The Fortunes of War

Daniel Stringer Lyth was born in Richmond, Yorkshire to Robert, a shoemaker and Louisa nee Stringer and baptised there on 2 October 1864, their second son and fifth child. The family lived in King Street, just off the market place. Louisa died when Daniel was only four. In January 1872, he was admitted to the National School in Richmond, and on leaving worked as a farm labourer. He then joined the army, serving with the 4th West Yorkshire regiment. The doctor who examined him reported that the whole of his chest was scarred. This is likely to have caused by burning. Nineteenth century newspapers abound with stories of children falling into fires, often with fatal results.

He did not like the life and bought himself out, but then changed his mind again and re-enlisted in the King’s Royal Rifles on 12 July 1886, signing up for twelve years. He was 5 feet 8 inches tall, with dark grey eyes and dark brown hair. He did not immediately settle here, either, and In December the same year spent a month in prison for an unspecified offence. Thereafter, though, he kept out of trouble. Three years later he was sent to Manipur in north-east India, a princedom which was part of the British Empire and almost continually at war with its neighbours, including Burma, which was Daniel’s next posting.

He was sent home in 1892 and spent the last six years of his service in the UK, being promoted to Lance-Corporal in 1892. Probably some of this time was at Shorncliffe barracks near Folkestone in Kent, because on 9 May 1893, at St Leonard’s church in Hythe, he married a local woman, Hannah Cloke, a dressmaker. A daughter, Dorothy, was born in 1895; another, Christine, in July 1896; and a son, another Daniel Stringer Lyth on 7 August 1898. Exactly a month before, Daniel senior was discharged from the army, having completed his time.

Daniel took an unusual job to supplement his army pension, that of verger at St Leonard’s church, responsible for the order and upkeep of the church, including its furnishings, and grave-digging responsibilities. He also showed visitors around the crypt at the church, which contained (and still does) an extraordinary collection of skulls and long bones. He was present during the 1912 visit by Dr Cross, a well-known phrenologist, who claimed to be able to detect the character of individuals through examination of their heads. Cross opined that the owners of most of the skulls in the crypt had ‘the spirit of warfare’ in them and that one woman was ‘very crafty and cunning and would not have hesitated to kill her husband.’

Some of the skulls at the ossuary in Hythe

The family lived at first in the Hythe High Street and later in Marine Walk Street. Here another son, named for Daniel’s father was born, but little John Robert died aged only seven months in March 1902 and is buried in St Leonard’s churchyard.  There would be no more children

Daniel also worked for a while as Town Sergeant, but it was not a long tenure. This may have been because he was frequently at odds with Hythe Town Council and aired his opinions in the local press. In 1912, by which time he had moved to’ Craigside’ at 1 Castle Road, the Council suggested that as his steps encroached onto the pavement, he should pay an annual ‘acknowledgement’ of two shillings and sixpence, as was usual. He said it was too much and refused to answer the Council’s letters, before offering to pay sixpence. The Council refused his offer and told him to pay the full amount or demolish the steps – which he did. In 1917 he became exercised by the council’s plans to remove vehicle access to Castle Road from the south. Another drawn-out battle ensued, which this time Daniel won, with removable posts to which he had a key supplied. He was described in one newspaper report as ‘gloomy’ and in his obituary as a ‘silent and reserved man’, though to be scrupulously fair, another reporter said he had seen him laugh.

The years of the first world war were to prove devastating for the family. Just before its start, in July 1914,  Dorothy Lyth died aged only nineteen and was buried in Saltwood churchyard (‘Craigside’ was in the ecclesiastical parish of Saltwood by a few yards).

When war broke out, Daniel was still a reservist but too old to be called up. Instead he joined the Cinque Ports Battalion of the Kent Volunteer Force as its Second-in-Command. He combined this with his on-going work as a verger. In the early evening of 25 May1917, twenty-three German Gotha bombers, unable to find their London targets in thick cloud, turned south, followed the railway line to the Channel ports. They dropped bombs en route, including at Hythe, where Daniel was chatting to the vicar, Herbert Dale, and Mrs Dale just outside the church. Daniel was struck in the thigh by a piece of shrapnel. His femoral artery was severed and though he was taken to hospital in Folkestone and operated on, he succumbed that night.

The bombers finished the job in Folkestone, killing sixty-one people, mostly women and children queuing for potatoes.

A map of the raid which killed Daniel Lyth

Daniel was buried in Saltwood churchyard, the service being read by Herbert Dale, who had survived because he had a tin box in his pocket which deflected the shrapnel which hit him.

Daniel’s grave

Daniel junior had by now left home. He was an apprentice seaman with Cardille Turnbull & Sons from November 1914, but was released from his articles when he joined up on 2 March 1915 at Dover. He was then living at Wouldham near Rochester. His surviving sister, Christine, joined him there. He did his initial training at Aldershot and passed out in June 1915. He was recorded as being 5ft 8 inches tall with a dark complexion and dark brown hair- exactly as his father had been at his age.

He originally asked to serve in the Royal Army Medical Corps and sailed from Southampton on 21 September 1915 to Rouen. He transferred to the Buffs in October 1917 at his own request. Daniel, again like his father before him, found it hard at first to settle into army life and was often in trouble for minor offences. He was on leave in the UK from 2 February 1918 to 17 Feb 1918 but was killed in action two months later. His body was recovered and his personal effects – a silver watch, a wallet, dictionary, compass and map – returned to his mother. Perhaps he was buried, though in the turmoil the grave was lost.

Daniel is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium which bears the names of some 35,000 men of the British and New Zealand forces who have no known grave, nearly all of whom died between August 1917 and November 1918. Both Daniel and his father are named on the Hythe War Memorial.

See the source image

Hythe War Memorial


Daniel’s misspelt name on the Tyne Cot Memorial

(Folkestone Family History Society)

By the end of the war, the Lyth family had only two members left alive, Hannah and Christine. After Daniel junior had joined up, Christine, who had excelled at school, went to the Bishop Otter Training College in Chichester to train as a teacher.

Bishop Otter College, an establishment for women students

After she had qualified she stayed in Sussex, living and teaching in Hove, and was joined there by her widowed mother. When Christine retired she and her mother moved to Wallington in Surrey, where Hannah died aged ninety-seven in 1961 and Christine in 1976.

A Walk through Hythe in 1600 – Part Four

Leaving the market behind, you see the new curate, Isaac Plume, turning uphill towards his church.  He was only installed six weeks ago, and will not stay long: he is one of a series of curates for whom St Leonard’s church is a stepping-stone to greater and more lucrative things.  He will not be much missed by the congregation as he has only a Bachelor of Arts degree, and not the Master’s degree entitling him to preach.  A good sermon, in an age with few diversions, is much appreciated. His predecessor had an MA, but only stayed four months before he secured something better and became Vicar of Bapchild.

Why not follow Mr Plume?

He walks slowly up the hill. It is a very steep slope, known helpfully as ‘the Clymb’. You have seen the church in the distance on your journey here, but at close quarters it is breathtaking – and much too big. The original Norman church was enlarged and enhanced during the glory days of the Cinque Ports, when Hythe was a town and port to be taken seriously. Now it looks as though it could accommodate the entire population, and probably could, at a pinch.

You climb the steps of the impressive porch on the south side. Two men are there before you. They shake hands and money is passed between them.  This is no clandestine deal, but a perfectly normal way to seal a contract in Hythe. Indeed, it is written into some contracts that they will be renewed in this way and in this place each year.

Passing into the church, you are struck anew by its sheer scale.  The chancel has been raised to a higher level than the nave, and accommodates underneath a vaulted passageway. Both the chancel and the nave are high-vaulted and there is an imposing tower to the west.  To the north is the chapel of St Edmund where, on the second of February each year, the Feast of the Purification of Our Lady, the jurats choose a mayor, an election sermon is preached, the bells in the tower are rung and then the corporation retires to the ‘White Hart’ to celebrate.

The church you are seeing has changed fundamentally in the last sixty years or so. The rood loft with its great crucifix was torn down, the saints removed from their niches and the relics consigned to oblivion. The altar, although you must not call it that, now stands in the body of the church rather than in the chancel, and is called the communion table. The church cat is snoozing on it.

You see that Isaac Plume is waiting at the door. He is wearing his surplice, a leftover from earlier times which Puritans in the Anglican church think carries the taint of popery and should be abolished, along with a lot of other things. He greets a small party, arriving in their best clothes. It is Thomas Hutson, a fisherman like all his family, and his kinsfolk, come to baptise Thomas’s second child, Mary. The child’s mother is not among the group: she has not yet been ‘churched’ following the birth and must stay indoors, but she will be at the celebrations at the Hutsons’ house later.  The churchwarden Thomas Stroghill, taking a break from his alehouse, is there to record the event in the parish registers, which the bishop will want to see at the end of the year.

Little Mary Hutson, like so many, will not live to see her first birthday.

Leaving the church, you turn at first eastward to look at the vault under the chancel. It is dark inside, but in the gloom you can make out, to your alarm, that it is full of human bones, not entire skeletons, but skulls and long bones, piled one upon the other. You instinctively recoil from this unlikely sight in a quiet Kentish market town. You cannot make any sense at all of why the bones should be there. And so it is to this day.

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

You retrace your steps rather more quickly out of the church. In the road in front of the church you notice the stocks, which today are empty, and see, not far away, the prison. It is a foul place, a single cell with a barred window. It is not used as a place of punishment, as the stocks are, but as a holding room while the law takes its course and until sentence has been pronounced, or until a debtor has found the means to pay what he owes. The corporation takes no responsibility for the welfare of the prisoner: that is the duty of his family and friends, although they are allowed to use water from the nearby well to quench the prisoner’s thirst and sluice out the cell, which lacks even basic sanitation.

You walk down to the bottom of the Clymb. On the main street, a woman is repeatedly slapping a small boy round the head while angrily berating him. No-one stops to intervene, or seems even to notice. You see that he is one of the little lads who killed the rat at John Oldfield’s; she is his mother and she is angry because he has ripped his breeches and hose while squirming around on the ground. She has enough to do without mending his clothes and he doesn’t have another pair of breeches apart from his Sunday best. What is more, he should not have been at the brewery with his friends but helping his father, a tallow chandler, by delivering some candles. He will, she tells him, go to hell and burn for all eternity for his sins. And go to bed with no supper.