Frank White arrived in Hythe in 1888 from Hastings and set up shop as a butcher in the once-dilapidated ‘Smuggler’s Retreat’, an old house in the High Street where he had restored the ground floor. He claimed that he had learned his trade while working on Queen Victoria’s estates in Windsor, which if true, was ironic, as he was a committed republican. He had been married to Clara (Wakefield) for seven years and they had three sons and a daughter. A final child was born the next year.
The Smugglers Retreat in Hythe High Street, now demolished
Frank made his first foray into local politics in 1889, aged thirty-two when he was chosen by the Hythe Ratepayers Association to oppose the Mayor in the East Ward. He took only nineteen votes, to the Mayor’s ninety-six, but was undaunted.
He founded the next year the Hythe Liberal and Radical Association, which held meetings in the room above his shop. With the Labour party still to be born, this attracted the left-wing element in the town,not admittedly a large number, the main political bias being Conservative. They speedily decided that the House of Lords should be abolished. At their annual dinner in 1892, Frank proposed the toast to the Queen – and rather shockingly added that he hoped she would be the last monarch to reign.
In 1893 the Ratepayers Association adopted him as a candidate to be a Guardian of the Elham Union workhouse in Etchinghill. He topped the poll . He was, however, still determined to become a councillor and in the November 1893 elections he achieved this by one vote: standing as an Independent, he defeated the Ratepayers’ Association’s official candidate in Middle Ward.
Frank’s election pitch, 1893
In 1896 he was returned again with a sizeable majority.
During the 1890s, he worked hard to secure better conditions for the inmates of the workhouse, though he lost his position as a Guardian of the Poor because his work made it difficult to attend fortnightly meetings. He always cycled to the workhouse and on one occasion arrived soaked and covered in mud; instead of apologising, he used his condition to emphasise the need for an indoor staircase at the building so that women inmates did not have to go outside to reach their dormitory. He also supported the introduction of an old age pension, so that the destitute aged did not have to go to the workhouse. The money, he said, would come from taxing the idle rich and rack-rent landlords.
A few years after opening his first shop at the Smugglers’ Retreat as ‘The English and Colonial Butcher’, he was able to move to better premises opposite at 50 High Street (now 106). When he was in trouble for slaughtering on the premises, he built a slaughterhouse two miles to the west of Hythe. His most ambitious project was to convert a large private house in the High Street opposite Theatre Street into the Wilberforce Temperance Hotel, with his wife as proprietor.
The Wilberforce Temperance Hotel, now also demolished
After that, it was, as far a business was concerned, all down hill.
In 1895 he sold the butcher’s shop as a going concern for £500 and for the next two years traded as an auctioneer and fruit salesman in Hythe and Folkestone. The venture failed. After that he had no regular employment, but did odd jobs such as removals, selling fish, and portering at auctions, earning about £1 a week. Clara kept things together by taking in lodgers at their home in Saltwood Gardens, near the seafront in Hythe.
Frank had lost his council seat, too, but stood again in 1902 and was successful and as controversial as ever. He objected to restricting the number of licences given to motor bus proprietors, saying that more cars meant improved communication between Hythe and Folkestone – and a better chance of reduced fares. When he persisted in arguing with the Mayor, John James Jeal, he had to be removed from the council chamber by a constable. In 1905 he presented a scheme for the municipalisation of the canal boats, which was approved by the General Purposes Committee. Then objections came from councillors who did not want Sunday boating; attempts to keep the two matters separate failed, and the scheme was rejected. He said Hythe Town Council was the laughing-stock of Ashford Market for buying horses without a proper veterinary certificate: boys ran from the station to the Market saying, “Here they come: we’ve got ’em again!” He continued to argue the need for a public convenience on the seafront. He urged the Council to employ an attendant to prevent noisy children disturbing band performances in the Grove.
He was re-elected in 1905, but disaster was not far off. A small strip of land in South Road owned by the Council was appropriated by a neighbouring householder, who fenced it in and claimed it as his own in 1906. The Council decided to pull down the fence, and produced documents proving ownership. The householder instructed his solicitor to oppose this. It became clear that expensive litigation would be involved, and the Council decided it was not worth spending public money on so small a piece of land. This angered Frank and he said that if the fence was replaced, he would pull it down. It was, and he did. The result was a lawsuit, which he lost. Since he could not pay the costs of the lawsuit, he was adjudged bankrupt. By law a bankrupt could not be a councillor.
In 1908 he was found guilty of being drunk and disorderly in the High Street and by 1911 he had lost his home and was lodging in Wood Road. He said he was married, but Clara was not there. Then he seems to have rallied.
By 1913 he was the Town Crier who concluded his ‘cries’ with ‘God Save the People’ instead of the traditional ‘God Save the King’. When councillor Jeal (a Seabrook builder against whom Frank had a particular animus) was defeated in an election he cried ‘The King of Seabrook is dead. No flowers.’ He was not actually an employee of the council, but they supplied his bell. He was ordered to return it and told his services were no longer required.
He was, when war broke out, theoretically too old for active service, but in January 1917, he joined the Royal Defence Corps, telling them he was fifty-four (he was actually sixty). They judged him fit enough, despite his varicose veins and a bunion which stopped him marching. He was sent to guard German prisoners of war in Scotland, probably at Stobs camp in the Borders.
Prisoners of war at Stobs camp, 1918
He was discharged in Canterbury in January 1919; his true age had been discovered.
In 1919, he applied to have his bankruptcy discharged, saying he did not want to die a bankrupt and intended to go to Russia to help the revolutionary forces. He was discharged, but did not, as far as we know, get to Russia, though he did make at least one more attempt to get a seat on the Council, in 1921.
He died in Rampart Road in 1925.