Three Men and a Lifeboat

 

Lionel Lukin’s gravestone in St Leonard’s churchyard, Hythe, bears easily the longest inscription of them all:

In this grave is interred/the body of Lionel Lukin – born at/ Dunmow in Essex the 1st of May 1742 – in/1767 he became a member of the Coach Makers Company of London and after/60 years of various success in that busi/ness – settled at Hythe in 1824 with the/humble hope that the same divine pro/vidence which had been his guide and/protector during a long and chequer’d/ life would permit him to conclude it in ease and tranquillity and finally remove /him to a better and eternal inheritance/through the merits and intercession of /Jesus our Redeemer – died the/ 16th of February 1834.

This Lionel Lukin /was the first who built/ a life boat/and was the original inventor of that/principle of safety/by which many lives and much property/have been preserved from shipwreck/and he obtained for it the King’s patent/in the year/ 1785.

Lionel Lukin was the son of a well-to-do farmer, William Lukin, and his wife Anne nee Stokes.  He was descended from Admiral Lionel Lane who had fought in the Dutch Wars in the 1650s; the name Lionel was clearly important to the family and was repeated down the generations. This latest Lionel, who was baptised on 17 June 1742,  had ten younger siblings.

He did not go to sea, but was apprenticed to Joseph Smith, a local coach-maker, in 1759. He moved to London and became a member of the  Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers in 1767. At sixteen, he had inherited money from his maternal uncle which may well have helped him set up in business as three years later he was in Westminster, with his own concern, in partnership with a Mr Beech in Long Acre, a street running from St Martin’s Lane to Drury Lane and at that time dominated by coach-builders.

He was, by nature though, an inventor with a strong philanthropic bent.  He designed a ship’s stove which could be used in rough weather, an invalid’s bed, which could be manipulated by a single attendant and which he gave to several London infirnmaries and a raft  for rescuing people who had fallen through ice, which he presented to the Royal Humane Society and which was successfully used in Hyde Park.

Lionel Lukin with fashionable wig, stock and cravat. 

The Society was even more impressed by his ‘unimmergible boat’ for which he obtained a patent in 1785. The design included adding buoyant gunwhales to the sides of the boat and watertight bulkheads within, thus making it much lighter than the body of water it would displace in sinking. Underneath, a false keel of cast iron was to act as a ballast. He had purchased a Norway yawl, which he fitted up in this way and tried out on the Thames. Later, Lionel would add holes in the bottom to allow shipped water to escape. He intended the boats to be used on board ship as lifeboats – though that word did not then exist.

The plans for Lionel’s unimmergible (or insubmersible) boat

It has been claimed that this venture was financed by the Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent and George IV) with whom he was acquainted, although his obituary in ‘The Gentleman’s Magazine ‘ notes only that the prince ‘condescended to take an interest.’ The Prince was then only twenty-two, and known chiefly for his extravagance, illicit amours and his feud with his father, George III.  But there could be some truth in the story. Christopher Hibbert, in his magisterial biography of the prince, records that he was liberal with his charitable donations (1). Also, by 1783 Lionel was supplying harnesses to the household of Queen Charlotte, the prince’s mother, so it is conceivable that he met the prince while visiting the royal stables.

File:George IV, when Prince of Wales - After Gainsborough 1782-85.jpg

George IV when a young man 1782-1785   (commons.wikimedia.org)

Lionel tried to interest the Admiralty in his design, but there was no response. He took the advice of a Captain James, deputy-master of the Trinity House, and lent his boat, which he named the Experiment, to a Ramsgate pilot, to be tested in rough weather. The boat was an unqualified success, even enabling its skipper to carry on his smuggling trade in the worst weather, an outcome not, presumably, intended by the inventor.  The boat was eventually impounded at a foreign port.  However, the following year,  Archdeacon John Sharp, a trustee of the Bamburgh Charities, who had created a mini-welfare state in the town, asked Lionel to convert a coble – a traditional fishing boat of the area. Lionel took on the job and Bamburgh still claims to be the first place to have a dedicated rescue lifeboat, which was in service for many years.

Lionel’s next boat, the Witch, was tested by Sir Sydney Smith and other naval officers, and its worth was  publicly displayed at Margate. But Lionel had to contend with seafaring prejudices, and his unimmergible boats, though they attracted attention, were in little demand. Apart from the one built for Bamburgh, only four were ordered, one of which proved very useful at Lowestoft. This, the Frances Anne,  was tested in 1807 in dreadful weather and it was calculated that even full of water and with 50 people on board, she would not sink. She was in use for the next fifty years, saving three hundred lives.

Despite the claims on his gravestone, Lionel was not the only man to have an interest in saving life at sea.  After  a particularly tragic shipwreck off the mouth of the Tyne in 1789, when the whole crew of the Adventure  perished while hundreds of people, helpless, looked on, a local competition for a lifeboat design was started.

It was won by William Wouldhave (or Woolhave), plumber, glazier and parish clerk of South Shields, who designed a boat with a straight, heavy keel and high-peaked ends with watertight cases,  which was self-righting and unsinkable. A plain-spoken and difficult man, he refused the prize money of only a guinea and never built his boat, though his memorial, in St Hilda’s churchyard in South Shields also  claims that he invented the lifeboat:

Sacred to the memory of William Wouldhave, inventor of that invaluable blessing to mankind, the lifeboat’

He also has a public house in South Shields named for him ‘ The Wouldhave’.

Another entrant, the boatbuilder Henry Greathead, was unsuccessful in the competition: his design was said to resemble a butcher’s tray, in that it was flat and oblong. However, as Wouldhave had no interest in building his boat, Greathead was offered the job of building a lifeboart designed by the competition committee. The end result was, like Lionels’s Experiment,  based on a Norway yawl. The sides were cased with cork, four inches thick, secured with copper plates. When full of water amidships, one third at each end would be out of water, and it could continue underway without foundering.  It was tested at the beginning of 1790.

Greathead did not take out a patent on his boat, but its adoption by North Shields and then other ports led  to a House of Commons committee awarding him £1200, in addition to the hundred guineas given by  both Trinity House and Lloyds  of London.

 

Henry Greathead

 

Even at the time, there was some controversy as to who could rightly claim to have invented the lifeboat. In 1790 Lionel published a description of his lifeboat, with scale-drawings and declared that Greathead’s boat was in general built according to the principles set out in his patent, and had no additional safety features. In 1806 a Mr Hailes put forward the claims of William Wouldhave as inventor of lifeboats, and Lionel replied with three letters to the Gentleman’s Magazine, in which he set out his own claims to priority. These he afterwards published as a pamphlet dedicated to the Prince of Wales, entitled The Invention, Principles of Construction, and Uses of Unimmergible Boats.  Lionel’s obituarist in the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine was of the opinion that the naming of the respective boats was crucial. Lionel called his an ‘unimmergible boat’; Greathead called his ‘a Life Boat’, which ‘spoke at once to the sympathies of the heart’.

Controversy aside, Lionel continued to prosper in his business, becoming a master coachbuilder in 1781and eventually Master of the Coachmaker’s Company.  He had started to accumulate property early in his career, starting with a substantial house in Dunmow, had married a widow, Anne Gilder,  been widowed himself and married again, in 1803, to Hester Clissold. The son of his first marriage, another Lionel, also became an inventor with a strong interest in shipbuilding. He had helped his father build the Frances Anne and presented to the Admiralty several ideas for ventilating ships and curing them of dry rot, none of which seem to have been taken up. His sister, Ann, married John Helyer Rocke in 1896 and went to live in Somerset.

Lionel moved to Hythe when he was in his eighties and his eyesight was failing, though he kept a financial interest in the Long Acre business. He lived in Elm House, not far from St Leonard’s Church.  In the same year he wrote to the Chairman of the newly-founded Institution for the Preservation of Lives and Property from Shipwreck (later the RNLI) offering to ‘contribute anything in my power to the success of the proposed Institution’.  There is no record of any reply and while in its first report the Institution paid tribute to a number of people who had contributed to life-saving in shipwreck, Lionel’s name is not there.

He was ill for only a few days before his death and had made his will two years earlier. It is unusual in that his son received only £10. The rest of his considerable estate was to be invested by his executors to provide annuities for his wife, his daughter and for his four granddaughters, two by his son and two by his daughter. The  women’s annuities were for their ‘separate use’ and would not devolve to any husbands they might have. His father, William, had taken the same approach, leaving his sons, who could be expected to support themselves, only £5 apiece, while the daughters received the residue of his estate.

In 1892, the vicar of Hythe, the Rev’d Thomas Sarsfield Hall, started a fund-raising campaign to erect a memorial window to Lionel in St Leonard’s church.  He did not raise quite as much as he hoped, but in October that year made up the balance of £40 himself and had the lancet window installed above the altar. The window was unveiled by Lionel’s great-grandson, the Rev’d. Charles J. Robinson, vicar of Horsham. The inscription read: To the Glory of God and in memory of Lionel Lukin, the inventor of the lifeboat, who died at Hythe, February 16th, 1834 and lies buried in the churchyard.

Sadly, the window was destroyed by enemy action in 1940, so that today, it is only Lionel’s grave which bears witness to the presence, for a short while, of this remarkable man in Hythe.


 

However, there is a happier postscript: in 1985, to celebrate the becentenary of Lionel’s patent, the Post Office produced a set of commemorative stamps, ‘Safety at Sea.’ The proceeds from this first day cover went to the RNLI

(1) Christopher Hibbert, George IV: London, 1972.

 

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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’ in Castle Avenue, 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.

Slavery and Elastic Pavements: Miles Brathwaite

Miles Brathwaite as a young man (www.Findagrave.com)

Miles Brathwaite was the third son of the Hon. General Miles Brathwaite (1771-1848), a sugar planter in the Christ Church and St Philip’s parishes of Barbados. He was born there in 1803. His father was always designated ‘honourable’ because he was a member of the island’s privy council; he had no connection with the peerage and his own father, Robert Brathwaite (1723-1791) was also a plantation owner. Miles senior owned one estate, Palmers, and was tenant for life of another, Three Houses. Like all Barbadian planters he relied on slaves to work his land. John Brathwaite, possibly a brother of Miles senior, another  plantation and slave owner and agent for the island, travelled to London in 1788 to give testimony to the British government’s inquiry into slavery. Predictably, he painted a rosy picture:

He stated that prior to about 1768 the treatment of slaves was marked by much more cruelty than since that date. The wanton killing of a slave in Barbadoes (sic) remained nevertheless, by law of August 8, 1788, punishable by a fine of 15 Pounds Sterling only. It was not uncommon, he said, for slaves to suffer for food when corn [bread stuff] was high or a sugar crop failed. Industrious Negroes, of course, raised some provisions, hogs, and poultry about their own huts or on allotments. Even so, he thought a slave was as well off as a free Negro and better than an English labourer with a family. (1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harvesting sugar cane in Barbados. Note the overseer’s whip.

 

 

Miles junior appears to have joined the Royal Navy, but his service records are not extant, though his portrait (above) as a very young man seems to show him in a naval uniform. He married, on 13 December 1823, Elizabeth Jane Welch. Over the next twenty-two years, they had twelve children together.

The Slavery Abolition Act became law on 1 August 1834, but this did not mean automatic bankruptcy for the Barbados slavers. Two things saved them. In the first place, the British government paid compensation to slave owners for their ‘loss’. Miles senior was awarded £3860 for the one hundred and seventy enslaved people he owned at Palmers and tried to claim over £5000 for those at Three Houses, but this was declined.  In the second place, only children were actually immediately freed. Adults had to serve a six-year ‘apprenticeship’ on terms very little better than slavery before they were freed.

Miles junior may, or may not, have had a share in the compensation. By then he was in business as a merchant in Chepstow Street, Barbados, running two businesses, one alone and another as a partner. He gave his address then as Fortress Terrace, Kentish Town, London. The 1841 census confirms his residence in Kentish Town, but by then his businesses must have gone under, as he is recorded as having no trade or occupation. Elizabeth and their six surviving children were with him. The family moved then to Camden, then on to Pentonville and in 1843, Miles became a director of The Elastic Pavement Company. Although this sounds like a 1970s rock album produced under the influence of LSD, in fact it manufactured, among other things, rubber flooring for stables and a lifeboat made of rubber and cork, which was allegedly unsinkable and, if it hit a rock, would just bounce back.

The company was in trouble by 1845 and by February 1846 was reporting losses of over £5000, while insisting that it needed to increase its capital in order to fulfil ‘large orders from Her Majesty’s government’. It struggled on but was wound up in 1849. This made little difference to Miles, who had been committed to a debtors’ prison in 1846. This was probably at Whitecross Street in Islington, which had the reputation of being the worst in London.

Whitecross Street Prison

Salvation came in an unlikely form when in January 1847 he was appointed as Commander of the Coastguard at Fort Twiss in Hythe. The Coastguard had been set up in 1822 as an anti-smuggling operation, and its instructions also stipulated that when a wreck took place the Coast Guard was responsible for taking all possible action to save lives, taking charge of the vessel and protecting property. Station commanders were generally serving Royal Navy lieutenants and were expected to enforce naval discipline. What qualifications Miles had for the job beyond a brief naval career some years earlier is unclear. It is likely that the post was secured for him through well-placed connections, a common enough practice in the nineteenth century.

Fort Twiss Battery was constructed on Hythe seafront in 1798, a small triangular fort surrounded by a three-and-a-half metre high wall. Miles lived there with Elizabeth Jane and the five youngest of their children – two more had been born in London and one in Hythe. Also living at the fort were six subordinate men with their wives and families. It cannot have been luxurious, compared to a sunny plantation in Barbados served by slaves, but Miles had a regular income to support his diminishing family. Only five of his twelve children reached adulthood, and those who did often headed back to the West Indies. While he was in prison, his eldest daughter, another Elizabeth Jane, married a scion of a plantation family, Langford Redwood, who had inherited Cassada Garden plantation in Antigua. He died at sea only two years after the marriage en route to England and Elizabeth married another Antiguan planter.

 

Miles died at Fort Twiss on 26 March 1857. He left no will, and his widow either could not or would not pay for a headstone: this was financed by ‘family and friends’.

The inscription on Miles’s gravestone in St Leonard’s churchyard reads: Sacred to the memory of/Miles Brathwaite/(late RN)/ this tablet is erected by sor-/rowing family and friends/who are cheered with the hope/that from his excellent life, his/firm faith and pious resignation/to the Divine Will, the beloved one is “not lost but gone before”

Elizabeth Jane, now homeless, went at first to live in Croydon, but then moved in with her by now twice widowed daughter Elizabeth in West Derby in Liverpool, where she died in 1879.

(1) Slavery on British West Indies Plantations in the Eighteenth Century, Frank Wesley Pitman, Journal of Negro History, Volume Number: 11 Issue Number: 4, October 1926.

 

The Reverend Gentlemen

 

In memory of/Alfred Winnifrith/Mar 22 1842- Jan 2 1923/Priest, M.A., D.Litt, Medaille du Roi Albert/Schoolmaster in Hythe for many years/vicar of Mariansleigh 1885-1913/author of “Men of Kent and Kentish Men”/”The Fair Maids of Kent”/and other works
Also of Mary/March 13 1839-Feb 19 1919/his wife for 53 years
They befriended Belgian refugees/ and Hythe prisoners of war/1914-1918
R.I.P

Alfred Winnifrith came from a modest background. He was born in Penshurst, Kent on 22 April 1842, the son of a blacksmith, Thomas Winnifrith and his wife Lucy, nee Langridge and had two younger sisters. After leaving school, he trained as a teacher and took up a post in Coven, Staffordshire.

On 22 December 1863 he married Mary Anne Baker, only daughter of Thomas Baker of Hythe at St Leonard’s Church and they returned to Coven where their first son, Alfred Baker Winnifrith was born the following year. The year after that, they returned to Hythe, where Alfred took over Prospect House School, and another son, Bertram, was born there. A third son died as an infant.

 

 An early advertisement for Prospect House School. The house still stands in Hythe. 

 

The school flourished, but Alfred had other plans. In spring 1874, he and the family moved to Oxford, where he studied for the priesthood and in 1876 he was ordained Deacon and became assistant curate at St John’s church in Cleckheaton, Yorkshire. He kept the school going, however, and appointed a headmaster in his place. The income must have meant that he could support his family on a tiny stipend. It was not normally expected that curates would be married men with children, and Alfred and Mary now had another son, Douglas, born in 1876.

Alfred found time to continue his studies. He was awarded an MA in 1878 and soon afterwards became the first Incumbent of the newly-formed Parish of St Luke’s, Cleckheaton. He still needed to supplement his income, and took some private pupils for tuition.

See the source imageSt Luke’s Church, Cleckheaton

They stayed in Cleckheaton for another seven years, until in 1885, Alfred became Rector of Mariansleigh in Devon.

See the source image

Mariansleigh Church

Their sons were becoming adults. Alfred junior became a priest like his father and took a curacy in another Devon parish, Dalwood. Bertram ran the school in Hythe. He was by then married to Emily, a Plymouth woman, and they had a daughter, Ethel. Emily died, aged only twenty-eight, in 1894, and Bertram’s parents brought the little girl up.

Alfred remained single, but he had a secret. In 1896, Henry Hern, a Devon miller, sued his wife Rosa for divorce, citing as co-respondent Alfred Baker Winnifrith, curate of Dalwood. The affair had been common knowledge – on one occasion at a School Board meeting, all the members left the room in disgust when Alfred put in an appearance. He was seen using the back stairs at the Herns’ home and Rosa visited his lodgings. The couple were seen kissing. Henry Hern wrote to Alfred’s mother complaining about his behaviour. Rosa, confronted by her husband, took her six-year-old son and, apparently, vanished.

Alfred denied it all and got his brothers and parents to give evidence to the court in his favour. He said he had no idea where Rosa had gone, but produced a letter from her which confirmed that theirs’ was a platonic friendship and that he had tried to reconcile husband and wife.  The jury did not believe him and granted Henry Hern a decree nisi and gave him custody of his son.

Alfred did not give up trying to prove his innocence. His counsel advertised widely for Rosa and she was eventually found in Yorkshire where she was working as a ‘pianiste’ in a public house. She said she had no idea about the divorce proceedings, despite the fact that the case made the national news for several days in a row and she emphatically denied adultery. Alfred now took the case to the Court of Appeal. His application for a new hearing was refused and the judge remarked that ‘he had much to learn before he became fitted for the cure of souls.’ He also awarded costs against Alfred.

Rosa went back to Yorkshire, where she worked as a barmaid at a hotel in Leeds. Alfred went to Hythe, to work in the school in Prospect House. It seemed to be over, but on 4 December 1896, Inspector Conquest of Scotland Yard arrived at the Hythe school and arrested Alfred. The next day he  travelled to Leeds and arrested Rosa. They were both taken to Bow Street Police Station and charged with perjury and conspiracy. Bail was refused and they were remanded in custody.

It was alleged that when she left Henry Hern, Rosa and her little boy went to Ashford, not far from Hythe, where she took lodgings. There, Alfred visited her regularly, taking a bedroom which connected with hers. His frequent absences from his parish were noted. Rosa then moved to Barnsley, leaving the child in the care of an Ashford woman, whom she paid with money given to her by Alfred. In Barnsley she worked as a barmaid, under an assumed name, and Alfred wrote at least twice a week. She kept his photograph in her room.

  The court artist’s sketch of Alfred Winnifrith junior

The evidence that they had lied to the divorce court was clear, and on 12 January 1897, they pleaded guilty to all charges. Three days later, they were sentenced – Alfred to eighteen months hard labour and Rosa to six. Bertram got up a petition asking for mitigation of Alfred’s sentence, which he circulated widely, but to no avail. They were both held in Wormwood Scrubs: Rosa learnt macramé and how to make bead curtains; Alfred sewed mail bags. Once released, they married in 1899, and together ran a school in Clapham and had a daughter, Alfreda. Alfred had, of course, been defrocked.

The widowed Bertram, meanwhile, got on with running the Hythe school, and married again, to Edith Maude Blaker in 1897. They had five children together and Edith ran a girls’ school alongside the boys’ institution at Prospect House.

A 1902 advertisement for the school.

Bertram was awarded an MA from Oriel College, Oxford in 1901, was ordained in 1904 and ‘priested’ in Canterbury Cathedral in 1905. He combined duties as a curate in Cheriton and later Saltwood with school teaching until he was appointed as Rector of Ightham in 1907. Even there he continued to run a small school.

The youngest son of Alfred and Mary, Douglas, also got an MA from Oxford and was ordained in 1900. He chose to become a Chaplain to the Armed Services serving in Malta from 1908 to 1912 and then in Dublin. He had married Margaret McCartney in Liverpool in 1907. At the outbreak of the Great War he was sent to France, was mentioned in despatches and wrote movingly of his experiences during the Retreat from Mons in The Church in the Fighting Line:

Through the wet cornfields I rode, accompanied by three or four men of the Royal Army Medial Corps, and whenever we found a fallen comrade we bore his body to a corner of the field, to secure as far as possible its never being disturbed, and there we dug a shallow grave. Often, of course, more than one, sometimes three or four, and in one case eighteen men did I bury in one grave.

 

 

Meanwhile, Alfred senior’s wife Mary was spending less and less time in Mariansleigh as the winters were too severe for her. Alfred resigned the living in 1913, citing her “delicate state of health’ and returned to Hythe, where they lived at Prospect Lodge and where, in December that year, they and their sons and grandchildren celebrated their Golden Wedding.

Alfred became Chairman of the local Association of Men of Kent and Kentish Men and wrote a book, Men of Kent and Kentish Men, recording biographical details of no fewer than 680 Kent worthies. Another book,  Fair Maids of Kent, followed. When war broke out, he set about making himself useful.

Belgian refugees were beginning to stream into the country, and Alfred co-ordinated Hythe’s efforts to accommodate some of them and provide food, clothing and schooling for the children. He also took a particular interest in local men taken prisoner of war, visiting their families and arranging to have parcels of food, underwear and tobacco sent out to them. Mary assisted him in these endeavours, packing the parcels herself. Their house became a rendezvous for troops stationed in the town, whether Territorials or Canadians, they were always made welcome at the gatherings held there.

There was sorrow, too.  Alfred and Mary’s granddaughter Alfreda died in 1914, and Mary herself in February 1917.  She was buried in St Leonard’s churchyard in the same grave as Bertram’s first wife, Emily.  Douglas, with the forces in France, missed her funeral.

When peace came, Alfred’s work was recognised. In 1919, for his literary work he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Literature by the Central University of America. In 1920 he was awarded the Medaille du Roi Albert avec Rayure at an investiture held at Folkestone Town Hall by the Belgian Consul in recognition of his work with Belgian refugees.  The former Hythe prisoners of war gave him a silver inkstand.

But he kept busy. For three years after the war ended he entertained some 30 Hythe men returned from prisoner of war camps to ‘a substantial meat tea’ at Mrs Gravenor’s tea rooms. He arranged for a tablet to the memory of Thomas Quested Finnis, one time mayor of Hythe and Lt Col John Finnis his brother, both men of Hythe, to be installed in the gardens of Prospect Lodge and for another to be erected in the High Street to the memory of the inventor of the steam screw propeller, Sir Francis Petit Smith who was born at 31 High Street. He also presented a bell for use at St Michael’s church, the ‘tin tabernacle’.

He died on 2nd January 1923 at Prospect Lodge and was buried with Mary. It was said in his obituary that ‘no man loved Hythe better’.

Bertram followed him to the grave the next year. In his will he left £7267. This was divided equally among his wife and his children by Edith, but Ethel, the daughter of his first marriage, received only £500. She had emigrated to Canada alone three years earlier to work as a lady’s companion.

The surviving brothers erected the brass plaque to their father in St Leonard’s church, at a spot directly above the pew they had occupied as a young family, sixty years before.

The grave of Alfred, Mary and Emily Winnifrith in St Leonard’s churchyard

Alfred died in Clapham in 1950 and Douglas in 1955 in Tunbridge Wells.

I am grateful to Kathryne Maher and Christopher McGonigal for their original research into the Winnifrith family. 

 

A Canadian Adventure and a Canadian Adventuress

The father of the Trueman family of Hythe did not have an auspicious start in life. Henry William Truman was born in 1857 in the Elham Union Workhouse, the son of Jane Trueman, a single woman. His father was not named. What became of Jane is unknown, but little Henry was taken in by Thomas and Harriet Pilcher, who kept the Providence beerhouse in Hythe High Street. There must presumably have been a blood relationship, since the Pilchers already had a brood of children and were in no need of an extra mouth to feed.  Thomas Pilcher died when Henry was twelve, during the dreadful winter of 1869-70. The town’s water pipes were frozen and he collapsed trying to carry water down from a spring at the top of the hill. Harriet carried on the business alone. Thomas took the Pilchers’  name and was raised as their son. When he left school, he worked as a groom and assumed his birth name.

On 14 November 1876, at St Leonard’s church, Hythe, he married Rosanna Burrows of Ashford. She was the fourth child of the eight of James Burrows, a coach smith and his wife Abigail. Their wedding ceremony seems to have been rather chaotic. The bride misrepresented her age, saying she was twenty-one, not nineteen. Her Christian and surnames were both misspelt as was Henry’s surname. Nearly fifty years later, they went back to the church to have the record set straight.

Trueman1

They set up home in Theatre Street, Hythe, a road of mostly small terraced cottages. Their first son, James Henry (Jim) was born on 17 April 1878 and William John in 1880.  Frederick Charles followed in 1881, then Harry Sydney (Sid) in 1886. By 1891 Henry was prospering. The family lived in Bartholomew Street, and he had become a cab driver and groom, and also a ratepayer, which entitled him to a vote. They stayed there until at least 1901, by which time the three eldest boys had left home and young Sid, at fifteen was apprenticed to a carpenter.   Once Sid had left home as well, Henry and Rosanna moved to 50 North Road, where they ran a general store and Rosanna’s father James moved in with them. He died in 1911 and is buried in St Leonard’s churchyard.

Their eldest son, Jim, became a tram conductor. Horse-drawn trams had started running from Hythe to Folkestone in the 1890s and by 1894 ran all the way from Red Lion Square in Hythe, where the tram sheds and stables were built, to the Sandgate hill lift, which took visitors up to the Leas.  Because of its seating arrangement, the tram was known locally as ‘the toast rack’.

Trueman toastrack

The ‘toast rack’ on its way back from Folkestone to Hythe. The conductor is standing at the back. 

Trueman tramsheds

The tram sheds at Hythe, now converted into offices.

In 1899, Jim married a local girl, Cecilia Powell, the daughter of a marine storekeeper. They settled in Frampton Road, not too far from the tram sheds and two children were born: Georgina in 1900 and James Percy in 1902. Then, perhaps not seeing any great future in his line of work, Jim and Cecilia and their children emigrated to Canada in 1913. During the early-twentieth century, emigration from Britain reached unprecedented levels, with approximately 3.15 million people leaving between 1903 and 1913. The most popular destination during these years was Canada, drawing almost half of Britain’s emigrants.

They sailed on board the Sicilian  from London on 27 March 1913 and James, entirely untruthfully, told the immigration authorities that his occupation was ‘farming.’  The family went to Elgin County in Ontario, but within months Cecilia had developed Bright’s disease (which could be any sort of kidney failure)  and she died in hospital on 7 April 1915.

Jim and the children moved on to Fronterac, also in Ontario and Jim took up house painting instead of farming.  By now, war had broken out in Europe, and Jim immediately joined the Princess of Wales Own Rifles, a reserve infantry regiment, but did not volunteer then for overseas service. When he did, on 1 November 1916, he joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps, and was attached to a Field Ambulance Unit.  He had brown eyes, dark brown hair and was 5 feet 5 inches tall.  Two weeks before this, he had married again, to Violet Bertha Reid. When he joined up, he made his will, leaving everything to her.

Trueman marriage licence

He returned to England on Boxing Day 1916, aboard the SS Olympic  and was sent to Dibgate Camp, used as a training depot for the Canadians and very near to Hythe.  Within a month he was admitted to hospital at Sir John Moore barracks in Shorncliffe and by April was seriously ill with nephritis (kidney disease).  Although he rallied briefly, he was discharged from the army as no longer fit for service on 29 June the next year, and died at his parent’s home in North Road a month after that, on 24 July 1917.  He had told the military authorities that he did not want to return to Canada.

Jim was buried in the same grave as his maternal grandfather, James Burrows. His children were at his funeral, probably old enough now to make the journey from Canada alone. Rosanna Trueman, Jim’s mother, became their guardian. Violet, however was not there.  The army discovered that she had not legally been Jim’s wife: she had ‘married’ several soldiers in order to receive the separation allowance when they were sent overseas. Sensibly, Violet, if that was in fact her name, disappeared.

James Percy grew up to become a gardener, married and did not die until 1981.  Georgina married Percy Blackman, had a son and was still living in Hythe in 1939.

Jim’s next brother, William, stayed put in Hythe and opened, when he was still a young man, a newsagent and tobacconist in Bank Street, where he also lived with his wife and four children – Vera, Edna, Iris and Wilfred. He also took on the old family home in Bartholomew Street and rented it out. A Conservative, he was also a Freemason and member of the bowls club.  In his forties he became ill and missed his mother’s funeral in 1927, which took place not long after she celebrated her Golden Wedding Anniversary with Henry. William died, aged only forty-eight in 1928. and was buried in Saltwood churchyard.

Trueman Saltwood

William’s grave in Saltwood churchyard. His wife Emily Evelyn is buried in the same grave.

Frederick Trueman, the third brother, had meanwhile left Hythe but had not gone far – only to Folkestone where he worked for some years for a brewery, E. Finn and Co., of Lydd, first as a clerk, later as manager of their Folkestone branch. He spent his working life in the catering trade, later with Maestrani’s in Folkestone and towards the end of his life at Slatter’s Hotel in Canterbury. Both were considered to be rather up-market establishments.

Trueman Maestani

The Maestrani family’s café and restaurant in Folkestone. It was demolished in the 1930s.

Slatters Hotel in Canterbury, now also demolished    Trueman Slatters

Frederick did not marry, and died in 1930, also aged forty-eight, weeks after his father. He is also buried in Saltwood, while his father is with the rest of the family in St Leonard’s churchyard.

Sid, the baby of the Trueman family went away, too, to Plumstead. He seems never to have become a carpenter, but worked as a canvasser and collector for a second-hand clothes dealer. He married and moved to Maidstone.  He is absent from the list of mourners at his family’s funerals, but occasionally sent a wreath. He died in 1959.

But there is a postscript. For years, the Canadian Army and Commonwealth War Graves Commission listed Jim as having no known grave, as although his family had notified the army that Jim was dead, they had not told them where he was buried. His name was recorded instead on the Brookwood Memorial to the missing in Surrey.

Trueman Brookwood

Brookwood Memorial

Then, in 2015, two Canadian researchers, Diana Beaupre and Adrian Watkinson contacted St Leonard’s church. They were – and still are – researching the whereabouts of the graves of Canadian soldiers who died in the UK. We were able to tell them exactly where Jim’s grave was, and a couple of years later, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission erected an official War Grave memorial, in addition to the existing headstone. Since then, however, that original stone, already badly weathered when its inscription was recorded in 2015, has collapsed.

Trueman grave

The Trueman grave in St Leonard’s churchyard as it was in 2015. The inscription could only be partly deciphered:

Nearer my God to thee
In memory of/ …mes Henry …/…. 25th I….h aged …
… James Henry Trueman/ died July 24th 1917 aged 40
Rosanna Trueman/ died December 29th 1927/ aged 71 years
And/ Henry William Trueman/ died February …th 1930 aged 72 years.

On the obverse:

Also of Cecilia/Wife of James Trueman/who died 7 April 1915/buried Kingston Canada

Trueman war grave

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone for James Henry Trueman, the only CWGC stone in St Leonard’s churchyard. 

The fascinating research being undertaken by Diana and Adrian can be seen here:

https://www.canadianukgravesww1.co.uk/

I am indebted to them for providing me with a record of Jim’s military service from the Ottawa Archives.

A lifeboat hero and a skinny-dipping vicar

Richard James Crump was born in Hythe in 1844, the elder of the two children of Richard and Sarah Crump, though Sarah had four children from an earlier marriage. He was baptised in St Leonard’s church on 5 January 1845. The family lived in Stade Street, Hythe. Richard’s father was a shrimper or sailor, depending on the season, and Richard, too, became a fisherman and married, in 1876, Mary Ann Jessup, a farmer’s daughter from Sevenoaks.

Sometime in the 1880s he diversified. Mary Ann received an inheritance from her father, and the couple used it to hire the Hythe sea bathing establishment on Marine Parade. The lease ran for three years and made Richard the proprietor. This involved operating the hot and cold sea baths, guiding the bathing machines down to the sea and running the tea room and reading room. It was a good post for a couple and came complete with its own adjacent accommodation, ideal for the Crump’s family of five children. Richard added the further attraction of trips around Hythe bay in his boat.

Bathing machines had been perfected by a Margate Quaker, Benjamin Beale. They were horse-drawn caravans, screened at both ends. The would-be bather waited in the tea room or reading room for a machine to become available. When one was free, the bather, fully-dressed, climbed inside and undressed. Women, and sometimes men, changed into bathing costumes. Once the machine had been driven into the sea, the driver operated a pulley and the front screen which was rather like a hood, unfurled, so that the bather could descend into the sea in complete privacy in a bath about three-and-a-half metres long by two metres wide. Later, when swimming rather than taking a dip for health reasons, became popular, the modesty hood was dispensed with and the machine was just a means of getting into the sea without having to expose one’s person to public view in a bathing dress.

Crump2

Hythe beach with bathing machines in the late nineteenth century. Note the fully-dressed non-swimmers.

The Hythe bathing establishment had opened in 1854, built by the corporation at a cost of £2500. It had been financed by selling a stretch of beach to the west of the town to the army for use as a rifle range.

Not everyone chose to use the bathing establishment and its machines. The military frequently bathed in the sea to the east of the town off Seabrook, and not all of the soldiers wore bathing dress. In the mid-1880s, passers-by were reported to have been grossly offended by the sight of the skinny-dippers. The corporation arranged for an eighty-foot – long canvas screen to be erected. Even worse was the sight of ‘a certain reverend gentleman’ who also refused to wear bathing clothes. The town clerk was obliged to write to him cautioning him against such behaviour and the corporation enacted bylaws to regulate suitable attire in 1886.

Richard’s lease of the sea baths endured until at least 1903, but by 1911 he had returned to his previous occupation of fishing, though still occupying the same house. The bathing establishment had by now been converted into public baths for the people of Hythe. Bathing machines were going out of fashion, and many visitors preferred now to put up their own tent on the beach.

Crump 3

The same beach with bathing tents and no machines visible. 

In the meantime, Richard had assisted in saving the crew of the Benvenue, which foundered off Sandgate early one November morning in 1891 during a terrific storm. The captain and four crew members were drowned, and the remaining crew clambered up the mizzen mast and clung on. A lifeboat was launched from Hythe, but capsized, killing a crewman. The Coastguard repeatedly fired rockets in an attempt to get a line to the vessel, to no avail. Only when the wind abated in the evening could the Sandgate lifeboat, with a scratch crew of fishermen, including Richard, and some coastguards, rescue the twenty-seven survivors, who had been in the rigging for sixteen hours.

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The rigging of the Benvenue, still visible after the storm.

Richard and Mary Ann retired to Arthur Villas in South Road, not far from his erstwhile bathing establishment. Perhaps he missed the life. In December 1918, as soon as it was safe to go back on the water after the Armistice was declared, he was advertising to buy two or three small pleasure boats, probably with a view to offering trips round the bay once again. He died three years later, and Mary Ann, buried with him, thirteen years after that.

Crump4

Richard’s name on the kerbstone of his grave. Mary Ann’s name, on the opposite side, is now underneath the turf. The churchyard lies on a steep hillside.

Crump 5

Edward Watts, True Blue

Edward Watts was the second son of James and Hannah Watts, born in 1804, and became a solicitor, in partnership with a Mr Brockman. They had offices in Great Conduit Street, Hythe. In 1829, he was appointed Master Extraordinary in the Court of Chancery (responsible for taking affidavits for the court). At home, he became a town councillor, and like his father before him, a staunch Conservative.  Like his father, too, he could expect to remain a councillor for the rest of his life. However, he was living in interesting political times and this was not to be his future.

The Whig government of Lord Grey, having carried out reform of parliamentary constituencies in 1832, turned its attention to local government. A Royal Commission was appointed to investigate municipal boroughs. The Commission comprised eighteen men, nearly all Radicals, members of a loose political grouping who wanted to reform the way in which Great Britain was governed.  They came also to be known as Liberals. They investigated 285 towns, most of which were found wanting. As a result, the Municipal Corporations Act became law in 1835, requiring 178 town councils to reform their practices. Hythe was one of them.

Edward was by this time Town Clerk as well as a councillor. The Act specifically forbade this combination of offices and Edward resigned the councillorship. In January 1836, an election was called, the first in Hythe in which voting was along party political lines, Conservatives versus Liberals.  178 men were allowed to vote, and they voted in a Liberal majority. The Liberals also fielded a candidate for the post of Town Clerk, one George Sedgwick, another solicitor. He won the post, but the council were now faced with the fact that according to Edward’s contract, they had to buy him an annuity for life, which would, reportedly, use up all their funds for the next four years.  Rates would therefore have to increase substantially.

In May that year, Edward presented his claim for compensation. It was for £3306. 15s. 2d., about a quarter of a million pounds today. Voting had been close in the election, and there were claims that some men had been excluded from the list of voters erroneously. Edward acted for those among them who were Conservatives, and although the case failed he announced his intention of seeking a mandamus from the Court of King’s Bench to force the issue.

At the next annual election of councillors, late in 1836, Edward was voted in again as a town councillor. The council, however, for reasons which remain obscure, refused to accept this election as legal, and when Edward arrived at the council chamber to take his oath of office, the Mayor refused to hear it and told him to leave. Edward refused. The Mayor then instructed his constable, who was also the town gaoler, to eject him by force, and Edward was manhandled from the chamber.

Whether or not Edward sought a mandamus, we do not know, but he would not give up on the question of the Conservative voters who were disenfranchised in January 1836.  He got the MP for East Kent (a new constituency created by the Reform Act of 1832) to petition the House of Commons stating his case. There was no point in asking the Hythe MP to do this. Sir Stewart Marjoribanks was a Liberal himself.

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Sir Stewart Marjoribanks, MP for Hythe 1829-1837 and 1841-1847

Eventually, Edward won. Two Liberal councillors were charged with having ‘unlawfully, corruptly and designedly’ altered the borough’s rate book in no fewer that 300 cases to disenfranchise some men and give a vote to others (eligibility to vote was dependant among other things, on having paid all your rates). Their counsel’s only defence was that they were ‘ignorant and illiterate men’. They pleaded guilty and spent four months in Maidstone gaol.

Edward was reinstated as Town Clerk when George Sedgwick  failed to attend council meetings. He stayed in the post until his death over twenty years later. On 30 September 1840, in Reigate, he married Amelia Bunn, and the first of their nine children was born almost exactly a year later.

Legal matters aside, Edward was also very interested in the railways. He was one of the founder members of the Elham Valley Railway Company which wanted to run from Canterbury to Folkestone and worked tirelessly to bring the railway to Hythe, although he did not live to see the opening of either line.

See the source image

The site of part of the Elham Valley Railway which operated from 1887 to 1947 and is now a pleasant footpath.

                    The opening of Hythe Station. The line from Sandling was open from 1874 to 1951

Edward steered clear of further controversy, and now seemed to be living the respectable life of a small town solicitor and family man. Except that in 1855, he was declared bankrupt, owing over £90,000. This he attributed in court to heavy losses in the building of his new house,the depreciation of property and debts owing to him amounting to £27,000. The new family home was put on the market.  It had an acre of land, coach house and stabling, drawing room, dining room, library and eight bedrooms. Edward, rather than being sent to a debtor’s prison was given bail with sureties, presumably from his brother James,  and went to live in Islington though his family stayed in Hythe, in Marine Parade.  He was replaced as Town Clerk, but when he  was discharged as a bankrupt the following year, he was able to return to Hythe and was reinstated.

However, the bankruptcy would not go away. In 1855, Edward had arranged a mortgage for a Mr Green, in which the vicar of Hythe, the Rev’d Richard Formby,  advanced the money. Formby passed the cash to Edward, who delayed before passing it to Green and when he was declared bankrupt, the money was included in his assets. His brother, James, repaid Formby, but in 1858 the Reverend gentleman applied to the Court of Chancery to have Edward struck  off.

This had unfortunate consequences. Edward’s supporters orchestrated a well-publicised protest outside the vicarage, in which they burnt an effigy of the incumbent.  Not everyone thought this an appropriate response, especially as Mrs Formby and her children were in residence at the time.  An address to Formby, signed by over a hundred people said it was a ‘disgraceful act’, but the vicar himself forgave the perpetrators, only hoping that the ‘precious souls of the poor committed to my charge may not be endangered by so sinful and sad an example.’

The Lord Chancellor did not strike Edward off, but awarded costs against him.  On his return to Hythe, the horses were taken out of his carriage and it was pulled through the street by delighted townsmen while the town band played and cheering crowds lined the streets. The Rev’d Formby left Hythe the following year.

The rest of Edward’s life was, as far as we know, quiet, though not without sadness.  Two sons, Ernest Edward and William Benjamin, died young at eleven years and a few months respectively. Asthmatic all his life, an attack of bronchitis eventually proved fatal for Edward and he died on 1 June 1867 aged sixty-two.

His family erected an impressive obelisk over his grave, with space enough for all his family’s names. It is, however, badly weathered, and only Edward’s name and the names of the sons who died as children can, just, be deciphered.

Of his three daughters, Matilda remained single; Josephine married Horatio Case and Alice married firstly Sir Edward Hay Drummond-Hay, the former Governor of St Helena and secondly Henry John Maxwell. The second son Albert became a solicitor in Wimbledon; the third, Percy, went to Ceylon as a tea planter and died there at the age of thirty-six; and the two youngest, Montague and Herbert became clerks in the Metropolitan Water Company and lived in Surrey.

After his death his widow moved with her youngest children to Westminster. She lived latterly with Matilda in Putney where she died in 1897

What’s in a name?

Campbell Kelton Grave

In loving memory/of/ Major Frank Murray Campbell/died 8th March 1910
“Come unto me, ye weary, and I will give you rest”
In tender loving memory of /Major Percy St. G. Kelton/who died in Paris 28th of June 1924
R.I.P.

Two men who died fourteen years apart, both soldiers, apparently in two different countries with seemingly nothing to connect them, not even a name.
Frank Murray Campbell claimed on census returns to have been born in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire in about 1859, but there is no record anywhere in Hertfordshire or indeed anywhere in England of a birth registration or baptism in this name. In fact, there are no records at all of him until he married Julia Gertrude Kortoske Curtis, born in Canada, in London in 1880. She was probably the daughter of either Benjamin or Raphael Kortoske who traded in hats and caps in Montreal and London. The family changed their name to Curtis after a disastrous bankruptcy and fraud case was proved against them.
Frank and Julia went to South Africa, where their first daughter, Marion May, was born. On their return to London, they lived in Hampstead and Frank worked as a stockbroker. Two more children, Sybille and Edmund were born.

campbell

Frank in uniform                     (Photo Mrs Avril Williams) 
Frank joined the 4th Volunteer Battalion the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment in 1891 and attained the rank of major. Then in 1906, Julia sued for divorce. At that time, a woman could not obtain a divorce for adultery alone. There had to be an additional cause, such as cruelty.   By then Frank was living at 8 Beaconsfield Terrace, Hythe, the home of Rina Kelton.

Campbell Beaconsfield

Beaconsfield Terrace, Hythe, in the early years of the 20th century
Rina Henriette Kelton nee St Goar was the very rich widow of a stockbroker, originally called Carl Kahn. She had been born in Germany to a wealthy Jewish family. She and her husband moved to London. Carl – now Charles – died in 1905 and left a considerable sum of money to Rina and their two sons, Gerald and Percy, but stipulated that they must change their name to Kelton

Rina lived mostly in Park Lane in London but had a holiday home at Beaconsfield Terrace in Hythe, which she rented from Lady Evelyn Cooper-Key, the widow of an admiral. She was known in the seaside town for her largesse. There was not a church nor a charitable institution which did not benefit from her generosity and ’Madame Rina Kelton’, as she insisted on being called,  was often asked to open garden parties and sales of work. She endowed the School of Musketry with the Kelton Cup, to be competed for at football. How she managed to mix in respectable society while living with a divorced man is a mystery. It may be that she passed him off as her spouse. One oral history interviewee, speaking in the 1980s, remembers that she had a ‘husband’.
Frank died at Rina’s home, of a malignant tumour of the face. His sister, Violet Rachel Curtis was with him. She had married Louis Curtis (born Louis Kortoske and probably Julia’s brother or cousin) in 1875 and they too, had gone to South Africa, to Kimberley, after their marriage. Their daughter, another Marion was born there before they, too, returned to the UK.
Frank’s cremated remains were interred in St Leonard’s churchyard on 29 January 1914, four years after his death.
Percy St Goar Kelton was born Percy St Goar Kahn on 28 December 1886, the elder son of Charles and Rina Kahn. he was educated at Harrow School, Queen’s College Cambridge and the University of Hanover.  He served in the territorial division of the East Kent Regiment, ‘The Buffs’ from August 1909 to 1913, when he resigned.  He was a man of independent means, with no need to work, and devoted himself  to gambling at cards and  horse racing. He lived with his mother whose residences were now at Hanover Square and ‘Castlemead’, Hythe.

In September 1914 he took his motor car to Paris and worked as a civilian driver attached to the British Army Headquarters in Paris. He also did some interpreting in interviews of German prisoners as he was bilingual.  Apart from that, his Commanding Officer said that he made a nuisance of himself, as he thought that being an unpaid chauffeur was beneath him.  He was, according to the same man, ‘bumptious, swaggering and loud’ and he ‘lied quite a lot’. (1)

According to Percy’s own account, he was involved in fighting near Compiegne. He killed two German soldiers and took one prisoner. He took the bullet-riddled helmet of one of his victims and had it sent, via a French woman who was escaping, to his mother. This sounds very much like one of Percy’s inventions, since as a civilian he was not involved in military action.

His behaviour was so erratic, that for a time he was suspected of being a spy and investigated in February 1915, but no evidence was found to support the allegation.

In 1915, he was commissioned as a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps for temporary service. However, a subsequent medical examination found that he was unfit for service either at home or abroad as he had undergone surgery for a hernia which left him unable to walk far or carry heavy weights.  Instead, he was sent to Shoreham in Sussex to work for the General Army Staff. (2)

He did, however, manage to join the West Africa Frontier Force, but in January 1917 contracted malaria. Six months later he was invalided home and was admitted to the London General Hospital. It must have been in this period that he met  Elizabeth MacBride, the daughter of Mr and Mrs William MacBride of New York, whom he married at St James’s Church, Spanish Place, London on 12 December 1917. American and British officers formed a guard of honour for the couple.

He then went back to Africa; whether Elizabeth went too is unknown. His medal card seems to show that although he had attained the rank of Captain, he worked after the war, until at least 1921, as a civilian  owner-driver for the force in the Gold Coast Regiment. He was mentioned in dispatches in early 1919, and in 1920 awarded the Military Order of Aviz by the King of Portugal – part of the Gold Coast (now Ghana) was a Portuguese colony.

campbell kelton medal card
Nothing further is known of him, except that at the time of his death was living at the Hotel Brioni on Brioni, an island off the coast of Istria. He died of peritonitis in Paris. Probate was granted to his brother Gerald, though he left only £253 19s 7d,  in Kelton family terms, a pittance. His mother placed a death notice in the local press which states that he was awarded the Military Cross, but there is no supporting evidence for this, nor is there any indication that he became a major, as  Rina claimed on his gravestone.

His mother died in 1944 in Wokingham, aged eighty-five.

  1. WO 339/16864  National Archive
  2.  ibid.

The Cobays Part 3 – Bond Street and Hythe Heroes

Robert, William Richard and Henry Thomas Cobay were the third, fourth and fifth sons of George and Hannah Cobay respectively. None married, all became mayors of Hythe and all spent their lives in what might loosely be described as the property business.
Robert, born in Quebec in 1849, and William, born Winchester in 1853, moved to Hackney as young men. They worked for a cabinet maker, Robert at first as his apprentice and later his works manager and William as his clerk. They lodged together, and with them was twenty-eight-year old Tom Robinson, a surveyor. Ten years later, they were all living in the same house in Amherst Road, Hackney, but the Cobays  had become house furnishers. Tom Robinson was now  a merchant’s clerk.
Their younger brother Henry, meanwhile, who had remained in Hythe set himself up as an auctioneer and house furnisher and by the time he was in his mid-twenties was employing five men. His business traded under the name Cobay Brothers, so presumably either Robert or William or both had an interest. In 1889, Messrs Cobay Bros sold at one auction alone a large house complete with its own lodge and servants’ cottages and five substantial building plots. Full particulars of the sale were to be obtained not from Henry in Hythe, but from Messrs Smee and Cobay of Finsbury Pavement, London.
William had set up another business, with Arthur Rosling Smee, trading as cabinet makers and upholsterers. In 1887 they refurbished the Palace Hotel in Hastings. Other hotel contracts followed: the Royal Links in Cromer, the Grand in Eastbourne, Brown’s in London’s Albemarle Street. By 1899 they had a showroom in Bond Street.

Cobay Smee & Cobay

They also had their own furniture manufactory in Moorfields.

cobay furniture

cobay furniture2

William, though, had business interests elsewhere. In the1890s, he headed a syndicate which bought land on the Leas in Folkestone from Earl Radnor, built the magnificent Metropole Hotel and then disposed of it to Gordon Hotels Ltd. William became a director of this organisation.

Cobay metropole

The Metropole Hotel in Folkestone not long after its opening. It still stands today, very little changed.

He purchased the derelict Seabrook Hotel in Hythe, refurbished it completely, and in the surrounding sixteen acres of scrubland created gardens, croquet lawns, tennis courts and a nine-hole golf course. It re-opened as the Imperial Hotel, which still welcomes guests today.

Cobay Imperial

The Imperial Hotel on the seafront at Hythe

The brothers, and Tom, had moved out of Hackney and into Grosvenor Square, but in 1903 both Tom, and Henry Cobay, who had remained in Hythe, died. Henry was only fifty. In 1905, Smee and Cobay completed their last big contract, the redecoration and refurbishment of the Royalty Theatre in Dean Street in 1905. The Times said their work made it ‘one of the brightest and prettiest theatres in London’.

Then in July, the London Gazette announced that Smee and Cobay would cease trading:

NOTICE is hereby given, that the Partnership heretofore
subsisting between us the undersigned,
Arthur Rosling Smee and William Richard Cobay,
carrying on business as Cabinet Makers and Upholsterers,
at 139, New Bond-street, in the county of
London, under the style or firm of SMEE AND COBAY,
has been dissolved by mutual consent as and from the
first day of January, 1906. All debts due to and owing
by the said late firm will be received and paid by the
said Arthur Rosling Smee.—Dated this 21st day of July,
1905.
ARTHUR ROSLING SMEE.
WILLIAM RICHARD COBAY

William returned to Hythe and lived with Robert, as had their parents and siblings before them, in the house at 40 High Street, but they did not give up the house in Grosvenor Square and were still listed as ratepayers for several more years, until William bought a house at Hyde Park . He, at least, still had business interests in London. He was chairman of the Apollo Theatre in London, and had a financial interest in two Birmingham theatres, but still had local interests and established the Metropole Laundry in Hythe. It serviced both the Imperial and the Metropole Hotels and provided employment for many Hythe women. The laundry’s steam whistle blew promptly at a quarter to eight each morning to summon them to work.

Both Robert and William now involved themselves in local politics. Their brother Henry had, like his father, been three times mayor of Hythe. Robert was mayor, too, in 1911. But it was William’s mayoralty during World War One which had the greatest impact.

Cobay William

William in mayoral robes and chain

Although not an Alderman, he was elected as Mayor in 1914 and re-elected unanimously every year until 1918. During this time he donated to and raised over £23,000 for various good causes, including the Belgian Relief Fund and the Red Cross. He laid out ornamental gardens in Ladies Walk, which leads from the Royal Military Canal to the sea, and beautified the canal banks. He argued that the war would be over some day and that Hythe must be prepared to welcome its visitors again. He visited sick and wounded soldiers and took an interest in the welfare of their families.
One of these families comprised the widow and children of Frank Fisher, a grocery assistant who had been killed in November 1917. His wife, Flo, had been very ill since the birth of their fifth child, but Frank was conscripted regardless. He was killed eleven days after he arrived in France. William set up a fund to help his family and headed the subscription list with £5. A week later it had reached £62. 5 .0. and William decided to extend the beneficiaries to include all families bereaved and left in need by the war and those men incapacitated through war service. He called it the Hythe Heroes Fund.
A year later he had the £2000 he wanted and applications were invited. The names of recipients were kept secret, but included 55 mothers, 37 widows, 32 incapacitated, 17 various relations, and 72 children.
He seems to have been genuinely loved by the people of Hythe. When the war was over he was granted the Freedom of the Town, a rarely-bestowed honour. There was talk that he would soon be knighted, but he died before that could happen.
He died in at his Hyde Park house following an operation for appendicitis. His funeral was a grand affair. He could have opted for a grand grave, but he chose instead to lie with his parents and brother Henry in St Leonard’s churchyard. He left, in his will, £79,199.
The last remaining Cobay brother, Robert, took William’s death badly. He tried to take on William’s business interests as well as continuing to run Cobay Bros in Hythe. He became chairman of the Imperial Hotel, the Metropole Laundry and the Sandling, Saltwood and Hythe Estate, but by 1922 his health had broken down and he died two years later, leaving £100, 337 in his will.
A Mr Butler bought the auctioneer’s business. The furniture from the family home in the High Street was sold off and Mr Butler auctioned the fifty oil paintings and the Axminster carpets on behalf of Robert’s executors.
Before he died, Robert had left Hythe one last gift. He ordered a set of oak panels, with gilt lettering, to be hung in the Town Hall in memory of his brother William. It lists all the mayors of the town. It is still there today, the name of Cobay appearing eleven times.

The Cobays Part 1 – A Lincolnshire Lad

As the seventeen-year-old George Cobay left his Lincolnshire village on a cold February day in 1833, could he, an illiterate labourer, have imagined that he would live into the next century, that he would become Speaker of the Cinque Ports, that three of his sons would be mayors of Hythe, that two of them would have businesses in London’s exclusive Bond Street or that he himself would die full of honours and that a Baronet would send a wreath to his funeral? Probably not. What he clearly had though was a desire to see more of the world than Claypole (population 593) could offer.

George was born on 3 October 1815 in Claypole. He started his working life as a labourer, but when he was seventeen he joined the army, making his mark on his attestation papers – he could not write. He served in the 19th Regiment of Foot, where he rose in 1843 to the rank of Sergeant and his character and conduct were judged to be excellent. Judging by his later career, he must also have learned to write. He spent over ten years abroad, in the Mediterranean, the West Indies and North America before being discharged as unfit after twenty-one years in 1854. He was then thirty-nine and was diagnosed as having ‘chronic rheumatism originating and caused by length of service and constitutional infirmity’. George was five feet six inches tall, with hazel eyes and a sallow complexion.

Presumably some of his service in the United Kingdom was in Ireland, because by the time he was twenty-four he was married to Hannah, a Co. Cork woman. She travelled with him on his postings. Her eight children were born in Dublin, Malta, Canada, Cephalonia, at sea in the Mediterranean, Winchester and the last in Hythe, where the family settled immediately George left the army.

Why Hythe? The link is the new School of Musketry in the town. Colonel Hay, the first Commanding Officer, who arrived in the town in June 1853, had appointed that August the first instructor, Sergeant MacKay of the 19th Foot. He was the same rank and from the same Regiment as George. They must have been known to each other. Did Sergeant McKay recommend the place to George? Or recommend George to Colonel Hay? Quite possibly. At any rate, George took the civilian post of mess master at the School.

Image result for school of musketry hythe kent

By 1861 he had acquired the licence of the Swan Hotel in the High Street. It was a large coaching inn and likely to profit from the large numbers of officers and NCOs visiting the town. It was also conveniently situated near the Town Hall and could provide dinners and banquets for civic functions.

He prospered, becoming as well as a landlord,  a landowner. He acquired a parcel of land off Donkey Street on the Romney Marsh and started to call himself a grazier rather than an innkeeper. In 1877 he was able to give Hythe Cricket Club his land next to Ladies Walk in the town. That was the year that Hannah died, aged only fifty-six.

Six of her eight children had survived to adulthood, though two infant daughters, Mary, born in Malta and Maria, born in Quebec, did not. She had seen the eldest three, Margaret, George and John married. The three younger sons, Henry, William and Robert, were well on the way to becoming successful business men, and she had become a grandmother.

George had also become a Town Councillor  in the 1860s, retiring in 1898, and a JP – he was still on the bench only four months before his death.  He was mayor of Hythe in 1881 and 1882 and Speaker of the Cinque Ports in 1882. He was, according to the local newspaper, greatly respected in these roles as well as in private life. His illness was reported in the papers in early August 1900. Until then, he had been in robust good health and enjoyed taking long walks. The chronic rheumatism of his army days seems to have been cured by Hythe’s sea air. His funeral was a grand affair at St Leonard’s church, attended by the great and good of Hythe, and graced by a wreath from the town’s MP, Edward Sassoon, Bart.

The grave of Robert and Hannah Cobay and of their three unmarried sons, Henry, William and Robert. The inscription reads:

In/affectionate/remembrance/of/Hannah the beloved wife of/George Cobay/who died 27th June 1877/aged 56 years
Also of George Cobay/husband of the above/who died 12th August 1900/in his 85th year
Also of Henry Thomas Cobay/son of the above/who died 30th November 1903/in his 50th year
Also of their sons/William Richard Cobay/died 26th March 1920, in his 68th year
And/ Robert Cobay/died 9th May 1924 in his 67th year

To be continued…