Inscription In/loving memory/of/Charles Winter Garrett/who died the 6th Sep 1854/in his 38th year
And of/Catherine/widow of the above/who died the 23rd October 1880/in her 67th year
Also of/Henry John/grandson of the above/and son of W and M E Laker/who died the 22nd February 1880/aged 5 months
In my Father’s house are many mansions John XIV C2V
Charles Winter Garrett was born in Hythe and baptised there on 4 May 1817. He was the son of Thomas , a baker, and Mary Garrett. On 15 February 1842, in the same church, St Leonard’s, he married Catherine Wood. She was the daughter of Thomas Wood, a carpenter, and his wife Elizabeth and was also born in the town.
By the time of his marriage, Charles had become an Excise Officer, working for the Inland Revenue. He was posted to Yorkshire, and the couple’s first two children were born in Pickering and another in Kirby. They then moved to Huddersfield, where they seem to have had a comfortable life, with a live-in servant, and another child was born. Then it all unravelled.
The investigative branch of the Inland Revenue became suspicious of Charles, either through a tip-off or perhaps because his lifestyle was not congruent with his income. What they discovered was that Charles was swindling both them and the shop-keepers he dealt with, and had been doing so for years. His modus operandi was to pretend to new traders that he could grant licences for the sale of beer, tobacco and tea, and that he was authorised to receive payment for them. He would call on the wife of applicants for such licences while the man was at work, tell her that she must pay for the licence, take the money and tell her that everything was now legal and that nothing more needed to be done. He then pocketed the cash. He was dismissed from his post and arrested. Out of fifty-odd cases uncovered, he was prosecuted for three, and appeared before magistrates in August 1853. He said nothing in his defence, and although bail was offered, he did not apply for it. In the opinion of the court reporter, he was suffering from great mental anguish. He was committed for trial and in December he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to twelve months hard labour. He was imprisoned in York Castle.
York Castle Prison
This was a new prison on the existing Castle site, built to cope with increasing numbers of felons. It took ten years to build, between 1825 and 1835. There was a huge new wall in a dark millstone put up so that the whole Castle Site, including Clifford’s Tower, was enclosed and cut off from the city. The most remarkable feature was the four prison blocks that radiated like the spokes of a wheel. At the hub was the new governor’s residence.
Government inspectors reported at the time that Charles was there that the health of the prisoners and the cleanliness of the buildings were commendable, and the diet adequate. In other respects the prison was not a good one. The staff, which in 1835 had consisted of a keeper, underkeeper and porter, and matron had not been increased by 1851. There was therefore insufficient supervision, resulting in lax discipline and constant communication between the prisoners, which contravened the government’s rules that there should be no communication at all. No schoolmaster was ever appointed and the prisoners either taught one another or received occasional lessons from the chaplain. The hard labour that Charles was required to perform was either stone-breaking or chopping wood.
Perhaps the labour was too much for Charles. In the early hours of one September morning in 1854 , his cell-mate heard him moaning and called for a warder. By the time someone was found to unlock the cell door, Charles was dead. There was a post mortem examination and an inquest and it was ascertained that he had died from ‘an attack of spasms of the heart’. The coroner recorded that this was due to ‘the Visitation of God’. The coroner noted that Charles had secured the respect of the officials through his good conduct, and that he left a widow and five children to lament his loss.
Catherine had already had over a year to lament her situation. When Charles was arrested, she lost her home and any means of support. She was destitute, and could not even stay in Huddersfield to be near Charles because Victorian Poor Law dictated that she must be provided for by the parish of her birth – Hythe. So, back to Hythe she went, with her four children and heavily pregnant. It seems that there was no-one there willing or able to take her in, and she had no option but to apply to the Overseers of the Poor for relief. They sent her and her children to the workhouse.
Hythe fell into the catchment area for the Elham Union Workhouse, which was, in fact, in Etchinghill, a village four miles to the north of Hythe. The family were admitted there on the morning of Saturday 3 September 1853. Catherine was given the number 121 to stitch on her workhouse clothes; the children were given their own numbers, and taken from her, to be kept in separate accommodation. They were aged from five to one.
Workhouses were intended to be as unpleasant as possible, so that only the truly desperate would throw themselves on the mercy of the parish. Children were generally allowed only minimal contact with their parents, perhaps only for an hour on Sundays. The diet was deliberately unpalatable and monotonous and bedding often only straw paillasses.
Workhouse children, heads shaved to prevent lice and nits
They were there for over a year. Catherine’s fifth child, Mary Elizabeth was born in the workhouse on November 17 1853. A few weeks after her husband’s death, Catherine applied to be discharged. She must have received funds or help from someone else to do so. In 1861 the family was living at Albion Cottages in Hythe and Catherine was working as a needlewoman. Her eldest son, Thomas, was already an apprentice tailor and the others were at school. By 1871, she was taking in laundry to make ends meet and the only child left at home, Mary Elizabeth, was working as a domestic servant. A hard life, but at least a self-sufficient one.
Three years later, on 24 November 1874, Mary Elizabeth married William Laker from nearby Postling. He worked for Mackeson’s brewery in Hythe as an engine driver and the couple set up home in Trafalgar Cottage, Bank Street. By 1881 they had three children. Henry John was their second son. Nine months after his death, another son was born to the couple, the last before William’s premature death. However, on Christmas Day 1901, in Hougham near Dover, Mary Elizabeth married George Richard Videan and the couple set up home back in Hythe, where they lived in the High Street until Mary Elizabeth’s death in 1931.
Charles Winter Garrett was not buried in the grave in Hythe with his wife and grandchild. There would have been no money to bring his body home, but he was not forgotten. His eldest son, Thomas, who was apprenticed to a tailor as a lad grew up to become a tailor in his own right, got married and raised a family in Folkestone. Thomas was probably the only one of the children to have had any memory of his father and the disaster that he brought upon the family, but he chose to call his own eldest son Charles Winter Garrett, in memory not of a swindler who died in prison but of a loved and much-missed father.