Brett Volume 1: Chapter V - St. Leonards 1831

From Historical Hastings

Chapter V - St. Leonards 1831

Departures from original designs
Arrival of the Princess Sophia
Laying memorial stone of the church by Her Royal Highness
Grand dinner and fete
Roasting an ox
Damaging storms
Fall of five houses
Six weeks' frost
St.Leonards beadle and an amusing incident
Races at Bulverhythe and Bopeep
First bachelor's ball
Mike Wood, the athlete
Boats and bathing machines
Mounted patrols
Smuggling fatalities
A Hastings M.P. and the Bristol Riots
The Conqueror and Harold Hotels
Poetic vision of the town
Erection of the Colonnade
First residents thereat ~ Faggot roads
Rough travelling over the
Presents to the first three native born children
Deaths of early inhabitants
The first Hastings and St. Leonards races
Accidents to workmen
The French coast visible
Incendiarism: a man wrongfully hanged
Sunday newspaper readings
Hastings money tokens
Commencement of "St.Leonards Without"
The sea's non-encroachment
Adelaide Place and Goats Point
Finding of war instruments and other relics
Stage coaches and their drivers
New road from St.Leonards
New coach to London, beating the old ones by two hours
The "Doctress" Dabney
Mr. Burton's tollgate
The Commissioners' Improvement Act obtained
Maze Hill formed
Miss Burton's residence: her death at 91 years
Fall of another house
The Gardens laid out
A man of many pursuits
An eccentric Colonel
A timely warning
Doings at Quarry Castle.

Transcriber’s note

[ 36 ]
Envelope of Letter to Brett.png
[ 34 ]

Departure from Original Designs - The Princess Sophia of Gloucester

The block of mansions immediately westward of West Villa, numbered 58 to 6, was erected in 1831. The architecture of this addition appears to have been an after conception, the exterior differing considerably from the original design, as did also that of the Library and Baths. Views of the said original designs will be shown further on. A second and similar portion further westward - between which and the first portion the church was being erected - was made available in 1832 for another seven houses, constituting 65 to 72 Marina. Among the houses also built in 1831 was Park House, Quarry hill, which was first named Thatched Cottage, and was occupied by a gentleman of the name of Bullock, and many years later, for a long period, by the Rev. Charles Oak. It may be mentioned by the way, that a considerable portion of the Quarry-hill road, leading up by Quarry Castle and Allegria, was cut through the solid rock. It was here, some years before the commencement of St. Leonards, that I gathered primroses from under the prickly heath; not conjecturing, even in my wildest day-dream, of ever seeing it as forming part of a magnificent town, or of seeing Royalty take up its abode at that very spot. The Princess Sophia of Gloucester arrived at St. Leonards on the 18th of August 1831, and began to occupy what has since been known as Gloucester Lodge. Her Royal Highness had sojourned at Bohemia Mansion, Hastings, the previous year, arriving there on the 6th of May, and taking her departure on the 26th of July. She had expressed herself delighted with the place and promised as soon as possible to again visit either Hastings or St. Leonards. The promise was duly observed. On the day immediately preceding Princess Sophia's visit to St. Leonards, the united Hastings and St. Leonards Regatta took place, under the stewardship of H. B. Curteis, Esq. and Howard Elphinstone Esq. At the same time that the Princess took up her abode at the North Villa, Mr. Burton, the founder of St. Leonards, removed from North Villa to Allegria. Some of the inhabitants used to say that Mr. Burton's removal to his new house was signalised by a display of fireworks in the Subscription Gardens, but the fact is self-apparent that the fireworks were in honour of the royal visitor, whose residence, as well as that of Mr. Burton overlooked the gardens.

Princess Sophia travelling to her residence 1831.png

The above view taken from the front of what was afterwards Maze Hill, in 1831, represents Allegria, Thatched Cottace (afterwards Park House), North Cottage (afterwards Winterbourne), Gloucester Lodge and the Clock House. In the foreground is the Princess Sophia of Gloucester going to the new house in which she resided, and which was named after her. Her R. H. arrived on the 18th of August 1831

Laying the first stone of the church - Roasting an ox on the parade

Exactly a month after the arrival of the Princess, namely Sept. 8th, Her Royal Highness laid the foundation stone of the St. Leonards Church, which being the Coronation Day of William IV. and Queen Adelaide, the double event was celebrated with a dinner, on which occasion an ox was roasted and other modes of rejoicing were adopted.

On that day the ox was roasted on the parade in front of the cliff where now stands the St. Leonards Church. Some brick-work was "run up" to form the fire-place and in front of this on a huge spit was placed the unjointed animal, with its legs, head and body intact. It was kept revolving by means of two rectangular levers, the "turnspits" being an adult male biped at each end. The man who basted the meat was a carpenter, named Bishop, who afterwards boasted that he received more than one half-crown from ladies for permitting them just once to apply the ladle for the honour of the thing. The heat from this improvised kitchener was intense, as I happened to know being allowed, along with another youth, to "take a spell" at the winch. I have no doubt that the distinguished honour of thus temporarily relieving one of the turnspits was duly appreciated both by myself and my companion. I had previously seen the ox with its gilded horns, its skinned legs and its white, un-poll-axed head, heralded by Trumpeter Hyland from the slaughter-house, to the shop of Mr. Mercer Waghorne, in Castle street. I had seen it there lying in state for a day or two, and I had taken a boyish interest in an object, the like of which I had read about, but on which I had never before feasted my vision. It is not in the nature of things for every ox to be honoured as this was, and this shall be my reason for adding a few more particulars of that which was both the "Beauty and the Beast". It was what was termed a grizzle, and its estimated weight was ninety stone. It was purchased of Mr. Christopher Thorpe, of Fairlight, and the price paid for it was £19. On account of a misunderstanding, the carcass was not sent to St. Leonards at the proper time, and at one o'clock in the morning Edward Gould was sent to fetch it. Being unable to arouse the butcher from his slumbers, the messenger, with assistance, took down the shutters and helped himself. There were no police in those days, and after replacing the shutters without molestation, he carted away the beast in the dripping-pan, which had been specially made for the occasion.

It may be imagined what wild surmises and intense fears haunted the butcher when he found the proud morsel taken way, and how readily he forgave the burglar when he discovered the object of his search in warm quarters at St. Leonards. Dinner-time came, and as I had been a recipient of high honours in the appointment to the office of Turnspit pro. tem., so I was also permitted to revel in the felicity of tasting the greatly overdone and underdone meat, as well as the more enjoyable plum pudding which followed in due course. Perhaps they were partaken of with greater zest in consequence of the concord of sweet sounds which soothed my savage breast when the Hastings Band played the "Roast Beef of Old England". The dinner-booth was erected somewhere in front of what is now 57 Marina, the mansion first erected and the one which, a few years later, was occupied by her present Majesty and her royal mother. Whether the company in the booth was too big for me, or I was too big for the company, the reader will be able to judge [ 35 ]when I say that I chose to eat my dinner in one of the waggons outside the canvas walls. It may be gathered from what I have already said about the overdone and underdone meat that the attempt to thoroughly roast the ox was a failure, and the reader need not be surprised to learn that many a steak was cut from the huge "joint" by workmen and stablemen after its removal to the St. Leonards Mews. A few more words must suffice to complete this part of my story. The several builders and contractors were called upon to pay for the treat to workmen, and among the amusements indulged in was the conventional leg of mutton to be climbed for. This was suspended from the top of a scaffold pole attached to the Marina houses then in course of erection.

In alluding to some of the prominent atmospheric influences which militated against the progress of the undertaking, I mentioned the damaging gales of Sept. 28-30, 1828, and the two severe storms of Jan. 7 and October 5-8. 1829. I attributed mainly to the unfavourable weather the partial wreck of a house in Mercatoria, and I also described the fall of five houses on the Marina. I had to tax my memory for the date of the latter downfall, and this led me to fix on the year 1829, as well as to attribute the accident to a want of care arising from too great haste in their construction. From further investigation I learnt that the disaster occurred on the last day of the week and the last day of the month of January, 1829, and that although better provision might have prevented it, the immediate cause was a brief and sudden break in the six week's severe frost of the winter 1828-29. A carpenter named Funnell was one of the men engaged on the buildings, and on hearing the commencement of a terrific crash, without knowing exactly what was occurring, he rushed out of the buildings and thus escaped injury. His son and another boy, wh had been preparing coffee for breakfast on an upper floor, were still more marvellously preserved. The news soon reached Hastings that Funnell and his sone were killed, when a Colonel Mayon, with true instincts of humanity, started in a carriage from the Marine Hotel to ascertain the truth or falsity of the rumour. It was his pleasing opportunity to take back to Mr. Funnell's daughter the assurance that no-one was hurt. I think it right to give these modifications and additional particulrs, as it is not improbable that at some future time my somewhat rambling notes may be quoted from in confirmation of some particular event. It is therefore, the more necessary that I should correct, as I proceed, any slight errors into which I may be accidentally led. It may not be amiss to remind the reader that most of my information is original, and that when my wn memory does not supply me with sufficiently reliable material, I have sought for the facts in other channels than those of guide books.

As regards the altered designs of the houses 58 to 64 Marina, which were being built at the time when the ox was roasted, it will be seen from the accompanying view, a facsimile of Mr. Burton's original drawing, with his initials attached that it afterwards underwent a considerable modification; and, as most persons will admit, for the [ 36 ]better. But the design of the West Villa, it will also be seen, underwent no alteration.

West Villa and Marina

Death of Mr Deudney - The town beadle - Pedestrianism - Etc.

Turning to more personal matters, I find I have a record of the death of Mr. Charles Deudney, the respected occupier of Gensing farm. He died on the 19th of September, 1829, at the age of 69 and was interred in a vault at Bexhill. This gentleman lived to see the commencement of St. Leonards, and was one of the few - very few - residents of the parish at a time when some half a dozen houses constituted the whole of the dwellings between Government House, Hastings and the inn known as the "New England Bank" at Bopeep.

Soon after the erection of the East Lodge or Archway, its miniature rooms on the south side were occupied by a town beadle and crier named Harman. Like another important personage in the domains of Bumbledom, it was Harman's lot to encounter not a few of the rougher sort of vagrants, and on one occasion he felt that he had more than his match in the endeavour to get a half drunken itinerant to the lock-up. The said lock-up was at the Mercatoria, but a very different building from the present near the same site. A certain milkman - who was always good for something out of the common way - came by at the time with a truck, and was importuned to assist. In the twinkling of an eye the truck was shunted against the man's legs, and his body was pulled back upon the truck by a couple of strong arms. That part of the Marina now known as the South Colonnade was then erected, and the Undercliff was in progress. The contractors for the former were Messrs. Amos and Vine. The roadway between these two places was at that time a mass of deep mire; and as the tipsy man was ill at ease upon his carriage, and struggled with the milkman and beadle, his would-be conquerors tipped him over onto a softer bed - a bed of slush. Thus be-slubbed, the beggar was more than ever unfit to handle, and this immmunity gave him a quid-pro-quo for the unceremonious treatment to which he had been subjected. He had, doubtless, been escorted out of the old town to the Priory Bridge by "Calf's nose" Chatfield or his fellow beadle, to find, to his annoyance, that the beadledom of the new town was no improvement on that of the old. Apropos of Chatfield, I now recollect seeing him lie dead under the Elms at Hastings, on or about the 13th of May, 1829, where he had fallen in an apoplectic fit, while conducting a vagrant out of town. I am not at all sure, therefore, that he had anthing to do with despatching the troublesome vagrant from Hastings to St. Leonards.

In a previous portion of this History, I described the St. Leonards Hotel as having had during its early existence, a Tap in the basement of the building, the said Tap being kept by "Charley" Vine. I also related a daring act of smuggling, which took place in front of the hotel on an October morning of 1830, and I further stated that certain spirituous liquors known as contraband did occasionally find their way into the Tap of even such a well-regulated establishment as that which is now the Royal Victoria Hotel. The law-abiding citizen of the present day need not wonder at this when he is reminded that at a period of even less than sixty years ago almost every non-Government man on the southern coast, from the peasant to the parson, was either a smuggler or an accessory, and regarded the clandestine importation of spirits subject to heavy dues and duties as a justifiable evasion of fiscal restrictions which ought never to have been imposed.Among those who were practically engaged in the "running" of smuggled goods were men of nimble feet, who with a pair of "tubs" slung over their shoulders, would frequently out-distance their pursuers, with a chuckle of "No catchee, no havee!" One of these fleet-runners was well known to me, and If I chose, I could narrate some of his exploits which, now after Weston and others have publicly shown what trained pedestrianism can do, might find credence, but which narration, if given some years ago, would have had but few believers. I will only refer to one of this man's pedal exercises, and even that, simply because it is associated with the Tap of the St. Leonards Hotel. Some of my readers remember the celebrates - or rather, let me say, the notorious - Mike Wood, who was a powerful athlete, an accomplished pugilist, and an amateur burglar. He exercised his last-named vocation on the premises of Mr. Hogsflesh, and could not save his "bacon." He was sent abroad, as some of his acquaintances said "for the benefit of his health," and did not live to return. In the Rock-Fair week of the year when St. Leonards was commenced, I saw the doughty Mike come of victorious after a fight of 40 rounds with another pugilist named Whiteman. On another occasion I saw him run through White-rock street in pursuit of a cart, and while the latter was still in motion, vault into it, without the use of his hands, over the tailboard. This will give some idea of Mike's muscularity and agility. It was some time after these two events that Mike found himself in the St. Leonards Tap, which, as will be remembered, was on the site of the "Old Woman's Tap", - and was there casting about for someone to accept a challenge from him. My friend was also there, and quietly intimated that were it not for the possibility of taking the conceit out of so "good a man", he would engage in a race with him and beat him. Naturally, he had numerous encouragers, but perhaps not many substantial backers. A match, however, was agreed upon, the distance to be run from the hotel to the Priory Bridge. It was a pluckily contested race, the theretofore champion taking the lead, and for the most part keeping it until "Pork" Farrol's beer-house - near where now stands the Trinity Church - was reached, where my friend (Why not say my uncle?) put on an effective spurt, and, to the discomfiture of his antagonist, realised the promise to beat him. At an after period, when the hotel became more fully the resort of aristocratic visitors and places had multiplied for the supply of refreshments to tradesmen and mechanics, the underground tap was relinquished, and the flight of steps leading thereto disused. But for many years [ 37 ] thereafter, sufficient traces remained to enable the curious in such matters to detect the parts where the Tap and its entrance once were.

Boats and bathing machines - Mounted officers - A smuggler shot - South Colonnade

The town was not long before it had boats and bathing machines, some of which were put to uses for which they were not originally constructed. I am assured that once on a time a few fervent spirits - that is to say, a few tubs of spirits - which had been out all night, were too bashful to face the anchor-buttons of the Blue-jackets by daylight, and so they got themselves locked up in one of the machines until the next approach of sombre night. I cannot personally vouch for the truth of this, but I know that on the 28th or 29th of July 1830, the Government officer Solomon Beville[a], with an expert crew, seized the pleasure-lugger "St. Leonards" with 42 tubs and four men, the latter being afterwards sent to serve five years in the Navy as a punishment. I am not in Mr. Thomson's secret as to where he got his materials for his comedy of "Joe and the Smugglers" which had a week's successful run on the Pier; but those who witnessed it will recognize the last scene in which Capt. Hawkseye frees the captured smugglers on condition of their serving their country, as in a measure similar to the condition imposed by the Government on the four men captured in the St. Leonards lugger. The energy displayed by Mr. Beville in making seizures was as effective as it was resolute, and this is shown in the narrative of his exploits in the chapters devoted to Hastings. Yet it was during the first few years of the new town's existence, that transactions were carried on to a greater extent and with greater risk than previously, notwithstanding that the means for detection and capture were considerably augmented. On the 8th of March, 1831, twelve horses and mounted patrols arrived to assist the Preventative officers and men, and some of these might be seen every evening passing through St. Leonards by twos to traverse the inland roads, parallel with, or leading down to, the coast. Even this did not suffice, as I shall show further on, to put a stop to the contraband traffic, and in less than twelve months after the arrival of these horse-patrols, a further detective force made its appearance. This consisted of 36 dragoons, who, after staying a short time, were replaced by 40 of the Rifle Brigade. On Sunday, the 27th of November, 1831, a smuggler, named Head, was shot at Bopeep, and died soon after from the effects. On the previous 5th of January, a ball was fired from a revenue cutter, which was sailing three-quarters of a mile from the shore. The ball, a six-pounder, struck the beach between St. Leonards and the White Rock, but nearer to the latter than the former. A man who was walking near the spot had a narrow escape. The ball, after ploughing up the beach, lodged in an embankment, from which it was afterwards extracted and exhibited.

In the year 1831 the Conqueror Hotel was conducted by Mr. Mollard from the Crown and Sceptre Hotel, at Greenwich, but as "the race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong," so in Mr. Mollard's experience there occurred a too practical an illustration of the proverb. It was said that no one more than he deserved success; yet, as the Crown and Sceptre had in some way fallen from his grasp, so was he equally not a conqueror on the Conqueror's own domain. After a comparatively brief reign, this respected chief abdicated his throne, and others took his place. His successors were respectively Mrs. Collins, Mr. Jay, and Mrs. Johnson; the last-named of whom, after carrying the hotel on for some time with remarkable energy, converted it into a Boarding-house. Even then the success of the establishment was perhaps less thorough than its spirited proprietress desired, and, as this was not the only estate in St. Leonards over which she had command, the original "Conqueror" became a "Brunswick" in other hands, and was further reduced to the rank of a private lodging-house. But in the Jubilee year of the town's existence, when so many restorations were being effected, the house in question became to some extent reinstated. Those who are interested in the early history of St. Leonards and do not happen to know the whereabouts of the original "Conqueror" will now find it designated the "Brunswick Boarding-house," conducted by Mrs. Gates. Like the Victoria Hotel, it once had a Tap in the basement, and which, also like that of its rival, was approached from the north side, thus descending, nominally and literally, into the "Shades" below. The principle front of the hotel was, as it still is, of a semicircular form, and directly facing the more formal façade of the "Harold". The proximal but opposite sites of these early hotels remind one of the equally near and opposing forces of the Conqueror William and the vanquished Harold, and the simile appears more perfect when it is recalled that the "Harold" like its human and regal prototype, was finally beaten, whilst the dynastic prestige of the "Conqueror", under the modifications here described, exists to this day. In an album kept at the Victora Hotel was written by an anonymous poet some lines, the opening stanza of which ran thus :-

I slept, and a vision arose to my sight;
All was darkness around; the black mantle of night
Enveloped each object that stood on the plain
Where the Conqueror triumphed & Harold was slain

It may be well imagined that the town, as I have before intimated, was of considerable importance at the end of the third year, and that the anonymous poet whose lines I have quoted, was justified in his further description, thus;

I awoke, and St. Leonards stood full in my view;
My dream was prophetic; the vision was true.
In her beauty she stands by Old England's broad sea,
And Aladdin revives, my dear Burton in thee!

The hotels to which reference has been made were, as may be imagined, on the eastern part of the Marina, contiguous to which were the thirteen houses of South Colonnade, at that time also known as the Marina, and which with the Archway Lodge, accounted for the now apparently missing fourteen numbers of the latter range of buildings[b].

At one end of what, in further remarks, I shall call the South Colonnade - the name by which it is now designated - there was a rival grocery store to that of Mr. Mawle, who, in a smaller way, was the first grocer in that range of buildings. The rivals of Mr. Mawle were Messrs. Breeds and Troutbeck who had a much larger establishment at High Street, hastings, where I remember there was a silvered gas reflector which dazzled the eyes of all beholders. It was there that a servant of Mr. Troutbeck was severely burnt, through the setting fire to her clothes. This occurred on the second Sunday of the second month after the first stone of St. Leonards was laid, and therefore at a time ere the rival town had tempted Messrs. B. and T. to try their fortunes with a branch shop. It was, however, not later than 1829 or '30 that this temptation took effect, but the Fates looked coldly upon the enterprise, and failure was the result. The successors were Messrs. Jolly and Viner, grocers, of George Street, Hastings. At that time the route from the Old Town to the new lay over the Priory Bridge, through White Rock street, over the White-rock hill (a steep and rugged projection on the site of the present Pier and Baths, with a faggot road on each side), along a low and crooked way (which was protected from the sea, not by walls and groynes as at present, but by high ridges of beach), and past the valley of Warrior's Gate and Gensing, where the chalk-sloops usually laid up during the winter. The younger members of the community can have no idea of how arduous was the work of conveying heavy goods by hand or truck over such a via media. There were no railways in those days, and the supply of provisions and other necessities, after being brought to Hastings by the trading sloops, had to be taken to St. Leonards in some such way as described.

I was then living on the ground known as "America", or "Dissolved Priory", and as this was nearly midway between George Street, Hastings, and the Colonnade, St. Leonards, - at which former place I was engaged in a daily routine of labour, - it was my opportunity to earn a few pence on my way home by assisting Messrs. Jolly and Viner with a truck-load of grocery from George street to the top of the White-rock eminence, there to leave them to trudge the rest of the way as best they could. Their branch shop was at 2 South Colonnade (which is now Mr. Dale's), while Mr. Knight a shoemaker occupied No 3; Mr ones, and eating-house keeper, was at No. 4; Mr. Hubbard, a baker, at 5; Mr. Walter, No. 6; Mr. Mitchel, a broker, No. 7; Miss Bignall, a lady, No. 8; Mr. Campbell, the poet, No. 10; Mr. Beck, draper, No. 11; Mr. Mawle, 13; and Mr. Tm Brown, a facetious wine merchant, No. 14. It was the wife of Mr. Mawle, at 13, who was the mother of the first-born child in St. Leonards, as before described. Mr. James Mann and Mr. Stanton Noakes were the first tradesmen with an establishment in the town. They commenced business as shoeing and jobbing smiths on the 5th of December, 1828. But at the same time and for nearly two years thereafter, it was my practice, as book-keeper to William Woolgar, of the Blacksmith's Arms, in the Holy Trinity parish, to go weekly to the pay-tables of some of the St. Leonards builders with bills for smith's work done at Hastings. Mr. Alexander Walter, who first commenced business at 6 Colonnade in 1829, was in 1834, appointed as fruiterer and greengrocer to their Royal Highnesses the Duchess of Kent and Princess Victoria. He died around the year 1845, and the business was continued by his widow until February 7th, 1867, when she, too, died, after which time the business was carried on by her son-in-law, James Bovis, for several years and afterwards taken over by Miss. Dengate. The death in 1878 of Mrs. Philadelphia Roberts, reminded me that she and her husband were also among the earliest residents at the South Colonnade. They came from Winchelsea to St. Leonards in the first or second year after the town was commenced, but soon relinquished their small business at the Colonnade for superintendence of the Royal Baths. These they conducted for many years and gained the lasting esteem of their patrons. Mr. Roberts, who died before his wife, was one, with Messrs. Peerless, Chester, Mann, Ranger and other old inhabitants, who assisted in bearing the venerable founder of St. Leonards to his grave. After a time, Mr. and Mrs. Roberts removed to 43 Marina, which they conducted as a lodging house, while their daughter carried on the business of a pastrycook and confectioner. This daughter (Mrs. Addison) died in 1877, leaving her husband to continue a business to the success of which he had largely contributed. The mother retained her faculties almost unimpaired till the last, and died at the ripe age of nearly 83.

More departures from original designs - Incendiarism - Newspapers &c.

Although I was intimately acquainted with Mr. and Mrs. Roberts while they conducted the Baths, and also on visiting terms with their successors, Mr. and Mrs. Cozens, I do not recollect [ 38 ] that I ever showed them the difference of the Library and Baths as they knew them and the copy of Mr. Burton's original design then in my possession. From the said design, here produced it is apparent that Baths only were intended and that a public library attached thereto was an after conception.

Burton's orginal design for Baths.png

The year 1831 - the year before the passing of the Reform Bill - was one of such a stirring character, locally as well as nationally, that in giving merely the history of St. Leonards, one seems to have some difficulty in avoiding a preference to the general disturbance. Incendiarism was of a widespread prevalance from which taint the usually quiet country in this neighbourhood was anything but free. Of this I was myself an eye witness, having on one of the nights in the month of August - probably the 21st - followed the Hastings fire-engines from the St. Clements belfry to Guestling, where the farm property of Mr. Breeds was in flames, and for setting fire to which a man named Buffard was afterwards wrongfully hanged. It was also the year in which the Bristol riots occurred, associated with which was Sir Charles Weatherall, who had represented Hastings in Parliament in 1826. Sir Charles was the Recorder whose entrance into the city caused the riots which occurred on the 29th to the 31st of October. He made no disavowal of being decidedly opposed to the Reform Bill, and terrible scenes ensued;

"The Mansion House, the bishop's palace, several merchant's stores, some of the prisons (the inmates liberated) and nearly a hundred houses were burnt, and above five hundred people were killed by the military or otherwise perished. Peoples' passions were much inflamed both by seditious pamphlets and by a more legitimate press, whose aim was to reform some imperial abuses[c]

Newspapers were expensive in those days, and it was a practice with many of the working-class to go to public-houses to hear them read. It is probable that more money was sometimes spent in the purchase of liquors that would be required for the purchase of a newspaper, dear as such things then were; but then the refreshment was held to be of itself an equivalent for such expenditure, while the information obtained by hearing the newspaper read, and the means at the same time afforded for political discussion or social conversation, were regarded as an unpurchased boon. There were two or even three public-houses at St. Leonards even before the town was as many years old, and at one of these at least a person was regularly engaged to read the newspaper on Sunday evenings. Why on a Sunday evening? some of my readers might ask, and the answer would be this:- There were then no reading rooms, no Mechanic's Institution, no Working-men's Club and no Temperance Society; and there were also no churches or chapels worthy of the name.

Sunday Newspaper Readings - Commencement of "St. Leonards without" - New coach

The St. Leonards Church, as I have already shown, was only commenced to be built in 1831, and the Wesleyan Chapel was not erected until 1836. Then also there were no railways, and as a necessity, all the weekly newspapers came from London in the mail-bag on Sunday morning. And when they did so come many of them were as proportionately small in size as they were high in price. To illustrate this I need only mention that the Weekly Dispatch was then sold at 8d., stamped, and was only about half its present size at 1d., so that it was relatively sixteen times as dear. Under all the condition named it was not un-natural for working men, while they thirsted for beer to thirst also for the latest news; and hence the provision to quench the double thirst by a double supply. A man, named Edward Tebay, the son of a Hastings auctioneer and broker, was newspaper reader at the Horse and Groom for some years, and this practice was kept up until [ 39 ] the establishing of the Mechanic's Institute, the introduction of railways and the removal of newspaper restrictions caused a revolution in the purveyance of news, and thus obviated the necessity, or supposed necessity, for Sunday readings at taverns.

The reader Edward Tebay (afterwards the first master, while his wife was the first mistress of the National Schools) was he whose sister was a school mistress at Hastings, and whose father was permitted to issue money tokens. I have had shown me a Hastings halfpenny, which the possessor found under the floor of a house where he had been at work. It is in an excellent state of preservation, and bears the date 1793 (or 1796)[d]. It is "payable by James Tebay, Hastings," and has on the obverse and reverse, respectively, a vessel in full sail, and the arms of the Cinque Ports. These are ornamented with oak and laurel branches; and there appears also the motto "Success and Safety attend the endeavour". The following are rubbings of the same.

Hastings Half Penny.png

It was in 1831 that the buildings eastward of the Archway were commenced, and this district familiarly known as St. Leonards-without, grew almost as fast as St. Leonards within. Adelaide Place, which now forms 1 to 12 Grand parade, was the first range of houses erected, and then followed Market terrace and Market cottages in the rear. These latter were first called the "New Market" and in a similar way to that of the Old Church, alluded to by Mr. Hatchard, the original market place at the West Marina took, paradoxically, its new name of the "Old Market". The cliff hereabouts sloped downwards from "Goat's Point," near the site of the late Archway to near the site of Warrior square, and much of this cliff, I believe, was excavated by men in the employ of Mr. Putland, who was one of the early immigrants to St. Leonards, and who had also much to do with the road-formations in those early days. It was a novel sight to me, as a boy, born and reared in the old town of Hastings, to see the stone and rubble run down on tramways from the cliff to the beach, and even now I have a dim recollection of wondering how long or to what extent the sea would permit its natural domain to be encroached upon by walls and walks at the will of human usurpers. How strange it is to those who remember the land projections being washed by the sea, and the indentations and low grounds heaped up with beach to hear their younger brethren exclaiming "How the sea encroaches!" If such people only knew that many of the Marina and Eversfield houses have been built on portions of the old road and that the sea-way has been narrowed in some places by as much as from 80 to 90 feet, they would surely amend their statements. That the sea has been of late gradually taking shingle from its old depository at Bulverhithe must be admitted, but the cause of this has been shown in the GAZETTE, and is not due, as many people suppose, to a general encroachment of the sea. But I need not dwell on this matter. Suffice to say that one of the old projections whose base was sometimes washed by the sea was the hill which gradually ran outwards and upwards to a point southward of the Undercliff, a portion of which - long before I knew anything about it - must have been those rocks which in their reduced and mutilated condition still appear in front of the South Colonnade. But my business just now is with the somewhat less elevated portion of the cliff which was removed to make room for the first houses in Grand parade, which, as already stated, were originally named Adelaide place, and which name, to the puzzling of strangers, was until quite recently retained on the upper front of those houses. When the cliff was hewn down, many human bones and skulls together with a few stone coffins and some instruments of war, were discovered and collected. The bulk of these were claimed by Col. Jeffries, who had purchased the ground. Some of them were afterwards possessed by Dr. Harwood, and some were sent to the museum in Lewes Castle for preservation. It was the boast of one of the workmen that he imbedded a human skull in the masonry of one of the houses erected over the ground in which it was found, and where he believed it would have a resting-place freer from molestation than would many of its fellows which had been similarly unearthed. Even before this discovery of the relics of those who had lived in ages long before, the place seems to have been recognised as a burial place; for when I was a boy, it used to be said that some of William the Conqueror's army and followers were buried between Warrior Valley and the Old Woman's Tap. There was also another legend, namely that there was once a chapel near Goat's Point, contiguous to which was the "Chapel Field". But for the finding of war instruments with the human bones, one would suppose that an ordinary burial-ground had survived the ruins of the chapel, and the spot where the relics were found was the site of that ancient chapel and ground. Against this supposition, however, was the fact that joining the Chapel Field was also the Warrior Field, which probably obtained its name in connection with the battle of Hastings. The origin of both names is doubtless entirely lost in the vista of the past. In the construction of Adelaide place, Messrs. Towner, Jenner, and other builders were engaged, while Mr. Walter Inskipp was the architect. The last-named gentleman built one house (No. 10 or 11) for himself, whilst No. 12 was built by Mr. John Austin. Adjoining this is the Saxon Hotel, which was erected some time later by Mr. Smith for Mr. Mantel Eldridge, the proprietor being also its first occupant. Opposite to the east front of the Saxon Hotel is the west front of what is now known as 14 Grand parade, but which at the time of its erection was named Saxon House.

It was for a time occupied by its architect and proprietor, Mr. Walter Inskipp, but a portion of it was used as a booking office for the London and Brighton coaches. No railway innovation had yet reached St. Leonards, and the four-horse and six-horse stages were in the height of their efficiency. The Paragon, the Express, the Dispatch, and the Hero, with their prancing leaders and wheelers, their smartest of "whips" and their red-caoted buglemen were all in their glory; and the names of such men as Charley Pawle, Edward Neale, Jonathan Mose, and a few other pet drivers were as familiar in our mouths as household words. Hiitherto the Hastings coaches, leaving the town by Old London road, had taken from nine to ten hours to traverse the 64 miles of road between Hastings and the Metropolis; and this was considered to be a good pace when allowance was made for the frequent change of horses and the occasional hindrance of turnpike gates. But by the construction, partly at Mr. Burton's own cost, of what was termed the Harrow road, the distance from St. Leonards was shortened about three miles, and the "Dispatch" coach, which was started in 1830, accomplished the journey in 7½ hours, and was thus beating its older rivals by at least two hours. Mr Burton's "new cut" connected Maze Hill with the old road between Hastings, Ore and Battle; and the now disused toll-gate house, built to resemble a ruined tower, and till lately standing at the junction of four roads about a quarter of a mile northward of the Gensing Pleasure Gardens, marked the position of Mr. Burton's road for a short distance, the remainder being now absorbed in some of the newer roads. This toll-gate used to be called the Tower Gate, and the present Tower road leading therefrom to Bohemia is thus named in consequence.

The Tower toll-gate - The Dabneys and their pedigree

That Mr. Burton had an eye to the picturesque even in minor matters was shown in the building intended to represent an old tower attached to the [ 40 ]toll-gate, as seen in the annexed view. The said view - perhaps the only one extant - was sketched by Mr. J. R. Mitchell in 1865. The foreground is a hollow of the Magdalen Charity estate on which in 1896 were erected the new Board Schools. The railing shows the direction of what at present forms Tower Road. The whole district being now covered with buildings, the original tower and toll-gate would have been these many years looked for in vain.

Tower Toll-gate 1865.png

For quite a lengthened period there resided in the tower house a venerable dame and doctress of the name of Dabney. The old lady was much respected by all who knew her, and died at a very advanced age. Mr. W. Dabney, drill-master at Bohemia, was her son, and lived as great a span of years as his mother. His father, the old lady's husband, whose pedigree I have worked out is he whose descendents claim to be next-of-kin to the great estate of Sir Humphrey Jennings, or of William Jennings, the latter of whom died, intestate in the year 1798. The story is that the said William Dabney was a grandson of Cornelius Dabney who, with his brother John, left England and settled in America. These, with another brother named Robert were Huguenots, and first came to England from France at the perfection of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. When in America, Cornelius Dabney (a corruption of D'Aubique) married, as his second wife, Sarah Jennings, who had gone out from England with the family. They were married in 1721, and had a son, baptised as Benjamin Dabney, who, appears to have come to Hastings, where he was married and had a family, whose descendants down to the present claimants have been traced by the writer of this History. The Sarah Jennings who was married to Cornelius Dabney, was said to be related to Sir Humphrey Jennings, the great napmaster[e], and her descendants to be wholly or partly entitled to the thirty millions of pounds, some of which has been wrongfully [ 41 ]appropriated and the remained still in Chancery. Whilst from Cornelius Dabney have descended, as alleged, the Dabneys of Hastings and St. Leonards, from his brothers John and Robert have descended all the wealthy and influential Dabneys of America. The following account is extracted from one of the letters in possession of the writer from Mr. Dabney, of Boston.

Claimants of the great Jennings' Estate

About the year 1720, two Huguenot brothers, named John and Cornelius d'Aubique came from England to Virginia, and settled at a place now called Dabney's Ferry, and from them have come the numerous Dabneys scattered profusely throughout Virginia and all over the western and south-western states. They changed their name to Dabney soon after their arrival in Virginia, as shown by a record of Cornelius's marriage (a second time) to Sarah Jennings in 1721. She was sister to Sir Humphrey Jennings, who left a very large estate, including a large part of the city of Birmingham, and to which there are many claimants. Another brother of John and Cornelius, named Robert, came to Boston, soon after from England, the first trace of whom we find in the city archives of a son, with the statement that his name was to be John Dabney. From an older brother, named Charles, born in England previous to their coming to America, are descended all the Dabneys of New England and the Northern States, and of whom the writer of this letter is one....My father, John Dabney, was the eldest son. About 1805 he was appointed U. S. Consul, and as such he resided at Fayal?[f] until his death in 1826, when I was born. On his death, his eldest son, Charles William, received the appointment of Consul, which he held for over 40 years, and in 1870 his son Samuel William Dabney [Samuel and William were the names respectively of the St. Leonards tower-gate William Dabney's two sons] received the appointment of Consul, which he still holds. Thus the Consulate has been in the family 79 years. In 1862, I was appointed U. S. Consul for the Canary Islands, and resigned the same after 20 years residence in Teneriffe

In his later days William Dabney was employed to keep the road in order, and it is in that capacity that he appears in the accompanying sketch

Other letters from the above named gentleman and from Dr. Dabney show that not from their branches of the family, but from the descendants of Cornelius Dabney, through his wife (Sarah Jennings), the claims are made to the Jennings Estate. Several trials have taken place from time to time for the purposes of recovering the immensely valuable estate in dispute, but by the tampering with, and destruction of parish registers, defacing and altering tomb-stones and the suppression of other material evidence, it is alleged, certain wealthy persons (now deceased) were able to divert the estate (valued at thirty millions by the late Vice-Chancellor (illegible text)) from those who were lawfully entitled to it. The latest trial was that at the suit of Mr George Willis, (who it was thought would have succeeded obtaining possession) but who, after bringing several actions and spending £20,000 in litigation, raised partly on bonds and partly from friends became bankrupt, and was nearly stone blind.

Another of the later claimants was Henry Bushe Jennings, an old postman of Biddenden, Kent, who died Nov. 3rd 1893, at the age of 82 years. He had been postman of that district for 35 years and was the second son of James Jennings, late of High Halden, and so with indirect rival descent of John Jennings, once ironmaster of Birmingham in connection with whose death arose the insuperable difficulty of the great Chancery claim.

Claimants of the great Jennings Estate

The budget of documents relating to this case that are in my possession would fill a large volume of interesting matter whether read as an entertaining novel or as an antiquarian production. The foregoing and following bare allusions are, however only here given as reminiscent as[ 42 ]sociations of the Dabneys of Mr. Burton's toll-gate tower.

From a manuscript still in existence in the British Museum, the family of Jennens or Jennings were of very ancient origin. They seem to have settled in England before the Norman Conquest, and to have been of Danish extraction. The first who settled in the Kingdom was a Danish Captain, brought to England by Canute, King of Denmark and having been baptised into the Christian faith had certain manors lying on the sea coast near Harwich, given him by Canute as a reward for his former services rendered to Canute's father, Sweyne, King of Denmark. Little more is known of the family until the reign of Heny VIII, when one Robert Jennens is found employed in the Royal Household, where he became a favourite of the King, who in or about 1545, promoted him and after presenting him with a sword and belt, sent him to Shottle, in the parish of Duffield, in the county of Derby to act as chief warden, deer-stalker and ranger. Robert Jennens married one Ellen Beard, and had a son named John, who became a great ironmaster at Birmingham. This John was twice married, the first time to his cousin, Mary Jennens, and the second time to Joyce Wearman, the daughter of a wealthy solicitor at Birmingham. As regards the claimants of the property, the chief point in dispute was the paternity of William Jennens, who died intestate in 1798. The persons, however, who, lawfully or unlawfully obtained possession of the estates in more than seven counties were Lord Howe, Earl Beauchamp and representatives of the deceased Lady Andover.

Turning from William Dabney and the claim of his descendants to the Jennings estate to the new road out of St. Leonards by Mr. Burton, it should be explained that the tolls for such road were first taken at a gate just "above the North Lodge", where was a small cottage in which William Golden as toll-taker resided. The last toll taken at this place was on the 22nd of July, 1837,. The entrances to North Lodge, east and west, were originally from beneath the arch, traces of which may still be seen.

In his latter days William Dabney was employed to keep the road in order, and it is in that capacity that the appearance in the accompanying sketch.

I must not close the year's record of events without a reference to the [ 43 ]melancholy death of Mr. George James Wood, a youth of about 18 years, the son of T Wood, Esq. and a grandson of James Burton Esq., the founder of the town. He had been with a party of huntsmen out for New Year's Day, and on his return from the chase he endeavoured to leap his horse over a high gate close to an embankment, when he was thrown and instantly killed. This sad event in the town's early history cast a gloom over the inhabitants as well among the deceased's own family. At the time of re-writing this History (1897), the only survivor of the unfortunate young man's family is Miss Wood, of North Lodge east, the entrance to which, as well as that of North Lodge west when first built was from beneath the central arch, traces of which may still be seen. It was this building, also the Clock House on which appeared the form of an anchor, either as Mr. Burto's crest or as the town's emblem. Regarding it as the latter, the St. Leonards and Hastings Gazette, in 1835, was the first journal to use that symbol conjointly with the Hastings Arms on its title-page.

One of the minor events of the year was a case of supposed hydrophobia[g], a liver-coloured spaniel bit a person but so as not to break the skin. It then ran on towards Hastings, biting several dogs on its way, most of which were afterwards destroyed. The rabid dog was also killed.

  1. Brett spells this gentleman's surname with an 'e', although other sources give it without - Transcriber
  2. All of these buildings are no more, having been demolished for Marine Court - Transcriber
  3. For memoirs of Sir Charles Wetherall see Brett's "Historico-Biographies" - Brett
  4. The rubbing appears to show the year of 1794 - Transcriber
  5. Brett's handwriting is difficult to decipher for this word, being hyphenated across two lines - Transcriber
  6. Uncertain as to placename - Transcriber
  7. Now commonly known as 'Rabies' - Transcriber