The Man Who Built a Railway

At the Hythe terminus of the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, in the booking office window, is a small sign bearing the words ‘Greenly Coffee Shop’. It is rather an odd way to remember the engineer without whom there would be none of the iconic locomotives and stations that RHDR  passengers have come to love.

Henry Greenly had an early connection with the railways. His father was a train guard in Birkenhead, where Henry was born on 3 June 1876, the first of five children, The family moved to west London when Henry was eleven. He won a London County Council scholarship, took up a place at a Science School and  eventually won a scholarship to the Regent Street Polytechnic. 

In 1897, he started work in the drawing-office of the Metropolitan Railway Company at its Neasden works, but he did not stay long, despite the security of employment the position offered.  Two years earlier, he had started a lifetime’s contributions to engineering  debates in a letter  to the Engineer about early Great Western locomotives. He was not afraid to take the great engineers of the day to task over technical issues, and he soon became both well known and respected. As a result, on 15 October 1896, he was appointed to a subcommittee at the Science Museum alongside twenty-five distinguished engineers, with the objective of establishing a permanent railway museum.  

While on the board, he was invited to join the staff of the Model Engineer and Amateur Electrician’ periodical, a position he acceptedThat same year, 1901, he married Lilley Maria Richardson, daughter of a London businessman. They had a daughter and two sons. 

One of the many callers to his magazine’s offices was Wenman Basset-Lowke, a pioneer in making scale models, with whom Henry formed a long-lasting friendship. He often acted as a consultant to Bassett-Lowke’s world famous model engineering concern in Northampton.    

Henry in 1906

Henry was a prolific publisher on the subject of model railways. His first book, The Model Locomotive,  was issued in 1904 and was followed by many others, Model Electric Locomotives and Railways (1921) becoming the ‘bible’ for the model railway world. He founded, in 1908, the Models Railways and Locomotives magazine which became a platform from which he could share his knowledge and expertise with others.

Henry’s first book………………………………….and his magazine

The last two decades of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth saw a small craze for miniature passenger-carrying railways. Henry worked with Basset-Lowke on one 15 inch gauge railway at Blackpool. another in Rhyl and one in Geneva. 

Rhyl Miniature Railway, opened 1911, still running today

The First World War called a halt to such activities and Henry spent the duration in the Drawing Office of the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough.  In peacetime, his first venture was the design and construction of a scenic miniature railway at ‘Dreamland’ in Margate which operated until 1979

The Dreamland Railway

He next worked on a narrow gauge railway in Cumberland,  from Ravenglass up to the village of Boot, where haematite iron ore was mined and which was a favourite starting point for hikers. 

His work there brought him to the attention of two very rich racing drivers and miniature railway enthusiasts, Count Louis Zborowski and Captain John Howey. Both had dreams of creating their own railway line and had hoped to buy the Ravenglass line and extend it. Thwarted in this ambition, they nevertheless, with no site or permission to build, commissioned Henry to design two locomotives in 1924. 

Captain John Howey                                      Count Louis Zborowski 

Later that year,  Zborowski was killed while racing in the Italian Grand Prix.  Howey decided to carry on alone and in 1925 charged Henry with finding a place to build his railway.  Henry settled on New Romney, where there was no existing railway connection and where the surrounding land was flat enough to allow trains to run at speed. There were of course, various legal hoops to be jumped through and objections to be overcome, but Henry dealt with them all and brought the first locomotive, Green Goddess,  down to the Romney Marsh. Finally, in May 1926, a Light Railway Order was signed.

Green Goddess (Loco 1) today on the turntable at Hythe Station

Northern Chief (Loco 2)

Howey now started spending seriously. Green Goddess was joined by Northern Chief and then by Southern Maid, Samson, Hercules, Typhoon and Hurricane, all still in service today . The original plan had been for a single track line as far as Dymchurch. Now Howey decided on double track all the way to Hythe. This delayed the opening, but Howey had the good fortune to receive a royal visit from the Duke of York (later George VI). The Duke took a ride with Howey on Northern Chief, which the invited press duly recorded, providing invaluable publicity. Henry, however, was left out in the cold. Seldom more than a few feet away from the Duke during the visit, he was not introduced. Was Old Etonian millionaire embarrassed to acknowledge his scholarship boy Chief Engineer? Or did he just forget his manners? Whatever the case, Henry was angry and the relationship soured. 

With the completion of the line to Hythe, the railway was opened to the public on 17 July 1927. The first train left New Romney at 0630, arriving at Hythe forty-five minutes later, with three interim stops. 

The approach to Hythe station

The line was extended to Dungeness in 1928, to a station designed by Henry, as all the others had been. Howey then departed for Australia via Canada for one of his regular long holidays. In his absence, Henry and the General Manager of the RHDR, a Mr Bellamy had a major falling-out. It concerned drawings for new locomotives with better protection for the drivers. The designs were based, apparently without his permission, on Henry’s originals. One evening in January 1929, Henry went to the office, took them away and burnt the lot. Mr Bellamy called the police who arrested Henry and took him to Lydd Police Station. Nothing could be proved against him and he was released and received compensation. But the adventure was over.  Henry promptly left New Romney, where he and his family had lived for some years, and never returned. 

Henry in later life

The family moved to Heston, Isleworth and Henry continued to design scale models, as busy as ever. One of his creations, in 1938,  was a seven-and-a-quarter inch gauge locomotive for the Saltwood miniature railway owned by Frank and Alexander Schwab.  Called the Maid of Kent, she ran until 1975. 

The Saltwood miniature railway

Henry was invited to the twentieth anniversary celebrations for the RHDR, but was too ill to attend and to meet the guests of honour, Laurel and Hardy. He died at his home, on 4 March 1947 and was buried at Heston parish church. He was survived by his wife, who when she died in 1967 was buried beside him.

Captain Howey died in 1963. He had a diesel locomotive named for him by RHDR. Henry Greenly did not.


Two books were used to research this post. The first,  The Miniature World of Henry Greenly  was written by Henry’s daughter and her husband and is naturally biased in favour of Henry. The other was One Man’s Railway: J.E.P. Howey and the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway  by J.B. Snell. The title says it all. 

And finally, here is a video of Green Goddess arriving at New Romney station at nearly a hundred years old

From Mad Minute to the Pacific: the Wallingfords

Jesse Alfred Wallingford was born on 25 January 1871, the second of ten children of Frederick Wallingford, a sergeant in the Rifle Brigade, and his wife Phoebe.  His childhood was peripatetic, as the family moved from Woolwich to Dover to India and Winchester. Jesse joined his father’s Regiment in 1885 and showed early promise in marksmanship. At the age of seventeen he took up competitive shooting and ‘showed his keenness by expending most of his pay in buying ammunition’. After service in India, in 1894 he joined the School of Musketry in Hythe as a third class instructor and started winning national and international prizes for his shooting. The Book of the Rifle  published in 1901 had as its frontispiece a portrait of Jesse with the title ‘The Best Shot in the British Army’.  At the 1908 London Olympics he  won a bronze medal in the team pistol event.

Jesse at the School of Musketry and below with the 1909 Shooting Team (Hythe Museum)

More importantly for his military career, he had achieved a remarkable record in the ‘Mad Minute’ taught and demonstrated at the School of Musketry. Introduced in 1909, the training required soldiers to fire fifteen aimed rounds from a rifle in sixty seconds from three hundred feet. The technique was also a regular demonstration by instructors to show officer trainees the maximum rate of accurate fire that could be achieved by an expert. The top expert was, of course, Jesse, who managed  thirty-six hits on a forty-eight-inch target.

He was by now a sergeant-major and a family man. He had married a Hythe woman, Alice Bishopp, daughter of a labourer, and five children had been born, though one died in infancy.

Then in 1911, after seventeen years in Hythe, and despite having been given permission to extend his service for more than twenty-one years, he left the British Army to take up a post with the New Zealand Defence Force. On 12 September, he and his family sailed to Wellington.

Captain Wallingford in New Zealand

Jesse was soon commissioned and as Captain Wallingford introduced courses of instruction in the use of the machine gun. During this time, he suggested the tactic of ‘brigading’ machine guns into a single unit under the direct command of the senior officer present.  After the outbreak of war, he supervised the rifle training of the NZ expeditionary force. This soon merged with its Australian counterpart into the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC).  Although he was now forty-two, Jesse volunteered for overseas service and was sent to Gallipoli.

Jesse and his men landed at what became known as Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915.  Here he earned his Military Cross. The citation notes his ‘conspicuous coolness and resource on several critical occasions’. Turkish resistance had been fierce and thousands of his comrades had been killed or wounded . Jesse had re-constituted a force from what uninjured men he could gather, put a disabled machine-gun back into action and directed its fire for four hours.  A contemporary wrote of him that he was ‘the strongest, most capable, coolest officer on Walker’s Ridge’.


His marksmanship became legendary and unconfirmed press reports say that he killed seven hundred enemy soldiers. The stress of his situation led to hospitalisation at the end of June with ‘cardiac insufficiency’, but his stay was short and he was back in action in August. A relapse at the end of the month led to him being invalided out to the Wandsworth General Hospital in England. While convalescing, he was able to visit Hythe for the weekend and took an aeroplane flight over the town. Then he travelled home to New Zealand. However, his innovative idea of brigading was used during the August offensive and helped secure its success.

After a period of training troops again, he was declared medically fit in early 1917, but his days of active service were over. He was promoted to Major early in 1919 and remained engaged in both the military sphere and the shooting world. He finally retired from the army after fifty-two years service in 1927.

He became Superintendent of a Veterans Home, a JP and, of course, continued to shoot. He died on D-Day, 6 June 1944.

Meanwhile, his elder son, Sidney, was having military successes of his own.

Born at the School of Musketry in Hythe on 12 July 1898 and baptised in St Leonard’s church, where his parents had married, he went to New Zealand with the family just after his thirteenth birthday. Perhaps he did not want to go or became homesick, but at the first opportunity, when he was eighteen, he joined the merchant navy so that he could work his passage back to England.

On his arrival, he joined up with the Artists Rifles regiment (whose members were no longer exclusively artistic)  then joined the 4th Battalion Rifle Brigade, which fought in Salonika. He transferred to the Royal Flying Corp in March 1918, three weeks before it became the Royal Air Force and he qualified to wear wings in August. He flew in Palestine before the war ended and stayed in the Middle East until spring of 1919, before leaving the service the next year.

For the next two or three years he tried farming in New Zealand and working for the Fijian Police, but was soon back in England with the RAF and in 1927-8 twice became the RAF rifle champion at Bisley, winning the coveted Queen Mary prize.

Then in 1929, it was back to New Zealand, to become the first adjutant of the Royal New Zealand Air Force and to marry his sweetheart, Kathleen Jamieson.

As Adjutant, Sidney’s role was to assist the commanding officer, but within a few months he was on his way to Samoa to assist in quelling unrest among the Mau, a political group who were agitating for Samoan independence.  In early 1930, he was flying reconnaissance missions in Samoa in a de Havilland Moth fitted with floats. Then there was more work flying supplies and medical equipment into Napier, which was devastated by an earthquake in 1931 and ferrying out some of the thousands of casualties.

Sidney Wallingford (right)

A few years later, in 1935, Sidney became an overnight hero when he landed a Fairey IIIF seaplane on the water at Karekare beach on the West Coast, saving the life of a young woman who’d been swept out to sea.

Sidney & his seaplane

The next year, together with his family, Sidney went back to England to attend

the RAF Staff College. Later, with the rank of Squadron Leader, he was appointed NZ Liaison Officer with the Air Ministry.  In1939 he was living in Ealing with his younger brother Roland, who had also returned to the UK, married and was working as a ‘tea propagandist’.  However, Sidney’s son later remembered that the family actually had a home in Hythe, where they remained until the town was effectively evacuated in 1940.

Sidney’s war saw him move from the Air Ministry to the Pacific, where he became the Senior RNZAF Officer co-operating with the American Forces there and then Commander of the Number One Island Group, in charge of all RNZAF personnel fighting the Japanese. In 1943 he was awarded the US Legion of Honour, citing his ‘ready cooperation, unflagging efforts and inspiring leadership’ and in  1944 his British CBE citation read  ‘…he showed himself to be an officer of ability, resource and initiative.’

Sidney in the Pacific

In 1945, he was posted back to NZ and finally retired in 1954 to devote himself to gardening.

With thanks to Kevin Bailey, Curator of Hythe Museum






‘Hythe’s Greatest Benefactor’

Wakefield Walk in Hythe is a delightful formal promenade alongside the sports field. Another, more prosaic, residential street, Wakefield Way is not far away. There is a Wakefield  function room at the Hythe Imperial Hotel and a Wakefield of Hythe Chapter of the local Freemasons. A charity, the Wakefield Bequest, supports ‘persons in need’ in Hythe. All are named for Charles Cheers Wakefield.

His  career is well chronicled elsewhere: the rise from office boy in Liverpool to manager of an American petroleum company; the creation of his own business, Castrol; the knighthood; the Mayoralty of London; the baronetcy and the CBE; and finally the title Viscount Wakefield of Hythe.  Along the way there were many excursions into other interests, charities and, his passion, aviation.

But what of the Hythe connection?

In 1912,  Charles and his wife Sarah bought land next to the golf club off Blackhouse Hill in Hythe, with panoramic views across the town to the Romney Marsh and the sea. They proceeded to construct what the local press described as ‘a palatial mansion’, which, it was estimated, cost between £15,000 and £16,000 to build. Charles bought, to furnish it, the contents of a demolished house in Botolph’s Lane, London, which was reputed to have been owned by Sir Christopher Wren. These included a staircase, wood panelling, doorways with carved pediments and fine mouldings and an elaborate landing. The new house was called ‘The Links’.  During the ensuing war, it was placed at the disposal of the military but when the couple regained it after 1918, they found it suitable for entertaining but too grand for everyday life and usually spent their time in Hythe in the nearby ‘White Cottage’.

It was during the war, in 1916, that Charles was appointed Lord Mayor of London and soon afterwards entertained the members of Hythe Town Council to luncheon at his official residence, Mansion House.

Charles Wakefield as Lord Mayor of London

In peacetime, Charles’s concern was for the men who came home. In 1922 he opened the Hythe British Legion club and donated £200 towards it. He also supported the Hythe Association of ex-Servicemen.  His attention then turned to Toc H. Founded by Rev. Phillip ‘Tubby’ Clayton in 1915, the social club and rest hostel for all ranks opened at Talbot House in Poperinge in a former hop merchant’s residence.  After the end of hostilities, the merchant reclaimed his home, but in 1929 put it on the market. Charles bought it for £9,200 and donated it to the Talbot House Association. It is now a visitor centre and houses a permanent exhibition. This link between Hythe and Poperinge was later cemented by a formal twinning arrangement and the Poperinge Saint Cecilia Band often visits Hythe to play at festivals and festivities.

Talbot House in Poperinge

[Incidentally, at this point it is worth noting that while Rev. Clayton’s name ‘Tubby’ was a soubriquet, Charles’s name ‘Cheers’ was not. It was his mother’s maiden name]

Charles also liked to encourage sport. He was president of Hythe Football Club, attended home matches whenever he could and always bought the ball after the cup final. He donated prizes to the lawn tennis, golf and bowls clubs (on one occasion a pair of gold cufflinks). Other recipients of his largesse included the local St John’s Ambulance Brigade, the Hythe Cancer Clinic Fund and the Royal Victoria Hospital in Folkestone, to whom he gave a brand new motor cycle as a tombola prize.

Later in the 1920s, the vicar of St Leonard’s church in Hythe made an appeal to his parishioners for funds to recast and re-hang the church bells. Within days, Charles had donated the full amount. The local salvation Army benefitted, too, when in 1937. he provided new instruments for their band.

That was the year of the coronation of George VI. To mark the occasion, Charles presented the town of Hythe with a new recreation ground, off Horn Street at the eastern end of the borough. It is still in use today.

The Horn Street recreation ground today

Possibly his most significant gift was that of a new lifeboat for Hythe. Named for his wife the Viscountess Wakefield was launched in 1934, equipped with a ‘tiny’ (ie 18 inches by 12 inches) wireless set made by four local amateurs. Unfortunately, the lifeboat was too big to fit in the lifeboat station, so another was hastily constructed and remains in situ today, though it now houses a fishmonger and beach restaurant.  Sadly, the Viscountess Wakefield was lost at Dunkirk in 1940, under controversial circumstances – but that is another story.  She was Hythe’s last lifeboat.

The ‘Viscountess Wakefield’….

…and her lifeboat station

Charles was made a Freeman of Hythe in 1930 and invited to become Mayor, but declined as he could not devote the necessary time to the job. Probably his last act of generosity to the town was made at the end of 1940, when he made a donation to the town council to send to each head teacher the money to provide boots and clothing for needy schoolchildren evacuated to Wales.

He died on 15 January 1941. A funeral service, conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury,  was held at St Leonard’s church, Hythe and he was buried in Spring Lane cemetery – St Leonard’s churchyard had been closed for burials for many years.  It was snowing during the burial and ‘Tubby’ Clayton reportedly said that each snowflake was a ‘thank you’ from a London child  – the two men had worked together to relieve poverty in the East End

Charles’s grave                                                   

His wife, Sarah, outlived him by nine years, dying in Hythe in February 1950

In her will, she left £100,000 to her bank, to be distributed according to instructions she had put in a letter. Hythe Town Council received £10,000 to set up a charity for ‘persons in need’. It still operates today.

Sarah, Viscountess Wakefield with her only child, Freda

Then in 1957, Mackeson’s Brewery and Kent Newspapers Ltd  decided to inaugurate an annual ‘Wakefield Day’ to celebrate the life of the town’s benefactor. There was a great deal of civic ceremonial on the planned first day, 6 May. The Lord Mayor of London arrived by special train and the other Cinque Port mayors came too. There was a procession through the town; an assembly in the town hall, a luncheon at the Hotel Imperial and a service in St Leonard’s church. There were a lot of speeches and the ATC, the Girl Guides, the Boy Scouts and soldiers from the School of Musketry were drafted in to line the streets.  The event was never repeated, despite a few attempts to revive it right up until the 1990s. The interest was just not there.

The official programme for Wakefield Day 1957

Charles had, by 1957, been dead for sixteen years and memories were short.  If Wakefield Day had concentrated more on ordinary people rather than civic dignitaries, it might have survived. As it was, the local press was more excited that film stars John Mills and Richard Attenborough were at nearby Camber Sands making  a motion picture, ‘Dunkirk’

Today, even the Wakefields’ grand house is gone. ‘The Links’ became the headquarters of Portex, manufacturers of single-use medical equipment and was re-named Bassett House. It was accidentally burnt to the ground in 1960

But one tradition remains. Each year at the town’s Mayor Making, a few moments of silence are observed in the Town Hall as the new Mayor hangs a wreath by the portrait of Charles, 1st Viscount Wakefield of Hythe.

The Suffragette

Georgina Fanny Cheffins was born into a prosperous middle class family in Hampstead in 1864. Her father, Charles Richard was a civil engineer, the son of another, very successful, civil engineer and  her mother, Mary Ann (Craven) was the daughter of a Bradford mill owner. It is likely Georgina was educated at home.

Her father later, in partnership with two others, established the Gillingham Portland Cement Co Ltd and moved the family to live nearby, employing all his sons at the works.  Georgina eventually left home when she was over thirty. She went to live in Sedgley, Staffordshire.

The Gillingham works which provided the wealth for Georgina to live independently

In the 1901 census, she is found in as a ‘lay sister’ in Temple Street,  Sedgley. It was a working class area. Her  neighbours were coal miners, brickmakers and butchers, but she had the company of another lay sister, Eva Lewis. Eva (full name Evangeline), was the same age as Georgina and the daughter of John Lewis, Bishop of Ontario.  The two women would live together until  Eva’s death.

It is not clear exactly what the Mission’s objectives were nor whether Georgina and Eva were members of an Anglican order or not.  What is clear is that they were both well-off enough to support themselves for the rest of their lives and that both felt the need to put those lives to some good purpose,

By 1911 they were in Hythe, living at a house called ‘Dunedin’ at 24 Seabrook Road, where they kept two pug dogs. It may be relevant that the house was previously occupied by Ursuline nuns who ran a small boarding school there.  Georgina and Eva were by now supporters of votes for women and were visited by a paid campaigner for the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage, (NCS) Kate Frye. They introduced her to other local supporters, helped to arrange a talk at Hythe Institute and to set up the Hythe and Folkestone branch of the organisation. Kate recorded in her diary, though, that Hythe people were just not very interested (though they were ‘very, very nice’).

Kate Frye

The 1911 census does not record the presence of Georgina and Eva in Hythe, because they boycotted it. The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), led by the Pankhursts, campaigned  vigorously against any participation by women. They had, they argued, no direct say in any legislation yet were to face in-depth personal enquiry about their marital status and fertility. The penalty for refusal to complete the schedule was a fine of £5 or a month’s imprisonment. Suffragists were encouraged to write across their census schedule ‘No Vote, No Census’, others improvised with ‘I don’t count so I won’t be counted’. Some just stayed away from home that night, in tents or a village hall.

‘As women do not count they refuse to be counted’

Later that year, Georgina bought another house in Hythe, ‘Cravenhurst’ at 24 Napier Gardens, possibly a new build. She was having it fitted up to her own specifications. She took Kate Perry to see the work in progress in February 1912 and promised her a room of her own there, to be decorated in ‘Suffrage Colours’.  Each of the various women’s suffrage groups had their own banners. That of the WSPU was green, purple and white;  the Women’s Freedom League favoured  green, yellow and white.

We don’t know at what stage Georgina joined the WSPU, but there were certainly copies of the Pankhurst’s writings in her house. Eva lent Kate a copy of Sylvia Pankhurst’s  The Suffragette published in 1910.

Barely a month after Kate’s visit, Georgina was in prison. She and two other women were convicted of ‘maliciously damaging eleven plate glass windows, the property of Frederick Gorringe, Ltd., to the amount of £110’. The premises in question was Gorringe’s department store in Buckingham Palace Road. All the women were sentenced to four months imprisonment, which they spent in HMP Holloway.


Gorringe’s department store, with a good choice of windows

At her trial, Georgina said that she was a suffragist by conviction, because, after living and working among the very poor for more than twenty years, she had come to the conclusion that all efforts to improve their conditions were futile without the benefit of the franchise. She supported the WSPU because she felt that their militant methods gave the best chance of success.

The WSPU leadership, frustrated with the lack of progress in their campaign, had only weeks before launched a programme of direct action, ‘Deeds not Words’ , which at first only involved smashing the windows of targeted properties, though it would later become more extreme. Imprisonment was an inevitable consequence, but since 1909 many gaoled WSPU activists had adopted the hunger strike as a means of protest.  The prison authorities responded by force feeding them. Georgina went on hunger strike and suffered this barbaric treatment

In Holloway, she was one of sixty-eight women who added their signatures or initials to a handkerchief, which was then embroidered by prisoners.  She was also awarded by the WSPU their hunger strike medal. It was inscribed:


Georgina’s medal, now in Australia

The imprisoned women, to keep up morale, made their own entertainment. Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence (then a leading member of the WSPU though she was later expelled) told stories; Emmeline Pankhurst reminisced about the early days of the WSPU; they sang together and acted scenes from Shakespeare.

Most of the prisoners from this bout of window-breaking were released by the end of June and Georgina returned to Hythe ‘very thin’ and very embittered. Her wrath was particularly focussed on Kate Frye’s non-militant NCS, presumably because of their lack of support for WSPU tactics.

But while she had been inside, in May 1912, the local WSPU and NCS decided that they should work together.  A Suffrage Club and Shop was suggested. Miss Cheffins would be treasurer and Miss Lewis secretary and the subscription would be one shilling a year. The women found an empty shop at 83 (now 164) High Street, Hythe and the club/shop was officially opened by Lady Brassey and Lady Idina, the wife and daughter-in-law of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, Earl Brassey, on 26 July. There was a tea party and the windows, counter and tables were decorated in the WSPU colours. Countess Brassey later addressed a public meeting at which Georgina was on the stage.

The former suffrage shop in Hythe High Street

The prison experience had its effect on Georgina. She was described towards the end of 1912  as being ‘fearfully unhappy’ and ‘unmistakeably crazy’. It was well-known that repeated force feeding caused physical exhaustion, but the effects on mental health were rarely discussed. One study, however, did conclude that it could lead to ‘neurasthenia’, or weak nerves. Today, we might think that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress, given the dreadful way in which she was violated.

The outbreak of war in 1914 put an end to the suffrage campaign. Georgina did her bit, taking a St John’s Ambulance First Aid course and a home nursing qualification. After the war, she and Eva moved to South Road, Hythe down-sizing to a more modest property, ‘Hymora’. They did, however, have a telephone installed – the number was Hythe 252.

It was at ‘Hymora’ that Eva died in 1928.  She left her gold watch and a pencil drawing to her sister and the rest to Georgina who was her executor. It amounted to £7.8s.9d. Georgina moved to De La Warr Road in Bexhill, where she had family members and died on 29 July 1932

But the handkerchief she signed during the dark days in Holloway survives, having turned up at a jumble sale in West Hoathly.  It is now displayed in the Priest House there


The Holloway handkerchief. Georgina’s name is top left

Details of Kate Frye’s visits to Hythe are taken from:  Elizabeth Crawford (ed.) Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary (London: Francis Boutle, 2013)


The Stormy Captain – John Warde

In St Edmund’s chapel in Hythe church a black tilting helmet, surmounted by a leopard crest, has hung for as long as anyone can remember.

In an old history of Hythe it is recorded that the grave of  Captain John Warde was discovered when the floor of the chapel was lowered in 1841. It bore the inscription:

Here lieth buried the Body of Captayne John Warde who departed this life the xxviiiday of Janua. 1601. Being of the age lxxxxvi and was a captain lxvi years’. (1)

It followed that the helmet must belong to John Warde, as it hung near his grave, in the manner of a hatchment.

I thought little more of this story,  but then came across in my papers a photocopy of a typewritten document: John Warde of Sandgate Castle. It is heavily amended in manuscript and each part of the biography is supported by references. Under the title is written ‘Cecil Humphery-Smith F.H.S  F.H.G’.  Humphery-Smith, it turns out, was a lecturer at the University of London, founder of the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies at Canterbury and an Honorary Fellow of Canterbury Christchurch University. In other words, a reliable source. Here is what he discovered about John Warde, together with my own research.

John Warde was born between 1504 and 1506, probably in Yorkshire, since the arms he later bore were those of the Warde family of Guisely. His parents are unknown, but they were dead by 1515, when John was made a Ward of Court under a Mr Tomlynson of Yorkshire. (2)

The next time he can be positively identified is when, in 1519, he was made a groom (attendant) in the household of ‘the king’s daughter’. (3) This was the three-year-old Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. He was there for at least a year before, in 1520, being posted as a gunner at the Tower of London. (4) Soldiering was to be his future. He was promoted, maybe not rapidly, but steadily, to master gunner, yeoman gunner and finally, in 1540 captain gunner. (5)

The Tower in Tudor times

In summer 1544 he was present at the siege of Boulogne during one of Henry VIII’s ill-advised and usually disastrous campaigns against the French. (6)  It was not one of England’s finest moments. The siege lasted two months but before the English had blown up the walls of Boulogne to end it, they had lost half their troops to dysentery.

The Siege of Boulogne

Three years later, he was fighting again, this time at the battle of Pinkie Cleugh, part of the ‘Rough Wooing’ which attempted to secure a union of Scotland and England. (7)  The Scots were soundly defeated (but still refused to come to terms). Then it was back to France, for the capture of St Quentin in 1557. (8) Princess Mary had now become queen of England and had married Philip of Spain. The English and Spanish were allied in fighting the French at the besieged city and won the day, but the sight of the battlefield gave Philip a permanent distaste for war.

The following year John Warde took part in the rather pointless capture of Le Conquet, a small port near Brest.(9) He was now under the military command of Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick.

Ambrose Dudley, 3rd Earl of Warwick

Mary’s sister Elizabeth had succeeded to the throne and in an effort to support the Huguenots, she engaged in a short campaign in France in 1563. The English captured Le Havre – and John Warde was there, too, still serving Warwick.(10) He was next sent to Ireland to fight against Shane O’Neil, a chieftain who was variously at war with the English and the Scots in furthering his ambitions to be overlord of the whole of Ireland. John Warde raised two hundred men from Devon and Cornwall to join the fight. (11)

O’Neil was assassinated in 1567 and that same year, John Warde, now in his sixties, made a suit to the queen for recompense for his service. (12) She agreed and gave him ‘the rectory or parsonage of Yalding and the advowson of the vicarage’ for thirty years. It would have been reasonable to expect that this would easily last him for the rest of his life. Advowson was the right to recommend a member of the Anglican clergy for a vacant benefice, or to make  an appointment. The rent on the parsonage would also bring him thirty ponds a year.

Yalding church, near Maidstone

In 1569, he was still in Ireland, in Limerick, writing to William Cecil, chief adviser to Queen Elizabeth about about the execution of some prisoners.(13) In fact, he could not have written the letter himself as later records show he was illiterate and must have dictated it to a scribe. He was also in a little trouble for having killed a man called Randolph, but the queen pardoned him for this.

Two years later, he returned from Ireland carrying with him a letter from Thomas, Earl of Ormered and Ossury to Cecil which ‘commends the suit of the bearer Captain Warde  now being discharged who served in winter where no  service was ever done by soldiers and returned barefoot and bodied in effect’. (14) He had to appear before the Privy Council to show why he had lost his equipment and baggage, but was exonerated and offered a knighthood. (15) This, however, was an expensive process and he declined.

What he accepted, the following year, was the post of Captain of Sandgate Castle with an annuity of forty pounds for life, a much more lucrative offer. (16) The castle had been built only thirty years earlier, just a mile or so from Hythe,  as a defence from the French at a vulnerable point on the coast. It comprised a central stone keep, with three towers and a gatehouse and was fitted with a total of 142 firing points for cannon and handguns.

What remains today of Sandgate Castle

A document of 1573 shows  that his duties involved settling disputes between locals and also shows us that he could not write (though this does not mean that he could not read: the subjects were taught to children separately). (17) This is a facsimile of two letters he could manage, ‘J W’:

Sandgate Castle  would not have been a comfortable place to live, though the queen visited in 1573 and is reported to have rested there.  John Warde overcame the accommodation problem by acquiring a house in the Bayle in nearby Folkestone. He was elected mayor of the town in 1579, 1581 and 1583.  The house , now demolished, had his coat of arms, a cross patonce or, on the ceiling.

In Folkestone, John Warde was known as ‘the stormy captain’.  The trouble started when his son, Ambrose (possibly named for the Earl of Warwick) killed one Edward Phillpott. As was the custom, Ambrose’s goods and chattels became forfeit to the the Lord of the Manor of the Bayle, John Herdson. (18) A row ensued, but John seems to have conceded and went to live in Hythe.

Despite his advanced age, he was appointed master of the camp when in 1588, forces were raised in Kent to resist the Spanish Armada.  Five years later, at the age of eighty-eight, he was commissioned to prepare a report of the condition of the castles on the Kent and Sussex coasts. (19)

His last years were disturbed once again by Ambrose’s misdoings and by family strife.  Ambrose had a sister, Hester, who had married Lawrence Baker of New Romney. Baker and Ambrose had several joint financial dealings with various third parties. Baker then borrowed three hundred pounds which he could not afford to repay, and when his creditors became unpleasant about it, insisted that the debt was his brother-in-law’s. Ambrose said it was not and Baker was thrown into gaol in the ‘theefe house’in Lydd, which he said was ‘a vile hole’.

Hester went twice to plead with her brother to no avail. Ambrose allegedly told her that her husband could stay in prison ‘until the lice and mice ate him’ before he would pay a penny of the debt. His wife and children apparently starving, Baker had to sell the silver buttons from his doublet to get them food. He was then persuaded, despite the misgivings of his friends,  to make over all his property, which should have gone to his son, to Ambrose, who said he would give him an allowance of twenty shillings a week. Ambrose almost immediately reneged on the bargain.

John Warde thought that Lawrence Baker was untrustworthy, but also seems to have disapproved of Ambrose’s actions. He asked the Town Clerk of Hythe to come to his house and speak to his son, but it was again to no avail.

Baker wanted some recompense and brought a case against Ambrose in Chancery. The case was heard in Dover before the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, Lord Cobham. It then proceeded to a Commission in Canterbury, but was dropped when Baker could no longer afford the costs. This, he said, was because his tenants, threatened by Ambrose, were withholding their rents. Eventually, it was resurrected in the Star Chamber.  The case dragged on from December 1601 to February 1603 and both parties brought  witnesses ready to dish the dirt.

Ambrose was accused of smuggling out of the country ‘great quantities of wool, leather, tallow, corn, munitions’, which he kept in a barn at Sandgate Castle. Baker was described as ‘a man of riotous and unruly behaviour since he came to the years of discretion’. (20)

Unfortunately, the outcome is not recorded and John Warde was no longer interested. he made his will on 25 January 1601 and was dead before the month was out.  Only his tilting helmet survives as a memorial to a soldier who served four monarchs.

With thanks to Mike Umbers for additional information and Brin Hughes for the photograph of the helmet. 

  1.  Herbert H. Dale, The Ancient Town of Hythe and St Leonard’s Church Kent (Hythe: Kipps Bookshop Ltd, 1931)
  2. Calendar of Foreign, Domestic & State Papers Henry VIII, VoII, part II 1517-18, p. 1487 (Brewer)
  3. Calendar of State & Domestic Papers, Henry VIII, Vol. III, part I, p.970
  4. Patent Rolls
  5. ibid.
  6.  mss. R.J. Finmore
  7.  ibid.
  8.  ibid.
  9.  Patent rolls
  10. ibid.
  11.  Calendar of State Papers Ireland 356
  12.  ibid. 399
  13.  ibid 42
  14.  ibid 38 , Vol XXI p. 17
  15. Patent Rolls
  16.  ibid
  17.  Kent Archives CP/Bp45
  18. Folkestone Manor Office
  19. Archaeologia Cantiana, Vol 11 1877
  20.  The case between Ambrose Warde and Lawrence Baker is recorded in Louis Knafla, Kent at Law 1602 (London: List and Index Society, 2012)

From Hythe to the Moon

In the early eighteenth century, a Hythe schoolmaster read a translation of a work by Hector Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac, novelist, duellist, playwright and (apocryphally) possessor of an inconveniently large nose. The book was unusual. Published in 1657, after the author’s death, it was titled  Selenarchia: A Comical History of the States and Empire of the Moon.   In the story, Cyrano de Bergerac resolves to visit the Moon, to test his belief that it is a planet in its own right. After several misadventures he arrives at his destination and meets the Moon’s inhabitants, who have four legs, musical voices, and a wonderful weapon that shoots game and immediately turns it into a cooked meal. He also finds that he is no longer in his mid-thirties, but a mere fourteen-year-old.  Russen read the book it with an ‘abundance of Delight’ and decided to write a critique of the work. 

Hector Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac

He states that he is not entirely convinced by the plausibility of Cyrano de Bergerac’s method of travel to the Moon and considers and discards various methods of getting there, but eventually settles on his own invention:

A Spring of well-tempered steel, one end of which would be fastened to the top of a high mountain, the other to a frame or seat: this Spring being with Cords, Pullies, or other Engins (sic) bent, and then let loose by degrees by those who manage the Pullies. (1)

This would be successful only if there was a full moon. 

Russen then proceeds to examine the plausibility of each of Cyrano de Bergerac’s claims, testing them against what was then know of science and what was written by philosophers. He was remarkably well-read for a provincial schoolmaster. He quotes  Ptolemy, Archimedes, Pythagoras, Aristotle (whom he disliked), and Plato; Ovid, Seneca and Cato;  Copernicus and Descartes. He had in his possession a copy of The Turkish Spy, fictional letters written by ‘Mahmut the Arabian’, and cites volume and page. He has read Knolles’ Generall Historie of the Turkes. He knows something of Islam and Hinduism and a lot about the Bible and Christian theology. He had read about experiments with blood transfusions at Gresham College.

The book, published in 1703 and entitled Iter Lunare: or, a voyage to the moon. Containing some considerations on the nature of that planet by David Russen of Hythe,  was a success and was re-issued in 1707.

The title page of ‘Iter Lunare’

Who was David Russen? He first appears in the public record in August 1690, in a Treasury warrant to the Customs Commissioners establishing eight riding officers ‘for the guard of the Kentish coast (to prevent the carrying of wool into France and bringing over uncustomed and prohibited goods by the French privateers)’. (2) He was given a salary of sixty shillings a year, which was not a lot – perhaps a month’s earnings for a skilled tradesman. Clearly it was not intended to be a full-time job. Russen was posted to Lydd, but the  Commissioners reserved the right to move the officers to where they were most needed.  By his own account, he spent some time in Southampton. (3)  

Three years later he was in New Romney, where his daughter with his wife Mary was born in January 1693. She lived only a few months as did the five babies who followed her over the next twelve years. The family was in Hythe by 1696, when the third child was born and stayed there until at least 1705, when the sixth baby was buried in St Leonard’s churchyard. In the meantime, Russen had given up his position as a Riding Officer as he was ‘not able to go through the hardship’.(4) He had received a pay rise to £4.10.0 in 1699, but it was not enough of a temptation.(5)

We know that he was a schoolmaster in Hythe because his publishers tell us so in Iter Lunare.  Russen explained in his text that he wished he had more leisure and opportunity to write and that he was ‘in the Midst of Hurry and Tatling of several sorts’. A footnote states that ‘The Author taught school and wrote this in his School-room among his Boys.’  Despite his wide-ranging reading, there is no evidence that he went to university and buried in his book is a rather mournful hint that he felt belittled by those who had: 

Many Ingenious Minds and refined Intellects are hidden in obscurity, who have attained the Knowledge of rare Secrets, yet are unwilling to utter them because the Learned explode them’. (6)

He would undoubtedly be disgruntled that Cyrano de Bergerac has a lunar crater named for him while, he, Russen, does not.

Impact crater ‘Cyrano’, 26 km across

Perhaps encouraged by the success of Iter Lunare, Russen published again in 1703, but this time he produced a polemic against ‘anabaptists’. It was entitled Fundamentals Without Foundation, or a True Picture of the Anabaptists, in their Rise, Progress and Practice. In case his was not clear enough, he added a subtitle: Written for the Use of Such as Take ‘Em for Saints, When they are Not So Much as Christians.

The title page of ‘Fundamentals without Foundation’

Russen’s premise is that the Church of England is the only theologically sound church. ‘Anabaptists’, a term which covered nearly all non-conformists, are in error (though not nearly so much as Quakers or, worst of all, Roman Catholics). He starts by identifying twenty-four different sects of anabaptists and examines their faulty theology. He then goes on to call into question the quality of their leaders. Although he was a man who resented being looked down on by learned men, he has no hesitation in deriding the uneducated butchers, cobblers, tailors and gardeners, ‘Mechaniks of the lowest rank’   who dared to preach the word of God.(7)  Worse are ‘she-prophetesses’, of which there had been at least one in Hythe.(8)

He is particularly harsh on Samuel Fisher, a former Vicar of Lydd. He acknowledges that Fisher was a man of learning but he deplores his conversion to non-conformism. Fisher  allegedly baptised women who were clad only in a ‘slight covering of Linnen’ in a roadside horse pond (9) and ‘from one Error he ran into another , became a Quaker and as I have heard, died mad’.(10) In fact, Fisher  died of bubonic plague in the outbreak of 1665, having spent most of the previous five years suffering for his beliefs in prison. (11) 

Russen relies a lot on hearsay, especially regarding the morals of anabaptists, most notably their supposed propensity for bedding their women converts. He gives a long list of those guilty and includes Benjamin Keach, the aged and generally revered pastor of the Baptist church in Southwark.

Rev. Benjamin Keach

The book was inflammatory enough to provoke a response. Three of Keach’s friends travelled to Hythe to interview Russen and find out the basis of his accusation. Russen apparently at first denied having written any such thing, but when shown his own book refused to reveal his source.(12) The next year Joseph Stennett, one of those friends, wrote a comprehensive refutation of the whole book in which as well as disputing Russen’s theological arguments, he deplores the ‘Gall and Wormwood that drips from Mr Russen’s pen’.(13) He notes the accusations of immorality and comments , ‘All these scandalous Instances are taken up on very little evidence.’ (13). At the end of the book, twenty-eight non-conformist ministers put their names to a declaration that Russen’s charges against Keach are ‘false, groundless and malicious’.(14) .

Rev. Joseph Stennett

After this, Russen seems to have given up publishing and there is no further record of him in Hythe. He may be the David Russen who in 1714 married again in Deal and fathered several more, mostly short-lived, children, but I cannot be sure. 

  1. Iter Lunare  pp. 44-45
  2. Calendar of Treasury Books, Volume 9, 1689-1692
  3.  Fundamentals without Foundation p. 46
  4. 2 Aug 1703Calendar of Treasury Books, Volume 18, 1703
  5.  Calendar of Treasury Books, Volume 15, 1699-1700
  6.  Iter Lunare  p.123
  7.  Fundamentals without Foundation,  p.35
  8. Ibid.  p.34
  9. Ibid.  p.30
  10.  Ibid.  p.85
  11. Stephen W. Angell, Richard Farnworth, Samuel Fisher and the Authority of Scripture among Early Quakers (George Richardson Lecture, 2014)
  12.  Joseph Stennett the elder, An Answer to Mr D. Russen’s Book ‘Fundamentals without Foundation’ p. 3
  13. Ibid. p. 137
  14.  Ibid.  p.251

A Dream of England – for Armistice Day

Anyone who has researched the fallen of World War One through the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website will occasionally have come across a record that states that a soldier served under another name – and wondered about their reasons. This is one young man’s story.

Wainwright Merrill

Wainwright Merrill was born on 26 May 1898 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of Samuel Merrill  and Estelle Minerva Hatch Merrill. He had an older brother, Gyles. His mother, a botanist, journalist and businesswoman, died when he was just ten.

Clearly a bright young man, in 1915 he was studying English literature at Dartmouth, an Ivy League college in New Hampshire.  He already believed that America should enter the European war and joined Dartmouth’s college military battalion which began training in February 1916. The group practiced marching, studied artillery tactics and dug a series of elaborate trenches near the college football field.

Trenches at Dartmouth College

The assembled battalion at Dartmouth

He  also attended two sessions of the civilian military training camp established at Plattsburg, New York. These were part of a volunteer pre-enlistment training programme organized by the Preparedness Movement, a group of influential pro-Allied citizens.

Exercises at Plattsburg

After only a year at Dartmouth, Wainwright transferred to Harvard, to be closer to his family in Cambridge, where his father and brother lived in Bellevue Avenue.  There he joined the college’s  Officer Training Corps programme.

Wainwright in uniform, probably that of the Harvard OTC

But his stay was short-lived. He left Harvard in November 1916 and travelled to Kingston, Ontario. Once there, he volunteered to serve as a gunner in the 6th Siege Battery of the  Canadian Garrison Artillery. Only eighteen, he was considered a minor by the Canadian military and needed his father’s permission to sign up. He knew this would not be forthcoming, so assumed the identity of Arthur Ashton Stanley, a clerk born in 1895 in England.  In a letter home to his father, Merrill explained that he ‘could not, in honour, stay out if America should take no action’.

The attestation of ‘Arthur Ashton Stanley’

Wainwright was sent, along with thousands of other Canadian soldiers, to England, to the Kent coast where he was quartered at Risborough barracks, near Hythe. He arrived in spring 1917

All that is left of Risborough Barracks today

His study of English literature had developed in him a great affinity for all things English. He had read Caesar’s account of  invading the country,  Chaucer, Shakespeare, Shelley and Dickens, but his favourite was Kipling (‘the one and only Rudyard’) His reading perhaps fostered a romantic view of England, but in Hythe he found that the romance was real. Having seen it for himself, he wrote of the poet Shelley:

One can well appreciate his love of the wild things, the blue fleecy clouded heaven, the May wind in the trees; and this fair green wood and hill and meadow land that is England. … This beauty of the English countryside surely has approximated the ideal surroundings and pulsed with the best aspirations of countless men down the years. It is indeed a wonderful thing to know and feel. No one is more thankful for, or realises better than I, the splendid chance I am having to be here in my youth (1)

He loved the Roman ruins of Stutfall castle, the winding roads and scattered stone houses of the Romney Marsh, sunset over the English channel, Stone Street (‘a flinty white road’), the inns and their ‘jovial hosts’. In the April showers he compared himself to Chaucer’s pilgrims and visited inns:

And I have walked out over the green Marsh to Dymchurch-under-the-wall, stopping for ginger wine and a pint or two at Botolph’s Bridge and the Shepherd and Crook in Burmarsh and stood on the sloping or2)

Continue reading A Dream of England – for Armistice Day

A Glasgow Boy in Hythe

On 10 December 1933 at 70 Seabrook Road, Hythe, a sixty-six year old man died. He had  lived in Hythe for a couple of years. A tall, taciturn Scot, little else was known of him in the town, except that he had a younger wife and a son barely in his teens. His house, it was said, was furnished in a style fashionable some thirty years previously.  The locals had little chance to learn more about his life from his funeral eulogy, as the event was held not in Hythe, but in but in East Finchley cemetery.

He was George Henry Walton, born in Glasgow on 2 June 1867 the youngest of the twelve children of  Jackson and Eliza Ann Walton.  His father, the son of a wealthy cotton importer,  had unsuccessfully tried his hand at various business enterprises, while indulging his passions for painting, photography and gambling. He died of TB when George was six, leaving his family to survive in genteel poverty. They were, however, artistically inclined and recognising George’s talents, managed to support him for a year at the Staatliche Kunstakademie In Dusseldorf.

On his return, he and a group of like-minded young men rejected the conservatism of the Glasgow Art Club (‘Gluepots’, they called them) and formed a loose-knit group which came to be known as the Glasgow Boys. The Boys did not look for a new theory of art, but wanted a fresh means of expression and drew on Japanese and Celtic influences and focussed on the decorative qualities of their work.

Early in 1888, George opened his own premises ‘George Walton & Co. Ecclesiastical and House Decorators’. Painting and paperhanging were its main activities and it designed and produced its own wallpapers. In 1890, one of these was exhibited at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition.  The next year, George married Kate Gall, the daughter of very wealthy parents. Their money allowed the business to expand and the couple to live in a desirable new apartment.

George and Kate – their engagement photo

Part of the expansion was into stained glass, which William Morris had made fashionable in domestic settings and into furniture-making. George’s family expanded, too, with the birth of a daughter.

An example of George’s stained glass work

George’s work was now in demand for public, rather than private interiors.  These included tea rooms and cafes. But in 1897, he, Kate and their daughter Marguerite, moved to London, where he started for the first time publicly, to describe himself as an artist. He did not sever his connections with his Glasgow firm, which continued to grow, opening an office in York. In London, George designed the Kodak building in Clerkenwell, which led to further work for the photographers, in the Strand, Brompton Road  and even in Moscow. Not content with this success, George, though formally untrained, turned to architecture.

His first commission was a house called ‘The Leys’ in Elstree. Now listed, it is described by Historic England as ‘An Arts and Crafts country house of 1901 by the eminent architect George Walton. One of his best houses, its overall aesthetic and detailing was influenced by the Glasgow School and it is a rare example of this in the south of England.’

A sketch of ‘The Leys’

More houses followed: Finnart house in Weybridge, The Phillippines (sic) at Brasted Chart in Kent, Alma House, Cheltenham, among them. George not only designed the buildings, but the interiors too, right down to the light fittings.

Detail of stained glass at Alma House

‘Drips’ on the glass of the conservatory and designs for the light fittings, Alma House

George and Kate also found themselves a new house,  at 44 Holland Park. Its huge windows must have provided enough light for George’s work, but it was a good place for parties as well.  The couple loved entertaining. Many of their invitations stipulated ‘fancy dress’ and no expense was spared: red carpets were laid out at the entrance to the house and dance orchestras played into the early hours. They also devised amateur theatricals to raise money for charity.

44 Holland Park, London W11

In 1905, they moved to an even grander house in Emperor’s Gate, Kensington and George made the acquaintance of Princess Louise, a daughter of Queen Victoria,  visiting her often at Kensington Palace

George was admitted to the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1911. He was at the peak of his career and the future must have seem rosy. But then Kate died quite suddenly in 1914  and soon afterwards war broke out. The commissions dried up and George was now without his wife’s family money, which seems to have funded the lavish lifestyle.  George volunteered for civil defence work and would sit on the roof of St Paul’s Cathedral, looking out for enemy bombers.

Things improved a little in 1916. In the first place, he was co-opted onto the Central Control Board to work on improving the conditions in public houses. The idea was to provide distractions from drinking in the form of music, games and ‘cheap, good food’. George was to be an assistant architect. In the CCB’s offices he met a young woman called Daphne Jeram, fell in love again and married her in August 1918.

A son, Edward, was born in 1920 and the family lived in a small apartment until a fortuitous commission to renovate a house in Mayfair allowed George to design and build his own small house in Sterne Street, Shepherd’s Bush.  There were a few more commissions, but the general trend in furnishings and design  was now towards the revival of Tudor and Jacobean styles.  George’s work was now considered old-fashioned.

The house in Sterne Street

He needed to economise, hence the move to Hythe. There was one more contract, his last, to design a small chapel dedicated to a deceased friend and he was sought out by John Betjeman, editor of Architectural Review, who admired his work. But in the final year of his life,  George, always a quiet man and ‘long to answer’ according to his son, became silent and withdrawn.

George at home in Hythe, one of his own chairs behind him

After his death, Daphne and Edward were left in a desperate financial plight. John Betjeman stepped in and procured for Daphne a Civil List pension.  She went to live in Richmond. George’s drawings and photographs are now in the British Architectural Library Collection and an exhibition of his work was held in Glasgow, the city of his birth, in 1993.

George’s grave


The following book has been very helpful and has many photographs of George’s work: Karen Moon, George Walton: Designer and Architect (Oxford: White Cockade Publishing, 1993)

Harold Nelson Burden: Saint or Speculator?


The language used in this post to describe learning disabled people is that of the early twentieth century and is unacceptable and offensive today. As it was used in legislation and in the naming of institutions, I have no option but to repeat it, with apologies. 

Continue reading Harold Nelson Burden: Saint or Speculator?

The Betrothed of Emmett: Sarah Curran

In spring 1808, a young married couple arrived in Hythe. The husband, Captain Henry Sturgeon, was joining his regiment, the Royal Staff Corps, after a posting to Sicily but it was his little Irish wife, Sarah, who attracted attention. She was clearly not long for this world – indeed she resembled a ghost already people said.  She also, it was whispered, had a tragic past: she had been the betrothed of Robert Emmett, Irish nationalist, failed revolutionary and eventually martyr to the cause.

Sarah was born in 1782, the youngest in a family of nine. Her father was John Philpot Curran, a barrister and later Master of the Rolls of Ireland, and her mother Sarah Creagh. The family home was The Priory at Rathfarnham near Dublin. Philpot was a hard, domineering father and parsimonious. He bestowed all his love and affection on another daughter, Gertrude, something of a musical prodigy, who died in 1792 aged twelve, after apparently falling from a window. She was buried in the grounds of the Priory.  His wife complained openly about the dullness of her life and eventually eloped with the vicar of a neighbouring parish, a Mr Sandys, when Sarah was twelve.

Sarah Curran’s childhood home

Sarah was sent to stay with friends of the family. She wrote how much happier she was there than bearing the ‘tyranny and injustice’ of her own ‘melancholy home’.(1)  The respite was not to last long, however and her miserable life at The Priory continued until in 1802, her brother Richard brought a friend to visit. He was Robert Emmett. 

Robert Emmett

Four years older than Sarah, Robert was the son of a Dublin physician.  He had studied at Trinity College Dublin but been expelled when his links to a nationalist group were discovered.  He and his brother Thomas continued to work for the group – the Society of United Irishmen – and by the time he met Sarah Curran he was involved in planning an uprising against British rule. 

The couple became close and Robert’s visits to the Priory more frequent until Sarah’s father made it clear that he was no longer welcome. Inevitably, clandestine trysts were arranged instead. 

Robert’s revolutionary plans included amassing and hiding arms in and around Dublin. When one of these makeshift depots was destroyed by an explosion, Robert brought his plans forward and called for revolt on 23 July 1803.  It was a fiasco. The Wicklow contingent never arrived and the Kildare men retired thinking the rising had been postponed. The men at Broadstairs waited in vain for the signal to march and the hoped-for French invasion did not materialise. Wearing a green and white uniform, Robert and a small band of co-conspirators marched to Dublin Castle. On the way they encountered the lord chief justice, Lord Kilwarden, and his nephew, pulled them from their carriage and murdered them with pikes.  Robert’s followers then rioted in the streets. Appalled by their behaviour and realizing the cause was lost, Robert escaped and hid in the Wicklow mountains. 

The uprising as imagined in the 20th century

However, his love for Sarah Curran  prevailed and he moved to a house in Harold’s Cross, near Rathfarnham, where he lived under an assumed name and where the couple could meet.  The interlude did not last long. Robert was betrayed and arrested on 25 August and in prison tricked into revealing Sarah’s name. He had been foolish enough to keep their correspondence, in which his plans for the revolt were made clear. The town major set off for the Priory and Robert wrote to Sarah: ‘My Dearest Love… I never felt so oppressed in my life at the cruel injury I have done you. I was seized and searched with a pistol over me before I could destroy your letters’.

Robert was tried and convicted of high treason on 19 September.  His speech from the dock has become famous, but it is impossible to establish which of the seventy-plus versions in existence is authentic.  Whichever it was, the Chief Justice, Lord Norbury, was not moved and  sentenced Emmet to be hanged, drawn and quartered, the prescribed penalty for high treason. The following day Robert was executed in Thomas Street by hanging and was then beheaded once dead.

No relatives claimed the body, which was temporarily put in an open grave. At nightfall  local artist  James Petrie (no relation) went  and removed the head to make a death mask. This done, he took the head back, but the body had gone, possibly collected clandestinely by family or friends. 

Robert’s death mask

Robert’s last letter to his brother asks him to treat Sarah as a sister ‘I did hope to have had her my companion for life’, he wrote. However, it was sent by Dublin Castle to Sarah’s father.   He was furious and disowned her. ‘Blotted, therefore, as she may be from my society, or the place she once held in my affections, she must not go adrift.’ He sent her to live with an acquaintance, Cooper Penrose. in his house near Cork.  Penrose, a successful Quaker businessman, had two unmarried daughters, Bessie and Anne, who befriended Sarah. She stayed with the family until 1805. At the time she was there, Cooper Penrose was sheltering two other women who had fallen on hard times, Mary Anne Bulkley and her teenage daughter Margaret. Margaret was also to achieve fame. She spent her adult life as Dr James Barry and performed the first known caesarean section in which both mother and baby survived. 


Penrose Cooper and Dr James Barry                                                

Then, in Glanmire church, near Cork, on 24 November 1805, Sarah Curran married Henry Sturgeon.  By now the legend of the Betrothed of Robert Emmett was starting to grow, and it was claimed that though she married Sturgeon, her heart really belonged to Robert. She could only give Sturgeon respect and affection and he agreed to those terms. Romantic heroines are not supposed to fall in love twice and certainly should never recover from the death of the beloved. 

The church of St Mary in Glanmire

Another story, told by an assistant to the artist James Petrie, was that a heavily-veiled woman visited the studio in summer 1806 to view the portrait Petrie had made of Robert from the death mask. After much sighing and weeping she left. The assistant presumed that it must have been Sarah.  

By October 1806, she and Sturgeon were en route to Sicily. Sarah wrote to Anne Penrose that ‘My dearest Henry behaves like an angel to me,’ which does not really suggest a marriage of convenience.  They reached their destination in December and Sarah loved  Messina with its amphitheatre and ‘high romantic hills’ They had a large comfortable villa where they entertained guests for whom Sarah played the harp and sang.  In July 1807 she told Anne Penrose she was pregnant.

Sarah playing the harp

In Autumn, Henry was ordered back to England and told to report to Hythe, where the Royal Staff Corps now had its permanent base and where the building of anti-invasion fortifications was in full swing.  He and Sarah arrived back in Portsmouth in December, where, aboard ship on Boxing Day, Sarah gave birth to a son, Johnny. 

The child died aged only two weeks and Sarah became ill. She had suffered intermittently from a cough in Sicily, but the cold and damp of an English winter, the stress of the sea voyage while pregnant and the grief of losing her child must have contributed to her worsening condition.  She was not long in Hythe. 

In March 1808, Major Charles James  Napier wrote from the town: 

‘I rode here, dear Mother, to see poor Sturgeon, who has lost his little wife, the betrothed of Emmett… Young Cyraan [her brother John] is here. His sister was gone before he arrived. They are going to take the body to Ireland. Mrs Sturgeon was past hope when she first came: she seemed a perfect ghost and could not speak without stopping to  get a breath at every word’. 

Sarah died on 3 March 1808. She had asked to be buried next to her sister Gertrude at Rathfarnham, but her father, in a final act of paternal malice, refused. She was buried instead at  Newmarket, County Cork. Henry survived her by only five years, being killed during he Peninsular Ward in 1813. 

Sarah’s grave. The marker is recent as the original gravestone was delivered to the wrong graveyard

But the story of the Betrothed of Robert Emmett lived on, helped along by prose (Washington Irvine’s The Broken Heart in 1819) and by poetry. Thomas Moore was inspired to write three poems about Sarah, the most famous of which, She is Far From the Land’, has been set to music and may be heard here:

She Is Far From The Land – YouTube

With thanks to Andy Curran

Details of Sarah’s life & quotes from her letters are from The Voice of Sarah Curran: Unpublished Letters Together With the Full Story of her Life, H.T. Macmullen, Dublin 1955