The Hutchinsons of Hythe Part 1: Practical Men

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

The birthplace of Scrope Hutchinson

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

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

The stone marking the vault where Anne Hutchinson was buried

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

The Foundling Hospital in London

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

William Barclay Hutchinson

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

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

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

The demolition of Round Hill cliff

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

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

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


The opening of the Forth Bridge in 1890

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

The Tay Bridge after its partial collapse

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

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

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

To be continued…

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

Details of the demolition of the Round Hill Cliff are taken from

With thanks to Brin Hughes


In Sickness and in Health – Part Five

Maypoles and Christmas apart, the one activity which really aggravated the pious Puritan was theatre-going. The characters in plays were almost always ungodly, and included such sinners as necromancers, adulterers, infidels, papists, Jews, loose women, drunks, witches, thieves, murderers, and cheats, not all of whom were seen to get their just desserts.  One spittle-flecked preacher denounced plays as being ‘sucked out of the Devil’s teats to nourish us in idolatry, heathenry and sin’.

Theatre was not confined to London or big towns. When Shakespeare introduced a troupe of travelling players to the stage in Hamlet, he was writing about his own experience as an actor.  Both London-based and provincial companies toured the country, playing in town halls, inns, or inn-yards, churches, churchyards and country houses.  Stages were often improvised, furniture and props borrowed and if necessary the play itself adapted to fit the environment. ‘Exit, pursued by a bear’ is not easy to achieve on the London stage, let alone in a provincial town hall.

Trumpets and drums heralded the arrival of the troupe in the town. The peace was disturbed. The plays were strange, exotic and sometimes erotic. Apprentice boys stayed up late and could not get up for work next morning. Quite often, the players were not sufficiently respectful of the town’s dignitaries, and quite often too the plays mocked their sort.  All-in-all, the theatre was dangerously subversive.

The Cinque Ports were on one of the companies’ main travelling routes, from London via Canterbury, and Hythe had its fair share of visits.  Most companies had a royal or noble patron, which was important to avoid being accused of vagrancy, with all the undesirable consequences that entailed.  The King’s Players, the Queen’s players, the Earl of Sussex’s players, Lady Elizabeth’s players and Palsgrave’s men all visited Hythe in the early years of the seventeenth century, by arrangement with the corporation, who usually paid them twenty shillings for each visit.

Something happened in 1615 to upset these arrangements. In December the corporation issued a decree concerning players, which strictly limited when they could perform. They had, in the past, been limited to a specific number of plays, but ‘they disobeyed and have bearded and opposed themselves against the mayor’. Henceforward, they could only perform two or three plays a day, ending before 8pm in winter and 9pm in summer, and none on the Sabbath. If they disobeyed again they would  be completely banned and any inhabitants allowing their houses to be used contrary to this would be fined.  Next year, the Palsgrave company, which had already been contracted to visit were paid, but told to leave the town without performing.

There are two ways of interpreting this turn of events. It may be that the corporation were influenced by Puritan dogma and wished to limit the amount of damage caused to the morals of the townsfolk. Puritan corporations across the country were making similar decrees. In Dorchester in 1607, Lord Berkeley’s Men were banned after playing on the Sabbath, and later the Prince’s Players, even with a warrant from the King’s Master of Revels, were turned away. Or it may be that the Hythe mayor had taken exception to being ‘bearded’ was getting his own back.  In any event, the ban did not last long. In 1618, four different troupes performed in the town.

The repertoire of these companies had something for every taste. Robert Greene’s hit Friar Bungay and Friar Bacon was a complicated story of seduction, love lost and found and a talking brass head.  Thomas Middleton’s A Chaste Maid in Cheapside is an even more convoluted tale of the adventures of Moll Yellowhammer, her intended husband Sir Walter Whorehound and her true love Touchwood which involves several cuckolded men, love potions, elopement and a duel, before the main characters are all happily married off. This was a standard of Lady Elizabeth’s Men. The King’s Men, of course, had the whole of Shakespeare’s canon to work with.

Which brings us to the question of whether Shakespeare visited Hythe.  Shakespeare acted with and wrote for the King’s Men (formerly the Lord Chamberlain’s Men) for much of his career. Hythe corporation paid the King’s Men twenty shillings for  performances in 1609, but on many other occasions they played in Dover, most notably in 1605, when Shakespeare was writing King Lear and described the cliff on the outskirts of town which now bears his name. Was Shakespeare with the players in 1609? Unlikely – he was by then a successful playwright and part owner of the Blackfriars Theatre. Were there other, unrecorded visits of the company to Hythe – very likely, the records are far from complete. Did he ever make the journey from Dover to Hythe – possibly: he certainly wandered or rode out into ‘the country near Dover’. The answer to the original question – maybe. If he did, then he did not see any feature in Hythe’s flat landscape worth recording, but maybe, just maybe, one of Hythe’s men or women is immortalised in one of the many wonderful minor characters which populate the works of England’s finest playwright.