The Reverend Gentlemen

 

In memory of/Alfred Winnifrith/Mar 22 1842- Jan 2 1923/Priest, M.A., D.Litt, Medaille du Roi Albert/Schoolmaster in Hythe for many years/vicar of Mariansleigh 1885-1913/author of “Men of Kent and Kentish Men”/”The Fair Maids of Kent”/and other works
Also of Mary/March 13 1839-Feb 19 1919/his wife for 53 years
They befriended Belgian refugees/ and Hythe prisoners of war/1914-1918
R.I.P

Alfred Winnifrith came from a modest background. He was born in Penshurst, Kent on 22 April 1842, the son of a blacksmith, Thomas Winnifrith and his wife Lucy, nee Langridge and had two younger sisters. After leaving school, he trained as a teacher and took up a post in Coven, Staffordshire.

On 22 December 1863 he married Mary Anne Baker, only daughter of Thomas Baker of Hythe at St Leonard’s Church and they returned to Coven where their first son, Alfred Baker Winnifrith was born the following year. The year after that, they returned to Hythe, where Alfred took over Prospect House School, and another son, Bertram, was born there. A third son died as an infant.

 

 An early advertisement for Prospect House School. The house still stands in Hythe. 

 

The school flourished, but Alfred had other plans. In spring 1874, he and the family moved to Oxford, where he studied for the priesthood and in 1876 he was ordained Deacon and became assistant curate at St John’s church in Cleckheaton, Yorkshire. He kept the school going, however, and appointed a headmaster in his place. The income must have meant that he could support his family on a tiny stipend. It was not normally expected that curates would be married men with children, and Alfred and Mary now had another son, Douglas, born in 1876.

Alfred found time to continue his studies. He was awarded an MA in 1878 and soon afterwards became the first Incumbent of the newly-formed Parish of St Luke’s, Cleckheaton. He still needed to supplement his income, and took some private pupils for tuition.

See the source imageSt Luke’s Church, Cleckheaton

They stayed in Cleckheaton for another seven years, until in 1885, Alfred became Rector of Mariansleigh in Devon.

See the source image

Mariansleigh Church

Their sons were becoming adults. Alfred junior became a priest like his father and took a curacy in another Devon parish, Dalwood. Bertram ran the school in Hythe. He was by then married to Emily, a Plymouth woman, and they had a daughter, Ethel. Emily died, aged only twenty-eight, in 1894, and Bertram’s parents brought the little girl up.

Alfred remained single, but he had a secret. In 1896, Henry Hern, a Devon miller, sued his wife Rosa for divorce, citing as co-respondent Alfred Baker Winnifrith, curate of Dalwood. The affair had been common knowledge – on one occasion at a School Board meeting, all the members left the room in disgust when Alfred put in an appearance. He was seen using the back stairs at the Herns’ home and Rosa visited his lodgings. The couple were seen kissing. Henry Hern wrote to Alfred’s mother complaining about his behaviour. Rosa, confronted by her husband, took her six-year-old son and, apparently, vanished.

Alfred denied it all and got his brothers and parents to give evidence to the court in his favour. He said he had no idea where Rosa had gone, but produced a letter from her which confirmed that theirs’ was a platonic friendship and that he had tried to reconcile husband and wife.  The jury did not believe him and granted Henry Hern a decree nisi and gave him custody of his son.

Alfred did not give up trying to prove his innocence. His counsel advertised widely for Rosa and she was eventually found in Yorkshire where she was working as a ‘pianiste’ in a public house. She said she had no idea about the divorce proceedings, despite the fact that the case made the national news for several days in a row and she emphatically denied adultery. Alfred now took the case to the Court of Appeal. His application for a new hearing was refused and the judge remarked that ‘he had much to learn before he became fitted for the cure of souls.’ He also awarded costs against Alfred.

Rosa went back to Yorkshire, where she worked as a barmaid at a hotel in Leeds. Alfred went to Hythe, to work in the school in Prospect House. It seemed to be over, but on 4 December 1896, Inspector Conquest of Scotland Yard arrived at the Hythe school and arrested Alfred. The next day he  travelled to Leeds and arrested Rosa. They were both taken to Bow Street Police Station and charged with perjury and conspiracy. Bail was refused and they were remanded in custody.

It was alleged that when she left Henry Hern, Rosa and her little boy went to Ashford, not far from Hythe, where she took lodgings. There, Alfred visited her regularly, taking a bedroom which connected with hers. His frequent absences from his parish were noted. Rosa then moved to Barnsley, leaving the child in the care of an Ashford woman, whom she paid with money given to her by Alfred. In Barnsley she worked as a barmaid, under an assumed name, and Alfred wrote at least twice a week. She kept his photograph in her room.

  The court artist’s sketch of Alfred Winnifrith junior

The evidence that they had lied to the divorce court was clear, and on 12 January 1897, they pleaded guilty to all charges. Three days later, they were sentenced – Alfred to eighteen months hard labour and Rosa to six. Bertram got up a petition asking for mitigation of Alfred’s sentence, which he circulated widely, but to no avail. They were both held in Wormwood Scrubs: Rosa learnt macramé and how to make bead curtains; Alfred sewed mail bags. Once released, they married in 1899, and together ran a school in Clapham and had a daughter, Alfreda. Alfred had, of course, been defrocked.

The widowed Bertram, meanwhile, got on with running the Hythe school, and married again, to Edith Maude Blaker in 1897. They had five children together and Edith ran a girls’ school alongside the boys’ institution at Prospect House.

A 1902 advertisement for the school.

Bertram was awarded an MA from Oriel College, Oxford in 1901, was ordained in 1904 and ‘priested’ in Canterbury Cathedral in 1905. He combined duties as a curate in Cheriton and later Saltwood with school teaching until he was appointed as Rector of Ightham in 1907. Even there he continued to run a small school.

The third son of Alfred and Mary, Douglas, also got an MA from Oxford and was ordained in 1900. He chose to become a Chaplain to the Armed Services serving in Malta from 1908 to 1912 and then in Dublin. He had married Margaret McCartney in Liverpool in 1907. At the outbreak of the Great War he was sent to France, was mentioned in despatches and wrote movingly of his experiences during the Retreat from Mons in The Church in the Fighting Line:

Through the wet cornfields I rode, accompanied by three or four men of the Royal Army Medial Corps, and whenever we found a fallen comrade we bore his body to a corner of the field, to secure as far as possible its never being disturbed, and there we dug a shallow grave. Often, of course, more than one, sometimes three or four, and in one case eighteen men did I bury in one grave.

 

 

Meanwhile, Alfred senior’s wife Mary was spending less and less time in Mariansleigh as the winters were too severe for her. Alfred resigned the living in 1913, citing her “delicate state of health’ and returned to Hythe, where they lived at Prospect Lodge and where, in December that year, they and their sons and grandchildren celebrated their Golden Wedding.

Alfred became Chairman of the local Association of Men of Kent and Kentish Men and wrote a book, Men of Kent and Kentish Men, recording biographical details of no fewer than 680 Kent worthies. Another book,  Fair Maids of Kent, followed. When war broke out, he set about making himself useful.

Belgian refugees were beginning to stream into the country, and Alfred co-ordinated Hythe’s efforts to accommodate some of them and provide food, clothing and schooling for the children. He also took a particular interest in local men taken prisoner of war, visiting their families and arranging to have parcels of food, underwear and tobacco sent out to them. Mary assisted him in these endeavours, packing the parcels herself. Their house became a rendezvous for troops stationed in the town, whether Territorials or Canadians, they were always made welcome at the gatherings held there.

There was sorrow, too.  Alfred and Mary’s granddaughter Alfreda died in 1914, and Mary herself in February 1917.  She was buried in St Leonard’s churchyard in the same grave as Bertram’s first wife, Emily.  Douglas, with the forces in France, missed her funeral.

When peace came, Alfred’s work was recognised. In 1919, for his literary work he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Literature by the Central University of America. In 1920 he was awarded the Medaille du Roi Albert avec Rayure at an investiture held at Folkestone Town Hall by the Belgian Consul in recognition of his work with Belgian refugees.  The former Hythe prisoners of war gave him a silver inkstand.

But he kept on working. For three years after the war ended he entertained some 30 Hythe men returned from prisoner of war camps to ‘a substantial meat tea’ at Mrs Gravenor’s tea rooms. He arranged for a tablet to the memory of Thomas Quested Finnis, one time mayor of Hythe and Lt Col John Finnis his brother, both men of Hythe, to be installed in the gardens of Prospect Lodge and for another to be erected in the High Street to the memory of the inventor of the steam screw propeller, Sir Francis Petit Smith who was born at 31 High Street. He also presented a bell for use at St Michael’s church, the ‘tin tabernacle’.

He died on 2nd January 1923 at Prospect Lodge and was buried with Mary. It was said in his obituary that ‘no man loved Hythe better’.

Bertram followed him to the grave the next year. In his will he left £7267. This was divided equally among his wife and his children by Edith, but Ethel, the daughter of his first marriage, received only £500. She had emigrated to Canada alone three years earlier to work as a lady’s companion.

The surviving brothers erected the brass plaque to their father in St Leonard’s church, at a spot directly above the pew they had occupied as a young family, sixty years before.

The grave of Alfred, Mary and Emily Winnifrith in St Leonard’s churchyard

Alfred died in Clapham in 1950 and Douglas in 1955 in Tunbridge Wells.

I am grateful to Kathryne Maher and Christopher McGonigal for their original research into the Winnifrith family. 

 

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A Canadian Adventure and a Canadian Adventuress

The father of the Trueman family of Hythe did not have an auspicious start in life. Henry William Truman was born in 1857 in the Elham Union Workhouse, the son of Jane Trueman, a single woman. His father was not named. What became of Jane is unknown, but little Henry was taken in by Thomas and Harriet Pilcher, who kept the Providence beerhouse in Hythe High Street. There must presumably have been a blood relationship, since the Pilchers already had a brood of children and were in no need of an extra mouth to feed.  Thomas Pilcher died when Henry was twelve, during the dreadful winter of 1869-70. The town’s water pipes were frozen and he collapsed trying to carry water down from a spring at the top of the hill. Harriet carried on the business alone. Thomas took the Pilchers’  name and was raised as their son. When he left school, he worked as a groom and assumed his birth name.

On 14 November 1876, at St Leonard’s church, Hythe, he married Rosanna Burrows of Ashford. She was the fourth child of the eight of James Burrows, a coach smith and his wife Abigail. Their wedding ceremony seems to have been rather chaotic. The bride misrepresented her age, saying she was twenty-one, not nineteen. Her Christian and surnames were both misspelt as was Henry’s surname. Nearly fifty years later, they went back to the church to have the record set straight.

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They set up home in Theatre Street, Hythe, a road of mostly small terraced cottages. Their first son, James Henry (Jim) was born on 17 April 1878 and William John in 1880.  Frederick Charles followed in 1881, then Harry Sydney (Sid) in 1886. By 1891 Henry was prospering. The family lived in Bartholomew Street, and he had become a cab driver and groom, and also a ratepayer, which entitled him to a vote. They stayed there until at least 1901, by which time the three eldest boys had left home and young Sid, at fifteen was apprenticed to a carpenter.   Once Sid had left home as well, Henry and Rosanna moved to 50 North Road, where they ran a general store and Rosanna’s father James moved in with them. He died in 1911 and is buried in St Leonard’s churchyard.

Their eldest son, Jim, became a tram conductor. Horse-drawn trams had started running from Hythe to Folkestone in the 1890s and by 1894 ran all the way from Red Lion Square in Hythe, where the tram sheds and stables were built, to the Sandgate hill lift, which took visitors up to the Leas.  Because of its seating arrangement, the tram was known locally as ‘the toast rack’.

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The ‘toast rack’ on its way back from Folkestone to Hythe. The conductor is standing at the back. 

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The tram sheds at Hythe, now converted into offices.

In 1899, Jim married a local girl, Cecilia Powell, the daughter of a marine storekeeper. They settled in Frampton Road, not too far from the tram sheds and two children were born: Georgina in 1900 and James Percy in 1902. Then, perhaps not seeing any great future in his line of work, Jim and Cecilia and their children emigrated to Canada in 1913. During the early-twentieth century, emigration from Britain reached unprecedented levels, with approximately 3.15 million people leaving between 1903 and 1913. The most popular destination during these years was Canada, drawing almost half of Britain’s emigrants.

They sailed on board the Sicilian  from London on 27 March 1913 and James, entirely untruthfully, told the immigration authorities that his occupation was ‘farming.’  The family went to Elgin County in Ontario, but within months Cecilia had developed Bright’s disease (which could be any sort of kidney failure)  and she died in hospital on 7 April 1915.

Jim and the children moved on to Fronterac, also in Ontario and Jim took up house painting instead of farming.  By now, war had broken out in Europe, and Jim immediately joined the Princess of Wales Own Rifles, a reserve infantry regiment, but did not volunteer then for overseas service. When he did, on 1 November 1916, he joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps, and was attached to a Field Ambulance Unit.  He had brown eyes, dark brown hair and was 5 feet 5 inches tall.  Two weeks before this, he had married again, to Violet Bertha Reid. When he joined up, he made his will, leaving everything to her.

Trueman marriage licence

He returned to England on Boxing Day 1916, aboard the SS Olympic  and was sent to Dibgate Camp, used as a training depot for the Canadians and very near to Hythe.  Within a month he was admitted to hospital at Sir John Moore barracks in Shorncliffe and by April was seriously ill with nephritis (kidney disease).  Although he rallied briefly, he was discharged from the army as no longer fit for service on 29 June the next year, and died at his parent’s home in North Road a month after that, on 24 July 1917.  He had told the military authorities that he did not want to return to Canada.

Jim was buried in the same grave as his maternal grandfather, James Burrows. His children were at his funeral, probably old enough now to make the journey from Canada alone. Rosanna Trueman, Jim’s mother, became their guardian. Violet, however was not there.  The army discovered that she had not legally been Jim’s wife: she had ‘married’ several soldiers in order to receive the separation allowance when they were sent overseas. Sensibly, Violet, if that was in fact her name, disappeared.

James Percy grew up to become a gardener, married and did not die until 1981.  Georgina married Percy Blackman, had a son and was still living in Hythe in 1939.

Jim’s next brother, William, stayed put in Hythe and opened, when he was still a young man, a newsagent and tobacconist in Bank Street, where he also lived with his wife and four children – Vera, Edna, Iris and Wilfred. He also took on the old family home in Bartholomew Street and rented it out. A Conservative, he was also a Freemason and member of the bowls club.  In his forties he became ill and missed his mother’s funeral in 1927, which took place not long after she celebrated her Golden Wedding Anniversary with Henry. William died, aged only forty-eight in 1928. and was buried in Saltwood churchyard.

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William’s grave in Saltwood churchyard. His wife Emily Evelyn is buried in the same grave.

Frederick Trueman, the third brother, had meanwhile left Hythe but had not gone far – only to Folkestone where he worked for some years for a brewery, E. Finn and Co., of Lydd, first as a clerk, later as manager of their Folkestone branch. He spent his working life in the catering trade, later with Maestrani’s in Folkestone and towards the end of his life at Slatter’s Hotel in Canterbury. Both were considered to be rather up-market establishments.

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The Maestrani family’s café and restaurant in Folkestone. It was demolished in the 1930s.

Slatters Hotel in Canterbury, now also demolished    Trueman Slatters

Frederick did not marry, and died in 1930, also aged forty-eight, weeks after his father. He is also buried in Saltwood, while his father is with the rest of the family in St Leonard’s churchyard.

Sid, the baby of the Trueman family went away, too, to Plumstead. He seems never to have become a carpenter, but worked as a canvasser and collector for a second-hand clothes dealer. He married and moved to Maidstone.  He is absent from the list of mourners at his family’s funerals, but occasionally sent a wreath. He died in 1959.

But there is a postscript. For years, the Canadian Army and Commonwealth War Graves Commission listed Jim as having no known grave, as although his family had notified the army that Jim was dead, they had not told them where he was buried. His name was recorded instead on the Brookwood Memorial to the missing in Surrey.

Trueman Brookwood

Brookwood Memorial

Then, in 2015, two Canadian researchers, Diana Beaupre and Adrian Watkinson contacted St Leonard’s church. They were – and still are – researching the whereabouts of the graves of Canadian soldiers who died in the UK. We were able to tell them exactly where Jim’s grave was, and a couple of years later, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission erected an official War Grave memorial, in addition to the existing headstone. Since then, however, that original stone, already badly weathered when its inscription was recorded in 2015, has collapsed.

Trueman grave

The Trueman grave in St Leonard’s churchyard as it was in 2015. The inscription could only be partly deciphered:

Nearer my God to thee
In memory of/ …mes Henry …/…. 25th I….h aged …
… James Henry Trueman/ died July 24th 1917 aged 40
Rosanna Trueman/ died December 29th 1927/ aged 71 years
And/ Henry William Trueman/ died February …th 1930 aged 72 years.

On the obverse:

Also of Cecilia/Wife of James Trueman/who died 7 April 1915/buried Kingston Canada

Trueman war grave

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone for James Henry Trueman, the only CWGC stone in St Leonard’s churchyard. 

The fascinating research being undertaken by Diana and Adrian can be seen here:

https://www.canadianukgravesww1.co.uk/

I am indebted to them for providing me with a record of Jim’s military service from the Ottawa Archives.

The Peripatetic Life of Edwin Buller

Edwin Buller, born in Haddenham, Cambridgeshire on 3 December 1818,  was baptised in nearby Graveley in May 1820. He was the son of William Nicholas Buller, a surgeon, and Mary Ann nee Burrows. He had an older sister and brother and other siblings followed.

Buller 1 I j

Haddenham later in the nineteenth century

Edwin followed his father and trained to be a surgeon. This was not then an academic process but was learned through apprenticeship to a qualified man with a view to gaining membership of the Royal College of Surgeons. This was achieved after attending one session on anatomy and one on surgery and after passing an oral examination. His older brother William had already acquired membership and took Edwin on as his assistant while he continued his studies, which included visits to Charing Cross Hospital and the London Hospital. It did not, however, include providing a home for him (their parents were dead) and in 1841 Edwin was lodging in an agricultural labourer’s cottage in Haddenham where his brother practised. His prospects must have seemed well-ordered and predictable.

Then in 1842 he got caught up in an affair of his brother’s which changed his life.

William had, two years previously, eloped with nineteen-year-old Mary Bicheno, the daughter of comfortably-off parents from the village of Over, about ten miles from Cambridge. Her furious father refused to speak to his daughter, but the girl visited her mother when he was away from home. One of the reasons that Mr Bicheno turned against his son-in-law was probably that he was, financially, a disaster area. William employed a solicitor, a Mr Rance to help him deal with the many claims against him, but ended up owing Rance money, too, and the solicitor was running out of patience.

William, or perhaps Mary, or maybe Edwin forged a promissory note from Mary’s parents, to the value of £200 – a substantial sum, representing over three years wages for a skilled tradesman. Edwin delivered this to Mr Rance, to cover the money William owed him. Some time later, the solicitor, smelling a rat, visited the Bichenos in Over. They had, of course, no idea of the existence of the note. William, Mary and Edwin were arrested and accused of forgery and of uttering (presenting) a forged document. The magistrates at their first hearing in April 1842 were not convinced that Mary was involved, and discharged her, but sent the men for trial. Bail was not given.

The trial was in July. The jury thought it was likely that Mary, rather than her husband or brother-in-law, had forged the note, and acquitted William and Edwin of the charge of forgery. However, it was Edwin who had delivered the note to Mr Rance. The jury believed that he had known it was a fake and found him guilty of uttering a document knowing it to be forged. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

Edwin served his term in the new Borough Gaol in Cambridge, built as recently as 1829.  He decided to use the time there to continue with his studies, but after two years inside (including the time on remand), his health, physical and mental, had broken down. He petitioned Queen Victoria for early release, a petition supported by the prison chaplain, the surgeon, several visiting magistrates and the mayor. They were all of the opinion that Edwin had been manipulated by his older brother. The outcome of the petition is not known.

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The Borough Gaol in Cambridge, overlooking a park known as Parker’s Piece

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Part of Edwin’s petition to the queen. 

The next few years are a blank. Perhaps he was able to continue his studies. In later years he used the initials MRCS after his name. However, from the time of his release, he rarely spent more than a few years in any one place, constantly moving on. He next appears in the records on 28 August 1848 when at Ryde on the Isle of Wight, he married Eliza, the widow of John Challice. She came from Cambridge, and the newly-weds moved back there setting up home with Eliza’s two sons at 5 Maid’s Causeway.

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Maid’s Causeway in Cambridge, a street of pretty Georgian houses

There Eliza carried on her profession of teaching dancing, which included calisthenics, often performed to music, and exercise classes with chest expanders.

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They had a son, another Edwin, born in March 1850 and Edwin senior ran a lodging house from the premises.

Three years after the wedding, Edwin was declared an insolvent debtor. His debts in total were £696 14s 8d and his assets only £51. 15s. One of his principal creditors was a spirits merchant, which may have been part of the problem. Eliza had seen it all before. Her first husband, John Challice, who referred to himself as an artist but actually earned his living by working as a clerk to a bookseller, giving drawing lessons and letting out rooms at the family home, was also declared insolvent shortly before his death. Did Eliza have poor judgement in her choice of husbands or was it in fact she who was the spendthrift? That seems unlikely: she earned £200 a year from her dance school, and had taken the precaution, before marrying Edwin, of getting all her furniture put in her own name, so it could not be sold.

Eliza died in 1860. Her sons by her first marriage were now adult, and Edwin left Cambridge with his son and went to live in St Helier in Jersey, where he set up as a surgeon practising in the High Street. Three years later, in Islington, he married again, to Louisa Hill. Twenty years his junior (though Edwin was always vague about his age and knocked several years off), she was the daughter of a publican. They had two sons, Charles Edwin and Edgar born in 1865 and 1867 in Essex and twins Reginald Arthur (who lived only a few weeks) and Ida Louisa in 1869 in Godmanchester in Huntingdonshire. Here Edwin was again working as a surgeon.

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Louisa died in 1870, and Edwin now moved to Exeter with the children, but before long they had been sent away to school or to relatives and Edwin was living in rented rooms and getting into debt. He owed money to his landlord but turned the tables on him and accused the man of stealing from him. The case was thrown out of court.

The next move was to St Mabyn in Cornwall, then back to Cambridgeshire where he set up in a joint practice with another surgeon in Ely. This was dissolved in 1885. He then went to Martley in Worcestshire, where he lived in Knightwick, practised as a surgeon and joined the Oddfellows. He left in 1892 and went to Christchurch in Dorset. Fourteen months before his death, his estranged son, Charles Edwin made an appearance in the town.

The young man had been apprenticed to a draper in Truro and had then, according to his own account, been accepted by the Diocesan School of Divinity in Bangor. There he became mentally ill through over-work and was admitted to an asylum before going to Montreal, a stay which lasted only six weeks. On his return to the UK, he threw himself on the mercy of his father, who had refused to speak to him for some years. Edwin sent him to Christchurch workhouse and – although this may not be relevant – immediately made plans to leave Christchurch and move to Kennington, near Ashford in Kent. He was resident there when he died, though the place of his death was given as 3 Park Avenue, Hythe. This was the home of Albert Prior, a gardener who had recently moved there from Ashford and may have been Edwin’s patient.

Edwin may not have known that Charles Edwin had again been admitted to an asylum for the insane in Bodmin. He died there twenty-eight years later in 1923. Edwin’s other surviving children, Edwin, Edgar and Ida, simply disappear from the record. Perhaps they were adopted by other family members and lived under other names or maybe emigrated.

Someone, though, paid for the funeral and the modest kerbstone memorial.

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The inscription reads simply ‘Edwin Buller born December 3 1818 Died December 26th 1895′. When it was recorded four years ago it was legible. now the inset lead letters are flaking away. 

A lifeboat hero and a skinny-dipping vicar

Richard James Crump was born in Hythe in 1844, the elder of the two children of Richard and Sarah Crump, though Sarah had four children from an earlier marriage. He was baptised in St Leonard’s church on 5 January 1845. The family lived in Stade Street, Hythe. Richard’s father was a shrimper or sailor, depending on the season, and Richard, too, became a fisherman and married, in 1876, Mary Ann Jessup, a farmer’s daughter from Sevenoaks.

Sometime in the 1880s he diversified. Mary Ann received an inheritance from her father, and the couple used it to hire the Hythe sea bathing establishment on Marine Parade. The lease ran for three years and made Richard the proprietor. This involved operating the hot and cold sea baths, guiding the bathing machines down to the sea and running the tea room and reading room. It was a good post for a couple and came complete with its own adjacent accommodation, ideal for the Crump’s family of five children. Richard added the further attraction of trips around Hythe bay in his boat.

Bathing machines had been perfected by a Margate Quaker, Benjamin Beale. They were horse-drawn caravans, screened at both ends. The would-be bather waited in the tea room or reading room for a machine to become available. When one was free, the bather, fully-dressed, climbed inside and undressed. Women, and sometimes men, changed into bathing costumes. Once the machine had been driven into the sea, the driver operated a pulley and the front screen which was rather like a hood, unfurled, so that the bather could descend into the sea in complete privacy in a bath about three-and-a-half metres long by two metres wide. Later, when swimming rather than taking a dip for health reasons, became popular, the modesty hood was dispensed with and the machine was just a means of getting into the sea without having to expose one’s person to public view in a bathing dress.

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Hythe beach with bathing machines in the late nineteenth century. Note the fully-dressed non-swimmers.

The Hythe bathing establishment had opened in 1854, built by the corporation at a cost of £2500. It had been financed by selling a stretch of beach to the west of the town to the army for use as a rifle range.

Not everyone chose to use the bathing establishment and its machines. The military frequently bathed in the sea to the east of the town off Seabrook, and not all of the soldiers wore bathing dress. In the mid-1880s, passers-by were reported to have been grossly offended by the sight of the skinny-dippers. The corporation arranged for an eighty-foot – long canvas screen to be erected. Even worse was the sight of ‘a certain reverend gentleman’ who also refused to wear bathing clothes. The town clerk was obliged to write to him cautioning him against such behaviour and the corporation enacted bylaws to regulate suitable attire in 1886.

Richard’s lease of the sea baths endured until at least 1903, but by 1911 he had returned to his previous occupation of fishing, though still occupying the same house. The bathing establishment had by now been converted into public baths for the people of Hythe. Bathing machines were going out of fashion, and many visitors preferred now to put up their own tent on the beach.

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The same beach with bathing tents and no machines visible. 

In the meantime, Richard had assisted in saving the crew of the Benvenue, which foundered off Sandgate early one November morning in 1891 during a terrific storm. The captain and four crew members were drowned, and the remaining crew clambered up the mizzen mast and clung on. A lifeboat was launched from Hythe, but capsized, killing a crewman. The Coastguard repeatedly fired rockets in an attempt to get a line to the vessel, to no avail. Only when the wind abated in the evening could the Sandgate lifeboat, with a scratch crew of fishermen, including Richard, and some coastguards, rescue the twenty-seven survivors, who had been in the rigging for sixteen hours.

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The rigging of the Benvenue, still visible after the storm.

Richard and Mary Ann retired to Arthur Villas in South Road, not far from his erstwhile bathing establishment. Perhaps he missed the life. In December 1918, as soon as it was safe to go back on the water after the Armistice was declared, he was advertising to buy two or three small pleasure boats, probably with a view to offering trips round the bay once again. He died three years later, and Mary Ann, buried with him, thirteen years after that.

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Richard’s name on the kerbstone of his grave. Mary Ann’s name, on the opposite side, is now underneath the turf. The churchyard lies on a steep hillside.

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James Watts: Becoming Respectable

James Watts,  the third son of James Watts senior, acquired most of his father’s arable and grazing lands after the latter’s death. He did not, though,  inherit it. His father’s will was rigorously fair. All his children, male or female, were to inherit an equal share of the rest of his estate. If James wanted the land, he was to be given first option to buy it at a price agreed by the executors and the profits then divided between all the children. When James senior made his will, in 1826, he had two sons older than James, but presumably saw in this third son the potential to make the most of the land and the business acumen to acquire the money needed.

James was born in 1806 and baptised in St Leonard’s church, Hythe, on 11 May that year. He was not entirely a chip off the old block. His father and brother were both active members of the local Conservative Club and outspoken members of Hythe Town council. James however, did not become a councillor until 1842, though he was, of course, a Conservative. In fact it seems that he left Hythe after his marriage for a while and lived in London, where his first two children were born in September 1837 and 1838. He was back in Hythe for the birth of the third child in 1839.

James was undoubtedly respectable. He did not spend fourteen hours a day in the saddle, or throw extravagant banquets like his father; nor get himself violently ejected from the council chamber or become bankrupt like his brother Edward. He became a coal merchant and grazier, and did his civic duty. He was mayor of Hythe no fewer than eleven times, none of which excited much comment in the local press beyond the platitudes of conventional congratulations.  His obituaries are bland. He was ‘competent’; ‘clear and straightforward;’ ‘able and impartial’. He carried on as president of the Hythe Annual Benefit Society, founded by his father, which supported sick townsmen unable to work, and bailed out his brother when he was in dire financial straits. He seems to have been, in short, a ‘safe pair of hands’, the sort of man absolutely necessary to the smooth running of local government.

He had married Charlotte Mount, the daughter of an Aldington grazier, on 6 April 1835. They had seven children, all of whom grew to adulthood. The girls were educated at home by a governess and Charlotte had a nurse for the youngest.  The boys were sent away to school.  But in March 1869, tragedy struck the family.

Their eldest daughter Ellen was also the epitome of small town respectability. She visited the poor; she deputised at St Leonard’s church when the regular organist could not play; she accompanied vocalists at concerts and sometimes sang herself; and she taught in Sunday School. That March day, when she was twenty-nine years old, she went out at about 10am to visit the sick. Crossing the Green, she borrowed a pencil from a carter’s boy, wrote in her notebook then continued across the town to Green Lane, which runs parallel to the canal. She walked further along its banks for a while, then just beyond a bend, drowned herself in four feet of water.

 

                          The quiet stretch of the Royal Military Canal where Ellen Watts ended her life. 

Her body was found by a bargeman soon afterwards. Her family and friends were at a loss to explain why she had taken her own life. She had seemed happy the evening before, they said. The inquest jury brought in the inevitable verdict that she had committed suicide while of unsound mind. Her notebook was found on the canal bank, under a tree, together with her umbrella.  The note she had written with the borrowed pencil was her farewell to her family and was read in court:

Oh, forgive me dear Mama and Papa and all the dear ones. I have tried so hard to do my duty, but I cannot. I feel I am not like other people; everyone looks so good. But God will not leave you comfortless. Oh, how I have loved you all, dear ones.

James had a vault hastily constructed in St Leonard’s churchyard,  cut into the side of the hill, and after her funeral, which was attended by hundreds of people, Ellen’s coffin was placed in it. The vicar’s wife, Mrs Sangar, placed a wreath of white flowers on it, before the vault was sealed.

                           The badly weathered stone closure on the Watts vault in St Leonard’s Churchyard

Ellen had been the third child of Hannah and James Watts. Her oldest brother, another James, became a clerk to his uncle Edward Watts, but seems never to have qualified as a solicitor himself and later worked on the London Stock Exchange. He lived in Surrey but played first class cricket for Kent between 1855 and 1860 (as a Gentleman, of course).  The next brother, born the year before Ellen, Edward,  became a clerk in the War Office and also lived in Surrey. After Ellen came Bertha, who married Dr John Hackney, a GP with a practice in Hythe High Street. Then came Georgiana, who rather less respectably married a man who was a travelling salesman for Burtons Ales. He died young and she returned as a widow to Hythe. The next sister, Mary Amelia married Commander Arthur Mansell RN: they are both buried in St Leonard’s churchyard. Finally, the youngest, Duncan, became a solicitor and went, like his brothers, to live in Surrey.

James died suddenly in 1872. He had undergone an operation in London for an undisclosed complaint but quickly – perhaps too quickly – returned to Hythe to attend a Town Council meeting which was discussing a controversy in which he was embroiled. It was too much for him and he died a few days later. He was buried in the vault he had built for Ellen. Charlotte outlived him by seventeen years and joined him there in 1889.

After her death, her surviving children gave to St Leonard’s Church a parcel of land at the end of Stade Street, where the family home had stood,  to provide for the building of St Michael’s Church, a so-called iron church.   At this time Hythe was developing fast; hundreds of houses were built on the south side of the Royal Military Canal near to Stade Street, to which working class families were attracted because of their modest rents. The Church wanted to provide for these people and, for a time, ‘mission type’ services were held in the nearby National School.  Once the Watts family had donated the site, a former vicar, the Reverend F.T. Scott, offered to pay for the building and an appeal for funds to furnish the church met with a good response.

See the source image                                               St Michael’s Church, Hythe, the ‘Tin Tabernacle’ 

The  flat pack church was ordered and erected within months and furnished with a wooden altar and pews, gas lighting and a coke stove for the winter months.  It was consecrated as St Michael’s church on 19 September 1893 and has since been sympathetically restored and is a real landmark in the town. Unlike their decaying gravestones, it is a living memorial to the presence of the Watts family in Hythe.

Edward Watts, True Blue

Edward Watts was the second son of James and Hannah Watts, born in 1804, and became a solicitor, in partnership with a Mr Brockman. They had offices in Great Conduit Street, Hythe. In 1829, he was appointed Master Extraordinary in the Court of Chancery (responsible for taking affidavits for the court). At home, he became a town councillor, and like his father before him, a staunch Conservative.  Like his father, too, he could expect to remain a councillor for the rest of his life. However, he was living in interesting political times and this was not to be his future.

The Whig government of Lord Grey, having carried out reform of parliamentary constituencies in 1832, turned its attention to local government. A Royal Commission was appointed to investigate municipal boroughs. The Commission comprised eighteen men, nearly all Radicals, members of a loose political grouping who wanted to reform the way in which Great Britain was governed.  They came also to be known as Liberals. They investigated 285 towns, most of which were found wanting. As a result, the Municipal Corporations Act became law in 1835, requiring 178 town councils to reform their practices. Hythe was one of them.

Edward was by this time Town Clerk as well as a councillor. The Act specifically forbade this combination of offices and Edward resigned the councillorship. In January 1836, an election was called, the first in Hythe in which voting was along party political lines, Conservatives versus Liberals.  178 men were allowed to vote, and they voted in a Liberal majority. The Liberals also fielded a candidate for the post of Town Clerk, one George Sedgwick, another solicitor. He won the post, but the council were now faced with the fact that according to Edward’s contract, they had to buy him an annuity for life, which would, reportedly, use up all their funds for the next four years.  Rates would therefore have to increase substantially.

In May that year, Edward presented his claim for compensation. It was for £3306. 15s. 2d., about a quarter of a million pounds today. Voting had been close in the election, and there were claims that some men had been excluded from the list of voters erroneously. Edward acted for those among them who were Conservatives, and although the case failed he announced his intention of seeking a mandamus from the Court of King’s Bench to force the issue.

At the next annual election of councillors, late in 1836, Edward was voted in again as a town councillor. The council, however, for reasons which remain obscure, refused to accept this election as legal, and when Edward arrived at the council chamber to take his oath of office, the Mayor refused to hear it and told him to leave. Edward refused. The Mayor then instructed his constable, who was also the town gaoler, to eject him by force, and Edward was manhandled from the chamber.

Whether or not Edward sought a mandamus, we do not know, but he would not give up on the question of the Conservative voters who were disenfranchised in January 1836.  He got the MP for East Kent (a new constituency created by the Reform Act of 1832) to petition the House of Commons stating his case. There was no point in asking the Hythe MP to do this. Sir Stewart Marjoribanks was a Liberal himself.

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Sir Stewart Marjoribanks, MP for Hythe 1829-1837 and 1841-1847

Eventually, Edward won. Two Liberal councillors were charged with having ‘unlawfully, corruptly and designedly’ altered the borough’s rate book in no fewer that 300 cases to disenfranchise some men and give a vote to others (eligibility to vote was dependant among other things, on having paid all your rates). Their counsel’s only defence was that they were ‘ignorant and illiterate men’. They pleaded guilty and spent four months in Maidstone gaol.

Edward was reinstated as Town Clerk when George Sedgwick  failed to attend council meetings. He stayed in the post until his death over twenty years later. On 30 September 1840, in Reigate, he married Amelia Bunn, and the first of their nine children was born almost exactly a year later.

Legal matters aside, Edward was also very interested in the railways. He was one of the founder members of the Elham Valley Railway Company which wanted to run from Canterbury to Folkestone and worked tirelessly to bring the railway to Hythe, although he did not live to see the opening of either line.

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The site of part of the Elham Valley Railway which operated from 1887 to 1947 and is now a pleasant footpath.

                    The opening of Hythe Station. The line from Sandling was open from 1874 to 1951

Edward steered clear of further controversy, and now seemed to be living the respectable life of a small town solicitor and family man. Except that in 1855, he was declared bankrupt, owing over £90,000. This he attributed in court to heavy losses in the building of his new house,the depreciation of property and debts owing to him amounting to £27,000. The new family home was put on the market.  It had an acre of land, coach house and stabling, drawing room, dining room, library and eight bedrooms. Edward, rather than being sent to a debtor’s prison was given bail with sureties, presumably from his brother James,  and went to live in Islington but his family stayed in Hythe, in Marine Parade.  He was discharged as a bankrupt in 1856, returned to Hythe and continued to practice as a solicitor and act as Town Clerk.

However, the bankruptcy would not go away. In 1855, Edward had arranged a mortgage for a Mr Green, in which a friend of his, a Rev’d Formby advanced the money. Formby passed the cash to Edward, who delayed before passing it to Green and when he was declared bankrupt, the money was included in his assets. His brother, James, repaid Formby, but in 1858 the Reverend gentleman applied to the Court of Chancery to have Edward struck  off. The Lord Chancellor disagreed, but awarded costs against Edward. On his return to Hythe, the horses were taken out of his carriage and it was pulled through the street by delighted townsmen while the town band played and cheering crowds lined the streets.

The rest of Edward’s life was, as far as we know, quiet, though not without sadness.  Two sons, Ernest Edward and William Benjamin, died young at eleven years and a few months respectively. Asthmatic all his life, an attack of bronchitis eventually proved fatal for Edward and he died on 1 June 1867 aged sixty-two.

His family erected an impressive obelisk over his grave, with space enough for all his family’s names. It is, however, badly weathered, and only Edward’s name and the names of the sons who died as children can, just, be deciphered.

Of his three daughters, Matilda remained single; Josephine married Horatio Case and Alice married firstly Sir Edward Hay Drummond-Hay, the former Governor of St Helena and secondly Henry John Maxwell. The second son Albert became a solicitor in Wimbledon; the third, Percy, went to Ceylon as a tea planter and died there at the age of thirty-six; and the two youngest, Montague and Herbert became clerks in the Metropolitan Water Company and lived in Surrey.

After his death his widow moved with her youngest children to Westminster. She lived latterly with Matilda in Putney where she died in 1897

James Watts senior: a self-made man

 

An impressive obelisk and a vault set into the hillside, the last resting places of two brothers who dominated Hythe civic life in the mid years of the nineteenth century.  The passing visitor peering at the graves would be none the wiser, however, as the weather (or aggressive cleaning) has erased all but the merest trace of their names.

They were James and Edward Watts, the sons of another James Watts.

James Watts senior was born in 1778. He was the son of James Watts and Mary nee Goddard who came from New Romney. He was baptised in St Leonard’s church in Hythe on 12 July 1778. His parents were, according to his obituary, far from rich.  He had a younger brother, Edward.  Aged just twenty, he married Hannah Holmes, again in St Leonard’s church on 30 October 1798. By his early twenties was starting out on his business and political career. He first became licensee of the Red Lion public house, which was at the centre of the livestock market in Hythe and a good place for making contacts. He started to accrue land and livestock himself and set up a coal and seed business.

He handed over the licence of the Red Lion to his brother (who held it until his death in 1826) and before he was thirty, he had gone into  business with a John Dray, running a hoy service round the coast from Hythe to London (often quicker than travelling by the dreadful roads, and heavy goods could be carried, too).

The hoy was very soon joined by another, but disaster struck only weeks later when during a gale the ‘Swan’ was dismasted and the captain killed.  Despite this, the business thrived and in 1810, James was doing well enough to buy John Dray’s share of the business.

He capitalised on the increased military activity in the area resulting from the building of the Martello towers and the Military Canal and won contracts to supply the army with forage and provisions. Reportedly, in 1814 his transactions with these contracts alone exceeded £100,000 – about £3.5 million today. By the time he made his will in 1826, he was a wealthy man, with a house and grounds in Stade Street, Marrowbone Hall, and thousands of acres of grazing land on the Romney Marsh. Increasingly his name was linked with those of Finnis, Mackeson and Tritton, the families who formed Hythe’s plutocracy.

 

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The Red Lion in Hythe, one of the first business ventures of James watt senior. It has changed little over the years.

See the source image                            Two of the Hythe Martello Towers. They were built in the early nineteenth century as part of the coastal fortifications designed to deal with a potential French invasion

He took a great interest in local affairs. For many years he was quarter-master of the Elham troop of Yeomanry Cavalry (which dovetailed nicely with his business interests); he became a Town Councillor and was a staunch Conservative  though that was a word he disliked, preferring the old-fashioned ‘Tory’; and eventually he became Mayor of Hythe in 1843, dying during his third consecutive year in office. The position of Mayor could only be held by the comparatively wealthy, as a great deal of hospitality was expected of the incumbent at his own expense, and James Watts was noted for the liberality of his entertainments. He was liberal with his charity, too. The Christmas before his death he gave ‘upwards of forty score pounds of beef and several tons of coals’ to the poor of Hythe,

He was an enthusiastic fox hunter and member of the East Kent meet, and would reportedly often spend fourteen hours a day in the saddle, either hunting or visiting his lands.

He and his wife had nine children born almost yearly after their marriage. The eldest son, John, died aged thirty-two in 1832. His younger sister Sarah, the eldest daughter, married the widowed Robert Tassell, a paper manufacturer and farmer of West Malling in 1835, but died just two years later. Her daughter, Frances, had died two months before that.

The next child, another daughter, died aged eight in 1811. James and Edward, followed. Then there was a daughter, Anne, who died in her twenties; another, Harriet, who married John Taylor of Sene (or Sceene or Scene) farm near Hythe and became eventually the mother-in-law of Arthur Randall Davis; and two sons called William, born in 1811 and 1812 who died aged only a few months.

Hannah Watts died on 1 July 1845 and James only four days later, apparently of an ulcerated stomach.

His funeral was a grand affair. The shops in Hythe closed, the pews in St Leonard’s Church were draped in black and the great and good of the town all attended. The MP, Sir William Deedes, sent his carriage. He was buried in the churchyard, but the stone which must surely have marked his last resting place has either disappeared or become wholly illegible.

 

A Desperate Wife

 

In/loving memory of/Henry Rees/ (of Marine Parade Hythe)/who died September 20th 1880/aged 68 yearsAlso of/Zillah Anne/wife of the above named/Henry Rees/who fell asleep in Jesus/ Novr 29th 1893./aged 79 years
“ Not gone from memory or from love/but to her Father’s home above”
And of Josephus Chapman Rees/son of the above/who died April 8th 1900/aged 49 years

Henry Rees was born in Huntington, then part of Radnorshire, now in Herefordshire. His parents were Thomas Rees and Mary nee Evans. Thomas Rees was a distinguished scholar and independent minister of religion who arrived in the district in 1802. He wrote that he found the ‘moral and spiritual state of the neighbourhood truly deplorable’ and promptly set about preaching to convert locals to the paths of righteousness. This was not always well-received: while speaking at Gladrestry a bull was set loose among the crowd of listeners and at Eardisley, in 1804, he was shot at. He eventually, however, had charge of two chapels, at Huntington and nearby Gore, and was appointed schoolmaster of Goff’s School, a charitable foundation which used part of Huntington chapel as the schoolrooms. It had about seventy pupils.

The chapel and school at Huntington

Henry was the oldest son of Thomas and Mary, though there were at least six other children, and he also became a minister of religion. When his father died on 14 May 1858, he succeeded him in both his ministerial and school posts. This continued until Autumn 1861, when accusations were made against him, specifically that he had ‘behaved in an ill manner towards one of his pupils, a young girl’. The trustees of the charity, who ran the school, dismissed him from his position as master and he was expelled from his churches over what was described as ‘a matter of great imprudence.’


Henry and Zillah, his wife, sold up everything, including all their household effects, and moved to Hythe, where Zillah’s parents had retired.

Henry had married Zillah Anne Chapman on 29 March 1850. She had been born in Gravesend on 28 April 1814, the only son of Josephus and Susanna Chapman nee Martin. Her father, too, was an independent minister of religion, who baptised his daughter and conducted her wedding ceremony. He was, like Thomas and Henry Rees, both minister and schoolmaster at the chapel in Princes Street, Gravesend, which had two schoolrooms. After their marriage, Henry and Zillah lived with Henry’s parents in Huntington. They had two sons, Josephus and Henry, and a daughter, another Zillah.

Once in Hythe, the couple lived at West Parade, with their daughter – the boys were away at Shireland Hall School in Harborne, which accepted the sons of clergy of all denominations

West Parade, Hythe

Henry became the minister of the Ebenezer Chapel in Hythe, although he resigned from this position in January 1866 for undisclosed reasons. The congregation presented him with ten pounds, as a parting gift. He continued for a while to call himself a minister, though he had, in fact, became a rate collector, working for the town council. Had he lost his faith, or had the scandal followed him to Hythe? There is no way of knowing. From subsequent events, however, it seems that he had again strayed from the straight and narrow path.

In 1875, Zillah petitioned for divorce.

In 1875, divorce was not respectable. It was particularly unrespectable for the daughter of a minister of religion who was the wife of another minister to accuse her husband of adultery and either cruelty or desertion, for those were the criteria which had to be met for a woman to obtain a divorce (men had only to prove adultery). In fact, this possibility had only been available since 1857: before that it took an act of parliament to legally separate a couple. Zillah must have been desperate to take such an extreme step, but it was to no avail. She was unable to prove her case and it was dismissed the following year. However, she had not long to wait for her freedom.

In his later years, Henry suffered from heart disease. Out walking with one of his sons after supper on a September evening in 1880, he suffered a heart attack and died immediately.

After Henry’s death, Zillah remained at Hythe for a while, letting out rooms to make ends meet, though either her husband or her father, who died in 1879, had left her an annuity. Her lodgers, though, were refined ladies: Mary Guyon and her sister Elizabeth Barr, who had recently moved to the town from Bath. Mary was the widow of Lt. Col. Henry Guyon of the Bengal Army who had died in 1879. Elizabeth was a maiden lady. The sisters brought with them their nurse.

Zillah had rooms to spare because her children had flown the nest. Josephus and Henry had by 1880 set up in business in Witham, near Braintree in Essex, and their sister Zillah joined them as their housekeeper. Josephus had served an apprenticeship with a draper in Fareham, Hants. Once settled in the little town, Henry also acted as honorary organist at the Congregational church, but Josephus, meanwhile, seems to have defected to the Church of England. He attended Vestry meetings and was appointed as a parish overseer of the poor in 1882. Zillah, at least for the present, stayed true to her non-conformist roots and, in 1881, married Francis Richard Wheatley (‘Frank’), another draper, in the independent chapel at Witham. They lived with her brothers at their premises in the High Street.

The chapel at Witham where Henry was organist and where his sister married.

In 1888, Josephus and Henry moved to Newbury, Berkshire, where they set up again as drapers. Their mother joined them there: her lodgers had found permanent accommodation in Hillside Street, Hythe.
The Wheatleys, with their two children, moved to Lowestoft and set up their own, much larger drapery business. They were well off enough to employ a nurse for the children and two live-in servants as well as six assistants. It seems that they, too, changed their religious allegiances. In his later years, Frank was a churchwarden at the Anglican parish church

The Newbury stay was a short one. In about 1892, Josephus and Henry moved again, to Leamington in Warwickshire. Zillah, their mother, died there soon afterwards. The brothers opened another drapery in Warwick Street, this time specialising in black cloth of all sorts, which was useful for mourning, and also for maids’ outfits.

 

But Josephus died aged 49 in 1900, leaving Henry to carry on the business alone. He still traded as ‘Rees Brothers,’ but moved to different premises further down the road and changed his approach. The black fabrics were gone, and now he stocked ladies’ underwear and baby linen.

By 1911, his business seemed to be thriving, and he had five live-in assistants.  Like his brother Josephus, Henry did not marry.

He died in 1939 in Lothingland, Suffolk, the same registration district where his sister, Zillah Wheatley, had died three years previously.

The Preacher


IMG_20180413_103033

Almost hidden behind an old yew tree, the grave of the much-married Benjamin Sackett with its straightforward inscription:

Benjamin Sackett/b. 6 June 1811/d. 8 June 1885
Wesleyan local preacher 54 years
Mary Ann first wife/d. 18 Nov 1842
Lucy second wife/d. 4th March 1868
Emily third wife/ b. 11 May 1835/d. 8 March 1920
Wesleyan Sunday School teacher/60 years

Benjamin Sackett was born in St Lawrence, Thanet on 6 June 1811. His birth name was Benjamin Sackett Cox and he was the result the result of a union between another Benjamin Sackett and Ann Cox. His mother died in childbed, and he was taken in by his paternal grandparents, Jeremiah and Hannah. Nine of their own twelve children had died in infancy.
Jeremiah and Hannah were comfortably off. When he died, Jeremiah owned three houses as well as his own home in Sackett’s Hill, where the family had lived for generations and which can still be found in Broadstairs. It is only a ‘hill’ in Thanet terms, as it rises only a little above the flat landscape of the area.

Sackett’s Hill from the air (Google Maps)

Benjamin’s grandmother died in 1816 when he was only five, and his father married in 1815. It would seem unlikely that his wife would have wanted too much contact with an illegitimate by-blow. After a basic education at a day school, Benjamin was apprenticed to a miller, Henry Hudson, who had a windmill in Grange Road, about four miles from his grandparent’s home.

Henry Hudson’s Windmill later in the nineteenth century

 

During his apprenticeship, he started to attend the Wesleyan Chapel in Broadstairs, and when he was about eighteen years old, according to his son, he found ‘deliverance and joy and a greater love towards God.’ He started preaching soon afterwards, his first sermon being at his old school, where he spoke on the text ‘Almost Thou Persuadest Me to be a Christian’.

On 19 January 1934, now a fully-fledged miller, Benjamin married Mary Ann Cooper of Whitstable in St George the Martyr church, Rachugmsgate. It was an Anglican church. Although he had now become a Methodist, and although Methodists now worshipped separately from the Church of England, it would be another three years until couples could legally marry in a Methodist chapel. Benjamin and Mary Ann could not wait that long, since she was already three months pregnant. At his marriage, Benjamin used his legal name, Cox, for the last time. Henceforth, he was plain Benjamin Sackett, and all his children were baptised with that surname. Thanet was a long way from Hythe in early nineteenth century terms, and there was no reason why anyone in his new home should know about his unfortunate start in life.

Benjamin had found work in Hythe, working for Mr Horton, who owned several windmills, three in Hardway’s End (now St Leonard’s Road) and one in Windmill Street. This Mr Horton died the next year, but his son, and later his grandson continued with the business and Benjamin stayed with them for the next fifty years.

The Hope Inn in Stade Street, Hythe, with one of Mr Horton’s mills in the background

 

Benjamin and Mary Ann’s first son, another Benjamin, was born on 3 June 1834, followed by Jeremiah, named for his grandfather, on 10 December 1836. That year Benjamin senior  was admitted to the Dover Methodist Circuit as a lay preacher, and two weeks after his son’s birth, was out preaching on Christmas Day, getting lost in a snowstorm into the bargain.

A second son, Jeremiah soon followed and a ithird son, Jabez, was born in 1841, but the next year, Mary Anne died giving birth to a daughter, Caroline, who within a week followed her mother to the grave. Benjamin needed a substitute mother for his sons, and found one in Lucy Lee, ten years his senior, whom he married in 1844. She became, again according to his son, ‘a true helpmeet for him, and an excellent mother to his children.’

He was certainly in need of one, as he had no leisure time at all. He worked long hours at the mill, six days a week, and Sundays were devoted to preaching. He would think nothing of a twenty-mile walk to a chapel.

His sons all grew up, and all became preachers, too. The eldest, Benjamin, became first a gardener and later a Congregational minister in London. The second, Jeremiah, started work with his father at the mill when he was twelve and also became a miller, though at a bad time: windmills were being abandoned in favour of steam mills. Eventually he moved to Manchester to work as a Missioner. Jabez, the youngest, became a school teacher in Rye and Yorkshire and later moved to Guernsey. All had numerous offspring.


Clockwise from top left: Benjamin Sackett jnr;  Jeremiah Sackett & his children; Jabez Sackett (The Sackett Family Association) 

After Lucy’s death in 1868, Benjamin married for a third time, to Emily Day, a Hythe woman. On Saturday 17 May 1885, aged seventy-four, he walked five miles to fulfil an appointment the next day. During the night he was taken ill and returned home on the following Wednesday. He died quietly, at home, in the early morning of 8 June 1885.
Emily, who was twenty years his junior, survived him by thirty-five years. She had taught at the Methodist Sunday School since she was a girl, and only gave up a year before her death, aged eighty-five in 1920.
She is buried in the same grave as Benjamin. Mary Ann,and Lucy lie elsewhere but are memorialised on the same stone.

 

The Cobays Part 3 – Bond Street and Hythe Heroes

Robert, William Richard and Henry Thomas Cobay were the third, fourth and fifth sons of George and Hannah Cobay respectively. None married, all became mayors of Hythe and all spent their lives in what might loosely be described as the property business.
Robert, born in Quebec in 1849, and William, born Winchester in 1853, moved to Hackney as young men. They worked for a cabinet maker, Robert at first as his apprentice and later his works manager and William as his clerk. They lodged together, and with them was twenty-eight-year old Tom Robinson, a surveyor. Ten years later, they were all living in the same house in Amherst Road, Hackney, but the Cobays  had become house furnishers. Tom Robinson was now  a merchant’s clerk.
Their younger brother Henry, meanwhile, who had remained in Hythe set himself up as an auctioneer and house furnisher and by the time he was in his mid-twenties was employing five men. His business traded under the name Cobay Brothers, so presumably either Robert or William or both had an interest. In 1889, Messrs Cobay Bros sold at one auction alone a large house complete with its own lodge and servants’ cottages and five substantial building plots. Full particulars of the sale were to be obtained not from Henry in Hythe, but from Messrs Smee and Cobay of Finsbury Pavement, London.
William had set up another business, with Arthur Rosling Smee, trading as cabinet makers and upholsterers. In 1887 they refurbished the Palace Hotel in Hastings. Other hotel contracts followed: the Royal Links in Cromer, the Grand in Eastbourne, Brown’s in London’s Albemarle Street. By 1899 they had a showroom in Bond Street.

Cobay Smee & Cobay

They also had their own furniture manufactory in Moorfields.

cobay furniture

cobay furniture2

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

Cobay metropole

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

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

Cobay Imperial

The Imperial Hotel on the seafront at Hythe

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

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

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

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

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

Cobay William

William in mayoral robes and chain

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