: there appear to have been several locations across Kent and there may have been a court room in Folkestone, as Melville’s 1858 Directory lists one William Larkins of Guildhall Street in Folkestone holding the post. of High Bailiff.  How John came to be appointed is a mystery, though it may have to do with the fact that his father’s next-door neighbour was the preceding High Bailiff. It was secure, salaried employment and must have been a godsend in uncertain times. Perhaps the salary was not enough, however, as his obituary records that he held ‘other posts’.

John married Annie Elizabeth Day in Dover, on 23 February 1858, and they moved back to Hythe, presumably when John was appointed as Bailiff. They had at least four children: John, born in 1858, William in 1860, Alice in 1863 and Charles in 1868. Annie Elizabeth died in April 1875 and is buried in St Leonard’s churchyard. Not long afterwards, John took up market gardening, though he still seems to have held onto his court post. In 1881, after young William’s death, only Alice remained with him at home. Charles was boarding at a school in Prospect Road, Hythe.

John’s death was sudden: he had been involved in arranging some sports to take place to celebrate  the turning of the first sod of the Elham Valley Railway when he was seized with paralysis at the door of George Wilks, Hythe’s town clerk. He was carried home, but succumbed during the night.

The eight bells of St Leonard’s lasted until 1928, when they were recast, and in 1992 two others were added. They can still be heard across the town every Sunday morning.

I am indebted to the late Jack Barker of Hythe for the research into John Friend’s bell-ringing career