Thomas Head Raddall, Father and Son

 

Thomas Head Raddall, senior and…                                                 Thomas Head Raddall, junior

Thomas Head Raddall senior was born in Hampshire on 6 December 1876, the only son of another Thomas, a draper’s assistant, and his wife Eleanor. He had four sisters.

His father seems to have had a nervous breakdown, attributed to alcohol abuse. The family left Hampshire and moved to West Ham. Young Thomas worked as a cashier in an office near St Paul’s Cathedral, where he ate his lunchtime sandwich each day until when he was just fourteen or fifteen, he enlisted in the Royal Marines as a drummer boy and was sent to the Royal Marines depot at Deal. He stayed there until just before his eighteenth birthday and during this time he met Ellen Marion Gifford (Nellie) of nearby Eastry, who was to become his wife.

The Royal Marines depot at Deal, now private housing

He then enlisted in the Royal Marine Light Infantry, Portsmouth Division on 18 October 1892 and saw service in the Far East from 1896 to 1900, cruising between Hong Kong, Weihaiwei in the north-east of China and Kobe and Nagasaki in Japan. Back in the UK, he married his Nellie on 23 September 1900 at Eastry. Their first child, a daughter, was born in Deal ten months later.

Thomas had been promoted and now applied for a post at the quaintly-named School of Musketry in Hythe. In fact, it now trained men in the use of modern rifles and machine guns. Thomas was himself a first-class marksman and he got the job and the rank of Quartermaster Sergeant Instructor. It was in the married quarters of the School that Nellie gave birth to a son, named Thomas Head Raddall for his father. The birth took place on Friday 13 November 1903, but Nellie, obviously a superstitious woman, always told her son he was born on 14 November. He was baptised at St Leonard’s church.

The School of Musketry in Hythe, since demolished

Young Thomas later remembered Hythe as a ‘sleepy watering place’. He learned to walk in the School’s Barrack square and attended the National School in the town, where in the library he became entranced by the stories of Fenimore Cooper with his Indians and Leatherstockings. Encouraged by his music-loving father, he went to piano lessons with ‘a little, ape-faced man’ who whacked his fingers with an ivory baton when he made a mistake.

Thomas senior, meanwhile, was realising that the School of Musketry, Hythe, the British army and Great Britain itself had little more to offer him and his family. The high spot of his time in the town had been his membership of the British rifle team at the London Olympics of 1908. He was full of ideas and wanted more opportunity for his children. When he was thirty-five, in 1913, he applied for a post in Canada as a firearms instructor for the militia and was successful. In May  that year, the little family – there was now another daughter – sailed for Halifax, Nova Scotia. Hythe was very civilised compared to the small wooden house without electricity in which they now lived.

War broke out in Europe the next year. Thomas senior enlisted on 22 September 1914. and got a commission in the Winnipeg Rifles. He was sent to France in 1915 but managed to stop in Hythe on the way to catch up with old friends. He was shot in the arm at Ypres and was the first wounded soldier to return to Nova Scotia but was soon back in France and in 1916 was promoted Captain. Wounded in 1917, he fought at Passchendaele, now as a major; by August 1918, he was a Lieutenant-Colonel.

He was killed on 9 August 1918 by machine-gun fire, in a wheat field while leading his men in an attempt to capture Hatchet Wood near Amiens. During his war, he had been mentioned in dispatches three times and awarded the Distinguished Service Order. He was buried in what was to become the Manitoba Cemetery, Caix and commemorated on the war memorial in Hythe.

Thomas’s name on the Hythe War Memorial

Nellie and her children meanwhile had narrowly escaped death in Nova Scotia when a French ship full of explosives blew up in Halifax harbour, destroying large parts of the town. Young Thomas’s school was temporarily the town mortuary for some of the two thousand people killed.

A street in Halifax after the explosion

Thomas senior’s death left his widow in worsened financial circumstances. Her only income was his army pension and since the explosion, everything necessary for life had rocketed in price. Thomas and his older sister had to leave school and get jobs. Thomas failed to get his first choice of work as a trainee reporter and took a training course to enable him to work as a wireless officer on merchant ships. He passed the course and started his career as a ‘sparks’ on the ss War Karma in 1919.

His mother, meanwhile, had gone back to Kent with her daughters, where she hoped her limited income would go further. They settled at Kingsdown, near Dover, but things did not work out. Many of her old friends had moved on, often the men had been killed in the war, and Kingsdown was so quiet that Ellen feared that the marriage and employment prospects for her daughters were limited. In 1921 they went back to Canada. The girls took typing and shorthand classes and got jobs in the city of Halifax.

Kingsdown in the 19th century

At nineteen, Thomas decided to leave the sea, went to business school and took a job as a book-keeper in a paper mill in Liverpool (Nova Scotia). While working there, he met and in 1927 married Edith Freeman. The next year their first child was stillborn.

In 1931, Thomas started writing. His first efforts, commissioned by his employer, were a series of small books on the history of Nova Scotia. These included advertising for the paper industry. Encouraged by their reception, he started writing short stories, which were also well received and gave him enough extra income to buy his house in 1935, by which time he had a small son and daughter.

At the outbreak of war, he tried to join up, but was told his wireless operating skills were out-dated, though he was commissioned as a reservist. He had now published his first novel, His Majesty’s Yankees and in 1943 signed a contract with Doubleday Doran for a second, Roger Sudden.

Thereafter, there was no looking back. He quit his job and became a full-time writer at forty. He was prolific and best known for his meticulously researched historical fiction. He received Governor General’s Awards for three of his books, The Pied Piper of Dipper Creek (1943), Halifax, Warden of the North (1948) and The Path of Destiny (1957) and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1971.

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The three prize-winning books by Thomas Head Raddall

In 1991 he endowed the he Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award to provide ‘the gift of time and peace of mind’ so essential to the creation of new work and which he himself had lacked in his early writing days. His family continues to support the award.

Thomas died on 1 April 1994. He was so esteemed in Canada that an exact replica of his study, furnished with his possessions, is on view at the Thomas Raddall Research Centre and his correspondence is housed at the Dalhousie University Archives.

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An Institutional Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winston Churchill also served at Malakand and wrote about his experiences

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

2.    Kent Archives G/EL/W1A

3.    Kent Archives Fo/Z2/C2

Making Good

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

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

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

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

A soldier of the Rifle Brigade, early nineteenth century

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

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

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

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

 

                                                                                  A rifleman in the Crimea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Kent Archives G/EL/W1a

The Hole Family Part 2

The first part of this blog was published in 2016, before I discovered the sad story of Elizabeth Back, nee Hole. I am indebted to David Haynes of Queensland for this extra information.  

Elizabeth Hole, the eldest child of James and Elizabeth Hole of Hythe was born on 24 September 1814. She became a servant and married Daniel Back (or sometimes Beck) in Marylebone, London in 1837. He was also a domestic servant. Less than two years later, they emigrated to Australia, leaving from Plymouth on 13th May 1839 aboard the Lady Raffles with 234 other souls and their baby son, another Daniel. They arrived in September. They were enticed into applying for emigration to the new colony of New South Wales by advertisements posted in London and other cities. This whole adventure must have seemed quite attractive at the time: their passage was paid for and employment was virtually assured once they arrived in Sydney. This was the so-called Bounty system, separate from the Government sponsored scheme.

                                                                         An example of Bounty emigration advertising

 

This opportunity seemed almost too good to be true and it was. Once there, Elizabeth and Daniel and all their co-emigrants were abandoned, left to fend for themselves. The jobs and housing did not materialise and there was no room in the Government-run accommodation.  Elizabeth gave birth again in 1840, to a daughter, Susan but there is no further trace of either of her children. It seems probable that they died.

Elizabeth left Australia, and Daniel, in about 1842. We don’t know whether it was the country or the man she wanted to escape, but she must have been desperate enough to find her own fare. Daniel remained in the new colony and soon developed a new partnership with another woman with whom he had six children before marrying her in 1858. He must have assumed that Elizabeth was dead.

She was not. She had entered the service of Mrs Elizabeth Frederica Crofts, the wife of Peter Guerin Crofts, the retired rector of St. John-sub-Castro in Lewes. She was his second wife and twenty years his junior and Elizabeth was her ladies maid. Their house, in Lewes,  was vast (it is now the HQ of Sussex Police) and required a live-in staff of eight, including a butler, coachman and footman.

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Malling House

The fact that it was in Lewes is significant: Daniel Back had been born near there, his family still lived nearby, so it seems that when she returned from Australia, Elizabeth went to her in-laws rather than her own family in Hythe. It is entirely possible that she was expecting Daniel to join her there.

Peter Crofts died in 1859, but Elizabeth stayed with her mistress until the latter’s death in 1878.  She then returned to Hythe where she lived in Stade Street and described herself as an annuitant and widow.  It is likely that Mrs Crofts remembered her faithful servant in her will and provided a pension so that she would not end her life in poverty. Her old age, though, according to her gravestone, was not a happy time.

She is buried with her sister Mary Hole, born in 1818, who alone of the siblings did not marry. She went to Ashford to live with her brother Thomas, and later with one of his daughters. Eventually she, too, returned to Hythe and lived in St Bartholomew’s almshouse in the town.

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The former St Bartholomew’s Almshouse in Hythe, now a private dwelling

 

In/loving memory/of/Elizabeth Back/who died 3rd March 1890/aged 75 years
Afflictions sore long time she bore/physicians were in vain/til death did cease and God did please/to ease her of her pain
Also of Mary Hole/sister of the above/who died11th December 1900/in her 82nd year
Well done good and faithful servant/enter thou into the joy of thy Lord

Mayorality and Mutiny: More Finnis Stories

There were three more Finnis sons born to Robert and Elizabeth before their family was complete.

Stephen, was the next-born, baptised in St Leonard’s church on 28 May 1798. He joined the army as a Cadet in 1817 and was commissioned lieutenant in the 29th Bengal Native Infantry the next year. He died at Dinapore (now Danapur), a British garrison town near Patna, on 1 August 1819, aged twenty-one. There appear to have been no heroics attached to his death and it is likely that, like so many before and since in the sub-continent, he succumbed to disease, or, in August, monsoon season, the combination of heat, humidity and mosquitos.

The next son was Thomas Quested Finnis, born in 1801. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to James Smith, bowyer, for a period of seven years from 6th December 1815, his father paying an indenture of £150. He later said he had wanted to join the navy, but that the death of his brother Robert at Lake Erie when Thomas was only eleven had changed his mind. Bows were then (and still are) in use for sporting and recreational purposes, but the purpose of his apprenticeship seems to have been trade.  He was admitted to the Freedom of the Bowyers’ Company in April 1823 and to the Freedom of the City of London in September. Now established, he could take a wife, and married Ann Lydia Ward on 28 March 1828 at St Matthew’s church, Brixton. Four years younger that him, she was the daughter of Henry William Ward, and had been born locally.

He went on to become a partner in a firm of provision merchants, Finnis and Fisher. Starting as grocers in London’s Tower Street, they gradually expanded into provisioning the many ships using the Port of London with goods like ‘marine soap’, which worked in sea water, and preserved meats, game and vegetables for long voyages. They started importing tobacco on their own account and pioneered trade to the port of Bussorah (now Basra) in Mesopotamia (Iraq). Thomas encouraged his Lynch nephews, sons of his sister Elizabeth, to explore the area and in 1851 received from them a set of marbles from Nineveh, some of which are now in the British museum.

Thomas Quested Finnis

He was busy in the civic life of the capital, too, his first appointment being in 1833 as Common Councillor for the Tower Ward, where his business was located. After that, the honours flowed in. He was created an Alderman as well as Sheriff in 1848 and was Deputy Governor of the Irish Society 1843/1844 – this was originally a land-owning and commercial enterprise set up by the London livery companies, but by the 1840s had a mainly charitable function. Thomas was ambitious and it was no secret that he wanted to be Lord Mayor of London. Mrs Caroline Chisolm, a social reformer working with emigrants to Australia, bought her beef for their voyage from him because, she said, ‘he would never be Lord Mayor if he gave the emigrants bad beef’.

Caroline Chisholm’s portrait on an Australian five dollar note

Thomas got his wish in 1856 and was the last Lord Mayor to have his parade on the River Thames.

Canaletto’s depiction of the Lord Mayor’s Parade on the Thames

The traditional dinner followed the procession, attended by the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston; the Chancellor of the Exchequer; the Duke of Cambridge; the Marquis of Salisbury and an assortment of South American ambassadors. During his year in office Thomas entertained the  Crown Prince of Prusia and raised half a million pounds to aid those affected by the Indian Mutiny (which included his own family). Ann Lydia assisted in the fund-raining and always presided at meetings of the ladies’ committees. In September 1857, she travelled to Southampton to meet the first British refugees from the fighting. Thomas was also a member of the Metropolitan Board of Works 1863 to 1866, the Thames Conservancy Board 1872 to 1883 and Treasurer of the Sons of the Clergy from 1874 to 1882.

He was also a member of the City Glee Club. This did not involve him having to sing, but to listen to the club’s professional singers perform catches and madrigals while, probably, enjoying a drink.

By the time he was forty, he was living in a mansion in Wanstead known as Park Gate, a sprawling house with gardens big enough to accommodate a boating lake. It was demolished in 1925, though its gatepost still stand.

 

Park Gate, pictured in 1888 (Wanstead Image Gallery)

Childless himself, Thomas took time to encourage and support his many nephews. Three of his sister Elizabeth’s sons benefited, as did his brother John’s sons, George, Robert, and John.  He gave a home to their unmarried sister, Louisa Jane, and gave a splendid wedding for her cousin, Elizabeth Ann when she married Lazas Josef Constantine, the son of Lady  Congleton.  All of them had lost their fathers. He and Ann Lydia also entertained local school children every year, had special gatherings for ‘ragged shoeblack boys’ and were patrons of Wanstead Infant Orphans Asylum.

However, on 27 November 1861, Ann Lydia, Thomas’s wife of over thirty years died, after three days illness.  Her body was taken to Hythe and buried in the family vault.

                                                                              Thomas Quested Finnis in later life

Thomas died at Park Gate on 29 November 1883, but the nephews and nieces were not forgotten in his will.  Louisa Jane, now married to Captain Charles M’Laughlin RN,  received the bulk of his £84,000 estate.  Her siblings also benefitted, as did  John Finnis’s widow Sarah and members of the Lynch family of Partry House Co. Mayo.

Thomas was buried in the family vault at St Leonard’s though there is no memorial there to him, or to his wife. There was, in fact, no memorial anywhere in the town until after the first World War, when a plaque was erected at his family home, Prospect House

The memorial to Thomas Quested Finnis and his younger brother John at Prospect House, Hythe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John was the last of the nine children of Robert and Elizabeth Finnis  and was born on 28th January 1804 in Hythe. He joined the armed services of the East India Company, effectively the government of India, on 4 March 1820 and served in the 11th regiment of the Bengal Army.  He was promoted lieutenant 1822 and thereafter his promotions were slow but steady until he became a full colonel in 1854.  He married Sarah Bridgetta Dorothea Roche in India on 2 January 1838 and they had nine children together though two died in 1856.

The Indian Mutiny broke out at 5.30 pm on 10 May 1857. John rode out to address the mutineers in an ill-fated attempt to defuse the situation. Both he and his horse were shot, he was thrown to the ground and shot to death, the first European to die in the conflict.

Colonel John Finnis, looking rather fierce

The Governor-General of India, Charles Canning, wrote personally to Thomas Quested Finnis to tell him of his brother’s death.

One version of the death of John Finnis….

and another. The ‘shot in the back’ version was most popular in the press

 

John’s grave in Meerut

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The East India Company awarded his son John a cadetship in Sept 1857 –  they said it was an unsolicited award, but wrote to tell Thomas, the Lord Mayor just the same.  The inhabitants of Tower Ward, who Thomas still represented, paid for a memorial to his brother in the church of St Dunstan in the East.


                       The memorial to John Finnis in St Dunstan’s Church, which was destroyed by enemy action in 1941

John’s wife, Sarah, brought her children, all except John, back to England and to Wanstead, where Thomas and Ann Lydia took them in. Sarah’s pension was only £281 12s 3d a year. After Ann Lydia’s death, Sarah acted as hostess for Thomas at the many civic and charitable events and entertainments held at Park Gate. She died in 1890, and is buried in Highgate Cemetery.

To be continued…

 

Cutting out La Chevrette and other Finnis stories

The Finnis family had a connection with Hythe lasting over a hundred and fifty years and are much memorialised in St Leonard’s church, and elsewhere. Who were they? Their origins were not very grand, but the family eventually included a VC, a Lord Mayor of London, explorers and a naval hero.

The first member of the Finnis family to live in Hythe was Robert, born in Dover in 1754, one of the four children of another Robert Finnis and his wife Ann, nee Spicer. He was apprenticed to a London upholsterer, and, once a master himself, decided to try his luck in Hythe, setting up shop in the High Street in 1776.

He took the sensible step of insuring all this highly flammable stock with the Sun Fire Insurance Company.

He flourished and four years later, on 29 December 1780 in St Leonard’s church, married Elizabeth Quested, the daughter of Stephen Quested and Elizabeth nee Groombridge. They set up home in Prospect House in Hythe and went on to have nine children over the next twenty-two years. Robert took on apprentices himself, leased innings land from the council for grazing sheep and invested in property. As befitted his status, he became a town councillor. In 1794, when the new town hall was built, Robert provided furniture and soft furnishings and was paid £45 14s 8d. That same year, he became Mayor of Hythe.  This was the first of six terms as mayor over the next twenty-six years. The mayorality seems at the time to have been filled by a rota of Robert and Messrs Tritton, Tournay and Shipdem, each taking their turn every four or five years.

Robert died on 9 August 1832, leaving £6949 12s 11d, a tidy sum for a shopkeeper. He ensured that his unmarried daughter, Sarah, was left freehold property and made specific provision for his widowed daughter, Elizabeth, who lived in Ireland. He also died possessed of a fine silver vase, the gift of Stewart Marjoribanks, MP.

See the source image Stewart Marjoribanks, MP

Marjoribanks had first became one of Hythe’s MPs (the town at this time had two) in 1820. He was a London wine merchant and first visited the town on the eve of the announcement of his candidacy, when he made ‘a liberal distribution of ale to the populace’. He was made a freeman of the town the next year. He served the town until 1837 as an increasingly radical Whig. At some point between 1820 and 1832, he made Robert the gift of the vase – we know this because it is mentioned in the will of Robert’s widow. Why would a politician give an upholsterer a valuable gift? In the early nineteenth century, the answer was obvious – as thanks for help during an election campaign. A little later it was rumoured in the press that Marjoribanks had rewarded another supporter, Thomas Garrett, by securing a plum job for his son. On that occasion, the recipient was subsequently charged with bribing voters. Did Robert Finnis take part in such activities? Possibly. It would not have been unusual for the time. The most we can take from the story is that Robert Finnis was a Whig voter.

His wife Elizabeth survived him by nearly six years. She left two freehold houses to her son George, the son who had stayed in Hythe; and her clothes, linen and half her plate to her unmarried daughter Sarah, except ‘the silver vase presented by Stewart Marjoribanks MP to my deceased husband.’ Sarah also got the furniture of her choice. Elizabeth left money – nineteen guineas each – for mourning clothes to her daughters, sister and daughters-in-law. They would have no excuse not to look the part of the grieving (but prosperous) family.

The sister, Ann, born in 1773, was younger than Elizabeth and, in the event, predeceased her by a year. There was a younger brother, too, Thomas, who served in the Royal Marines, retired with the rank of Captain and in his later years lived with his nephew George Finnis in Hythe. Both were buried, when the time came, with Elizabeth in the Finnis family vault. There are not many vaults at the church – the Mackeson’s have one, as do the Deedes family and the Shipdems, all wealthy and influential people (locally, at least).

The eldest child of Robert and Elizabeth, John Groombridge Finnis died at the age of four, when, left alone for a few minutes, he ventured too near the fireplace. His clothes caught fire and he died a few hours later of his burns. The second son, Robert, met his end as a young man in Canada. His has own memorial plaque in St Leonard’s church, which describes his naval career.

 

He had joined the Royal Navy in 1797 at the age of fourteen, as a midshipman and served on HMS Beaulieu, part of the North Sea Fleet. In 1801, the ship was in a squadron of frigates keeping watch on the French and Spanish fleets at anchor in Brest. England was then at war with both countries. During the night of 21 July, nine of the squadron’s boats, one commanded by Robert, succeeded under heavy fire in capturing and setting lose one of the key French vessels, La Chevrette. In recognition of his leadership, Robert was promoted Lieutenant six weeks later.

‘The Cutting-out of La Chevrette’ (Bristol Museums Galleries & Archives)

In May 1813, he was promoted captain and given command of HMS Charlotte, a 17-gun sloop which got embroiled in a short-lived conflict with America, the result of the latter’s inability to trade with Europe as a result of the war there. In the first battle of the struggle, on 10 September at Lake Erie, Robert was killed outright in the first broadside. His commanding officer, Robert Heriot Barclay wrote: ‘Too soon, alas, was I deprived of the services of the noble and intrepid Captain Finnis, who soon after the commencement of the action fell, and him my greatest support.’ The Charlotte  was captured by the Americans, who won the day.

Robert’s funeral: he was buried together with five other officers on 11 September 1813 at South Bass Island, near Put-in-Bay, Lake Erie

The next child was a daughter, Elizabeth, baptised in St Leonard’s church on 17 May 1785. On 3 December 1803, aged just eighteen, she married Henry Blosse Lynch, a lieutenant in the 27th Foot based at Shorncliffe. He took her to his home, Partry House in Ballinrobe, County Mayo, where she gave birth to eleven sons – of whom, more later. Henry died in 1823 and Elizabeth in 1845.

See the source image

Partry House, Co. Mayo, set in an estate of 1500 acres

Another daughter followed, Sarah Maria, born in 1791. She never married, but was well-provided for by her parents and in her later days divided her time between Hythe and the homes of her sister Jane and her brother Thomas,  both of whom lived in London. She died in Hythe on 8 November 1880, leaving an estate of less than £7,000 to her brother Thomas Quested Finnis, her only surviving sibling.

George was the next Finnis child, born in 1793. He decided to follow his father’s example of solid hard work and civic duty. He went into partnership with John Ronalds, an auctioneer and his son Edward, an upholsterer. They traded not only in those two areas, but as estate agents, insurance agents, ironmongers and (bizarrely) bell-hangers. George was also a trustee of St Bartholomew’s alms-house and  JP both for Hythe and for Kent. He was mayor in 1828 and 1833 and looked set to follow his father’s record, but the upcoming young James Watts dominated council life for many years and George did not serve again as Mayor until 1849.

On 11 August 1830, he had married Anne Castle, a widow and together they had two daughters, though one, Jane Maria, died aged eight and is recorded on the same memorial as her father. The other was Elizabeth. Like his father, he supported Stewart Marjoribanks in the 1830 General Election. However, in 1837, it was reported that he now supported the Conservative Party. He died on 3 May 1850 at his sister Jane’s house in Regents’s Park. His wife died on 4 July 1856 in Hackney.

The next child born to Robert & Elizabeth Finnis was another girl, Jane, baptised on 17 May 1796. She married Thomas Pilcher a farmer of Cheriton in St Leonard’s church in June 1818.  Although he continued living in Cheriton, he was a Hythe jurat (councillor), probably because he had married the daughter of a freeman.  There were no children of the marriage and when Thomas died in 1844, he left all his land to his brother Jesse, presumably to keep it in the family. However, Jane was handsomely provided for, with a lump sum of £6000 and a life annuity of £400.

Jane left Cheriton and either bought or leased a house in London, 13 York Terrace in Marylebone, near Regent’s Park.  £6000 could go a very long way indeed in the 1840s.

See the source image

York Terrace, London NW1

Jane died on a visit to Hythe on 9 February 1871.

The memorial to the Finnis family in St Leonard’s Church

In a vault near the chancel/are interred the remains of/Robert Finnis Esq./one of the jurats/of this town and port/who died the 9th of August 1832/in the 79th year of his age
And of Elizabeth his wife/who died the 13th of May 1839/in the 77th year of her age
Also those of Ann Quested/the sister of the above named/Elizabeth Finnis/who died 29th May 1838/aged 65 years
Also of Capt. Thomas Quested R.M./who died 17th March 1845/aged 68 years
George Finnis Esq/Mayor of this town died 3rd May 1850/aged 56 years
Jane Maria, daughter of the above/died 3rd April 1844,/ aged 8 years
Also of Sarah Maria, daughter of the/above named Robert Finnis/died 10th November 1880 /aged 89 years
To the memory of/Lieut. Stephen Finnis/of the Bengal Army/who died at Dinapoor in the East Indies/the 1st of August 1819, aged 21
Also to his brother Colonel John Finnis/11th Reg. Bengal Army, aged 53, killed by the mutineer/ of the 20th reg. N.I at Meerut May 10th 

To be continued…

‘A Very Excellent Grocer’

 

                                                                                       Dan West, in later years

 

Daniel John West was born in Iden, near Rye in Sussex, the second child of Thomas West, a baker and Caroline West, in 1846. He had an older and a younger sister. The family moved to Wittersham, where Thomas farmed 21 acres at Peening Quarter.  As a young man, Daniel worked as an assistant in a grocer’s shop in Tenterden High Street, owned by Thomas Winser. In Tenterden he met Alice Jemima Garnham, the fifth child of Benjamin and Frances Garnham. She was born in Lewes, Sussex, and baptised there on 9 March 1853. Her father became the landlord of the Woolpack Inn in Tenterden High Street.

See the source image

The Woolpack Inn in Tenterden, where Dan wooed Alice

Daniel and Alice married in 1874. It was time for Daniel to set up on his own account.

They moved to Hythe, where he established his own grocery business at 149 (now 11 & 13) High Street. He remained there for the rest of his life, though he soon acquired a second shop in the High Street at no. 37 (now no. 80). The second shop carried some grocery lines, but specialised in wines, spirits and bottled beers. According to the author Ford Madox Ford,  Daniel – or Dan as he was universally known – was ‘a very excellent grocer – I wish I knew his equal elsewhere’. Ford often visited his friend, Joseph Conrad in Postling and the pair would stop in Hythe en route to call on H.G.Wells in Sandgate.

Fordmadoxford.jpg

Ford Madox Ford, one of Dan’s customers

Once established, Dan found time for other activities. He became a fireman – and used his grocery assistants as callers-up when the rest of the Brigade needed rousing. The Brigade was then composed of volunteers and in common with most towns, the Hythe men suffered from the indifference of the Town Council. They had no protective clothing or uniforms until 1881; the brass helmets, the Victorian equivalent of the hard hat, did not arrive until 1891. The town’s water supply was routinely turned off at night, because so much was lost through the leaking mains. There was a key to turn it on, but the key-holder lived outside the town. Despite these disadvantages, the Brigade dealt successfully with several blazes during the eighteen eighties.

Daniel became a churchwarden and worked with the Vicar, T G Hall and his fellow-churchwarden Henry Bean Mackeson, to achieve the transformation of the interior of St Leonard’s church, a huge undertaking. He was a town councillor, too, and Mayor in 1889 & 1891. As a town councillor, he was influential in securing a proper water supply for the Fire Brigade, and in 1891, his wife, as Lady Mayoress, opened the Black Rock spring (off Horn Street) with a Guard of Honour of Hythe firemen.

He joined the Snowball Minstrels, a concert party, soon after his arrival in the town. At Annual Dinners and Smoking Concerts he could often be heard, his favourite songs being ‘Tantivy’, ‘Hurrah for the Loom and the Lathe,’ both songs now lost to us, and ‘Up with the Lark in the Morning’,  a music hall favourite whose chorus runs:

For I never drink hard it don’t suit me,
Nor toast my friend with a one, two, three,
Merry and wise is the motto for me,
And up with the lark in the morning.

Indeed, he must have been up with the lark every morning to achieve everything he did and to run a grocery which would have opened at 7 or 8 in the morning and closed its doors at about 10pm.

His wife, Alice, would also be up with the lark, or at least with the baby, every morning, as in the eleven years of her marriage she gave birth to six children: daughters Alice, Mildred, Frances and Florence and two sons, Guy and Gordon. Gordon was born just nine months before her death on 8 October 1885 of ‘a prolonged illness’. She was only thirty-two.

Earlier that year, Dan had caused a stir in the town by having his two shops connected by telephone, a sensible business move, but so radical that the Town Council only permitted it after four hours discussion and insisted it must be ‘at his own risk’. The safety, or otherwise, of telephone wires was imperfectly understood by laymen.

After a year as a widower, Dan married again, to Elizabeth Thompson, the second daughter of Robert Thompson, a GPO civil servant, and his wife Mary. She had worked as a dressmaker before her marriage. The couple had a daughter, Olive.

In 1890, as Mayor, Dan called a public meeting to discuss a programme of band music and a sea regatta. Someone – possibly Edward Palmer, the editor of the Hythe Reporter – put forward the idea of a procession of decorated boats on the Royal Military Canal. Dan approved the idea and the inevitable committee was formed. The first-ever Venetian Fete was on Wednesday, 27th August and the event was a great success. The boats were illuminated, as were the bridges and the day ended with a two-hour firework display. With some intermissions, the fete has continued to this day.

A twenty-first century Venetian Fete

The 1898 fete included land-based decorated tents on the banks of the canal. Dan rigged his up to resemble a famous advertisement for Mazawattee tea (which he stocked), persuading one of his sons and a friend to dress up as old ladies enjoying a nice cup of tea together. He had, he said, intended to launch a balloon in the shape of an elephant – full-sized – but it suffered a last minute puncture.

The advertisement Dan copied in his tent. He even had a blue cloth and tea caddy

 

Dan’s approach to publicity was never discreet. Instead of large advertisements in the local papers, he arranged with the editors to have his name inserted at the end of several short news items on a page, making it impossible for the reader to ignore him. In one column, one might read:

Dan West for Wines and Spirits
Dan West for Bottled Beers
Dan West for Whitbread’s Ale
Dan West for Butter and Cream
Dan West for New Strawberry Jam
Dan West for Lemon Squash
Dan West for Bacon and Hams

Dan’s ads were sometimes incongruously placed

He even used his roof to advertise. On the back of the chimney and roof, facing away from the High Street where shoppers could see the window and down Mount Street, where they could not, the words: ‘West For Bottled Beer’, with an advertising sign beneath.

Dan West’s shop from Mount Street…

… and the same view today

Dan seems to have lived quietly during the early days of the twentieth century, perhaps building up his property portfolio. He had invested in the new builds on the Sandling Estate, as well as buying smaller houses in Hythe and ‘a country dwelling with a parcel of land’ at Bilsington. He owned nineteen buildings at the time of his death. Elsewhere, he had plenty to keep him occupied. He was also, as well as an alderman, a trustee of St Bartholmew’s Hospital (an alms-house) and an active member of the Freemasons and of the Folkestone, Hythe and Sandgate Grocers’ Association.

He comes to attention again in 1911 during the festivities to celebrate the coronation of George V in June. There was the customary torchlit parade in the evening – though by now there were as many motor vehicles as horse-drawn carts and horses taking part. Dan chose to ride, dressed, of all things, as Buffalo Bill. As he was by now a portly man in his mid-sixties, this sounds like a joke at his own expense – or perhaps to amuse his grandchildren.

He was still active when war broke out in 1914, but suffered a bad fall not long afterwards. He declined to take part in the rifle shooting classes ordered by the Town Council for all able-bodied men. Referring to his now great bulk, he said that ‘should any Huns appear in the High Street, I’ll fall on them: that should be sufficient.’ He was now said to weigh twenty-six stone and conducted his business sitting on a barrel in the middle of his shop.

He died in January 1917, and his funeral was attended by members of the Town Council, the Hythe Fire Brigade (in full uniform) and the local Lodge of Freemasons. He was remembered for years afterwards with affection for his good nature and as a successful businessman. As late as 1932, a local newspaper referred to him as the ‘leading grocer of the area’. Daniel was buried with Alice, his first wife.

Elizabeth, his widow, carried on living above the shop in the High Street until a year before her death in 1930, when her health was failing. She went on holiday in hope of a cure, but did not return. She is buried with Daniel.

Guy, as the elder son, took on the business, as ‘Dan West and Son.’. He had never known any other career, having worked as an assistant to his father until the latter’s death. Gordon,  meanwhile, went to work for a butcher before joining the South African Police in 1905.  Guy married Gertrude Agnes Banfield in Leyton, Essex, in October 1907 and brought her back to Hythe, where doubtless she, too worked in the business, although it may not have been her ideal occupation – her obituary describes her as ‘rather retiring’.  She had been born in Exeter, the daughter of Edwin Banfield, an accountant, and his wife Eliza.   The couple had a son, Dan, and a daughter, Nora. At least during the early days of their marriage, they lived in Twiss Road, Hythe.

Guy was excused service during the first World War as he was, at first, indispensable to his father and, after 1917, running the business single-handed. He did, however, serve in the Motor Volunteers and as a Special Constable. He seems otherwise to have taken little interest in town life. Perhaps he suffered from always being called, even in his wife’s obituary  ‘the son of Dan West, an Alderman and mayor’ – and this sixteen years after Dan’s death.

Gertrude died in 1933, after a two-year illness. Guy sold the business in 1937 and died himself in 1939. All Dan’s daughters had married and moved away from the town and Gordon did not return from South Africa.  There was to be no dynasty.

The West family plot in St Leonard’s churchyard, Hythe

Illegible memory/of/Alice J West/the beloved wife of D. J. West/who departed the 8th day of October 1885/in her 33rd year/after a prolonged illness
Also in loving memory of/Daniel John West/for many years churchwarden/of this parish/who died/12th January 1917/aged 71 years
There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God
Elizabeth West/died June 6th 1930/aged 80 years
To the memory of/Guy West/died 23 June 1939/aged 60 years
In loving memory/Gertrude A West/died Dec 18th 1933 /aged 59 years
Illegible Thomas
Illegible
In the midst of life we are in death.

 

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.

 

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 Road 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: there was not even a piped water supply (Miles wrote to Hythe corporation asking for this in 1853) (2). But he had a roof over his head and 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.

And in December 1857, Hythe Council finally agreed to provide piped water to Fort twiss.

(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.

2. Kent Archives Hy/AM/2/1