The Many Causes of Sarah Kingsley

Sarah Maria Kingsley Haselwood was born in Chelsea in 1842, the second daughter of Richard Haselwood, a captain in the Indian Navy and his wife Ann. Her father died before she was nine, and her widowed mother took the girls to live with her own mother, in Manor Terrace, Chelsea.  Sarah later worked as a governess.

On 19 July 1864, she married her second cousin, Henry Kingsley, twelve years her senior. He was the  younger brother of Charles Kingsley, who had published The Water Babies the previous year. After leaving Oxford University, Henry had tried his luck in the Australian goldfields but was unsuccessful and returned to England after five years to write a novel,  The Recollections of Geoffrey Hamlyn (1859), set in Australia. More novels followed, of which Ravenshoe (1861) was the best received.

Henry Kingsley

In 1869, Henry and Sarah moved to Edinburgh, where he was to edit the Daily Review, but he soon gave this up, and in 1870 became war correspondent for the paper, covering the Franco-German War of 1870-71.  He continued to write fiction, though this was increasingly poorly reviewed. In  1874, the couple moved to Cuckfield in Sussex, where Henry died of cancer on 24 May 1876.

Sarah named her house after Henry’s book

Sarah moved in 1884 to Wimbledon, where she lived in a house she called ‘Ravenshoe’. Still young, with no ties and presumably an inheritance from Henry, she devoted the rest of her life to good causes, mostly to do with temperance and ‘morals’.

The year of her arrival in Wimbledon she became embroiled in  controversy when the annual gathering of military volunteers on Wimbledon Common attracted the usual rowdy mob of London hangers-on. The Times published a piece entitled ‘The Wimbledon Scandal’ and  Sarah wrote to the editor to verify the debauched scene the paper had reported. She said that she and other ladies had formed a ‘vigilance committee’ to protect ‘young girls, especially of the servant class, from the yearly contamination of immoral women and equally immoral men’.  It was suggested in other publications that Sarah and her kind wanted to keep the common for themselves, and not have it used by ordinary people to enjoy themselves.

By 1887 she was president of the Women’s Union in Wimbledon (part of the Church of England Temperance Society), one of a myriad of religious and secular organisations advocating either complete abstinence from alcohol or extreme moderation. Sarah was in favour of total abstinence, except for medical reasons. In  1888 she became a Guardian of Kingston  Board of Guardians (which included Wimbledon), their first woman board member. She was unafraid to speak her mind and told them that the workhouse master was inefficient and the surgeon too old to do his job properly.  She also founded the Wimbledon Society for Befriending Young Girls – specifically, young women who had left the workhouse who needed help to find accommodation and work.

In July 1891 the Surrey Comet announced that Sarah was moving to Hythe to do mission work and giving up public speaking as the strain on her voice was too great.  At a farewell presentation in October, she said Sandgate, where she intended to live, was a place where there was ‘an enormous amount of indifference and a great deal of sin.’ This remark was scarcely a good introduction to her new home and it not unnaturally upset the local press, who published her comments before her arrival together with a rebuttal.

Sarah got over the strain of public speaking very quickly and gave her first talk in Hythe a month later, entitled ‘How We Got Our Bible.’  In religious matters, she seems to have changed her allegiance and henceforward was associated with the Emmanuel Chapel in Park Road, Hythe. It was run by two sisters who were members of the Plymouth Brethren.

She continued with her temperance work. In 1894 she became secretary of the Folkestone Branch of the British Women’s Gospel Temperance Association (the gospel was preached at every meeting); the next year she was on the executive committee of the Kent Temperance Congress and attended the National Congress.

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Temperance propaganda which shows the effects of alcohol on all levels of society

Politically, Sarah seems not to have been partisan, but joined the Hythe Ratepayers Association, a pressure group which wanted to see value for money in local government. There were a few other women members: they were dubbed ‘the Screeching Sisterhood’ by the local press.   As the 1890s progressed, support for the Ratepayers’ Association declined, ironically becauvse it involved the council in an expensive legal case. In1898, Sarah took on its reorganisation, only to be dubbed a ‘Demon of Discord’ by another local newspaper.

At the same time, she was asking awkward questions of the council, usually through lengthy letters to the press. In one, she wanted to know if there had been any systematic investigation of the number of people living together in the town’s slum cottages: she referred to a recent case ’too disgusting and indecent to write about in any public paper’.  She wanted to know why an alcoholic woman was prosecuted for neglecting her children and her husband was not and why publicans were willing to serve the couple’s ten-year-old daughter when she was sent out late to buy beer.

The temperance movement had a good number of supporters in Hythe. At the town’s 1901 licensing sessions, a ratio of one licensed house per 222 persons was reported, and the police wanted to see a reduction. March 1902 saw the first meeting of Hythe and District United Temperance Council, which was attended by delegates from the various temperance organisations in the town and Sarah Kingsley was unanimously elected President.  She took her responsibilities seriously. A couple of years later she  followed a soldier she suspected of being drunk into a public house and demanded that the landlord refuse to serve him. The publican ignored her and served the soldier, who then threw his beer over Sarah. In 1905 she wrote to the Board of Guardians of the workhouse to insist that the inmates should not be given their annual treat of beer on Christmas Day. The Guardians disagreed and when she wrote another very long letter to them on the same subject two years later, they declined even to read it.

The Guardians of Elham Union Workhouse, which served Hythe, set up a Ladies Visiting Committee in 1893. Sarah joined it the next year, visiting the women’s and children’s wards, holding gospel temperance meetings and offering private interviews with the women.

Other causes caught her attention. In 1903 she refused to pay her rates because the 1902  Education Act had allocated local funding to church schools. She was prosecuted and told the court: ‘I am not going to contribute to the Roman Catholic schools’. The statement was greeted with applause by the packed court, but the magistrates still issued a distress warrant.  In 1910 she espoused the cause of Women’s Suffrage and organised a branch of the New Constitutional Society (a non-militant group) in Hythe.

She was seventy-two by the time war broke out and seems to have by then withdrawn from public life.  She moved from her house in Napier Gardens to the Bayle, in Folkestone, where she died in August 1922.

The causes she espoused are not, today, fashionable and it is easy to belittle the attempts of middle-class women to right the wrongs perpetrated on and by the working class, or to dismiss the women as ‘do-gooders’.  The press tried to undermine Sarah by name-calling but it did not deter her and there is no doubt that she cared,  especially about the poor women and girls she came into contact with. She was sometimes not tactful and sometimes prejudiced, but she gave her work her all.

 

 

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An Institutional Life

Adolphus Harry Peter Valder was born in Hythe on 9 January 1839 and baptised in St Leonard’s church there. He was the son of Henry Robert Valder, a tailor of Theatre Street, Hythe, and his wife Elizabeth nee Castle. The parents lived respectable, quiet lives, although Henry was occasionally fined for failing to pay the pavement rate. Elizabeth may have suffered from dementia at the end. In 1890, she was asked to leave St John’s Almshouse where, as a sober and respectable widow she had been give a place some ten years earlier, for using abusive and threatening language (1). She died two years later, aged 79.

Adolphus Valder used all his Christian names at will during his life. He was sometimes Adolphus, sometimes Harry or Henry and occasionally Peter. In 1858 he decided to be Thomas Castle instead, and joined the British Army at Aldershot under this name. He was 5 feet five inches tall with light brown hair and grey eyes and served in the West Kent Regiment as a bandsman. He was in Malta for nearly five years and was later posted to Gibraltar, where he was discharged in May 1866 as unfit for further service. He had ophthalmia, which the examining physician thought would improve once he was back in the UK. His conduct was described as ‘very good’.

See the source image

The cap badge of the Royal West Kent Regiment. The motto is Invicta – undefeated. 

He married Ann Castle Savage, daughter of Thomas Castle Savage, a bricklayer in September 1868 in St Leonard’s church in Hythe. They went at first to live in Westminster, then Islington. In 1871 Adolphus (then going by the name of Harry) told the census enumerator that he was an officer of HM Customs, which seems unlikely. Later he would describe himself as either a labourer or an army musician.

By 1874 the couple, now with two sons, were back in Hythe. In December 1876, now with another son, they were admitted to the Elham Union Workhouse in Etchinghill.  A fourth son was born there early the next year and the family were discharged on 30 April 1877 (2). In October, Ann and the boys were back, and were joined by Adolphus after Christmas. He then absconded, but was arrested and imprisoned in Dover for deserting his family. The authorities took Ann and her sons to Dover to re-join him. By October, they were all back in Etchinghill.

Thereafter there is a continuous pattern of Adolphus being in prison and his wife and family in the workhouse. Another son, Louis (sometimes Lewis),  was born and the couple’s last child and only daughter, Jane, was born n the workhouse in 1883. The child had to return to the workhouse alone when she was five, as Adolphus was back in prison.

At every other census until 1911, both Adolphus and Ann are to be found in the workhouse, although it seems their stay was not continuous, as in 1902 their son Harry told the army that they were living in Stade Street, Hythe. In 1905, Adolphus wrote to the Incorporated Soldiers and Sailors Help Society, asking for assistance (3). The Society was founded in 1899 with Princess Christian, Queen Victoria’s third daughter and a founder of the Red Cross, as its first President and still exists today as the Forces Help Society. He explained that he had joined the army under a false name and that since then he had been trying, without success, to get a peddler’s licence (he had left the army thirty-nine years previously).  He wanted, he said, to get ‘a living and at the same time get my wife little extras that we are unable to get now.’ He enclosed testimonials, one of which confirmed that Ann was ‘incapable of doing anything’, though it does not say why.  The outcome of his request is not on record.

Both Adolphus and Ann died in the workhouse, he in March 1913 and Ann in August 1915. Both were buried in St Leonard’s churchyard.

Considering their poor start in life and what must have been a rackety upbringing, the Valder children led, as far as can be told, stable and industrious lives.

The eldest child, Charles was born in Westminster on 17 August 1869. His name was registered as Charlie Castle Valder, but he always preferred to use ‘Charles’. In 1884 he was apprenticed to Frederick Court a tailor of Greenstreet, a hamlet near Faversham. He served his six-year term, but in December 1892 went to Shornecliffe, an army base near Hythe and joined the Royal West Kent Regiment. He gave his occupation as ‘musician and tailor.’ Presumably his father had taught him to play an instrument, too. He was five feet four inches tall, with grey eyes and fair hair, and said that he was a Wesleyan. He stayed in the army, as a private, until 14 December 1913, exactly twenty-one years. During this time, he served in the Republic of Ireland, Malta and at various postings in England. On 31 March 1902, at the parish church in Watford, he married Sarah Rushby, and they set up home in Cheriton, the nearest residential area to Shorncliffe army base. There were no children of the marriage. In October 1914, Charles re-enlisted, this time in the Labour Corps. He was soon promoted to corporal and spent the war in the UK, being discharged as medically unfit – he had ‘myalgia’ (muscle pain)- in October 1917. He then found employment as a postman and later as a general labourer and the couple continued to live in Cheriton until Charles’s death in 1949.

When Charles joined the West Kent Regiment, he was following in the footsteps not only of his father but of his younger brother, Harry, who had enlisted two and a half years earlier at the age of eighteen. He gave his occupation as groom. He, too, was five feet four inches tall, with blue eyes and light brown hair. He served in Malakand, near the Khyber Pass, and in South Africa, where he was severely wounded, which is presumably why, in 1901, he was staying with relatives in Foord Road in Folkestone.

Winston Churchill also served at Malakand and wrote about his experiences

Harry was discharged from the army in 1902, worked as a labourer for a while and re-enlisted in 1903, for a short-term engagement, by which time he had grown to five feet five inches tall. He was finally discharged in November 1907 and died in the Ashford area in 1944.

The third son, Ernest, was born in 11 January 1874 in Hythe & baptised there 18 March, where he was given the names Ernest Tom Castle Valder. By 1891, when his parents were in the workhouse, he was working as a porter at the Seabrook Hotel (later the Imperial), a live-in position.

The Imperial Hotel , Hythe in the early years of the 20th century

He moved to Southwark, but stayed in the hospitality sector, working as a potman. He married Amy Alice Murray in 1897, and the couple had two sons and a daughter. He enlisted in the army in 1916, by which time he was running a lodging house in Walworth, and like his older brother Charles served in the Labour Corps in the UK, though his record shows that he was often afflicted with bronchitis. By the beginning of the second world war he was living in Lewisham, where he died in 1951.

His younger brother Louis Castle Valder was born on 4 June 1876. He made his living in steam laundries, working at first in Cheriton, where he had made his home with his wife, and later in Hammersmith.

Foster’s Steam Laundry, Cheriton, in 1903. Is Louis Valder one of the eight men pictured?

 

He had married Ada Florence Perry in Cheriton parish church on 21 April 1901 and they had two sons. He also enlisted during the first world war, enlisting in December 1915 and being mobilised in June 1916. Like his brothers, he was a short man, only five feet one and a half inches tall. He served with the Essex Regiment as a private.

The fifth Valder son was Sidney Castle Valder born in the workhouse in 1877, and who died in Lyminge in 1903. Between those two dates there is no information about him on the public record.

The only daughter, Jane, worked as a servant as a young woman, and married in 1908 in London James Corboy, a railway porter.  They had at least one daughter. Jane died in 1919, perhaps as a result of the ‘Spanish flu’ epidemic that killed so many.

There remains the question of why, since they were all in paid employment, the Valder children did not support their parents and keep them out of the workhouse. Had they given up on their father and his undoubtedly erratic ways?  It could be that the parents did not want to take assistance. Or that help was given but frittered away. Or even that Adolphus and Ann had become so habituated to the workhouse and had so many acquaintances there – many elderly couples were regular visitors –  that it became, however dreary, a second home.

  1. Records of St John’s & St Bartholomew’s Hospitals EK2008/2/90h

2.    Kent Archives G/EL/W1A

3.    Kent Archives Fo/Z2/C2

Making Good

William Buckland Hythe Taffenden was baptised on 24 May 1825 in St Leonard’s Church, Hythe. It is an odd collection of names, and he never used this second and third given names. Buckland is a small parish near Dover, or could be a surname; ‘Hythe’ speaks for itself. The reason behind the names can only have been known to William’s mother, who gave her name as ‘Lydia Taffenden’ to the curate who performed the baptism, but there are no records confirming the existence of anyone of this name. The surname is unusual, confined then almost entirely to Kent and found mostly in the area around Ashford.

Whatever the circumstances of his birth, what can be certain is that he was illegitimate, or ‘base-born’ according to the curate. He was first admitted to Elham Union workhouse in 1839, when he was fourteen and described as ‘a servant, bastard’ (1). He clearly disliked the place, as he was intended to, and later that year he and a twenty-year-old man from Folkestone, Richard Marsh, escaped together, but William was found the next day and brought back. His sin was compounded by the fact that he had escaped wearing the workhouse’s clothing, so was guilty of theft as well.

The next year, the authorities found him a place in service, with Francis Pittock, a surgeon who lived in at Mount Pleasant in Sellindge. It was not a successful venture, and he lost the place and was returned to the workhouse in December 1841. Three months later, on 30 March 1842, he went to Dover and joined the army. The recruiting sergeant described him as 5ft 4 inches tall, only just tall enough, but probably still growing, blue eyed and with a fresh complexion.

The army was his life for the next twenty years and two hundred and nineteen days. Here he found the stability that turned his life around. He had joined the 2nd Battalion, the Rifle Brigade, a Regiment first raised in 1800 as an elite and ‘Experimental Corps of Riflemen’. It trained its men as ‘sharpshooters, scouts and skirmishers’, arming them with rifles which were more accurate and had a longer range than the musket, but took longer to load.

A soldier of the Rifle Brigade, early nineteenth century

The idea of individual soldiers hitting specific targets seemed unorthodox at the time, with the conventional tactic of the mass volley being favoured. The Regiment was trained to use natural cover (wearing green instead of the traditional red, in order to camouflage the soldiers), worked in pairs in the open and trained to think for themselves in order to harass the enemy. The Regiment became an invaluable part of any campaign and was present at most actions of the British Empire including Waterloo in 1815, the Crimean War 1854–1856, and the Indian Mutiny 1857–1859.

William was sent first to Canada, where he spent ten years. Some of this, at least, was spent in Kingston, Ontario. Standing at the head of the St Lawrence River, the city was heavily fortified against attacks from the United States, and the British had a large garrison there. In 1851 William was listed as being posted there as a private – a rank he held throughout his military career.

The harbour in front of the garrison at Kingston, Ontario, in the mid-nineteenth century

From Canada, William was sent to Turkey and on to Sevastopol in the Crimea, where he took part in the battles which characterised the long siege from 1854 to 1855.

 

                                                                                  A rifleman in the Crimea

He was then sent to India and took part in the actions to relieve the siege of Lucknow, which as part of the Indian Mutiny was held by rebelling forces from 1857 to 1858.

The aftermath of the Siege of Lucknow: the ruins of the British Residency

From there he went to Subathu, a fortified town near Simla.

William finally sought discharge from the army in October 1863. He was suffering from dyspepsia when he exerted himself and doctors considered that his long and active career, together with advancing years, had rendered him unfit for further service. He had been awarded four Good Conduct badges, the Crimean Medal and clasp for Sevastopol, the Turkish Medal, the Indian Medal and clasp for Lucknow, and the Long Service Medal. He was sent home and finally discharged on 24 May 1864.

During his army years, he had found time to marry, as on his return home he was described as a widower, but no trace remains of his wife or of any children born to them. Once back in England, he joined the newly-formed Kent Police, and worked at first in Canterbury before being sent to Smarden, near Ashford, where his badge number was 2 and where he lived in Round About Street.

Then, in 1873, he married again, to Eliza Samways, a widow from Dorset. He was sent to police the little village of Preston, near Wingham, in Kent. In 1885 he retired from the police force at the age of sixty, as a constable, first class, and was given a gratuity of £40. This, together with his army pension and whatever funds his wife brought to their union, enabled him and Eliza to live comfortably, at first in Chislet, near Canterbury, and then in Thanington, on the outskirts of the city. William was a ratepayer, and entitled to vote. Not bad for a base-born workhouse boy.

The couple moved to Lambeth in about 1899, and it was there that both of them died, Eliza in 1900 and, aged 82, William in 1907.

  1. Kent Archives G/EL/W1a

Escaping the Workhouse

Mary Ann Finn was born in Saltwood, just up the hill from Hythe, in 1825 and baptised at the church of SS Peter and Paul there on 10 April the same year. Her parents were Thomas, a labourer and Margaret nee Norcock (though she often called herself Harriet). Thomas Finn had himself had a difficult start in life, having been left an orphan. The overseers of the Poor in Saltwood where he was born put him out as an apprentice and he later moved to Dover before returning to the Hythe area. He and his wife had two more daughters after Mary Ann, Emily and Esther. Esther was described in the census records as ‘an imbecile from birth.’ The family moved to Church Hill in Hythe, where they lived next door to a family called Piety.

Church Hill, Hythe, today

The Piety family comprised John, his wife Ann and two sons, John and Thomas, who like their father were labourers. John senior had also apparently diversified into smuggling, as did so many others. In 1832, he and his brother Thomas were caught landing smuggled goods near Fort Twiss in Hythe and sent for trial, but were released when the evidence of the leading witness was contradictory, as it was so often found to be.

But both smuggling and legitimate work were sometimes not to be had in the harsh economic climate of the 1830s and both John Piety and his neighbour Thomas Finn were obliged to throw themselves occasionally on the mercy of the Overseers of the Poor later in the decade. Ann Piety also received an annual gift of a gown from Mrs Ward’s charity.

The year 1845 brought a watershed for both families. John Piety senior had already died and now both his widow Ann and his next-door-neighbour Thomas Finn died. The widowed Margaret/Harriet Finn took Emily and Esther and went to live in Stade Street in Hythe , where they subsisted on ‘outdoor relief’ paid by the parish overseers. Mary Ann, however, stayed in Church Hill, moving in next door with John Piety junior, twenty years older than her, as his ‘housekeeper’.

The relationship was clearly more than that, however, and the couple married on 12 October 1851 at Saltwood parish church in a ceremony witnessed by John’s brother Thomas and Mary Ann’s sister Emily. None of the party were able to sign their names and made their marks on the marriage register. This is the last time that Thomas Piety appears in the records. He seems to have vanished, or more likely just changed his name and tried his luck elsewhere.

Mary Ann was pregnant when she married and her daughter, another Mary Ann, was born before the end of the year. Almost exactly two years after their marriage, John Piety died and was buried on 23 October 1853. Mary Ann was destitute. John had left no other family, and her own mother, living on parish relief and with a disabled daughter, was in no position to help.

Mary Ann took work as a charwoman when she could, but between 1854 and 1855 she often had to apply for relief from the Parish Overseers herself. Unlike her mother, she was sent to the Elham Union workhouse. This was in Etchinghill,  four miles north of Hythe, and opened in 1836. She was in and out of the establishment every two or three weeks, sometimes with her daughter, sometimes without (perhaps she left the child with her mother). Then on 16 March 1856, she gave birth again, in the workhouse this time, to a son, William Henry. He was baptised in the nearest church, at Lyminge, on 14 June 1857.

A sketch of Elham Union Workhouse at Etchinghill, now demolished

The pattern of frequent admission to the workhouse continued, usually with both the children. But the frustrations of her unsettled life began to tell. On 8 September 1859, she was sent to gaol for forty-two days for an unspecified offence. She was returned from prison to the workhouse, but in January of the next year she smashed seventy panes of glass at the workhouse over a two-day rampage, and in March was sent back to prison for another forty-two days’ hard labour at Canterbury prison.

St Augustine’s Prison and House of Correction, opened in 1808 in Canterbury

On her release – again back to the workhouse – Mary Ann tried another way to vent her feelings. On 15 May 1860 she was charged with damaging a bolster. Another inmate reported that during the night she ripped open the bolster, which was filled with straw, took it down to the courtyard and set fire to it with a candle. When asked what she was doing she replied that she was ‘burning the foreigners’. The workhouse medical officer reported that the last time he had seen Mary Ann she was dressed ‘in a singular style,’ behaving oddly and talking about selling vegetables and watercress which she believed she had in her possession. He believed that this was all an act as she had previously been reasonable. The master of the workhouse told the court that she was ‘eccentric and sometimes violent’. He said that if she was dissatisfied with her lot, she would work herself up into a rage. She was judged not to be insane and sent back to prison for another six weeks. This would have suited the Poor Law authorities very well, as, had she been sent to the County Asylum in Maidstone, they would have had to foot the bill for her care.

After that brief period – when she may well have been suffering from psychotic episodes – Mary Ann settled down, and, in 1862, got married again. Her choice of husband, John Finn Avery, may, to judge from his name, have been a kinsman, and was fourteen years younger than her, having been born in Dover in 1839. He was a labourer, and the couple lived together, apparently quietly, in Folkestone, and Mary Ann took in washing to make ends meet.

However, Mary Ann’s daughter was not included in the happy family and was left in the workhouse. On 15 May 1868, aged sixteen, she was ‘moved to the home at Dover’. She must have run away, because on 25 April 1870, she was readmitted to Elham Union workhouse under an order of removal from London, together with a child who had been born in February that year, although no record exists of its birth in London or anywhere else. She left the workhouse with her baby daughter two days later, and perhaps she did now go to her mother, for the child died in Folkestone shortly afterwards and was buried at Christ Church in the town on 5 May 1870.

See the source image

The tower of Christchurch, Folkestone. The rest of the church was destroyed by enemy action in 1940

Mary Ann junior then seems to have tried working as a servant for a living, but it didn’t work out. She was readmitted to the workhouse, destitute, on 6 Feb 1871. She somehow got herself out of the place and went back to London, where she met and married James Dabbs, a second-hand bookseller eleven years older than her. They married in Holborn, where they continued to live, in the Peabody Buildings there, and where they raised a family of three sons and three daughters. There was no more workhouse for Mary Ann Dabbs and her children. Frederick, the eldest, was apprenticed to an engineer but went into the printing trade; James and William became warehouse porters; Ruth worked as a machinist making children’s clothing; Mary Ann was an album binder; and Ellen, the youngest, kept house for her father after her mother’s death.

Mary Ann Dabbs nee Piety died in 1907. She had escaped the cycle of poverty and destitution and overcome her early mistakes and her upbringing. Meanwhile, her sisters had also died, Esther, the disabled child, in the workhouse. Her mother, widowed again in 1900 and too old now to take in washing, went back to the workhouse herself and died there in 1906.

And what became of her son, William Henry? He disappears from the records after his mother’s marriage. There is nothing in the censuses or the records of death and marriage. He appears not to have taken his step-father’s name either. Perhaps he was adopted, or sent abroad, or maybe even claimed by his natural father.

The Wages of Sin

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. This was a plum post and an unusual occupation for the son of a baker. It was hinted in the press that Sir Stewart Marjoribanks,  Hythe’s MP, had got the post for him, as a reward to his father for some assistance at the time of the municipal elections.  Thomas was later charged with bribing electors.

Charles 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.