Brett Volume 2: Chapter XIII - St. Leonards 1835
| This is a verbatim transcription of Brett’s work, which comprised both manuscript and typescript cuttings, and therefore reproduces Brett’s variations in style, capitalisation, punctuation and spelling. The only alterations made have been to the pagination and images whereby both page titles and images have been moved to the most appropriate paragraph as opposed to where they were pasted into the texts by the author. Where possible, personal names have been checked against census, parish records, contemporary newspaper reporting and the Central Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths. A number of footnotes have been inserted by the transcriber when this has been thought to be useful.
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The reader will notice that this volume commences at page 118, which is a continuation of volume one. It extends to 231 pages, the whole of which, with a view to its being published, was prepared for the printer as one volume only, but when arranged in its present form, it was found much too bulky for convenient handling and reading, and so was divided into two volumes, yet allowing the numbering to run on consecutively as originally placed.
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Chapter XIII: St. Leonards 1835
Sea Wall Troubles - Money not to be had
It will be in the recollection of my readers that the sea-wall was a constant source of difficulty to those whose province it was to find the ways and means; and, from what follows, it will be seen that for a long time the power was still needed to grapple successfully with that difficulty. At their first and second meetings of 1835 the Commissioners again discussed the question of repairing damages to the then existing parade, and of constructing a new wall to the westward thereof. Tenders for the work were advertised for, but as the invitation was not responded to, it was resolved that the Board’s committee should consider the best and cheapest means of doing the work themselves. That the office was by no means a coveted one may be gathered from the fact that at the third quarterly meeting there were not sufficient members present to form a quorum, and the meeting had to be adjourned. It was even necessary to have a second adjournment, there being only four persons present - all members of the Burton family; of whom it may be said, they ever evinced a deep concern for the welfare of the town, and often came to the rescue in times of danger or difficulty. There was a beating-up for the second adjourned meeting; yet, strange as it may seem, there was a muster of only half-a-dozen members, namely, Mr. Jas. Burton (chairman),Messrs. D. and A. Burton, Mr. F. Wood, Mr. C. H. Southall, and Mr. Jas. Rock. Some money was then advanced by Mr. Burton to pay interest on borrowed money for repairs of the sea-wall, and an order was given for the wall to be further repaired and to be “returned” at the west end. Like some of the previous makeshifts, these “stop-gaps” were but a temporary security until a more effectual scheme could be undertaken. On the 28th of December, however, when, in addition to the four Messrs. Burton, there were present Messrs. W. and M. Brisco, Major Jeffries, Mr. Wood and Mr. Southall, a plan produced by Mr. Leave the surveyor, for more thoroughly repairing and strengthening the walls and parades was adopted. It was also resolved that Mr. bares should be employed to construct a groyne as an additional protection, according to the plan of those at Pevensey, the cost of £4 per rod, and the work to be done under the superintendence of Mr. Charles Deudney. Even these expedients failed to keep unruly Neptune within the narrower limits prescribed by mere mortal. But more of this anon!
In the mean time let me glance at another sea of troubles by which the Commissioners were beset. Money was the commodity in perpetual demand, and money was as constantly the hardest thing to get hold of. No offers for the £800 loan again advertised for in January were received, and equally unsuccessful were similar efforts during the next three months. The bankers; claim of £250 was still unsatisfied, and several tradesmen’s bills remained unpaid. Interest on bonds to a considerable amount was due, and further outlays had already been voted for protection against the sea. The clerk again reported his ineffectual exertions, by advertisement and otherwise to obtain the £800 loan, and was requested to renew his efforts. Thus the affairs went on until the June meeting, when it was resolved that a further attempt should be made to borrow money, and that £900 be asked for instead of £800. The apparent supposition that it was easier to borrow the larger sum than the smaller looks like asking a child to spell kitten because it cannot spell cat. September came round, and still the £900 was unoffered. In the meantime another tenpenny rate had been levied, and defaulters had been threatened with summonses; but it was impossible to make the income balance the expenditure. Even the clerk had a claim of £67 10s. Against the Board for 2 ¼ years’ salary; but he good-naturedly accepted a bond for this, together with other moneys which he had paid out of his own pocket. As soon, however, as one difficulty vanished another appeared in its pace. At the December meeting it was found that the interest due on bonds amounted to £255. A portion of such interest was met by Mr. Burton, and the remainder was ordered to be paid as soon as funds would allow. More taxes were imposed, and this time the rate was increased to a shilling in the £. But what about the Sinking-fund? Quarter after Quarter did the Clerk remind the Board of the clause in the Act of Parliament which required the formation of such a fund. As well might he “ask that the stones be made bread”. He had piped but the £900 would not dance and the sinking fund was already too low to be raised.
But it is time now to turn from the money matters to other matters. The shopkeepers complained that they were taxed beyond their means, and that whilst the bulk of the people spent their money in Hastings, the remainder were so beset by hawkers and hucksters as to make it difficult, and in some cases impossible, for tradespeople to live. A memorial was consequently presented to the Commissions against the alleged evil. Sympathy was expressed with the tradesmen, but there appeared to be no means of abating the drawback complained of. Mr. James Troup also complained of the bill posters sticking notices on the east side of the East gate, afterwards known as the Archway; and, to gratify the whim of a man who was not always easy to please, the Board resolved that notice be put up “Stick no bills.” It would, doubtless, have rendered life more bearable to the proprietor of the Warrior Square Estate if all men had been so obliging as were the St. Leonards Commissioners. But the latter body were not always so pliable, as instanced at their next meeting, when they ordered a notice of indictment for nuisance to be served on the Commissioners of Filsham Level unless the latter authority repaired the bridge in their jurisdiction.
I turn now from the urban to the parochial authorities, so as to chronicle a few transactions of the latter during the year 1835. The overseers of St. Leonards were Edward Farncomb and Benjamin Hoan, and the place where the vestry meetings were held was the “New England Bank”, a wayside inn, beside the bank at Boeep which was afterwards cut down for the terminus of the South Coast Railway.
As the new Poor-Law Act was then coming into operation, it was ordered at a vestry meeting that notice be given to the several paupers that no moneys would be allowed for the payment of rent as theretofore after the 25th of March, and that all persons to whom the parish was in such manner indebted were to send in their accounts. Also that the parish authorities endeavour to procure employment for the men hitherto receiving relief, and if unsuccessful the parish to employ them to collect and break stones for the road at 16d. per ton. Also that the relief to a certain married couple be reduced, with the alternative of living in the poor-house and working for the parish.
At the next vestry, of which Mr. Chas. Overy was chairman, Messrs. Chas. Deudney, Chas. Southall, Henry Edlin and Jas. Mann were nominated for overseers; whilst Messrs. John Phillips and Fredk. Ticehurst were respectively appointed vestry-clerk and surgeon. So sweeping is the inroad of Time upon the life of man that of the seven persons here named, there is not one who has not passed to that bourn whence no traveller returns.
It was at the vestry meeting referred to that a proposition was received and accepted for the parish to pay one-third of the expense of keeping in repair that part of the road leading to the Harrow which lay in the St. Leonards parish, the remaining two-thirds to be paid by Mr. Burton and the Trustees of Mr. Charles Eversfield. The road in question was, as might be expected, the “Harrow road” described in the earlier part of this History as that which Mr. Burton formed to connect St. Leonards with the old road from Hastings to London, and for the use of which a toll was taken at the north end until the 22nd of July, 1837, when the said toll was abolished. What the maintenance of that wo miles of road cost the parties concerned or what the amount of a third of even the parish portion of it was I know not; but that the latter was considerable may be inferred from the fact that during 1835 - an exceptionally inexpensive year - there was paid a sum of over £20 for the cartage of beach alone, and a further sum of £14 14s. 6d. for keeping in repair the parish roads outside the Commissioners’ jurisdiction.
It was partly due to the shortened distance between St. Leonards and London by Mr. Burton’s “Harrow road”, that the “Dispatch” coach (started in 1830) was enabled to accomplish the journey in 7 ½ hours, nearly two hours less time than the Hastings coaches required to perform the same distance. But even this was to be surpassed in 1935 by the splendid new coach, which in compliment to the illustrious visitors who had been staying three months at St. Leonards, was named the “Royal Victoria.” It [ 119 ]made its first journey from Edlin’s Victoria Hotel at the beginning of June and was timed to be in London within seven hours, thus travelling at the rate of nearly nine miles an hour, including stoppages to change horses. At first it performed the up-journey on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, returning on the intermediate days; but after a few weeks, when the companion or duplicate coach was finished and other arrangements completed, the up and down journeys were performed daily. The appointments of the “Victoria” were said to be perfect in every particular; and it is probable that the builder was the late James Rock, sen., who at that time had a branch factory at St. Leonards, and was also one of the St. Leonards Commissioners.
Princess Victoria at St. Leonards - her Accession to the Throne
The appellation of the new coach reminds me that I have something more to say of the royal lady whose name was thus complimentarily appropriated and whose loyal reception by the people has been already described. The illustrious Princess and her mother frequently took carriage and walking exercises during their sojourn, and were highly spoken of for their friendly bearing towards the gentry, and for the absence of all ostentation when having to converse with persons of inferior grade. They not infrequently paid a visit to the better sort of shops - what at that time were a few in number - and amongst the establishments thus honoured was Mr. Southall’s Library, which was inspected on the 28th of January by the Duchess of Kent, the Princess Victoria, Sir John Conroy, Lady Flora Hastings, and the Baroness Letzen. Of course, the distinguished visitors expressed their pleasure at the attention shown them; and, as may be imagined the establishment which had been successively known as Eber’s Library and Southall’s Library, at once changed the simple appellation for the more pretentious name of the “Royal Victoria Library,” mounting at the same time the Royal Arms, which have continued to this day. The royal ladies and their suite usually attended service at the St. Leonards Church, the only one then in existence west of Pelham Crescent, and on one or more occasions the ministers who officiated were the Dean of Chester and the Rev. D. Shuttleworth. On Wednesday the 14th of January, a grand dinner party was given by their Royal Highnesses, to which were invited some of the nobility and gentry of both towns.
During the royal sojourn, a boy named Leppard, who worked on Mr. Deudney’s farm, was presented with a new shilling for having answered some questions put to him by the Princess Victoria. He was afterwards offered half-a-crown for the small coin which had just come from royal hands; and although he rejected the offer, he subsequently confessed to having spent the shilling as he would have done an ordinary one. This boy at a later period took what is called the “Queen’s shilling,” and served as a soldier in different parts of the world. He ultimately returned to St. Leonards, and related some of his adventures and escapes to his former employers; but he is not now, as far as I know in the land of the living.
It was at 9.30 on the morning of Thursday, the 29th of January, that the royal party took their departure from St. Leonards, to the regret of both residents and visitors to whom they had endeared themselves by their courteous demeanour, their general kindness, and their many acts of benevolence. One general wish was expressed that their Royal Highnesses would come again when the new roads and parades then forming were finished, and when the town could exhibit an aspect of greater completeness. This hope was never realised as regards those royal personages, although many members of the Royal Family have since honoured the town with their presence.
The Duchess of Kent and Princess Victoria, who became patrons of the St. Leonards Archers in December, 1834, jointly, in 1835, presented an embroidered banner, designed by the Princess; and also presented the Victoria Challenge Prizes, which was afterwards annually competed for. The Duchess continued a patron until her death, in March, 1861, and her daughter, as Princess or as Queen, from 1834 till 1876. The winners of the Victoria Prizes in 1835 were Miss Simpson and Mr. Fleetwood, M.P.
When first writing this History I had occasion to notice the contemporary deaths of several aged persons who were among the first inhabitants, and another of such whose demise occurred in 1879 was Mary, the wife of James Drury. Her death took place on the 19th of March, in her 76th year. Previously to her marriage she had held service in the family of Mr. Burton, the founder of the town.
Mrs. Anna Maria Cooper, another old inhabitant died on the 15th of the same month, at her residence Walland’s Lodge. She was the widow of Joseph Sidney Cooper, Esq., and the mother of the late Mr. de Brabant Cooper Major of the Cinque Ports Rifles. She was also a daughter of Mrs. Roe, of whom I had knowledge as far back as 1824, and of whose choice patterns of fancy-needlework, still in my possession, I sometimes look upon with almost childish admiration.
Mrs. Roe kept a fancy repository adjoining the “New Warm Baths” in the Fishmarket at a time when that district from Commercial Road to the Battery was more a place of business than even George Street, occupied as it was by butchers fishmonger, poulterers, drapers, tailors, hatters, and bankers. It was at 1 East Parade, opposite to the Battery that the mother of Mrs. Cooper removed her fancy repository after that house, adjoining Mr. Cooper’s Library, had been vacated by the Hastings, Hailsham, and Ticehurst Union Bank, the proprietors of which were Messrs. Mitchell, Milles, Ward & Co. When the husband of Mrs. Cooper retired from business at Hastings, he invested his capital in the erection of the first houses on the east side of Warrior Square, to which were given the name of Belgravia. He was a man of refined taste; and as an active member of the St. Leonards Mechanics’ Institution, his services were conspicuously valuable when the said institution in 1853 held an extensive and unique Exhibition at the St. Leonards Assembly Rooms. Mrs. Cooper survived her husband’s death a considerable number of years, and at her own death had attained to the age of 81. It was but a few weeks before her death that the old lady called on me, specially, as she said, to say Good-bye! and to wish me and my family well; as, in all probability, it would be her last opportunity. This mark of respect from one who was apparently in her usual health, but who was destined so soon to quit an earthly sphere, seems of peculiar significance.
Turning back from a slight digression in noticing the deaths of two old inhabitants, I find myself once more confronting the fact that in 1835 the Duchess of Kent and the Princess Victoria as patrons of the St. Leonards Archers, jointly presented the Victoria Challenge Prizes which were competed for annually over a period of 44 years. And, as the name of the highest lady in the land had been thus associated with St. Leonards both before and during her long and conspicuously good reign, I deem it not amiss to briefly notice a few events embraced by the period between her Majesty’s residence amongst us, and the 24th of May, 1879, when the Queen’s 60th birthday-anniversary was celebrated, not only by the Queen’s St. Leonards Archers, but also, with more than the usual demonstrations in all parts of the British Empire and in countries other than our own. The sixth decade of the Sovereign’s life was seized upon by her subjects for celebration as though it resembled the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. As Princess Victoria, the Royal lady left St. Leonards when she was approaching her sixteenth year, and as Queen Victoria she commenced her reign when she had but just matured her eighteenth. That the sixtieth birthday of a monarch who had swayed the Sceptre of England for forty-two years should be heartily commemorated is, in the nature of things, not so very wonderful an event.
Mighty changes had come over the continent of Europe since the celebration of Her Majesty’s natal-anniversary ten years before, whilst the foundations of her own throne had remained unshaken. One saw no special reason why the Queen should not rejoice with her people even when another decade had been added to the past, and before which epoch, the Jubilee year of her reign would have arrived. When Her Majesty first saw the light in 1819, the long reign of her grandfather was at length coming to a close. It had been drawn out over a period corresponding exactly with the number of years in which the present Queen of England and Empress of India had lived. If we assume that a sovereign ascended the throne in 1819, the year of the “Peterloo Massacre,” or nearly half a generation before the passing of the Reform Act, and still in possession of that throne such assumption will afford us some idea of what the reign of George III was like as to its duration.
Sixty years when represented by mere numbers, may seem but a brief span, but in truth there is a great gulf fixed - a chasm, scarcely measurable by time, between 1760, when as a young man, the Third George ascended the Throne, and 1820, when the demented King bade adieu to everything terrestrial. When her present Majesty was born, two entire generations had passed away since her grandfather declared in his first speech in Parliament, “Born and educated in this country, I glory in the name of Briton.” The German partialities of the first and second Georges had been rather too conspicuous to please the English people; so that the new King’s declaration was highly satisfactory. With three-score years of rule before him, it could hardly be otherwise than that they should embrace many events of great importance.
Our American colonies declared themselves independent, and erected themselves into the mighty republic known today as the United States; the French Revolution swept away one of the proudest and most ancient monarchies of Europe; and we had engaged in a war with France, which lasted three-and-twenty years. All this time the reign of George III continued, and his Jubilee was celebrated in 1809 and 1810 by only a very small portion of those who remembered his accession. An infant in 1760 might be a grey-headed man half-a-century afterwards and would know nothing of the rejoicings which had welcomed the new King to the Throne. After the Jubilee, however, George III was but little seen, although nominally his reign extended over another decade of years. The malady by which he had been attacked rendered it impossible for the aged monarch to take part in public affairs; and for ten years, wandering from room to room of his palace, the light of reason gone, the old King presented a melancholy contrast to the energy and vivacity of his youth.
In 1819, when Victoria was born, the flickering life of her regal grandsire was well-nigh extinguished, and in a few months thereafter it had altogether vanished. Then came to the throne the Prince Regent, who for ten years had practically exercised the duties of sovereignty; but as he was sixty years old, it was barely possible that his reign could be a long one. It lasted just a decade, and then his younger brother, the Duke of Clarence, took the crown and sceptre at the mature age of 65. Here again, the demands of Nature were against a long reign, and that of William IV was only seven years. Early in the morning of the 26th of June, 1837, there was a voice heard in Windsor Castle - “The King is dead! Long live the Queen!” The prayer of the herald, as it fell upon the ears of those assembled in the palace on that find summer morning, has been answered, “Long live the Queen!” Fifty-nine years have passed since the echoes of that voice resounded through the corridors and passages of the stately castle where the remains of the departed King lay; and the Queen is still amongst her people.
The maiden of eighteen is the great-great-grandmother, of seventy-seven. The hair, no longer auburn, has become whitened in the service of the State. It was a wondrous change for the people to have a young sovereign after a succession of aged kings. What matter of surprise then that tumultuous acclamations hailed the coming of the youthful Queen to the throne? Many who are still amongst us can remember that stirring time; can hear again, in imagination, the ringing of bells and the firing of cannon; can recall the proclamations in the market places of the towns; can hear the lusty cheers; can rehearse the eager expressions of hope; and can pass in review he bright anticipations.
There were none in St. Leonards in 1835 who did not wish long life and happiness to the youthful Princess who had then taken her departure after a three months’ sojourn; and there could have been but a few in the whole world, if any, who in 1837, did not wish that the life of the new Sovereign might be as cloudless as the summer sky outstretched above them, and as full of cheerfulness as the rays of the meridian sun, then at their longest. Tennyson wrote of the “fierce light which beats upon the throne,” and there can be no doubt whatever of the truth embodied in the sentiment. That fierce light has been shining upon the Queen during the long period of sixty years, amid the strife of parties, and the bitterness of sects. May it continue[ 120 ] to do so, and may the prayer of the people still remain the same, “Long live the Queen!”
Sell himself Sold - The Pariarchal Pauper - A Ruse defeated
Falling back again upon the year 1835, it comes in my way to describe the political situation of the period; and to do this I might appropriately associate new St. Leonards more closely with old Hastings than would be needful in other matters, the political interest of the two towns being obviously identical. Yet, as being even more in its proper place, the description will be found in the next (alternating) chapter on Hastings.
But, as also affecting both towns, I turn to the 21st of January, when another severe gale and destructively high tide occurred, as though Neptune, so unruly just before the arrival of Royalty at St. Leonards, had determined to exhibit his mischievous powers once more just before Royalty took its departure. I have already referred to this event as one among the several similar difficulties with which the St. Leonards Commissioners had to contend in 1835, but I have not described its destructive effects at Hastings. The gale of the previous October had committed great havoc among the houses, workshops, and other property in the Rope-walk, Stratford Place, and the Priory generally. Some of which the inhabitants did not care to thoroughly restore, as the lease of the ground was just expiring, and Government held to them no hope of their getting it renewed. The gods, however, were no respectors of Persons: and thus, as though AEolus, Notus and Nepture had entered into a conspiracy for clearing away some objectionable property with a view to future improvements, nine more houses were washed away, and many other obstructions were removed. All this was effected in one or two tidal flowings; and had not the fierce storm abated as it did, the consequences must have been even more terrible. The damage to the St. Leonards sea-walls was less serious on this occasion than on some others, and the greater wreckage at Hastings was mostly attributed to the erection upon the beach of the Eversfield parade and the lowering the White-rock hill, which caused the sea to be thrown with greater force into the Priory. But the new wall at White Rock was also considerably damaged; and, as this was not the first time that the sea had defied the efforts of the contractors to continue the wall in a straight line to Stratford Place, the project was abandoned, and the wall was curved inwards, that subjecting the parade at White Rock place and Stratford Place to a width of only a few feet - this inconvenience had to be endured for over forty years, and it is only since then that a great improvement in that locality has been effected by the mutual operations of the Town Council and the Baths Company.
St. Leonards Officials in 1835
Having been asked if I can give the names of the St. Leonards officials during the years 1828-1838, and can state whether a list of residents and visitors of that period was published, and by whom, I reply to the latter part of the question first by saying, that, so far as I am aware, no local list of residents or visitors was prepared until about the year 1853. I purpose, however, if time and opportunity are afforded me, to arrange as perfect a list for the first decade as the difficulties of such an undertaking will permit; after which period the files of BRETT’S GAZETTE will be available for further reference. As regards the officials, some of them have been already incidentally named in the preceding portions of this History, and it would not just now be convenient to repeat them or to give them in a collective form. But as I am describing the local events of 1835, I will here insert a list of the officials for that particular year, and may afterwards repeat the formality for subsequent years as I proceed.
The Commissioners of the St. Leonards Improvement Act consisted of Messrs. Jas. Burton, Decimus Burton, Alfred Burton, Thos. Wood, Joseph (afterwards Major) Jeffries, Chas. and Robt. Deudney, Jas. Rock, Jno Gill, Wm. Norsworthy, Wm. Waghorne, C. H. Southall, G. B. Greenough, Thos. Brown, Saml. Chester, Musgrave and Wastel Brisco, Howard Elphinstone, M.P., Fredk. North, M.P., J. A. Warre, ex-M.P., and the Rev. J. H. Randolph. The Clerk to the Commissioners was George Fraser. The Surveyor was Thos. Leave. The Treasurer was Francis Smith (banker). The Collector was Jno. Peerless. The Coal Meter was Jno. French. The Overseers were Chas. Deudney and C. H. Southall. The Beadle for the town was Henry Harman. The Beadle for the outbounds, together with Hollington, was Wm. Shoesmith (the oldest inhabitant then living). The Vestry Clerk was John Phillips. The Auditor (also for the Union) was Thomas B. Baker. The Mayor (of the Borough) was Robt. Montague Wilmot.
Visits of the "Dover Boder"
A cause was tried at the Lewes Assizes, in which Mr. Philpot, of St. Leonards, was plaintiff, and Mr. Sell, the Keeper of the Dover Castle, was defendant. Mr. Philpot recovered three penalties of £40 from the custodian for his having exacted six guineas each for three bail-bonds executed by a gentleman calling himself Capt. Hartley, then staying at St. Leonards, against whom Mr. Sell had three writs. The Act 23rd Henry VI provided that only 4d should be taken by the bailiff for such a bond. Mr. Platt obtained a Rule Nisi for a new trial, arguing that the Act in question had fallen into disuetude (sic), and also that only one penalty could be recovered, there having been but one payment of six guineas, and but one arrest. The Lord Chief Justice made the rule absolute, and recommended the defendant to consent to a verdict being given for one penalty.
The inhabitants of St. Leonards being then but a comparatively small community, and a very struggling community too, it was but natural that the most trifling event which affected the interests of one individual member should be regarded as of more or less consequence to all. And, as the visits of the “Dover Boder” were of unpleasant frequency, it may be well imagined that there was no small amount of chatter and chuckle over the “sell” which Mr. Sell had himself been let in for by one of his own sellers. The event reminds me that Mr. Philpot had a neighbour, the first portion of whose nomen was also Phi, and whose calling it was to crown the intellectualities of gentlemen with guinea gossamers. It happened that on one particular day - a day when tradesmen were not expected to be at church - the shutters and doors of Mr. Phil--’s establishment were closed, and that a gentle tap-tap-tap at the door was heard. “Who’s there?” was asked from within. “I want a hat for Mr. Burton” was the response. The voice was recognized as that of an agent of the Dover Boder and the quick rejoinder was “I have a hat to fit Mr. Burton, but not his pretended messenger.” The door remained locked all the time, and there was no such thing as fitting either the hat or the ruse.
Death of the Patriarchal Pauper
Of the old or early inhabitants of St. Leonards a goodly number have died since this History was commenced, and I have been fain to make it a habit, if not a duty, to pay a passing tribute to their memory. Death, as we all know, is the common leveller, and in the few words I have had occasion to write on behalf of the departed, I have endeavoured to treat the poor with the same consideration as the rich, believing that the social status of influence and affluence had been sufficiently acknowledged during life. The person whose demise I have now to record is one who was described by a contemporary as “The Patriarchal Pauper.” The Christian name of the said pauper was Margaret, and her matrimonial name was Fitzgerald, the latter being that of her second-husband. While in the Union house she was commonly known as “Old Margaret,” not merely, perhaps, because of her seniority in years, but also because her name appeared upon the first register of the inmates. Not being of high degree, the aged dame never attracted to herself any special popularity during her lifetime, yet she became suddenly famous after death. She was reported to be 95 years of age, to have been an inmate of the Union- house more than forty years, and to have cost the ratepayers £400. Unfortunately for Mrs. Fitzgerald’s posthumous fame and for the credit of the story which press-writers sought to encircle with a halo of interest, the story only bears the impress of a moiety of truth. It happened that my acquaintance with the family extended over a period of fifty years, and I felt that I was in a position to render the tale of her pauper-life amenable to some correction. Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald, with their children, resided for several years at Hastings, in the parish of Holy Trinity, and it was there that the head of the family died. I was living at the time almost next door, and it was my privilege to witness for the first and only time in my life, an Irish Wake. In 1835 the lease granted to the “squatters” in the said parish expired, and the widow Fitzgerald, with her children removed to All Saints Street and thence to the parish workhouse (All Saints’ I should suppose). At that time the Union Workhouse was in the course of erection, and as soon as it was completed Mrs. Fitzgerald became one of its occupants. She remained there, I believe, a somewhat longer period than was her wish in consequence of two of her children being ill with smallpox. The time was, however, comparatively brief, she having put herself in the way of obtaining a livelihood out of the House. For a short time she resided again in the parish of All Saints, but afterwards removed to the neighbourhood of the “Old Market,” St. Leonards, where she was employed in Mrs. Tapp’s laundry for nearly twenty years. Mrs. Tapp died at the age of 70, on the 30t of August, 1834, and her business being taken by Mrs. Beak, the subject of this notice was employed for a few weeks by her new mistress. Her age and infirmities were, however, against her (she being one year older than her former employer), and her engagement with Mrs. Beak soon terminated. The old lady had then no other alternative than to become again an indoor recipient of relief. At the close of 1854 or the beginning of 1855, therefore, widow Fitzgerald re-entered the asylum of the Poor-house, where she at length ended her pilgrimage in the 97th year of her age. It is apparent, from this account, that instead of her having been an inmate of the Union-house over forty years, as stated, the residence therein of the “Patriarchal Pauper” had not exceeded 24 years, or it may be, 25 years if both periods are reckoned together; and instead of her having cost the ratepayers £400, the expense of her maintenance may hot have been greater than half the sum thus estimated. Mrs. Fitzgerald had had eleven children, seven of whom survived their infancy and three of the seven being still alive when this was first written. The deceased was described as having “her peculiarities,” and one of these, I suppose, was her practice of going once a month to the Catholic Church at St. Leonards to receive the Sacrament. This she regularly did until within about eighteen months of her death, when, being too feeble, she was visited by the Rev. Father Foy, who also administered the last Christian rites over her grave.
The death of Mrs. Fitzgerald in the Union Workhouse, and her having been one of the first occupants of that house in 1835, the year to which my History has reached, are coincidences which recall the fact that the said Workhouse was one of the first hundred or more of such houses that were erected within twelve months of the passing of the “Act for the better administration of the Laws relating to the Poor in England and Wales.” The number of unions provided by that Act was 585, but it required several years to get the houses erected and the unions into good working order. More than three hundred of these, however, were in operation, and about 150 more in preparation without four years. The workhouse for the Hastings Union was erected at Cackle Street, in the parish of Ore, where with subsequent alterations and additions it had served its purpose for forty-four years, but from which site it was threatened with removal by an imperious Government, as against the judgment of the guardians whose local associations entitled them to a claim of knowing something of the Union’s requirements.
The building of the Union-house was not viewed with absolute pleasure by the present writer, and for the following reasons :- On the land which was taken in for the big
[ 121 ]house there were two semi-detached cottages of a humble character in the midst of fruits, flowers, trees and vegetables. In one of these resided the elderly and much-respected Mr. and Mrs. Giles, clerk and pew-opener of the old parish-church of Ore. These venerable people had grown-up sons and daughters, who were all married, and some of whom had also sons and daughters of their own. One of the latter generation was Mr. W. Giles, who was at that time an orphan, and whose own death more recently caused wide-spread sorrow in Hastings, St. Leonards and Ore. (Here cross referenced to the paragraph and poem copied below). He was then but a lad of 15 or 16 summers, and I was but a few years his senior. It was our practice to go on Sundays to the now dismantled church, and after assisting the choir and listening to a stirring sermon by the late Dr. Fearon (a sketch of whose residence and the distant church as they the appeared if lying before me) we “toddled home with the old folk” to Cackle Street, and there spent the remainder of the day in such rational and religious enjoyment as should have put to the blush the Sunday sillabub parties which were common not many years before, and which even then were but barely driven out by the force of reason and refinement. Picture to yourselves, gentle readers, the measure of our enjoyment, with but few cares of the world upon our your shoulders, when after partaking of tea - to which we contributed a few commodities - we read the Scriptures to the elderly people, sang hymns, with instrumental accompaniments - frequently assisted by members of the church choir who we were pleased to call uncles and aunts - walked in the garden and gathered strawberries or other fruits, and after an affectionate parting sang symns again on the way to our respective homes. How many times I have found comfort in recalling to memory the scenes of those happy days! What wonder then that I contemplated with regret the pulling down of those humble homesteads to make way for the great building which, with as much irony as accuracy, someone has styled “the mansion of the poor.” I cannot quite turn away my thoughts from this pleasant rendezvous of happy spirits in days gone by without alluding to the fact that in the adjoining “semi-detached” dwelling resided Mr. and Mrs. Hermitage, the son-in-law and daughter of the venerable couple whose names I have mentioned. To these were born a moderately numerous family, among whom were Mr. Stephen Hermitage, of York Buildings, Hastings, and Grand Parade, St. Leonards (since regretfully deceased), Mr. George Hermitage, of Halton, and other some whose professions sufficiently indicate that they sprang from a musical family. It is perhaps known only to a very few persons that the father of that generation of Hermitages was a workman in the service of the late Alderman Deudney’s father, about the year 1811 or ‘12, and that he was regarded as almost a Hercules for strength. This muscularity, no doubt, served him in good stead, when he afterwards became a quarryman or stone-drawer in the operations necessary for the building of St. Leonards. Unable, in consequence of a delicate constitution, to follow the cabinet-making business to which he had been apprenticed, Mr. Giles applied himself with diligence to the musical profession. He first played the organ at the Croft Chapel, next at St. Clements Church, and finally at All Saints Church, where after many year’s unceasing attention to his duties, he had to make way for a younger man, with a new organ. Notwithstanding that he received a testimonial and gratuity, his sensitive nature yielded to a feeling of dejection at his separation from his organ and choir and this sorrow was afterwards deepened by some other trouble of a private nature. His death, however, was that of calm resignation, and in the words of the song quoted “None was there who knew him but loved the good man.”
To the above is added the following extract from “Rhymed Reminiscences”:-
Learnt I it with childish gumption
That my aunt was in consumption,
Ending in her death;
Told she long, and told it surely,
When grim Death would prematurely
Take away her breath.
At the age of twenty-seven
‘Twas believed her soul in Heaven
Resting-place would find;
When - as thought - her Saviour sought her,
Mrs. Giles had son and daughter,
Which she left behind.
Still, protection they had, rather,
In a kind and doting father,
For a year or two;
“Daddy,” thence, alas! Was ailing,
With his health more greatly failing,
Till his spirit flew.
Without father, without mother,
Two young children - girl and brother -
Orphans thus were left;
Having been by Fate, most cruel,
Of the means of food and fuel
Grieviously (sic) bereft.
Growing up from ages tender,
With relations’ aid but slender,
And with prospects small,
They, with work and prudence acting,
Both respected and respecting,
Gained the love of all.
Short time hence without a murmur,
One will change from Giles to Fermor,
And a fam’ly near.
Who will be a credit to her,
And with filial love will woo her
As their mother dear.
But her brother - ay! Her brother,
He will follow his poor mother,
Borne upon his bier;
Freed from cares and sorrows weighty,
In the year of one less ‘Eighty.
Near his 60th year.
Though of disposition cheery,
He, at length, will feel him weary,
With full grief oppressed;
Then will those who’ve shared his gladness
Sing this new-made song of gladness,
“WEARY MINSTREL, REST!”
“A winter of sadness had scare passed away,
While bleak winds of March round our dwellings did play,
And waiting were we for the Spring and its flowers,
And warblers that gladden this life-span of ours,
When one who had helped us and shared in our glee, -
Whose dear homely face was a picture to see, -
In life’s troubled waters was found to be cast,
To sink ‘neath his burden, heart-broken at last.
He’s gone, and his home is now silent and lone;
The spirit that charmed it for ever has flown;
His kind, cheering words in our mem’ries will reign,
Though spoken by voice that will ne’er speak again.
None was there who knew him but loved the good man,
The gentlest of natures through all his deeds ran;
A stout-hearted hero in labours of love,
Has been called to his rest in the bright land above.”
Widow Palmer, Mr. John Harwood, and Mr. Henry Sinden
Of the Poor-law and its operations I may have something more to say, and if my readers fancy that my digressions from the St. Leonards History are neither few nor far between, they must bear in mind my promise or my threat at the commencement to give “a chatty, historic and anecdotal sketch of personal recollections.” Barely had I penned the life-sketch of the nonagenarian Mrs. Fitzgerald when news was brought to me that another old St. Leonards woman had died in the Union Workhouse. The woman in question was said to be the widow of the late William Towner, a builder, who, with his father came to St. Leonards when the town was commenced, and whose name figured in many of the documents pertaining to the early contracts. But, with further enquiry, I found that instead of widow Towner, it was widow Palmer, whose death had taken place on Friday last. She was 76 years of age, and was a Hastings rather than a St. Leonards woman, which latter fact somewhat removes her obituary from the incidental associations of the St. Leonards History. I may say, however, that her husband was in his youth apprenticed to the late Samuel Chester, of St. Leonards, at the time when the latter was a baker in the Rope-walk, and that Mr. and Mrs. Palmer transferred themselves from the Priory to the “Longfields” when by Government order the general exodus took place.
But, although there was a misconception as to Mrs. Towner having died on a particular Friday, it was a fact that her brother-in-law paid the last debt of nature on that day. Mr. John Harwood, who, 42 years previous, married Mr. William Towner’s sister, died at St. Leonards on the eve of his wedding anniversary, at the age of 66.
I have yet two other deaths to record, the first of which is that of Mr. Henry Sinden, who after being invalided for many months, died in the same week, also at the ripe age of 76. The deceased was a sawyer, and was one who migrated from “America” to St. Leonards, when the former became a desert and the latter became a town. He was familiarly known by the sobriquet of “Tough’un,” an appellation which seemed to be somewhat appropriate from the toughness of his constitution against his many years of wear and tear as a hard toiler and a hard drinker. Among his employers were the late Messrs. Scott and Homan, John Austin and Benjamin Tree. Of Sinden’s family, two sons had been for some years at the Antipodes, and one of them - whose accidental and agreeable meeting with Mr. Brett, a St. Leonards man in New Zealand, was described in this journal, came back to St. Leonards.
Reminiscences and death of 'Jerry' Lulham
The fourth death which I have now to notice is that of a Hastings Man more than a St. Leonards, but in whose career there are some incidents strictly connecting him to the latter town, and also with myself, if only as his brief biographer. The death in question, which transpired on the 15th of the same month, is one, moreover, which claims recognition on account of the deceased having been regarded almost as public property. His diminutive stature and the three-score years in which he had become familiarised to the Hastings and St. Leonards people conduced to his being a man of mark, and it was thus that the late William Lulham, under the familiar appellation of “Little Jerry” was known almost as well to visitors as to residents. Whether seen on horseback (as in years long past, when his feet barely reached the lower edge of the saddle-flaps), or when walking in the rain with an umbrella which seemed to cover him from head to foot, or on the Pier, mounting a set of steps to adjust his large telescope, he was the observed or all observers; and his departure from amongst us left a void that was hardly likely to be filled with equal significance. I first became acquainted with “Jerry” Lulham when he was probably not more than nine years of age; but as leading up to this acquaintance I feel impelled to slightly touch upon a few events and circumstances which preceded it; firstly, as supporting the aphorism that “first impressions are lasting,” and, secondly, as helping to dispel a doubt which I have heard more than once expressed of the possibility of a retentive memory at to early an age as four years. Let me say, then, that I was born in that terribly ill-conditioned year 1816, as compared with which the unseasonableness of the year 1879, when these lines were first written, was very slight.
Now with all the egotism that I can muster, and notwithstanding that I was present at the time, I will not undertake to say that I can recollect my own nativity. But, joking apart, I have a vivid recollection of the Coronation festivities at Hastings, in 1821. I can recall to view the illuminations, such as they were in those days of diamond shaped windows and clay candlesticks; I can see again the discharges of 24 miniature guns from my three-feet frigate as she lay in the “dry dock”; and I can remember with mixture of pleasure and timidity with which I witnessed the fireworks. My reminiscences, indeed, carry me back to some 18 months before the last-mentioned event; for I can remember quite well the building of the Hastings gaol and the high houses at Pelham Place, in 1828. Also the scramble of the so-called squatters to seize the Priory ground from which the sea had for a long time receded. I have also a distinct recollection of the old Town-hall which was pulled down in n1823, and in which there used to be a Sunday school, among whose teachers were Mrs. Milward (afterwards Countess Waldegrave), Mrs. William Amore, and other ladies. And among the recollection of many other events, which I will pass over, was the building of the Theatre (now the Wesleyan Chapel) in Bourne Street. This was in 1825, which I had attained to my ninth year. At that time, Mr. Stone - (who as a schoolmaster, had come from the house at Icklesham afterwards known as The Robin Hood, and among his younger pupils had had two children of the unfortunate Mr. Bufford, who was wrongfully hanged as an incendiary) - had located himself in close proximity to the theatre then being erected in Bourne Street. I, with the present H. Winter, Esq., J.P., and others I could name, were under Mr. Stone’s tuition, when, having the misfortune to become fatherless, I was taken from Mr. Stone’s school, to educate myself as best I could at home, and two years later, to be found a monitor of the first class at what was known as Mrs. Milward’s school, of which Mr. William Neve was master and whose death, at the age of 86, took place 66 years later, at St. Leonards, and at the house next to my own dwelling.
But why this, perhaps unpardonable, piece of autobiography? Simply, because it leads me to my first acquaintance with him whose death was the fourth in order of these obituary notices. Among the scholars of the somewhat primitive educational establishment was “Jerry” Lulham, who used to be spoken of by his school-fellows as “double-jointed.” It was a common thing for his class-makes to say, in the absence of the master, “Cock-up your leg, Jerry!” Then Jerry, who was probably as tall as he was ever likely to be, would stand as erect as a rifleman on parade, and with the greatest apparent ease, would raise his foot so that the toe of his boot touched his forehead. But I will leave Jerry here and leap over a space of years that I may narrate an amusing incident in the life of the late Mr. Lulham. It would be nearly forty years anterior to the present time, when as book-keeper in the service of Mr. Hoad, a riding-master of St. Leonards, that the subject of this notice was in the habit of riding horseback occasionally between the Swan at Hastings and the Saxon at St. Leonards. At that time also some of the larger houses in Eversfield Place (13 to 20) were being built by Mr. Benjamin Tree, and it was near to these houses that Mr. Lulham one day fell from his horse, head foremost to the ground. The rest of the story may be given in the following quotation from the St. Leonards Gazette of June 27th, 1857 :-
“The third accident was the falling from his horse of Mr. Lulham, the dwarf known as “Little Jerry”, who suffered confusion [contusion] of the head, and was otherwise pretty much shaken. He was taken to the shop of Mr. Hempsted, chemist, where he was promptly attended to, and afterwards sent home in a fly. We understand that Mr. Lulham has suffered but very slight inconvenience by his fall.”
My readers will observe that the above paragraph is quite in the ordinary stile, written in good faith and has no pretention whatever to ridicule or even to facetiousness. The only thing worthy of notice is the compositors’ blunder of confusion for contusion; but my little friend was so annoyed by it as to threaten the editor of the GAZETTE with a sound horse-whipping. He not only threatened, but he also endeavoured to execute the threat. He actually went to the office of the paper one morning before the breakfast hour, and having there met the offending editor face to face, with a stout whip in hand, accused the editor of maliciously slandering him, and demanded his authority or his motive for so doing. The malevolent scriber was, however, spared the infliction by craving forgiveness, and promising to apologise in ‘next week’s paper.’ Seeing how apparently real was the contrition, the dughty little man withheld the flagellation, but with the additional understanding that if the amende were not made as proposed, the editor would hear from his lawyer, Mr. Langham. But the apology was made, of course, and it was precisely as follows :-
“We have justly been trounced for our impudence, last week in describing a worthy man as a dwarf, merely because he happened to be in stature a little over three feet nothing. It served us right! We ought to have known better! Who taught us, we’d like to know, that less than four feet of humanity constituted a dwarf? We ought to have consulted Dr. Johnson, when we should have discovered that a dwarf if a man under the usual size. We here retract the obnoxious appellation, lest Mr. Jeremiah put his gigantic threat into execution of setting Langham at us. Even if Mr. Lulham was a dwarf, that is to say, eve if he was short, it may be a consolation for him to know that at the Town-Clerk’s office in High Street, may be seen a young man who is still SHORTER.” [ 122 ]It was very naughty of the editor thus to add irony to insult, but the injured little man soon forgot and forgave the offence; and, so far as I know, there was perfect friendliness between the two ever after. It only remains for me to say that Jerry was a man of thrift, and was therefore not a spendthrift. He managed to accumulate some property, and though he lived not always in single blessedness, he had enough and to spare, and when he had put off this mortal coil it was found that he had made several bequests to the public institutions of the borough.
At one period of his life Little Jerry went to sea in a collier, and it was a standing joke that though he went to sea he could not see the sea; that is, he could not look over the bulwarks when standing on deck. On one or two occasions, when his vessel was in the north, it became necessary to lock him up in the cabin to prevent his being carried off for exhibition in a travelling van.
More of the Poor Law Act of 1834
My musings on the early association of the Hastings Union-house having led me to intimate an intention of further gossiping on the Poor-law Act of 1834, I don’t know that I can do so better than by going into a little person history of a family - one only of several families - whose large and long enduring calls on the ratepayers of St. Mary Magdalen under the old system of administering parochial relief, will indubitably show, howsoever quaintly, the great necessity that existed for the change. I shall have to go a rather long way back, and shall therefore somewhat digress, as I have before done, from the limits of the St. Leonards History as the matter is new and the associations are not irrelevant, the disgression may not be altogether an infliction on my readers’ patience. “The family that I select to illustrate the comments that I may have to make on the ancient and modern systems of parochial relief is that name of Whyborn - not the farmers of that name already treated of, - but one that must have existed in the parish before the latter’s arrival from Westfield.
The Whyborn family. A family of paupers
In 1779 the parish gave a Mr. Wybon 5/- to “berry his gal,” after which there was no relief dispensed to any person of that name for eight years; but during the next seven years (1787-93) the overseers were called upon to pay “Old Wybon” 47/6 for “releaf,” £14 17s for “logeings,” 16/- for poor tax and “hiway tax,” 33/- for 11 weeks “board” with Mr. Rockett, 3/- for “moveing him from the Tobaker house to Hastings”, £3 9s 6d to Satterly for “dokters” bill, 14/- to Knight for a coffin, and 6/6 to Crouch for “berreal.” During the same period, various sums were paid for lodgings and relief, together with 3/- for a “Sitfic” (certificate) on behalf of the Whybon family; and that the name might be well remembered for the next forty years, a Thomas Wybon and his wife then commenced drawing upon the four or five occupiers of land who constituted the whole of the ratepayers, and were less in number than the recipients of relief. From 1794 to 1796 it appears that a Thomas Wibon and his wife were found in house-rent at a cost of £99 10s, but in the last-named year the husband was laid down with small-pox (probably from inoculation, as the practice was being revived at that time), a disease which caused his death. Besides the sums of relief that were given him, I find that 3/- was paid to Mr. Scrivens for a “botel” of wine, 11/8 to Ellen Briger for waiting upon Wibon, 5/6 to Cossum for a shroud, 6/- for laying him “fourth”, 10/- got “berreing” him, 1/- for Affedavid (certificate), and 2/1 for beer at the “berreal.” From this date there seems to have been a new point of departure, in which the principal actors were a John Wybon and the widow Wybon, and her children. I may have some doubt as to whether the name is orthographically correct, but I give it as I find it. The relief given to John from 1791 to 1829 amounted to £84 15s; but this included £2 12s 6d rent, £1 spent in the purchase of clothes for his wife, £6 for nursing her in illness, and £2 8s 6d for her funeral, which took place in 1814. It will be seen that John continued to receive parish relief for some fifteen years after the death of his wife; and it is conjectured that in one form or another it was extended to him even after the parish of St. Mary Magdalen became incorporated with the township of St. Leonards. But of this there are no records to show; and although I knew the man perfectly well as clean-looking quiet, yet sometimes facetious, “Old Jan,” I cannot tell to what age he lived. Reverting to the case of Mrs. Wybon who died of small-pox, I find that she also received parish relief in various forms from the time of her husband’s death, in 1796, until after 1829, when, as in the case of “Old Jan,” owing to the parochial records being missing for several years, there is nothing to show when the relief really ceased.I find, however, that in 32 years there was contributed towards the maintenance of "Dame Wybon" no less a sum than £337 15s; and this was exclusive of the sums paid to her husband before his death, and to those paid out for her children. It was also irrespective of the amounts paid to the Hastings tradesmen and surgeons, whose bills for boots, drapery, medicine, &c., were discharged in lump sums, and contained items of goods supplied to the poor of the parish generally. It was stated in the newspaper a few years ago that widow Fitzgerald, who died in the Union-house, had cost the ratepayers £400. This calculation was based upon the assumption that she had been an inmate of the Union-house for 44 years. But this, as I undertook to show, was an error, the period being less than was stated by 20 years. Compare widow Wybon's case with that of widow Fitzgerald, and it will be found that the duration and amount of relief afforded to the former were nearly twice the length and amount of those which apply to the latter. Consider, too, that instead of such relief being contributed by hundreds of ratepayers, as in Fitzgerald's case, the maintenance of "Dame Wybon" had to be borne by only half-a-dozen persons. And let me say that hers was n ot the most expensive charity with which the ratepayers of St. Mary Magdalen had to deal in pre-Union days. Strange to say, in those times when the laws of health were but little understood and sanitation was hardly thought of, the inhabitants - and especially the poor inhabitants - would occasionally persist in lengthening out their days to a very full period of longevity at other people's expense. I could mention the names of one or two families towards whose maintenance the small army of ratepayers contributed even more largely than they did to the "Wybon" family; but I am almost forgetting to convey to my reader the information that besides the relief in money - which varied from 8/- to 2/6 per week - Mrs. Wybon and her children were recipients of other commodities than even those already mentioned as raiment and medicine. I find, for instance, such items as these:- paid Dame Wybon for washing cloase (clothes) 16s; paid for her "logeing" washing and mending for a parish boy 2s a week; paid Burchett a bill for Dame wybon £1 9s 9d; one hundred faggots to Dame Wybon £1 4s 0d; one chaldern coals £1 16s; etc. These additional charities, as well as the larger weekly payments were in the earlier part of her widowhood when she had the care of her children: but provision had to be made even for the children as soon as they were able to leave home. Hence, I find that in 1801 (about five years after his father's death) the boy Thomas was placed out at service, and 2s per week paid towards his maintenance. In about three years these payments amounted to £12 4s. The boy then appears to have gone home again for a couple of years, after which he was again put to work for another three years - 1806-8 - and one shilling a week paid towards his keep. This latter term cost the parish £8 11s 0d exclusive of sundry small amounts paid for clothes, and some three or four pounds to Dame Fowler for his washing and mending. After this, it would appear that Tom was able to get his living without parochial assistance, as his name never appeared again in the overseers' account. But the Boy Arthur had grown up sufficiently take his brother's place in that particular, and hence I find that in 1808 there was an entry of £10 8s for two years' keep of the latter boy, and a second entry of £2 2s 3d to "Dame Dabner" for washing and making "cloase" for Arthur Wybon. For the next eight or nine years, I suppose Arthur was striving to become a man without parochial assistance; but he did not quite achieve his object; for, although no further sums were dispensed for his food, there were some rather considerable items against him for his raiment and find linen. Two "shurts" I see cost 13s 1 1/2d,and a pair of "britches" cost 18s. Perhaps these were his Sunday shirts and breeches. Then there was a shoe bill of £4 10s 10d paid to Mr. Burchatt (afterwards Burchatt and Wingfield) of Hastings, who used to make shoes for St. Leonardensis in his young days, and (like shoe-maker Wrenn, of Battle) made it a practice to visit his clients on Sunday mornings, ere they had spent their Saturday's wages, and whilst some of his less industrious neighbours ensconced within their high-built pews at church, refreshed themselves with sleep, even under the eloquence of a Webster Whistler and the stentorian responses of a James Cox. Among the other tradesmen who helped to supply Arthur's wants, were Mr. Robinson, the hatter; "Old George English," - father of the "Old George" - who used to nail and pelt his boots; and Mr. Cossum, a draper, whose establishment was the house in High Street now occupied by Mr. Ashenden.
The name of Cossum, reminds me that Miss Winifred Cossum, an old Hastings benefactress, died on the 22nd of December, 1833[a]. Her remains were interred at Fairlight; and, as a great friend to the poor, by whom she was greatly loved, her name deserves to be held in remembrance. Her residence was on the High pavement at the upper-part of High street, and the pathway in the rear which leads from the Croft to Torfield, used to be familiarly known by the two appellations of Love Lane, and Winny Cossum's Walk. The mention of George English, too, reminds me that he was one, who with Jesse Chapman and "Shop-Tom" Waters some fifty years ago, formed a party of hand-bell ringers, and, in the absence of church-bells at Hollington, rang out merry peals when marriages were solemnised - as they frequently were - at the Church-in-the-Wood. He was also the intermediate of three generations of George Englishes, the first of which three "jolly smiths," was one to whom was given the contract to furnish grates, coppers &c., at the Poorhouse in George Street, build in 1754 for three parishes.
Now I will hie me back to my subject, and thus forestall the question "Why all this digression?" It will be remembered that I left Arthur Wybon to grow into manhood; and upon the supposition that he had so grown when the year 1816 arrived, I will endeavour to follow his connection with the parish from that date. The weather of that remarkable year was very similar to the weather which the first half of 1879 brought forth. The winter and spring were very cold and were followed by extraordinarily dull and rainy weather from May to September. Much of the hay crop was almost nil; but where it was possible to gather in the latter, it was at a period of five weeks beyond the average time. Wheat was sold at £20 per load, and very many people living in Hastings and its neighbourhood were thankful if they could get only a small portion of wheaten flour to mix with ground barley and oats for their bread and puddings. It was therefore a bad year in which to marry and begin house-keeping. Yet, I suppose, it was what Arthur Wybon did; for I find that in 1816 a half-year's rent was paid on his behalf to a Mr. Sinnock and that to the same proprietor was paid eight guineas in 1818. From that date until 1829 - when the record ceases - a yearly rent of £9 10s was regularly paid by the parish on Wybon's account. And this was not all; for, the poor-rates were also paid for him, the whole of the rent and rates amounting to £132 9s 3d. Putting the numerous items together, I find that the ratepayers of St. Mary Magdalen contributed to this one family only a relief sum of more than £650.
Old-time system of relief
After the above ascertained fact, one ceases to wonder that under the old system of administering relief, the poor-rates ranged from five to twelve shillings in the pound, or that under such a condition of hardship to the ratepayers, the latter sought their own relief by an appeal to the Government for an alteration of the law.
Under the old system of administering parochial relief it was felt that the paying of rent and taxes for poor people so as to allow them to have free homesteads at the expense of other people - some of them even [ 123 ]poorer than themselves - was an evil that had been too long endured. It had a tendency, it was believed, to train young and able-bodied men to indolence and it encouraged early and imprudent marriages. It was a system in which paupers were paid by the parish for nursing their own children, and the children, when upgrown, for taking care of their aged parents. It was also believed to be a system fraught with inducement to "vice and immorality;" and, were it necessary, much might be cited from old parish documents to fortify that belief. A Committee of the House of Commons was appointed, and after an exhaustive investigation, a report was drawn up, which contained the following remarks :-
"It is obvious that a disinclination to work must be the consequence of so vicious a system. He whose subsistence is secure without work, and who even by the hardest work could not obtain more than a mere sufficiency, will naturally be an idle and careless labourer. A surplus population if encouraged; men who only receive a small pittance know that they have only to marry, and then that pittance will be increased proportionately to the number of children. When complaining of their allowance, they frequently say, 'We will marry, and then you must maintain us.' This system secures subsistence to the idle as well as to the industrious; to the profligate as well as to the sober; and, as far as human interests are concerned all inducements to obtain a good character are taken away."
I should be sorry to impute such motives to those whose cases I have brought forward as illustrations of the expensive and irregular mode of distributing relief before the Poorlaw Act of 1834 was applied to our own district; but that a reformation was required, and that an improvement was ultimately achieved, must be apparent, not only to the ratepayers, but also to the relief-recipients themselves. There was, I know, a great outcry at first among a certain class of people at the change, and the complaint was echoed by some of the press-writers - notably by a Hastings correspondent of a county journal, who likened the new Union-house to the French Bastille, and hoped it would never be his misfortune to become one of its inmates. Poor man! it was his lot in his declining days to live and die in that house, where the poor are properly, though economically, cared for, and where many of them prolong their days to a greater span that they perhaps would have done in their endeavour to drag out a feeble existence amid the buffetings of the outer world. There was, of course, a certain amount of confinement, and there was the separation of man and wife, two provisions of the new poor-law that presented objectionable features to those whose liberty had been hitherto unrestrained, and whose home associations were about to receive a rude shock; but these restrictions were regarded as unavoidable, and as being more than compensated for by the general advantages which would accrue to a heavily burdened community. Besides this it was held to be a maxim of some weight, even by persons not by any means destitute of sympathy with the poor or unfortunate, that "beggars ought not to be choosers/" When however, in 1836, the paupers were transferred to the new Union-house from the several parochial workhouses, or private houses the rents of which had been paid by the parishes, I have reason to believe that as much consideration as possible was shown by the officials too those under their charge as the altered circumstances would permit, and that the alleged grievances were more sentimental than real.
Among the benefits resulting from the new law for meeting the needs of the poor was the almost electrical effect exerted upon certain temperaments and ailments which changed invalided persons into able-bodied men and women. I think I could name two or three persons in the parishes of St. Leonards and St. Mary Magdalen who suddenly found themselves better capable of work than they had previously imagined, when the notice had been given them that after the 25t of March, 1835, no further sums would be paid to them for rent, as heretofore, and that all persons to whom the parishes were indebted for the rent of houses occupied by paupers were to send in their final claims. As proof of the increased ability to work, it may be said that some of the dwellings for which the parishes had paid rents continued to be occupied by the same tenants notwithstanding that the said tenants had to provide the rent themselves. Of course they were allowed the alternative of going into the "big house," and in one case, at least, an exception to this was even made. It was on the 25th of March, 1835, that at the "New England Bank" at Bopeep (Chas. Overy being chairman) a vestry meeting decided that "No more relief than 5s per week be allowed to Robert Dunk and wife, but that they be permitted to live in the poor-house, and work for the parish." This house, it will be remembered, has been described as having existed at Silverhill, near the spot on which now stands St. Matthew's Church. There came a time, of course, then, under the provisions of an Act of parliament, this house, as well as other poor-houses, might be sold for the benefit of the parish; but as the St. Leonards poor-house was not so disposed of until 1837, and I am now referring to the year 1835, any further notice of it at present will be premature.
It was in the month of June, 1835, that the wall and parade between the St. Leonards Archway and the White-rock had advanced to completion, and which, with the western parades, formed a continuous promenade of a mile and a half in extent. It was divided from the road by a neat iron railing; and the new via media formed a striking contrast to the rugged, fagoted and winding road, with projecting cliffs and the fatiguing White-rock hill, which previously existed. In the winter of the preceding year a series of storms and high tides tore up the old road to such an extent as to render it at places impassable, and another road, not much better, had for a time to be substituted for it. In June of that same year the new road, sea-wall and parade were determined on, and In August the contractors and sub-contractor (Messrs. Tester, Marchant and Ranger) commenced operations with an energy that augured well for a speedy accomplishment of the undertaking. From the date stated above, it will be seen that the great work of hewing-down cliffs, filling-up hollows, building a wall three-quarters of a mile long by 20 feet high, forming a raised road and constructing an excellent parade, was satisfactorily accomplished in about ten months.
At the same time, Mr. Troup published his designs for a square, crescent, terraces and church on the Warrior square Estate, previously known as the Gensing valley. Those designs were extremely picturesque, and in the judgment of most persons who saw them, superior to the design which was ultimated adopted. The lower enclosure, if I remember rightly, was to be flanked by the terraces, and the upper enclosure by two sides of the square, whilst in the centre of the crescent a church was to be the crowning object at the top. The villa, partly below ground, between the two enclosures, and intended for bath rooms, had been already built, but the original design not being carried out, the house in question has been long since demolished.
Whether these great improvements served as an immediate attraction to visitors I am not competent to determine, but it is at least worthy of note that in May and June of that year - off-season months as now regarded - there was a great influx of fashionables, and from that time to beyond the year's end there were more families of distinction at Hastings as well as at St. Leonards than there had been for a long time previously. The common remark was "It seems as though the good old times have revived." Perhaps the weather had something to do with the season commencing earlier than usual, the summer of that year being very hot, fine and dry, and the harvest so early as to admit of wheat on the Priory Farm being stacked on the Rock-fair days, 26th and 27th of July. The corn of that year was sold as low as 34s a load.
The archery meeting of that year was a brilliant affair, the Society's royal patrons, the Duchess of Kent and the Princess Victoria, having jointly presented an embroidered silk banner, for the Society's ensign, together with the Victoria Challenge Prizes, to be annually competed for by the members. The first winners of those prizes were Miss Sympson, and P. H. Fleetwood, Esq., M.P.
The Duchess of Kent also gave a cup of £25 for the Races which took place on the 23rd and 24th of September on Filsham Salts, near the present Railway West-Marina Station. The other objects competed for on those days were the St. Leonards Cup of £50, the Town Plate of £50, the Ladies' plate of £50, and a Sweepstakes for losing horses. The said races were attended by an immense throng of pedestrians, whilst the number and style of equipages were such as are now only to be seen at Goodwood or Epsom.
A few months later, namely, the 4th of December, witnessed the arrival of their graces the Duke and Duchess of St. Alban's, wo with their suite, occupied apartments at Edlin's Royal Victoria Hotel. What with falconing, hunting, and the fashionable parties daily given by them and others all was gay animation for a considerable period, to be eclipsed only by the still greater rendezvous of royalty, nobility and gentry of the next two years. I should mention that the changing the name of the principal hotel from "St. Leonards" to "Royal Victoria" was by express permission of their Royal Highnesses the Duchess of Kent and the Princess Victoria.
It was in 1835 - the year still under consideration - that the north side of Norman road began to be formed with a few houses which Messrs. Milstead, Naylor and others transplanted from the Priory Ground in consequence of the said ground having to be cleared by order of His Majesty's Commissioners of Woods and Forests. The houses in question were those which led the way up from the Warrior's-Gate Inn, and had no architectural features to commend them to special notice. They were, indeed, quite unpretentious both in size and appearance; and but for some recent improvements in their shop windows, they might be regarded as an average sample of the tenements which once existed in nick-named America, on whose site has since been reared the most stately buildings of Carlisle parade, Robertson terrace, Robertson street, Claremont, Trinity church, and the Queen's Hotel. Some three or four of the Priory houses were also re-erected at White-rock, whose precipitous road had just been levelled and the continuous parade completed. As this was beyond the jurisdiction of the Hastings Improvement Commissioners, and situate in the parish of St. Mary Magdalen, an idea was broached to designate it "St. Mary's," and to include the already erected Verulam place as well as some other buildings between the latter and the St. Leonards Archway. The attempt, however, was unsuccessful; for, not only were Cliff cottages, Seymour place, Adelaide place, Norman road, etc., regarded as constituting St. Leonards [without], but the postal district of St. Leonards also embraced the whole of the property between Bopeep and the Infirmary. St. Leonards, I may say in passing, was a post-town by itself, and it so continued for twenty years, when the arrangement was re-affirmed by the Postmaster-General.
The exodus to St.Leonards
But having had occasion once more to refer to the Priory Ground as a place whence many of the inhabitants migrated to St. Leonards during the general exodus, it may interest the readers if I place before them a few facts concerning it which to some may be altogether new, and to others a refresher of their memories. For some few years prior to 1826, the beach between the Priory-bridge and the White-rock, from which the sea had receded, was seized and built upon by some of the Hastings inhabitants, who thus gained for themselves the name of squatters, and might have very appropriately been called squabblers. Many a contest took place between these occupiers of No-man's land, arising from the desire in some to possess themselves of what others had laid claim to. When only six or seven years of age I was witness to a painful scene between a blacksmith and a sweep over a disputed claim of that description; and on the 10th of March, 1823, there was another desperate struggle on that same Priory Ground over disputed rights to certain building sites. Ultimately, the original assailants were beaten off, and a blue flag was hoisted by the defendants as a token of victory. In the same year, on the 26th of June, hostilities were resumed at the Priory, near to the Rock-fair ground, in consequence of two persons claiming the same piece. The battle was long and desperate, in which wounds and bruises were inflicted, and on the following night the windows were broken at the private residences of Messrs. Mark Boykett and James Breeds. Several of these cases ended in law-suits, one of which, I suppose, was that of Mark Boykett Breeds versus Sol Bevill, when at the house of E. Milward, Esq. (the Town Hall then being [ 124 ]razed for rebuilding) a writ of enquiry was examined by the Mayor, and damages assessed by the jury at £15 10s., with 20/- costs. Such feuds - especially those between Messrs. Thomas and James Breeds, the principal possessors - having at last become known in high quarters, a Government enquiry was set on foot to ascertain the legitimacy or otherwise of the assumed claims.
On Thursday, the 4th December, 1827, a meeting was held at the George Inn, Battle, agreeably in instructions of the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, when a jury was empanelled to try the case between the occupiers and the Crown. Those of the former who attended were unable to prove their claim, and the verdict was given in favour of the latter. But the case was allowed to remain open for a short time, to afford an opportunity to the Lord of the Manor (the Marquis of Cornwallis, proprietor of the Priory Farm,) the Earl of Chichester, Sir Godfrey Webster, the Corporation of Hastings, or any other persons, to show a just plea, by documents, title-deeds, conveyance, or legal privilege, whereon to substantiate their claim. The question, however, was regarded as good and settled, and the meeting, consisting of about thirty persons, wound up the day's proceedings with a dinner and an evening's conviviality.
At the end of six months, or in the first week of June, 1828 - three months after the commencement of St. Leonards - notices were served by the Crown solicitor upon the property-holders to attend at the King's Bench, there to substantiate their right to the property in their possession. Being unable to do this, the Government seizure was made good, and a seven years' lease was granted to the occupiers, to expire at Midsummer 1835. A hope was indulged in that the lease would be renewed, but in the second week of November, 1834, Mr. Driver gave official notice that the buildings on the Priory ground were to be removed before Michaelmas, of the following year.
Those inhabitants who complied with the order were to be given their rent for the intervening period, whilst the property of those who neglected to comply was to be taken down and sold. The ground-rent paid to the Crown at that time amounted to about £1,400; but by the eviction of the tenants, and the ground afterwards remaining a desert for fourteen or fifteen years, a sum of £20,000 was lost to the Government. None but the well-salaried officials of the Crown, I suppose, would be willing to make such a sweeping sacrifice.A similar sacrifice - not to call it mismanagement - was made at another place in Sussex, and at a later period, when the Selsea estate was allowed to remain unused for a number of years. It was, however, sold at last, and realised a sum of over £12,000. From this and other revenues of the Crown Lands it appears that a sum of over "10,000 was paid into the Exchequer for the financial year 1877-8 - the largest income hitherto derived by the Office of Woods and Forests. From this amount was deducted the respectable sum of £23,009 for the salaries and expenses of such office.
If those who were ejected from the Hastings "America" were at all cognizant of how the money comes and goes by Government hands, they might well have felt sad - as some of them did - that they had invested their savings, as they thought at the time not improperly, in the erection of cottages or workshops, from which they were afterwards to be driven, to seek a home and a living elsewhere. But, as it's an ill wind that blows no one good, so there came a time, tardy as it was, when instead of the ill-assorted and irregular lines of the Priory property there stood in their place the handsome houses and shops now existing, probably to the benefit, and certainly to the improvement of the whole borough.
I had intended to mention one or two incidents of 1835, to show the deep sympathy which was felt and expressed at St. Leonards for the oppressed and unfortunate Poles in their struggles against the despotism of Russia, but as my narrative in its chronological form is proceeding at a slow rate in consequence of the many associations which are continually cropping out, I will pass this by.
Among the persons and families who removed from the Priory Ground to St. Leonards at the general clearance of the former in 1835, or within a short period thereto, were the following:- Valentine Levett Stephen Milstead, Joseph Naylor, William Strickland, Jas. Hyland, Richard Starnes, Wm. Russell, Chas. Neve, Stanton Noakes, Wm. Kirby, Mrs. Fitzgerald, Samuel Chester, - Morris, Thos. Beaney, Sam. Sinden, Geo. Savage, Jno. Prendegast, Thomas Thorne, Hy. Sinden, Thos. Barden, James, Murdoch, Wm. Shaw, Robt. Shepherd, J. Pulford, Chas. Chapman, Edmund Chapman, Geo. Lee, &c. Many of these located themselves in Shepherd street, Norman road, London Road, and North street: and, as a consequence, an additional impetus was given to the building operations which had already been begun in those districts. New roads were also being opened out, and the one up from the Saxon Hotel, now known as London road, was commenced, under the survey of Mr. Walter Inskipp, of St. Leonards, and the contract of Messrs. Tester and Marchant, of Tunbridge Wells.
Like many other parts of the parish, the locality was redundant in beds of sandstone, and much of this was employed for building purposes immediately contiguous to the spot from which it was quarried. Fortunately for those of limited means, materials and labour were comparatively inexpensive at that time, and the dwellings and workshops were run up with but little cost and as little architectural finish. Some few of these remain in almost their primitive simplicity, but the greater number have lately undergone considerable alterations, additions and improvements, whilst their rateable and commercial value has been greatly augmented.
In alluding to the formation of the London road, St. Leonardensis is reminded of an incident in his own career which, as a race a la Gilpin, may be worthy of a passing notice. His employer had recently purchased a horse, described as a three-part thorough-bred hunter, whose vices and virtues there had barely been time to put to a practical test. The new owner of the said hunter desired his assistant to fetch his horse from the Swan Mews, and in the execution of this mission, the assistant - who was never a valiant among horses - got astride of the animal, when the latter, as though sensible of having an awkward rider upon his back, gave him no time to put his feet in the stirrups, but bolted off with him at full speed. To where should St. Leonardensis be conveyed but to St. Leonards? It was away, then, in that direction that the horse galloped, regardless of the shouts from a score of voices, "Stop him!" "Pull him up" "Reign him in!" etc. Away he scampered through George street and Castle street, over the Priory ground, along the new road between the White-rock and St. Leonards, and up the new road by the Saxon Hotel. This might have been fine fun for the horse, but his rider did not share the fun in an equal degree. Albeit, with uncertain proportions of fright and muscular exertion, he retained his hold of the mane and bridle; and although his seat was a moveable one which oscillated between the saddle and the shoulder, he stuck to it like a Briton and had the satisfaction to find that the ascent of the new and rugged road leading to the Harrow had sufficiently tamed the runaway to make him amenable to his rider's will. Many had started in pursuit of the fugitive horse, and with a fear that he had thrown his inexperienced rider, but they were all out-distanced in the race; and, as luck would have it, the biped and the quadruped both found themselves at home via a circuitous route, not much the worse for their venture. This was the manner in which, perforce, St. Leonardensis first travelled over the new road out of St. Leonards.
- Brett would appear to be incorrect in the year of Winifred's death - records of birth, marriages and deaths give the year as being 1834 - Transcriber
Transcribed by Jan Gilham
- An explanation of old currency and coinage may be found at the following website Pre-decimal currency, accessdate: 16 June 2022
- An explanation of old currency and coinage may be found at the following website Pre-decimal currency, accessdate: 16 June 2022
- An explanation of old currency and coinage may be found at the following website Pre-decimal currency, accessdate: 16 June 2022