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. 

Penrose Cooper

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

The Palmers of Hythe part four – the Linguist

The founder of the ‘Hythe Reporter’, Edward Palmer (see The Palmers of Hythe part two – the Journalist)  had one son, Harold Edward Palmer. His was perhaps the most remarkable of the Palmer family stories.

He was born on 6 March 1877 in London.  In the early 1880s his father moved the family back to his home town of Hythe in Kent where he worked in the stationary shop opened by his own father and in 1890 launched his newspaper. 

Harold Palmer’s education began at local elementary schools, but he was withdrawn at the age of ten and tutored at home for three years. He spent two further years at a small private school run by the Winnifrith family in Prospect House, Hythe, before leaving for good in 1892 at the age of fifteen. Before this, he had made a few tentative steps into journalism, having a sketch of Hythe’s lifeboat published by the Daily Graphic and as a teenager contributing humorous pieces to the Hythe Reporter  under he name ‘Jobbins Z. Jobbins. He also spent six months on an exchange visit with a family in Boulogne before taking on the paper’s editorship for two years but then left Hythe to pursue a teaching career abroad.

One of Harold’s light-hearted pieces

By February 1902 Harold was teaching English in a language school in Verviers, Belgium. The following year he established his own school, later known as the Institut Palmer, which flourished and in time came to occupy two separate sites in the town. On 19 November 1904 he married a local woman, Elisabeth Purnode, and a daughter, Dorotheé, was born on 28 April 1905.

During his time in Verviers, Harold set out on a course of self-education. He became a member of the local société polyglotte and started writing language teaching materials. His first book, Méthode Palmer, an English course for French speakers, appeared in 1906. He joined the International Phonetic Association and in 1910 had the first of many contributions accepted by its journal Le Maître Phonétique.

This caught the attention of Britain’s leading twentieth-century phonetician, Daniel Jones of University College, London and the two met by chance on a cross-channel ferry in 1912. Two years later, the German army invaded Belgium and Harold found himself to be an enemy alien. After what he later described as ‘six weeks of nightmare’ he and his family crossed the border into Holland  and thence to England. After an attempt to start a school in Folkestone, Harold took up a post teaching French in a London grammar school. He contacted Daniel Jones, who invited him to deliver a series of extra-mural lectures at University College on methods of language teaching. The success of these led to a post in the University, teaching spoken English and organizing a year-long course in language teaching methodology, the first of its kind at university level in Britain. He stayed until 1921, publishing three academic works on language teaching. 

Daniel Jones

At the end of his time in London and after a gap of sixteen years, Harold and Elisabeth had another child, a son named Tristram

Harold at work

Having established himself at home, Harold moved on. He accepted a post as linguistic adviser to the Japanese ministry of education and in February 1922 left for Tokyo, where an Institute for Research in English Teaching was set up with Harold as its director. He taught, researched and continued to write, producing five more works, including one in conjunction with his daughter Dorothee.  He was also, for a year, English tutor to the Emperor’s second son, Prince Chichibu, who wanted to study in England and he experienced the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923. 

 Harold and Elisabeth in Japan

Prince Chichibu, who studied at Magdalen College, Oxford

The family made a trip home in 1926, travelling overland through China, Siberia and Russia, a journey which provided plenty of anecdotes for the speaking tour which followed.  Early the next year, at St Andrew’s church in Tokyo, Dorothee was married to Basil Stanley Anderson. 

By 1936, now approaching sixty and with the international situation deteriorating, Harold decided to return to England and he left Japan with a DLitt from Tokyo Imperial University, a considerable achievement for a man whose formal education had finished at fifteen.  On their return the Palmers settled at Felbridge, on the Surrey–Sussex border, where Harold continued writing English language teaching materials, including The New Method Grammar (1938) for young learners, which used railways as a metaphor for grammar  – he even constructed a working model in his garden.

In July 1942 Tristram, the Palmers’ twenty-one-year-old son, a promising musician, was killed in action over the Netherlands while on a bombing mission.

The CWGC grave of Tristram Edward Leonard Palmer

Harold Palmer never fully recovered from the loss, falling victim to depression and ill health. He died at his home, Coopers Wood, Felbridge, from acute heart failure on 16 November 1949, and was buried at Folkestone cemetery. His work, however, lives on and Warwick University holds a unique archive of his publications. 

Harold is buried in the same grave as his father, Edward. (http://www.findagrave.com)

The Palmers of Hythe part three – the Emigrants.

Edward Palmer, the founder of the Hythe Reporter (see The Palmers of Hythe part two – the Journalist), had four brothers, John, Frederick, Robert and Percy.

Robert, born on 6 April 1851 in Hythe, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a teacher, but that was where the resemblance ended. Robert did not spend the next fifty years in National Schools, but instead joined the British Army as a schoolmaster. He joined up two months before his twentieth birthday and was sent at first to Aldershot.  At twenty three, he married Jeanie (or Jane)  Henderson and the following year their son, impressively named Robert  Percy Chetwynd Hohnhorst Palmer, was born.  They sailed for India soon afterwards, but after the birth of another son, Claude, Jeanie died there and in 1882 at Meerut, Robert married Mary Ellen Fountaine. Their daughter, another Jeanie, was born the same year. Perhaps the two wives had been good friends.

The family returned to England in 1884 and were posted to Shorncliffe, near Hythe. Here Robert could re-acquaint himself with his family and his brother Edward stood as godfather for one of the three children born to Robert and Mary Ellen there. They returned to India in 1891, leaving Robert junior with his mother’s family.  At about this time, Robert senior, whose second given name was Chetwynd, began to use the surname Chetwynd-Palmer, a common enough practice at the time.

Shorncliffe in the second half of the 19th century

Robert served his twenty-one years in the army, but on taking his pension stayed in India and further children were born there during the 1890s. The family never returned to England, their names names popping up all over the British Empire in Australia or India, South Africa, Kenya or Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).

Robert’s youngest brother Percy, meanwhile, seemed to be living a less adventurous life. Born on 20 July 1861 in Hythe, his first recorded occupation was ‘furnisher’s clerk’, though his daughter later claimed he was a journalist. Possibly he did some work for the Hythe Reporter. He had married Agnes Mary Foard and produced a family of two boys and two girls by the end of the century.

Then, at nearly forty, when the first Boer War broke out, he joined up, serving as a private with the Maidstone Volunteers at No. 17 Stationary Hospital in Middelburg, South Africa with the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was there from 1900 to 1902 and survived enteric fever. On his return, another daughter was born and he seemed to have settled down again, working now as an agent for the Singer Sewing Machine Company. His elder son, Cyril, however, changed everything. After attending the North Council school in Folkestone (now the Mundela School), Cyril worked as an assistant in a boot and shoe shop in Tontine Street, but decided he wanted to be a farmer and managed to find a place as a trainee.

In 1911, he took his ambitions a stage further and emigrated to Australia, where the farming opportunities were greater. Two years later, his father joined him and in February 1914, Agnes and her three daughters made the journey half way round the world (Percy, the other son, remained in England).

Many years later, the middle daughter, Kathleen, wrote a memoir of her early years in Tenindewa in  Western Australia. (1)

Kathleen Palmer at about the time the family emigrated

They arrived in the Australian summer, the girls wearing warm winter clothes – navy serge dresses, long woollen stockings and high lace-up boots. They had been told that Cyril and their father had built a house and Kathleen imagined a square, redbrick edifice with high, flat windows – the typical Kent farmhouse.  What she found was a hessian ‘humpy’ with a corrugated iron roof, beaten earth floors,  two rooms and no kitchen. Water was carried up by horse and cart from the nearby creek & stored in a 2000 gallon can and after a few days tasted foul. They got bread once a week from a baker but it was stale after a couple of days and  they did not know how to make their own.

Gradually, things improved. A separate kitchen was built and connected to the humpy by a shed. A school opened in 1915 and also provided a venue for dances.

Percy, Agnes and their family in Tenindewa. Percy (seated) had been suffering from ‘sandy blight’

Then Percy was on the move again. He decided to join the ANZAC forces rather than letting Cyril go to war, as his son was of more use on the land (and in any case was rejected for military service because he had flat feet).  Percy pointed out that he was already an experienced ambulance driver.  According to his obituary, he joined the Australian Medical Corps and spent most of his war with the Desert Mounted Corps in Egypt and Palestine, being wounded and invalided home just before the armistice.(2)

Percy, looking a lot healthier, in AMC uniform

He was now fifty-six years old, but still energetic enough to build, finally,  a brick house for his family in 1920. Percy died on 18 January 1927, after a long illness, having lived to see his children settled in their new homeland and starting families of their own – Kathleen, the family biographer, married, had two daughters and ten grandchildren.

Kathleen Palmer on her wedding day, with husband Alec Rumble

  1.  Memoirs of a Migrant by Kathleen Rumble at Tenindewa.com
  2.  trove.nla.au/newspaper/article/255640575

The Palmers of Hythe part two- the Journalist

Edward Palmer was the fifth child of another Edward Palmer, the founder of Hythe’s National School and its first head master (see The Palmers of Hythe part one – the School Teacher). He was born in Hythe in 1853 .  Edward senior encouraged all his children to follow in his profession and most did, including, for a while, Edward junior.   He qualified, obtaining a diploma in French, and for a few years taught in London.  In 1876 in Kensington, he married Minnie Frostick and they settled down in Kensington.  A son, Harold Edward, was born the next year.

The little family moved to Islington in 1882, where Edward earned extra by providing French classes for adults.  However, he seems to have decided that teaching was not his true vocation, and in 1883, the family moved back to Hythe. When Edward senior had retired from teaching in 1875, he had set up a stationer’s and bookseller’s business on the corner of High Street and Great Conduit Street, and his son joined him there.  In 1886 young Edward became the Hythe agent for the Folkestone News  handling correspondence, reports and advertisements, and he was soon established as a reporter.

The High Street premises of the Palmers’ stationery shop & HQ of the Hythe Reporter

That first issue consisted of four pages:  as was then the practice, the front page comprised advertisements only. In his introductory column, the editor promised full and fair reporting of all Hythe events.  On municipal affairs, he said, the paper   would advocate ‘economy with efficiency’:  appropriately, this was the policy of the Hythe Ratepayers’ Association, whose supporters had elected him to the Town Council the previous year.

It was perhaps odd that he agreed to represent the group at the Town Hall, as he apparently disliked public appearances. A rival newspaper reported of him: ‘Mr. Palmer’s forte is not speaking, and as pale and trembling, with faltering speech, he addressed the noisy meeting, he must have passed through moments of intense agony.’ Perhaps this is why he abandoned teaching.

Edward & some of the Hythe Reporter’s staff

Without the backing of the family business, the Hythe Reporter could not have survived those early years.    In 1892 it was enlarged; four years later it doubled its size – and its price.  By the end of the decade it had taken over the Hythe and Sandgate Echo.  Harold joined the paper as a journalist, but eventually decided that his future lay in teaching English as a foreign language and moved to Belgium.

Outside journalism, Edward’s family doubled in size when a daughter, Dorothy, was born in 1889. A couple of years later, he helped make news himself, when in November 1891 a severe storm  wrecked the cargo ship Benvenue off Sandgate, and the Hythe lifeboat,  Mayer de Rothschild, going to her rescue,  overturned two hundred yards off shore, flinging its crew into the sea. Edward was there to report on the event and with other townsmen he waded into the surging sea and helped drag ashore two of the lifeboatmen; he had caught hold of a third when a heavy wave knocked him off his feet, and he went under water with the lifeboatman on top of him.  He experienced a few moments of sheer terror before someone seized the two of them and pulled them to safety.   Eventually, twenty-seven of the Benvenue’s crew of thirty-two were saved; one Hythe lifeboatman was drowned.  Among the onlookers was Edward’s son, Harold, aged fourteen.  His sketch of the launching of the Mayer de Rothschild was published next day in the Daily Graphic.

An artist’s impression of the wreck of the Benvenue

The following year, a suggestion made by Edward at a public meeting led to the first Venetian Fete on the Royal Military Canal at Hythe. Although it got off to a rocky start because of lack of funding, it eventually became a biennial event , comprising floating tableaux and, after dark, illuminations and fireworks.  It continues to this day (though currently, Covid-19 has put it on hold).


A twenty-first century Venetian Fete float

In 1916, Edward conceived the second event which still survives.  Canadian soldiers were a common sight in Hythe during the First World War. On arrival in the UK they were accommodated at one of the many camps which ringed Hythe until they were shipped to France. Many came back injured and many of these did not recover. They were buried a Shorncliffe cemetery, just outside the Hythe boundary. Each grave had its uniform wooden cross bearing name and regiment, Edward wrote in the Hythe Reporter but the men’s relations thousands of miles away were denied the consolation of visiting these graves.  He would like to see a day set apart for the placing of flowers on each grave, ‘and who is more fitted to this than the children who wave flags and salute the flag on Empire Day? So Canadian Flower Day was born.

In the early evening of Wednesday, 13th July, 1,500 schoolchildren assembled on the sloping ground of the cemetery.  Nearly all had walked there.  To the music of the Band of the Canadian Artillery, they and the adult visitors sang ‘The Maple Leaf’ and the National Anthem.  Then the children walked quietly among the graves with their bouquets and posies, until every grave was a mass of flowers.  Many Canadian soldiers were present, and it was noted that afterwards a number picked a few flowers to send to relations in Canada. This became, until 1939, and annual event and was reinstated in 1952.

The first Canadian Flower Day

During the war, Edward also volunteered for the Hythe Volunteer Fencibles, a sort of proto- Home Guard.

Edward in uniform

After the war, Edward interested himself in maintaining and developing the entente cordiale with France, organising cultural, sporting and educational exchanges. In 1924, he was awarded the Palmes Academique for services to the Republic of France.  By now, he and his wife had moved to Folkestone, where they lived in Audley Road.

Edward died on 7 October 1927, having been ill since the beginning of the year, though he had continued during his time to submit historical articles to his newspaper.  One obituary said of him that he had three great beliefs – in Hythe, in international friendship and in decency.

And the Hythe Reporter was published until the paper shortages of World War Two led to its demise.

To be continued

Betrayed: Sarah Mannering

On a bitterly cold February day in 1786, a carter drove into Hythe with a passenger, a ‘near perished’ young woman, heavily pregnant, whom, he said, he had found in a miserable state on the road from Dymchurch.

He took her to the home of the mayor, Henry Mercer.  She had only a few shillings on her and knew no-one in the town. Shocked, he called in the Overseers of the Poor, who arranged accommodation at the Duke’s Head inn for the woman, who gave her name as Sarah Mannering.  It would be weeks before she could tell them anything else, as she soon became ill with a fever which lasted twelve weeks, during which time her child was delivered stillborn.

The Duke’s Head, Hythe, closed now for some years

Finally, on 31 May, she told her story. She had been born Sarah Monk, in Essex. On 4 July 1784, in Romford, she married William Mannering. At that time, she was living in Purleigh and he in Upminster.

On 21 January 1786 he left her ‘to shift for herself’.  She kept the letter he sent soon afterwards, to show to the Overseers of the Poor. It reads:

To Sarah Mannering, Romford, Essex- Loving wife and child I write you this to let you know that I am Determined to go to the East Indies Immediately so I would have you Never think to see me no more. I would have you go to the Overseer and make him Carry you home. I am tired of my life in England and Therefore By God I will go to the East Indies Directly. I shall [en]list in the morning. May God attend you which shall be the Constant Prayer of your Disturbed husband which is ruined Forever. If I shall live to return again I will come to see you. Pray God Bless you and my Child forever.

From yours, William Mannering.

Presumably, since he was going to enlist and go to the ‘East Indies’, he was intending to join the army of the East India Company, which effectively governed the sub-continent. Whether he did or not, or just went away and changed his name, we cannot know, or why he considered himself to be ‘ruined’.

William seems confident that the Overseers will take Sarah ‘home’ – perhaps to Purleigh – but he was ignorant in this respect of the Poor Law. When Sarah married him, his place of settlement became hers, too, even if she had never set foot there.

The 1662 Act of Settlement had established the tenet that everyone had a place of settlement where you could legally obtain Poor Law relief.  Further legislation in the 1690s said that you could gain a settlement through, birth, marriage, apprenticeship, regular employment for a period of a year, renting a house worth £10 per annum, paying parochial taxes, or serving as a parish office.  William had told Sarah that his place of settlement was Lydd on the Romney Marsh, though she did not know why.  Records do not show that he was born there, so presumably he must have have claimed to have been apprenticed there or worked there for a year. It is an unusual place for an Essex man to be sttled. 

Sarah evidently could not shift for herself, and two weeks later she was arrested while begging and taken before a magistrate. She told them that her husband’s place was at Lydd. The magistrate, a man called Bynion, issued a vagrant pass and she was sent to Lydd, some eighty miles distant and a three- or four-day journey, depending on the state of the roads in early February.  The Romford authorities arranged her transport to Rainham in Kent and then found a man called Arnold at a public house there to take her on the second leg of the journey in his cart.

The Ship Inn, Lydd

Lydd is now a small town and was then even smaller, most of its population officially engaged in fishing and unofficially in smuggling. On arrival, Arnold headed for the Ship inn, where he made enquiries and was told he should speak to Mr Gilbert, the Deputy Overseer of the Poor.  Gilbert made his own enquiries and told Sarah the next day that her husband did not have settlement in Lydd and that she could not stay. He gave her another vagrant pass and ten shillings and sixpence and told her to leave the town.  Since she is described as being visibly pregnant, ‘big with child,’ knew no-one locally and the weather was then freezing, this seems incredibly callous.  

Gilbert sent a passing small boy with Sarah to show her the road to Romney.  She walked to Romney and then on to Dymchurch, a distance of about eight miles. There she spent a night at the Ship inn and the next day she tried to walk on to Hythe, but was found on the road by a Good Samaritan in ‘a pitiable state’. The man got her into his cart and took her to Hythe.


The Ship Inn, Dymchurch, still open in the 21st century

Sarah was by then in Hythe poorhouse where she remained until she persuaded the Hythe overseers in 1787 to give her four shillings to help her go to Purleigh.  She had been betrayed by her husband, by the Poor Law system and by most of the men who administered it. Now she wanted to go home. Whether or not she reached her destination, we don’t know.  A short detour along the way would have taken her into London, a magnet for the poor and dispossessed. Whatever the case, Sarah disappears from history. We can only wish her well.  

The Hutchinsons of Hythe Part 1: Practical Men

The father of the Hythe Hutchinsons was Scrope Hutchinson, born in Southwell, Nottinghamshire in 1782, the son of Nicholas and Elisabeth Hutchinson. His birthplace was a house built by his father which later became the Sacrista Prebendal, one of the homes of the prebends of Southwell minster. He studied medicine at the University of Halle in Germany and became a member of the Royal College of Physicians. He married, in May 1806 at Tonbridge, Anne Hammond.  At this time, her residence was given as Deal, Kent, and his as Southwell.

The birthplace of Scrope Hutchinson

The couple moved to Hythe shortly afterwards and six children followed, all born in the town, though one, a daughter, died as an infant.  Scrope practised medicine and was appointed senior medical officer for the 52nd Light Infantry, Sir John Moore’s regiment based at nearby Shorncliffe. In 1839, he moved to Dover and later to London, to live with his eldest son. He died there on 25 November 1847. In his will he left about ten thousand pounds and an extensive library of medical and other books.

The first child of Scrope and Anne Hutchinson was a daughter, also called Anne, born in 1807. She died aged only eighteen in 1826 and was buried in a new vault finished in time for her funeral in St Leonard’s church.

The stone marking the vault where Anne Hutchinson was buried

The eldest son, William Barclay Hutchinson, born in Hythe in about 1809, became a physician and like many Victorians with mundane surnames, added his second given name to it to make him Dr Barclay Hutchinson. After studying at St Bartholomew’s Hospital and in Paris, he practised in Guilford Street, Bloomsbury, and was Medical Officer attending the Foundling Hospital.

The Foundling Hospital in London

He became a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1829 and a Fellow in 1842.  As eldest son, the care of the family’s womenfolk fell to him after his father’s death and in 1851, he can be found in Guilford Street with his mother, his aunt and both his surviving sisters, Mary(1811-1856) and Isabel (1821-1908).

William Barclay Hutchinson

William remained unmarried and retired to 12 Onslow Gardens, Brompton  where he died in on 17 July 1869. 

The next son was George Rowan Hutchinson, baptised in St Leonard’s church Hythe in February 1815, though the curate noted in the register that he was born on 1 January 1813. He was by the age of eighteen a lieutenant in the  Royal Engineers and quickly became an explosives expert, especially skilled at creating simultaneous explosions. His talents were called upon when in 1842, the South Eastern Railway was obliged to blow up the Round Hill cliff between Folkestone and Dover in order to run the railway between the two towns and connect the port of Dover to the rest of the country.

On the morning of 26 January 1843, a small group of dignitaries and a huge crowd of Dover citizens  (probably including George’s father) gathered to watch the event.  A small tunnel had been pierced through the cliff. From this three shafts had been sunk from which galleries had been excavated. At the end of each gallery was gunpowder, brought from the Faversham Gunpowder Works.  George checked all was correct and then the galleries were sealed with tightly rammed chalk and sand.  At 2.15pm a dull, muffled boom could just be heard by the audience and at the same time there was a heavy jolting movement of the earth. The bottom of the cliff, according to one bystander, ‘seemed to dissolve.’ Then the face of the cliff slowly sank giving way to clouds of chalk.  The directors of the SER gave George a handsome piece of silver plate in gratitude.

The demolition of Round Hill cliff

In 1845 George married Margaret Ellen Bevan, the daughter of  William Hibbs Beavan in Crickhowell. She accompanied him to his posting in Gibraltar where their children were born and where George was promoted Captain.  Returning to the UK, he was sent to Anglesey for more explosives work and on 25 February1851 died there ‘from hurts received while supervising blasting of a rock’.

The youngest Hutchinson offspring, Charles Scrope, born on 8 August 1826 in Hythe, followed George into the Royal Engineers after an education at University College School. He rose from Gentleman Cadet in 1843 to Colonel in 1876. He, too, was posted to Gibraltar and married there Christina, daughter of William Ross on 6 January 1852 . Four daughters and two sons followed.

On their return to England, Charles was posted to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, where he taught, eventually being appointed Professor of Fortifications. In 1867, however, he was seconded to be  an Inspector of Railways, a post he held until 1897, combining it for the first eight years with his military obligations. He was responsible, among other things, for holding enquiries into railways accidents and inspecting works. During his career he held over a thousand enquiries  and made six thousand five hundred inspections, including over seven years, quarterly inspections of the building of the Forth Bridge.


The opening of the Forth Bridge in 1890

Unfortunately, he also inspected, and recommended for opening, the newly-built Tay Bridge in 1878.  The next year, during a violent storm, it collapsed, killing an estimated seventy five people. At the subsequent enquiry, it was found that the cross bracing of the piers and its fastenings were too weak to resist heavy gales. The designer, Sir Robert Bouch, was blamed, but Charles escaped the mob fury that Bouch suffered.

The Tay Bridge after its partial collapse

He retired from the army in 1877 with the honorary rank of major-general and was created a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1890. A colleague wrote of him:

‘He never spared himself and often after a comfortless night journey in cross-country trains, he would snatch a hurried breakfast at some dreary railway buffet and begin a long day’s work of inspection at 8 o’clock in the morning, much to the surprise and not always to the joy of the railway officers, who wondered how in the world he got there.'(1)

Charles died at Blackheath on 29 February 1912 and a memorial plaque was erected in St James’ Church, Kidbrooke.

To be continued…

  1. Stanley Hall, ‘Railway Detectives: 150 Years of the Railway Inspectorate’, London: Ian Allen Ltd, 1990, p.30

Details of the demolition of the Round Hill Cliff are taken from http://www.doverhistorian.com

With thanks to Brin Hughes