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 Avenue 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.

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Almhouses and Vagrants

Being  poor in the seventeenth century was not for sissies. Life was, however, better than it had been a hundred years earlier. In 1601, in the last parliament that Elizabeth I called, the great slew of Poor Law legislation that had been passed in the preceding years was consolidated.

Parishes were now required to elect overseers of the poor, collect a poor rate, and distribute relief to the deserving. It meant, in short, that no-one in England need ever again have to starve to death through poverty. This did not mean that their lives would be anything other than brutally hard, but relief for those too ill or too old or too young to work was to be provided in the form of a payment or items of food or clothing.

The poor had earlier been supported by alms given as acts of Christian charity. Now, however, even those who were not of a particularly charitable disposition were expected, and indeed compelled, to make a contribution. Each parish was responsible for its own poor, and inevitably disputes arose about exactly who qualified as a genuine resident. The 1662 Poor Relief Act clarified matters by establishing the principal of a ‘parish of settlement’, which would have responsibility for supporting a person if they fell upon hard times.

The law said that the ‘lame, impotent, old, blind’ should be accommodated in parish almshouses, though it was clear that the primary responsibility for the aged and for children rested with their families. Hythe already had two medieval hospitals which formed the basis of the town’s almshouse provision. St John’s, on the main street, probably survived the Dissolution because it had fallen into disrepair by then, but in 1539 it was conveyed by the Church to trustees for use as an almshouse, to be run by the town’s jurats.  A warden was elected from among them every year. In 1562 it provided maintenance for eight needy poor people and ‘such as are maimed by war’. Local men who had been pressed into the army or navy sometimes returned home from serving their country both destitute and crippled as their reward.

For most of the seventeenth century St John’s had five residents, both men and women. In addition to lodgings, fuel and some clothing, they received one shilling and threepence a week, with double at Christmas and Easter, and a Christmas gift of a shilling.  It was enough to survive on, and if they were sick, extra food, usually mutton, was provided free. Mutton from the Romney Marsh was in good supply in Hythe, and meat was regarded as the best food for an invalid. Vegetables were held to be indigestible and to be avoided if you were ill. There were occasional treats, too, such as a small feast when the plums in the garden were picked.

St John's Hospital Hythe

St John’s Hospital , Hythe

Among St John’s residents in 1614 was Richard Tilden, who had returned home to Hythe from the wars terribly injured. He was provided with custom-made wooden legs, and, touchingly, given specially knitted hose to cover them. St John’s also provided for other poor people in the town, buying shoes and clothes, most often for widows and children, and paid for the funerals of paupers.

St Bartholomew’s hospital, on the western extremities of the town, had been founded in 1336 by the Bishop of Rochester, Hamo, who had been born in Hythe. It also escaped the Dissolution and  continued to receive charitable donations.  St Bartholomew’s ten residents, made up of equal numbers of men and women, were known archaically as ‘Brothers’ and ‘Sisters’. Vacant places were filled by election by the residents and wardens. It was not easy to get a place there. Applicants had to be elderly, to have been born in the town and spent most of their lives there, to be of honest and sober behaviour and to have fallen into poverty, which narrowed the field considerably and disqualified newcomers. A feast was held to welcome each new arrival. Some of the profit from the lands the hospital rented out was shared among the residents – in 1657 this was nearly eighteen pounds. It also supported needy people outside, by repairing houses, for example.

'The Hythe birthplace of Hamo de Hethe, Bishop of Rochester
The Hythe birthplace of Hamo de Hethe, Bishop of Rochester

The almshouses between them took care of fifteen poor people, mostly elderly. Of the rest we know less of where they lived.  Hythe  corporation leased houses to the overseers of the poor, and these were used for multi-occupancy. In 1657, for example, Henry Philpott, Edward Keys and the widow Beale lived all lived in such a house.

The resident poor were one thing, vagrants quite another. Despite the poor laws, men still preferred to work for a wage rather than rely on parish relief, and tramping to seek work became an endemic disease of the poor in the seventeenth century. Men tramped most often between June and October, when agricultural work might be available, resting in barns and alehouses. They were unwelcome in towns and villages where locals feared they would take their jobs and undercut their wages, and where they were feared as potential criminals. The corporation was supposed to deal with destitute vagrants by whipping them, locking them up in a House of Correction and then sending them back to their parish of legal settlement, usually the one in which they had been born or had lived for the last three years. The Hythe jurats never got round to building a House Of Correction (implementation of the legislation nationally was always patchy and depended on individual governing bodies’ interpretation), but in extremis the gaol could be used. It was a suitable deterrent. In 1618 Edward Harward escaped from the place because he said he feared starvation and five years later John Hawks hanged himself there.

The definition of a vagrant extended beyond the tramping men. It applied also to those who became a charge on the parish but who had not been born there or lived there long enough for it to be their parish of settlement. Often, the poor person or family was removed to a neighbouring parish, such as Newington or Saltwood, which were only a mile or so away, but the interpretation of the vagrancy laws could be harsh, especially for children. In 1613,   Katherine Rolfe, an orphan child was ricocheted between Hythe and Dover while the authorities argued about which of them had responsibility for her.  Nearly sixty years later John Lacy found himself in a similar situation in the neighbouring parish of Saltwood. His parents, who had scraped a living selling brooms, had for about seven years before their deaths been based, though not continuously, in Saltwood.  When they died, the locals decided that John was not their responsibility, but that of New Romney. He was duly whipped and sent there. The overseers of New Romney refused to accept him and sent him back, although after a year of haggling, they finally conceded defeat.  John Lacy was six years old.