Brett Volume 2: Chapter XXII - Hastings 1839
Chapter XXII - Hastings - 1839
Preparations in Hastings for important postal charges and a general review of post-office conditions from 1815.
Other means of communication when the population was rising from less that 4,000 to 31,000
Commerce and fashion moving westward
Numbering of houses
Extraordinary meteorological conditions
Work in the Hastings post-office, 19 hours a day, Sundays not excepted
Marvelous details of the old system
Anomalies and incongruities
Callers rebuked by "an infernal booby"
Frequent discoveries of money in the letter-box
Secret writing in newspapers
Postage of letters from 1d to 5/-
Tips to mailguards
"The Ghost of the Old Commission"
History of the General Post-office
The great storm of a stormy year
Fancy Fair and other movements for the Infirmary
Lardner's lecture on the locomotive engine
The Mechanic's Institution
The Union Workhouse
The East-hill amusements and murderous attempt by a coastguard
A marvellous feat
Removal of the Priory Bridge
Deaths of Thomas and Boykett Breeds
Poetic Adieus of Euthymus, and view of Hastings from Fairlight
Marriage of Mr. Milward
The blind letter-carrier
Cricket on Sundays, The Fire King, etc.
| 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.
Generally the transcription follows the guidelines set out by the National Archives. Work is in hand to identify and annotate hand-written sections and other annotations within the transcriptions, the main difference being that hand-written sections are indicated by a Cursive font on screen. If any portions are
History of the Hastings Post Office - The Penny Postage Scheme
The year 1839 was a very important one in postal matters, because it was then that Mr. Rowland Hill's grand proposal for a uniform penny rate throughout the Kingdom, irrespective of distance, was adopted by the Government. To me, individually, it was also an interesting epoch, inasmuch as it fell to my lot to take a humble part in the work which immediately preceded the change. But although I select the above-named period as a starting-point, it may not be amiss to take a retrospective glance of a score of years with the object of reviewing some of the minor changes which led up, as it were, to the long and arduous struggle for the inestimable boon of Mr. Hill's so-called "wild and revolutionary scheme."
In a "Guide to Sea-bathing Places," published in 1815[a], the author speaks of Hastings as having a population of not much under 4,000, and as being blessed with the accommodation of stage-coaches, waggons and hoys, which regulary (sic) pass between that town and London; also as actually having the advantage of a daily post. Another work, published a year later, in its allusions to Hastings, informs us that "Government have at this place a Custom-house; a Custom-house boat, the crew of which are all landsmen, taken from amongst the Freemen; an Ordnance-fort, or no utility; and an establishment of twelve riding-officers; besides the usual retainers of the Excise and Post office." Neither of these authorities condescends to tell us where the post-office was situated at that time; but, as nearly all the influential inhabitants and principal shops, together with the Bank and Court-house were located between the Swan Hotel and the upper part of the town, there is but little room to doubt that it was situated in that direction. It should be remembered, moreover, that at the top of High-street resided the great Mr. Milward - he who was virtually the Patron of Hastings, and actually the Agent for securing the election of Treasury nominees as Members of Parliament. Now, as stated by the rhymester of local anniversaries in last week's Gazette,
In Eighteen-sev'nteen, some five days ere this,
Young Edward Milward to the altar hied,
Where Sarah Whitear thought it no amiss
With him in holy wedlock to be tied.
Both lived long years, one died and left his dame,
Who Lady Waldegrave in time became.
Suppose, then, in my retrospect of the Post-office, I go back to Valentine's Day, 1817, when Mr. Edward Milward and Miss Sarah Whitear were married, and when the Hastings Post-office not only conveyed the joyful tidings of that auspicious event to distant friends, but also transmitted, it maybe, a certain number of tender missives on behalf of Cupid and St. Valentine. It would be instructive to compare the number - as well as the style - of lovers' vows that were made through the medium of the Post by a population of 3,848 with the 50,000 billet-doux similarly transmitted when the inhabitants had increased to 31,000. But the means for this comparison do not exist; and so without straining after the impossible, it will be more profitable to compare the rate at which the mail travelled in the year 1817 with its speed at the present day, or even with the improvement that had been effected by the year 1839, which I still regard as my starting point. In the last named year the mails were about ten hours on the road from London to Hastings, whilst they are now about two; but in 1817 they were as much as fifteen. At that period Mr. Hasker was Superintendent and Surveyor of the mail-coaches, which were mostly drawn by two horses only. This would account for the Hastings mails being less expeditious than the stage-coaches which contemporaneously traveled over the same ground. The latter were two in number, one of which left the Golden Cross, Charing Cross at half-past six in the morning, and was timed to arrive at the Swan Inn, High Street, at seven in the evening, whilst the other ("The Accommodation") left the Belle Sauvage, Ludgate Hill, a few minutes later for the Crown Inn, All Saints street, doing the 64 miles, though Sevenoaks, Tunbridge, Robertsbridge and Battle in about an equal time with its rival. Fancy a retrospect of six decades only, when instead of publc (sic) conveyances capable of bringing ten-thousand persons into Hastings, as at present, the utmost accommodation then available was to some thirty or forty souls. Fancy, also, that in order to reach London at five o'clock in the evening, the departure from Hastings must be taken at four o'clock in the morning. The mail, as already observed, was even longer on the road. It arrived at ten in the forenoon, and was despatched at three in the afternoon. I have already intimated my inability to define the exact situation of the Hastings post-office either at the time when George-the-Third was King or George-the-Fourth was Regent, but it comes within the scope of my memory to recollect that at about the period when the latter first swayed the sceptre in full majesty the word Post-office was writ large in the window of a house next the "Upper Lane," since known as Waterloo Passage, The houses were not then regularly numbered, but the one in question is that which was many years occupied by Mr. Grant, and now stands as 16 in the numerical arrangement of High street. There was of course a Post-master, and I think his name was Norton. There was also a letter-carrier, and his name was Campbell - the veritable and venerable John Campbell, who severally filled the offices of Rate-collector, Police-Inspector, Inspector of Weights and Measures, Mace-bearer, &c. The postal boundaries at that period were strictly within the limits of the old town; extending in one direction to the top of High street, and in another to the west end of George street. The weight and bulk of the mail may be judged of when it is said that the letters could be carried in one hand of the postman, whilst the newspapers were carried in a bag suspended from his arm. To the few persons who happened to live "off the stones," young Campbell was glad to be a special messenger on payment of a few pence. On account of the high rate of postage, however - varying from a single rate of 4d. to a treble rate of 3s.9d., not necessarily prepayable - the amount of money to be collected was not inconsiderable. With the view of effecting some reform in this mode of taxing letters, Lieut. Treckner, a Swedish officer, invented a postage stamp, which, on the 23rd of March, 1823, was offered to the Government, but declined. Then in 1825 there were several changes in postal matters which come in my way to describe. Firstly, the new General Post-office in St. Martin's-le-Grand was commenced, from designs of Sir R. Smirke, R.A.; and, secondly, the construction of mail-coaches, which had theretofore been a monopoly in the hands of Mr. Vidler, was thrown open to competition among other builders. This latter movement led to improvement in form as well as to economy in price. The number of these vehicles also began to increase at a greater ratio, although Hastings was not yet one of the post-towns to whom the new order had extended. But there were local changes of another character which deserve notice. The commerce and the fashion of the old town was beginning to move westward. Pelham place, a grand range of buildings under the Castle cliff, had been erected; Castle street, York buildings and a portion of Wellington square were in existence; and the St. Mary's Chapel was just commenced. No wonder, then, that the Post-office at the "Upper Lane" was considered to be too far up town, and that its removal to Mr. Bryant's, at a more central part of High street, was effected. To afford additional facilities, the Hastings Commissioners, at a meeting in the month of July, passed a resolution to have the houses regularly numbered, and this resolution was quickly put into force. And the, as the "Americans" on in the parish of Holy Trinity, were by this time a rather considerable 'colony,' and, like other people, indulged occasionally in epistolary correspondence, it became necessary to increase the working staff at the Post-office. At this time there were two men in the Coastguard service whose names were William Lamb and William Shaw; and as both of these men were afterwards conspicuous figures in connection with the postal service - the former at Hastings, and the latter at St. Leonards - it seemeth not inappropriate to make the first mention of them here. Lamb was a married man of about eight-and-twenty, and not caring to risk his life in encounters with the Hastings smugglers - as he had already done once or twice - he got himself transferred to His Majesty's Civil Service, where there was less danger and less pay. He, in fact, became a letter carrier at 14s. per week, thus taking his chance when off duty of picking up a few shillings or pence by other employment. This, I repeat, was in 1825, between which and the year 1830, there were numerous changes both in the situation of the Post-office and in the person of its manager. Before I notice these changes, it may be incidentally mentioned, as an illustration of other changes, that on the 18th of July the thermometer recorded a temperature of 93 deg. in the shade, notwithstanding that on the 22nd of the preceding month there was a sharp frost, and that on the 17th of May the temperature was 6 deg. lower than on the first of January. In 1826-7, I remember the post-office had shifted its quarters to a still lower portion of High street, and consequently to what was becoming a more central part of the town. Mr. West was then Postmaster, whilst Mrs. West, who also assisted, kept a toy and stationery shop at 53 High street, at the entrance to the "Willing Land or Lane," thereafter designated and still known as "Post-office Passage." Mr. West was not permitted, however, to retain his situation a very long time, for he had on two occasions infringed the rigid rules of the establishment, and was consequently dismissed. One of these rules was that as soon as a letter was posted it became the property of the person to whom it was addressed, and could on no account be given back to the writer. But at the urgent request of a gentleman who represented to the Postmaster that a circumstance had occurred which rendered it extremely unadvisable that a posted letter should reach its destination, Mr. West found the said letter and gave it back to the writer. Some time after, the same gentleman happened to be dining with Mr. Lucas Shadwell, with whom also was the Post-office Surveyor; and in a conversation over the dinner-table, the gentleman spoke of the letter-returning transaction as an obliging act of the Hastings Postmaster, which had saved the writer of the letter from disagreeable consequences. Acting on this information, the Surveyor reprimanded Mr. West for his indiscretion, and told him that he had narrowly escaped dismissal. The offence was overlooked, but being afterwards guilty of some other dereliction of duty, Mr. West was removed, and his relative, Mr. Bossom, was put in his place, while the services of Mrs. West were retained as assistant. The office was also removed to 55 (see my note below), on the opposite side of the street. In 1827 two mail-coaches were established to run daily between Hastings and London, and on the 20th of June a dinner (served up by Mr. Edwards) was given at the King's-head Inn to Mr. Boykett Breeds, as a public acknowledgement of his spirited exertions in furtherance of the object.
To persons living out of the limits of the postal district an additional penny to the ordinary postage was charged on each letter and newspaper for its delivery; and in 1828, Edward Hide, a youth of 15 years, was engaged to supersede the boys Bossom and West in that kind of work. The pence were paid to the Postmaster as one of his perquisites, but owing to the houses being few and far between, the amount received was so inconsiderable that the youthful letter-carrier had to do the daily round for five shillings per week. How unremunerative was that young man's labour my readers shall judge from the following description of his route. Leaving the office - say at 7 or 8 o'clock in the morning, his first effort would be to climb the steep hill to High Wickham and Barley lane; thence to descend the fields to Holloway place, where he would again set out for an uphill trudge traversing the London road for a mile to the Hare-and-Hounds Inn. He would then strike across the fields to the residence of Mr. Planta, M.P., at Fairlight place. Returning to the village of Ore, he would pass through that, and round the road for another mile to Sir Howard Elphinstone's at Ore place (now the residence of Thos. Spalding, Esq.). He next journeyed across the Forty-acre field to Halton, and thence down what is now Priory road to St. Mary's terrace - better known in those days as "The Long Fields." He would then descend "The Steeps" to Stonefield road and so much of St. Andrew's terrace (now road) as was then inhabited, where, having arrived at the end of his delivery, he would have to walk another five or six furlongs to get back to the office. This, however, might be called his extended circuit, a few years later, and when the Postmaster's pence were sufficiently increased in number to allow Mr. Hide to receive the magnificent wage of six-and-six per week. Some writer has asserted that those Pg.217 who get the least save the most; and, without affirming that it was so in Hide's case, I may at least say that the thrifty, and otherwise industrious, habits of Edward Hide enabled him to hold this situation of unrequited labour for 9 1/2 years, when he succeeded to a better berth of 14s. per week vacated by an older postman, which he worthily held for an additional 35 years, and afterwards enjoyed, one is happy to know, a small pension.
The Hastings Post Office
On the 22nd of May, 1829, the branch Post-office at Hastings was again removed, and on the 23rd of September following, the new General Post-office was opened in St. Martin's-le-Grand. In the former case the death of Mr. Benjamin Bossom had caused a vacancy which was filled by the appointment of Mr. Robert Weston as Postmaster, who being a stationer and jeweller opposite to the Swan Hotel, necessitated a change of venu; (sic) and the office was accordingly removed from 67 to 55 in the same street.[b] During the next two or three years there were again several changes in the management, and at least one more change of site. The office was removed from 55 High street, to 4 George street, and Col. Bond was appointed Postmaster in the place of Mr. Weston. There was an objection, however, to this appointment, it being urged that a military officer in Government pay ought not to hold office in the Civil Service to the exclusion of a civilian. Thereupon, the appointment was nominally transferred to Miss Bond, whilst her father continued to perform the duties as before. Even this arrangement did not last long; for, about the year 1834, Mr. John Woods - who had been previously a draper and grocer at Winchelsea, a draper at Hastings, and an inkeeper (sic) at St. Leonards - obtained the appointment, and retained it for a longer period than any other man. It was my privilege to be Post-clerk under this attentive and conscientious official during 1837-8-9; and as this was the exact period embraced by Rowand Hill's efforts to get his Penny-post scheme adoped (sic) by Government, my personal experiences of that particular epoch may perhaps be deemed worthy of the reader's attention.
When Mr. Woods first undertook the duties of the Post office as successor to Miss Bond, St. Leonards was not a post-town, but received its letters at the hands of a special messenger from Hastings; and, like other outbound districts, had to pay an extra penny upon each letter and newspaper for delivery. But in 1835 it was declared to be a post-town, and its postal district embraced all the property between Bopeep on the west and White Rock on the east. It did not, however, make up its own cross-post bags, and so that it still remained a penny-post on Hastings in that respect, as well as in the transit of strictly local letters. To be more explicit, all letters addressed to St. Leonards from London were sent direct to St. Leonards, and charged the same price as those which were sent direct to Hastings; but the letters which came from the intermediate towns and villages were first charged by the several Postmasters to the Postmaster of Hastings, and re-charged by the latter to the Postmaster of St. Leonards. A letter posted at Hastings for St. Leonards, or vice versa, was charged one penny only, or the price which is now charged for a letter from one extremity of the kingdom to the other. Newspapers, of course, were post free, the Government having already received a penny each by the compulsory stamp which was affixed to them, whether they passed through the post-office or not. For the purpose of conveying the letters and newspapers from one place to another, the Government had, in 1839, a very large number of coaches and carts, distinguished from ordinary vehicles by the name of Royal mail. These when running were freed from toll, and every moving thing on the road had to make way for them as soon as the guard or the driver blew his horn. To say nothing of the mail-carts on cross and coast roads there were at that time something like fifty two-horse mails and upwards of one-hundred four-horse mails. History tells us that Mr. Palmer, of Bath, was the first to suggest mail-coaches as long back as 1774, and that Mr. Pitt, who was then Premier, ordered a trial to be made at once. This was done on the 8th of August in the same year the route selected being that between London and Bath. The success of the plan led to their gradual adoption; and, as already stated, two of them were put on between London and Hastings in the year 1827 - about ten months before the town of St. Leonards was commenced. Their complement of horses was four, but I have seen them in the winter time, when traveling was impeded by snow or other causes, come in and go out with six. By the new arrangement the time for travelling the 64 miles was at once reduced from fifteen hours to nine, and in the year 1839 it was still further curtailed by an hour. Thus, instead of the mail going out at three in the afternoon, it took its departure at ten at night; and instead of arriving at nine of the forenoon, it made its appearance - barring unpreventible (sic) impediments - at twenty minutes to five in the morning.
I will now imagine myself back at the old Post-office, 4 George street, and if any of my readers can rise at a quarter-past four in the morning and keep their attention on the stretch until eleven at night, I will show them what the Hastings Post-office was like forty-two years ago. But, mind! Mum's the word; for, as no one who has not taken the oath is allowed to enter the official sanctum, I shall be discharged, or something worse, if it gets known at head-quarters that I have taken strangers into my confidence. Well, now for a beginning! The Postmaster's dormitory is next to mine, and the alarum has run down at 4.15, to the minute. I am already awake, from long habit, but I do not rise until I hear the signal from the next room. Some two or three years ago, when I was new to the work, my master used to bring me a light and desire me to do as he did, namely, half dress and get back to bed again until summoned by the shrill blast of the post-horn. I had a soul above this, and being possessed of a large amount of assurance, which some people call confidence and other, impudence, I received the mail-bags one morning whilst the Postmaster was still sleeping, and did with them what was necessary in less time than it had hitherto taken two to do it. I was very much scolded for my presumption, and was asked to remember the responsibility attached to it. I had seen, however, that my employer was as nervous as he was anxious, and that when a certain duty could not be accomplished in the ten minutes prescribed for it, whilst the mail-guard, with chronometer in hand, shouted Time's up, sir!" the good man's nervousness was increased, and the time was prolonged. I begged therefore, to be allowed to repeat the single-handed process a few times in his presence, and then if it were found that my confidence and self-esteem were justified by results, it would be the means of the Postmaster getting two hours' additional sleep, which I knew he was in need of. The permission was granted, and the experiment was entirely successful; thus proving in this instance at least, the aphorisim (sic) that "too many cooks spoil the broth."
I now start afresh. It is a quarter-past four in the morning as already stated, and by the time I am properly attired another ten minutes have fled, thus leaving me a quarter of an hour to prepare for the reception of the mail-bags. I descend to the breakfast-room, and there from a corner-cupboard I take a phial containing just a gill of what teetotallers call poison, but what we in the post -office have christened "Daniel's Elixir." In plain terms it is a quarter-pint of very old ale, obtained from the Anchor Inn, and by my own choice reserved for a "wake-up" stimulant in the morning, instead of being taken as a "sleep-cordial" with the previous night's supper. I swallow this measured dose without any fear of ill-consequences - the adulteration of 1881 being yet a long distance in the future, - and thus braced up for my work I start out to meet the Mail, at the same time springing the lock of the door behind me.
I usually come up with it at the top of the town just about the time when the skid-pans are being removed from the wheels, but this particular morning happens to be one of those on which the Mail is sometimes overdue in consequence of an unfavourable condition of the roads or of some other cause over which the driver has no control. I therefore get to the "Hare and Hounds" at Ore before the red coach and the red-coated guard begin to "show up." I then ride home to the coach-office at 1 George street, with a freshness which only those can know who "sip the early-morning dew," and I gain two or three minutes by running off with the cross-post bags while the guard is getting out the London sack and his parcels. I have now ten minutes allowed me to unseal and unstrap thirteen bags, take out from each bag such letters and newspapers as are addressed "St. Leonards," add up the several amounts of postage, make out a bill of charges to the Postmaster of St. Leonards, tie up the brass-labelled bag for that town, seal and stamp the same, and date the guard's way-bill, in and out. Having by tact and experience - aided by the internal refresher and the out-door air - grown into a full-blown expert, I am able to get through this first part of the daily routine quite easily within the prescribed ten minutes. And now that I have despatched the Royal Mail to complete the last stage of its down-journey, thence to be placed in the St. Leonards Mews until wanted at night for its return, I will chat a little over the letters which have just passed through my hands. The so-called cross-post bags are from Battle, Robertsbridge, Hurstgreen, Lamberhurst, Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge, Sevenoaks, Bromley, Hailsham, Eastbourne, Lewes and Brighton. The offices at some of these post-towns are of a central character, where intercommunications are carried on with the surrounding villages, as well as with other post-towns; and as the postage of letters varies with the distance over which the letters are conveyed, there is of course a corresponding variation in the charges even upon letters that are taken from the same bag. Except where a penny rate is established (such as at St. Leonards, which is a penny post on Hastings, or at Winchelsea, which is a penny post on Rye), the minimum charge is 4d. for fifteen miles or under. Beyond the fourpenny rate, the several utmost distances allowed are 20 miles for 5d., 30 miles for 6d., 50 miles for 7d., 80 miles for 8d., 120 for 9d., 170 for 10d, 230 for 11d., 300 for 12d., and an additional 100 miles for each additional penny. These rates, be it remembered, are for "single" letters only, the constitution of which will be elucidated when we come to examine the contents of the London bag. The anomalies of the system are very numerous, and the cases of injustice are almost upon a par. Here is a letter, for example, from Eastbourne, and another from Lewes, both of which places would come under the fivepenny rate by a direct route, yet upon each letter 7d. is charged in consequence of the bags having to be first sent up to one of the offices on the main road to London, and then brought to Hastings by the London down-mail. Hailsham presents a similar case of anomaly by having to pay 6d. for a letter by a round-about route instead of 4d. by the direct road, whilst some of the villages and hamlets affiliated on Hailsham, though within the fivepenny rate, are charged 8d., and are subjected to what is called a two-day's post. Still worse is the case of Winchelsea, which town being distant from Hastings less than 15 miles should come under the fourpenny rate, - and does so come by the East coast route, of which more anon, - but whose letters if posted after two o'clock in the day, are sent first to Rye by way of Lamberhurst, and charged 6d., and then on to Winchelsea with the additional charge of 1d., thus making the entire postage no less than 7d. to a town that is distant only eleven miles in a direct line. Thus, my friends, - you, I mean, who in the spring of 1837 have been muggled into the Post-office to see one day of its inner life, - thus, I say, must you be already getting an inkling of the necessity for some such change as that which is advocated by Rowland Hill in a pamphlet that has been nearly two years before the public. But you have only seen the first move in the day's proceedings, the next being to open the London sack and examine its contents. You perceive that this capacious receptacle is more than half full, but that the letters (some 350 or thereabouts) form a comparatively small portion of the bulk, the far larger part consisting of newspapers, which having been taxed a penny each at Somerset House contribute nothing to St. Martin's-le-grand. There is a large bundle of morning papers for Mr. Turner, a hard-working newsvendor and wholesale stationer in the Fishmarket, who, some few years ago, relinquished the carpenter's bench to be a purveyor of literature. He will come in before long and take the bundle under his arm, with the express understanding that after he has folded his papers at home, not a single copy is to be handed to his customers until after the general delivery commences at the Post-office. Then there are smaller parcels for the several librarians, among whom are Cooper at Marine Parade, Diplock at Marine Parade, Pearce at Pelham place, and Arundale in Castle street. Also - it being Wednesday - there is a good sized parcel of the Brighton Guardian, directed to Mr. Paine, at 48 George street, he being a local reporter and agent. Of single newspapers, old and new, their name is legion, and these have to be first sorted into three groups for as many letter-carriers to re-sort for delivery in their particular rounds. Ah! but here is one newspaper that is charged for and the price is enormous. The sender of this paper has sought to make it do duty for a letter by writing upon it, and has thereby subjected the receiver to a quadruple postage for every ounce that the paper weighs. It has travelled a distance of over 300 miles, and its weight being four ounces, the cost of transit is 17/4, or sixteen-times the rate of a single letter from such a distance. "Good Gracious!" methinks I hear you exclaim; "And is the person to whom the paper is addressed obliged to pay it?” No! I reply; he can refuse it; although I have known two or three instances in which a similarly "taxed-up" paper has been received and paid for, under the supposition that there was no alternative course. It is not our duty to directly advise people in such cases, but when the intended recipient is really a poor person we endeavour by indirect means to make him or her understand what best to do as many single rates of postage as there are pieces in the letter and its enclosures. I will explain this more fully as soon as I have reckoned up the charges on the letters and compared the total of such charges with the amount levied by the officials in London on the Postmaster at Hastings. Be it remembered that provincial postmasters and their clerks are desired to use all possible diligence (another word for ingenuity) to detect enclosures in letters, even though such letters may have passed the London clerks as single letters, and in all cases where enclosures are detected or even suspected, such postmasters or their clerks are to alter the original charge on the letter and debit themselves with the difference. But whilst thus prating I must not forget another part of my mechanical duty - that of impressing the letters with the office stamp, the date of which was shifted after the previous night's despatch of the mail. This being done, I now proceed to examine the letters almost one by one. The first one, I see, is for a recruiting sergeant and is charged a penny only, all soldiers and sailors in His Majesty's service being privileged to receive single letters at that price. No other letter from London is charged at a less rate than 8d., whilst those coming through London are charged in proportion to distance. Here is one from Scotland, the postage of which is 1s. 4 1/2d., there being always an extra charge of a half-penny on letters which pass between England and Scotland. It is a large letter, however, for the price, the cannie (sic) Scot knowing how to get the most for his money. It consists of a single large sheet of foolscap or brief paper, which having no enclosures is subject to only a single postage. But presently appears a much smaller letter which on being examined at the ends by means of an ivory probe, is found to consist of two separate pieces of paper. It is taxed only as a single letter, but I am officially bound to double that charge and to accept the responsibility of the act by attaching my initials. I may here remark that whilst the provincial postmaster gets no thanks for thus adding to the revenue of the Post-office, he is sharply censured if at any time he unconsciously passes as a single letter that which should be double. Mr. Woods has been so dealt with more than once, and his too sensitive nature makes him sometimes feel that there is more of tyranny than of justice in the rebuke. The St. Leonards Postmaster (Mr. Southall) is much more frequently called to account, but the manner in which he treats the matter will be shown as I proceed. I have said that except the penny letter to a soldier the lowest priced letter from the London bag is 8d., but I should have mentioned that there are several letters for the Rt. Hon. Joseph Planta and a few other persons upon which there is no charge at all - not because they are prepaid, but because they have been "franked," the privilege of franking some ten or twelve letters daily being accorded to Members of Parliament and Government officials. I have now completed the examination of letters by the morning mail, and have laid them with the newspapers in separate heaps to be re-assorted by the letter-carriers for delivery. Certain letters have, however, been put into alphabetically-arranged coves ready to be given out at the little wicket in the wall to such persons as usually call or send for them.
Seven o'clock has arrived, the Postmaster has partaken of his breakfast; has booked the amounts - varying from several shillings to as many pounds - against the postmen, who start out with their loads; and the wicket is opened to the group of people who have collected outside awaiting the striking of the town-clock. Behind this group are the mounted messengers of Mr. Brisco, of Coghurst; his brother of Bohemia; the Rev. Dr. Fearon, of Ore; and the Rev. G. G. Stonestreet, of Halton. The said messengers bring letters in leather pouches to be posted, and take back in the same manner all letters that may have arrived for their masters, mistresses and fellow-servants. The Postmaster keeps a duplicate key with which to unlock and re-lock the said pouches, and from each owner he is allowed to receive a guinea per annum for the service thus rendered. These guineas are regarded as constituting one of his perquisites, said perquisites being reckoned as compensation for the extreme smallness of his salary. It should be stated, however, that in compliance with public demand the so-called perquisites are being gradually abolished without any increase of salary until the Postmaster's income is not nearly sufficient, even with the utmost economy, to meet Pg.218 the expenses of rent, taxes, clerk's stipend, wax, string, stationery, &c., the result of which is to compel him to draw from a private source to the extent of about thirty or forty pounds a year. No wonder that the good man is frequently disheartened, and wishes himself out of it. Prior to the last three years an additional penny was charged on all letters and newspapers delivered to those persons whose habitations were in that part of St. Mary-in-the-Castle described as "off the stones," i.e., westward of Government House; but, as stated in the anniversary rhymes of the Gazette,
"Ere Eighteen-thirty-six, the first of May,
A penny extra people used to pay
Who at St. Mary's-in-the-Castle lived
For every letter though the post received.
Our M.P. Elphinstone then made a set,
With help of Eardley Wilmot, Baronet,
To get the impost off, and with success,
For which, of course, the people them would bless."
This, of itself, was quite a right thing to be done, but it was neither honest nor honourable of the Government to engage a Postmaster at a mere nominal salary upon the pretext of equivalent emoluments being attached to the office, and then to remove those emoluments one by one, whilst the duties were increasing, without acceding to a repeated prayer for compensation. As I proceed, I shall have occasion to show other inconsistencies, and - to say the least - questionable practices, of the Post-office directorate towards the subalterns whose duties were always of a responsible, and frequently onerous, character. Take the following, to wit :- A gentleman of upstart mien calls at the office and asks a number of questions, some of which are civilly replied to, and others are beyond the Postmaster’s province to answer. The gentleman (?) then, in the most abrupt manner exclaims "I wish you to remember, sir, that you are the servant of the public sir, and are bound sir, to afford all the information about the Post-office that is in your power!" The reader will not be surprised that such a brusque reminder provoked the following retort:- "Yes, sir, I am aware that I am a servant of the Public, but I wish to remind you also what a many-headed monster my master is." But I am getting before my wicket; that is to say, the little wicket, a foot square, by means of which communication is held with the people outside. Here, for a time, the footpath is completely blocked in front of the Post-office, and partly so is the road, yet no one seems to complain of it. There is a little pushing sometimes to be first; but, as a rule, the applicants are respectful in demeanour, if not always superior in education. One young man wants "Sophy's letter that mother couldn't pay for yesterday when the man brought it," and another asks "Please is there any letters for Mr. Blank, Esq.?" A third, somewhat brusquely shouts "Anything for the Guv'ner?" And a fourth person - a poor woman from Fairlight - "Will be very much obleeged to ye, sir, if you'll kip my letter till Saturday night, when my husband takes his wages." All these any many others are dealt with in rapid succession, and some ten or fifteen minutes suffice to clear away the temporary obstruction to traffic. The Postmaster next passes through his hands whatsoever letters remain in the coves to see if any have accidentally got there that are not addressed "Post Office," or "Post restante," which in either case means that they are to be left till called for. But even with the latter a daily attention to dates is required that the rule may not be infringed of sending them, if uncalled-for, to the Dead-letter office either before or after the expiration of a month. Some of these letters are known to contain money, and the responsibility of having charge of them, perhaps for two or three weeks, is felt to be no light matter, for even if thieves should not break through and steal there is the harassing thought of some accidental chance of disappearance. Some of the letters so addressed are not called for until the lapse of days or weeks, and some are not called for at all. I remember more than one instance of Mr. Woods, in the exuberance of his desire not to withhold letters directed "Post-office" from townspeople whose names exactly corresponded, sending such letters to parties for whom he imagined they were intended, with a caution not to open them unless they thought they knew the hand-writing. In a few cases the obliging act, although not in accordance with instructions, was justified by results, but on one occasion it was feared that my over-zealous employer stood the same chance of dismissal from the service as did a predecessor, the latter for giving back a letter to its writer. In this case the letter was addressed "Mr. George Bennett, Post-office, Hastings," and had remained a fortnight in the office, uncalled for. Now, as in practice it was found that letter-writers when not knowing the residence of parties, sometimes addressed "Post-office, Hastings," instead of "Hastings" only, Mr. Woods surmised that this particular letter was intended for Mr. George Bennett, of 41 High street, and he therefore sent it to him, with the usual proviso. Let me say, parenthetically, that Mr. Bennett was a draper on the premises now occupied by Mr. Ashenden, and where for many years previous to Mr. Bennett's occupation a similar business was carried on by Mr. Cossum, who is mentioned in an early chapter of this history as supplying clothing to the sparse population of pre-historic St. Leonards. But about the letter! It was found not to be for draper Bennett, and the opener had therefore to re-seal if, and to write upon it "Opened by me but not for me." Whilst this was being done, the real addressee of the letter called at the office, and in a moment of perplexity he was told that there did not appear to be a letter in the fixtures with his name on it. He left his address as "Castle hotel," and appeared to go away disappointed. On the letter being returned from High street I was despatched with all haste to the Castle Hotel in quest of the rightful Mr. George Bennett, with instructions to make a respectful apology, and to explain all the circumstances of the case. I shall never forget the flood of anger which I there and then encountered. I was told that the whole transaction was an unparalleled dereliction of duty, and that when the authorities at the General Post-office were acquainted with the facts - which they soon should be - the ignoramus of a Postmaster at Hastings would get his discharge. I could not hear this epithet used against a man whose only fault was a too sincere desire to serve the public, without making an earnest appeal on his behalf; and it was a source of unexpected joy to me when at length the apparent obdurate heart of the offended gentleman melted into compassion as he uttered the words, "For your own sake, and for your devotion to your master I will overlook the mistake this time, but be you very careful for the future."
Having ascertained that the letters withheld from delivery consist only of those which are intended to be called for, together with a few "straw-yards," whose superscriptions are so illegible as to require a council of experts to dicipher (sic) them, the postmaster next proceeds to post up his accounts, whilst his assistant employs himself in preparing for the inspection of all whom it may concern a stock of inlaid articles known as Tunbridge Ware. It will be remembered that I mentioned the insufficiency of the postmaster's salary and the curtailment of his perquisites, thus compelling him to draw largely upon his own private fund to meet the expenses of the establishment. He had tried to improve his position by booking passengers and parcels for one of the coaches, for which he was allowed 1s. each on the former and 2d. on the latter. Fashion and commerce were, however, going westward, and in that direction it was necessary to establish other booking-offices; so that the postmaster's income from that source gradually decreased until the time came when it was deemed advisable to relinquish it altogether. But what was the man to do? He could not get an increase of salary, and he could not live solely upon his stipend with its reduced emoluments. He would open a small shop in connection with his office were it not that his conscientious scruples revolted against the idea of entering into commercial competition with those to whom he felt some sort of allegiance or deference as a public servant. Seeing how strong was this delicacy of feeling - a punctiliousness, by-the-bye, not since shown by the promoters of Civil-service stores - I suggested that as there was no shop in town where Tunbridge-ware could be obtained, a business of that sort would not only not clash with the interests of other tradesmen, but would probably be a convenience to the public. I was complimented for the suggestion, and was soon after privileged to go to Tunbridge Wells to make preliminary arrangements. Here I felt deeply interested in the several processes of manufacture which were shown and explained to me. But to conclude this part of my story, suffice it to say that the necessary alteration of premises being made, the stock was purchased, and an unsolicited £5 per annum was added to my own salary. You will understand therefore - for I am supposed to be still speaking to my friends who are having a day at the post-office - why, after my official work from 4.15 to about 9 a.m., I am found devoting a leisure hour to the new business.
Eleven o'clock arrives, and the postmaster goes out for a "constitutional" to Mr. Buchanan's Nursery in the Old London road, calling at the Bank in High street, and one or two other places on the way. During his absence I am left in sole charge of the office and shop; now answering an enquiry, now serving a customer with some pretty inlaid article, now taking the letters from the box to stamp and tax them, and now attending to the instructions or complaints of some fussy individual or supercilious personage. Of the latter I here give an example. A nobleman who comes periodically to a residence at Breed's place, and to whom I will give the name of Lord Son-of-King, is one of our most imperious and exacting visitors. He calls daily at the office, and in the most commanding matter desires to know if there are any letters for him. If answered in the negative, he insists upon our making a second search - not only in the compartment where letters would be placed to await his calling, but also in the other alphabetic divisions, to make sure, as he would say, that they had not been "put in the wrong box." I had more than once pledged myself to prove to this imperious Lord that there was at least one person connected with Her Majesty's postal service who was no obsequious lackey. I could be sufficiently respectful and attentive to gain the goodwill of a gentleman like Mr. Thomas Morris, to whom I alluded in a previous chapter, but I could also display my then democratic leanings whenever a suitable opportunity was forced upon me. Well, as you already know, I am left in charge of the office, and here comes my Lord Son-of-King, who with his usual bluster asks, "Anything for me?" The quiet answer is "No, sir!" Such an answer to a Lord is enough, perhaps, to ruffle the temper of a less arbitrary nobleman than the one in question, and hence some further snarly questions are put, to which responses are made,both in the following form.
"No, Sir! What do you mean by no, sir?"
"I mean, sir, that there are no letters for you."
"Do you know who I am?"
"Yes, sir, Lord Son-of-King."
"Then why do you say no, sir?"
"Because, sir, I acknowledge but one Lord, the Lord of Heaven and Earth."
"You are an infernal booby!"
"Thank you, sir!"
My Lord Son-of-King then takes himself off, and although still exhibiting a somewhat savage demeanour on subsequent visits, he takes his "No, sir" or "yes, sir," without further parley, and thus tacitly acknowledges the salutary rebuke. My next encounter is with a lady, who comes to complain in indignant terms of what she calls the imposition of the postman in charging her for a double letter, which is only a single one. "Look," she says, "he has had the impertinent dishonesty to erase the original figure and to write another." I immediately exonerate the postman from the charge by telling her that the act is my own, and to convince her that there is no dishonesty in the matter, I show her the debit entry against the postmaster. I then ask her to come in and sign a declaration to the effect that the letter in question consists of only one piece of paper and that it contains "no coin, note, or other article, whatsoever." "Oh!" exclaims the lady, "there was nothing but a couple of five-pound notes in it, and of course that doesn't mean a double letter." You are quite right, madam, is the reply, it certainly does not constitute a double letter, but a treble letter; and, with this admission on your part, it is my strict duty to again erase the figure, replace it by another, and demand the additional amount. The lady is, however, too quick for me, for she snatches up the letter and makes her exit.
It is now about noon, and the letter-carriers are returning from their rounds and bringing their money or its equivalent in "unsold" letters. They are then asked to do their best to decipher the curious orthography or other obscure features in the names and addresses of letters nicknamed "strawyards," which have been laid out for that purpose. Sometimes these efforts are successful and sometimes not, but a clue is frequently obtained though questions put to the letter-carriers by members of poor or illiterate families who happen to be expecting a letter from some absent relation. I am thus reminded of an incident which occurred during the service of postman Lamb, and one which has many times been a source of amusement when described as only he himself could do it It was something like this: - A fisherboy at the East Well shouts after the postman at the top of his voice - "Muster Lamb! Muster Lamb! I say you ol' Muster Lamb! Have you got e'er a folentine for our Sal?” "No, I haven't any valentines now." "Oh! 'cause mother said you had, and she wouldn't take it in, and our Sal wants it." Another amusing incident occurred during the service of postman Cruttenden. This man's delivery commenced at Pelham cottage, and embraced Pelham place, Pelham crescent, Castle street, Wellington square, Castledown house, Russell street, York buildings, Pelham street and Denmark place. The route then lay across the "desert" to White-rock place thence up to Cuckoo hill and down to the Priory farm. In one of these daily rounds Mr. Cruttenden appeared to have imbibed something which made him exceptionally astute, so that on his return to the office he declared, with considerable emphasis, that among the row of letters with doubtful addresses there was one "as clear as mud." "Yes! (said he) It's as plain as a pike-staff," and then, with a knowing nod, a forward plunge, and a sledge-hammer sort of thump upon the board, he continued, "That's Mistress William Smith, Esq., and nobody else." Yet notwithstanding that Cruttenden gave this assurance as a man of letters, Mrs. William Smith, Esq., was never found, and so in course of time her letter, as a rare specimen of caligraphy, (sic) was sent to the Dead-letter office. It is now time to clear the box and prepare for their destination such letters and papers as have already been posted. I am engaged in this work when I am saluted by Mr. Southall, the St. Leonards postmaster, with "Holloa, midshipman! Where's Woods?" ... "Bother the fellow, he is always gone to the Bank or somewhere else when I come! Tell him I have had another blowing-up from head-quarters about a missing letter which I know nothing about, and which I mean to tell them in pretty plain terms. It won't do for them to try it on with me as they do with you at Hastings." Unfortunately for Mr. Southall's consistency, but luckily for the retention of his post as postmaster, his threat is not carried into effect. At a later period of the day his assistant (Edward Pierce) brings a letter from him addressed to the Assistant-Secretary, General Post-office, couched in the most humble and submissive terms, promising that all possible enquiry shall be made respecting the missing letter, notwithstanding that it is almost a foregone conclusion that such letter has not reached the St. Leonards office. Mr. Woods is asked for his opinion upon the suitability of this reply, and of course approves of it, at the same time smiling at the difference between the threat and the performance.
Half-past twelve has arrived, and so has Mr. Gibbs, the driver and contractor of the East-coast Mail. The bags from Dover, Folkestone, Sandgate, Hythe, Romney, and Rye are immediately emptied of their contents and arranged for delivery. Dinner is then partaken of amid sundry interruptions, and the "Penny-post" to St. Leonards is despatched. The bag so made up contains the strictly local communications, the letters from the East coast, and those which came by the morning mail misdirected "Hastings" or "St. Leonards, Hastings," instead of St. Leonards-on-sea. There is one important exception, however, and this applies to the letters addressed to Mr. Troup, the founder of Warrior square. I have already described in chapter CII. Mr. Troup's unbending will to have that district called Hastings, and his boast that before he had done with the queston (sic) he would compel the Post-office authorities to deliver his letters from Hastings. I have also shown how Mr. Troup was foiled in his resolve, and how, instead of having his letters delivered from St. Leonards, as he might have done, he had to come or send twice-a-day to Hastings, for them. This is the gentleman who usually calls for his second daily budget while we are at dinner; and if it were possible for the local officials either to help or hinder his designs, one would suppose that he had sufficient acumen to see that the less he contributed to make "a hungry man an angry man," the better it would be for his cause. By two o'clock, however, the midday meal has been despatched, and so has the outward East-coast mail, although not exactly in the same manner. There should now be a few hours of comparative quiet, the attention of the postmaster and post-clerk being leisurely given to occasional applicants at the office-window or the shop-counter, the intervals being filled up with reading, knitting, netting, and tailoring. But it happens that this usually quiet period is, to-day, disturbed by the sudden arrival of ship-letters. A number of bags and boxes are brought ashore by some Ramsgate pilots from a ship sailing up Channel, and these pilots are desirous of being paid the usual sum of one penny for each letter and one half-penny for each newspaper which the mail-bags and boxes contain. Our instructions are to count and stamp all "India-letters" or "ship-letters" that may be landed, and to pay the masters of vessels for the same if there be time, but on no account to open the parcels if such process necessitates the detention of the inland mail at night. The postmaster, fearing this will be the case, suggests that the pilots shall leave their address, to be forwarded to Londond, and from thence receive the sum of money which may be found to be their due. As the suggestion does not meet with acquiescence, I am desired to run this way and that way in all haste to fetch the letter-carriers to assist in the work of counting and stamping. My self-confidence crops up again with the averment that the whole work can be done, single-handed and that a good moiety of it can be got through in the time other Pg.219 wise consumed in my being sent to distant parts of the town as messenger. The postmaster protests, his assistant importunes, and the two pilot-men encourage. The objection is repeated, and again the irrepressible clerk begs for the opportunity being afforded him - as was done in the case of the regular morning mails - of proving his capable dexterity. The prayer is granted and the work of counting and stamping several thousand letters and papers is accomplished much within the estimated time. The pilots are gratified by the receipt of their money, the postmaster - all honour to his generous nature! - frankly expresses his pleasure at having yielded to persuasion, ad Lord Son--of-King's "infernal booby" of a clerk feels no regret at having blistered his right hand in the stamping process, nor at having sacrificed an hour which he is usually permitted to call his own. If the blistered hand first suggests to him the possibility of people using their right hand too exclusively and subsequently leads to his becoming an ambidexter, the compensation is ample.
The bags and boxes are again filled and re-sealed in readiness for transit to London with the ordinary mail, and it is evident that the coach will not be able to carry much passengers' luggage in addition. Those who horse the coach will not, however, be so hard pressed as on a previous occasion when sea-borne mails were landed at Hastings and when not only were passengers and their luggage excluded altogether but a post-chaise was put upon the road as well as the coach to convey the immense bulk of letters, papers and despatches. On that occasion, it was not possible to do what has now been done in the way of counting and stamping, and no effort was therefore made in that direction. I may mention that in the present instance the mails are from the Cape of Good Hope and the Mauritius, and that the ship which brings them is the "Elizabeth". And now, having got the glut of ship-letters out of hand, and refreshed ourselves at the tea-table, the ordinary routine of the evening commences. This includes the frequent clearing of the letter-box, the stamping and taxing of letters, and the examination of newspapers. The last-named operation is mostly performed by one of the letter-carriers, who comes in the evening for that work expressly. This is held to be a very important duty, as, on account of the high-rate of letter-postage and the free transmission of newspapers, the senders of the latter frequently make them serve the purpose of the former, either with enclosures or by writing on the margins. In some instances the attempt is quite undisguised, but in the majority of cases the information sought to be conveyed is written with onion juice, "secret ink" or other invisible fluids. In this examination, one of our most expert detectives was William Lamb, the postman to whom I have once or twice referred, but who has now been succeeded by Edward Hide, to whose promotion I have also alluded. In all suspicious cases Lamb would apply a magnifying glass, and when that failed him he would open the newspaper to its fullest extent and hold it before the fire. This dernier resort was invariably successful, the writing appearing in full colour (usually red), and the matter being not unfrequently most amusing. Of course such newspapers are immediately taxed, the price being enormously above the rate of single-letter postage, as in the case of one which you saw me take out of the London bag in the morning. But this is not the only work of the taxing-clerk. Almost every night pieces of money are found lying loose at the bottom of the letter-box, they having escaped from under the seals on the outside of letters in consequence of the breaking of those seals by the letters falling into the receptacle on their edge and bending beneath the weight of other letters or newspapers subsequently posted. This practice of sending money by post - as common as it is imprudent - was referred to by Macauley when, in writing to his nephew, he remarked "The best part of a lady's letter is said to be the postscript, but the best part of an uncle's is under the seal." You ask "What is done with the money in such cases?" Well, I will explain; but first let me see if the present evening is an exceptional one in that respect. No! Here is a half-sovereign, and here is the letter to which it evidently belongs. I now examine the letter externally and internally, so far as I can without opening it to see that it consists of only one piece of paper and contains no enclosure. I next put the letter and coin in an official cover marked "Money Letter," charge it as a double letter, and place it with the others. I then assist the Postmaster in probing the interior folds of all other unpaid letters with the view of discovering if they are anything more than single letters. This combined action detects several "doubles" and one or two "trebles," but on this particular night bank-notes and cheques appear to be absent even in these "multiples." It is a rare occurrence, however, for an evening to pass without the detection of paper money in one or more letters. What a temptation, you will say, to those who have to do with them! Aye! and so it is; and in too many instances I fear, letter-sorters and letter-carriers in different parts of Her Majesty's dominions have acquired a facility, not only in detecting the presence of gold beneath a surface of wax, or notes between the folds of a letter, but also of applying some of such gold or notes to their own use. Let me say, however, to the credit of Mr. Woods and his staff that during my own experience no amount of temptation has been sufficient to make them swerve from a path of rectitude in this respect. But why do the public offer such temptations and run such risks? Money-orders are obtainable, at a comparatively trifling cost, and although such facilities are not so complete as they will be in the future, they afford greater protection than the method just described.
The work of examining, stamping, taxing and sorting still goes on until about fifteen to ten, but just before eight one of the employés goes outside to listen for the striking of the town-clock. at (sic) the first stroke he gives the customary signal at the window, and the letter-box is immediately closed. This is followed almost nightly by lively rappings at the wicket, accompanied by the exclamation, "I can't get my letters in!" Being reminded that there is now a penny on each letter to be paid as after-time money, the exclaimants sometimes assert that they knocked before the clock had ceased striking, and then there usually ensues a contention as to whether it is eight o'clock at the first or at the last sound of the clock-bell. This question had been previously decided by persons higher in authority than ourselves, and as the postmaster is obliged to look more closely than ever to the emoluments which are gradually slipping from his grasp, he acts in this matter strictly upon his instructions. "Well then," it is sometimes conclued (sic), "I dare not take the letters back, so I must pay the pence out of my own money." By this admission we pretty well know that the messenger has been gossiping or otherwise loitering on the way. Sometimes also a tradesman's assistant or errand-boy comes a moment too late, suffused with perspiration and gasping for breath as he exclaims, "Dear me! I thought I should have been soon enough; master said if I could save the pennies I should have half." In most of these cases a wicked fit seizes us, in which we say that we are very sorry, when we mean that we are very glad. As soon as the box closes a man is sent to Castle street, Wellington square and other western districts, with a large bell to collect letters therefrom, together with an extra penny for each, the pence thus collected being a perquisite of the postmaster. As soon as these letters are brought to the office the requisite attention is paid to them, and the bags are sealed in readiness for the mail guard when he comes in at eight minutes to ten. But what about the letters in the shape of parcels which the said guard carries in a private and clandestine manner? Well, that affair shall be explained further on. Suffice it for the present that we now take stock of the letters for which we have not yet found owners balance accounts, eat supper, and retire to rest. When that is all done the time will be near midnight and your humble servant will have completed his nineteen hours of daily labour. You will also be glad to get to bed; for howsoever much you may have been interested in "a day at the Hastings Post-office in 1839, you would not care perhaps to carry your investigation further for the present.
The two amusing incidents connected with "Mrs. William Smith, Esq," and "Our Sal's Volentine" recall other circumstances with which the two letter-carriers, Cruttenden and Lamb, were principally associated. The former had been frequently admonished for not practising the amount of punctuality and sobriety that so responsible a service required, and after many broken pledges of reformation, the Postmaster felt it incumbent on himself to supply Cruttenden's place with a new man. But who was the new man to be? There was Harry Tompsett, the Postmaster's nephew; but would not the public imagine that it was thus contrived to make a berth for a relative? This was the idea that haunted the conscientious Postmaster, and it was only after the objection had been pronounced by his clerk and some other persons to be too heavily weighted with a false delicacy, that the good man could be brought to believe that the Government and the public would acquit him of interested motives. The change was then made; Mr. Tompsett commenced his duties on Valentine's Day, 1839; and the result proved that in the interest of the public Mr. Woods could not have made a better choice. This man faithfully performed his duties for a period of 33 years on full service and 3½ years as an auxiliary; and he was, when he retired on a small and well-earned pension, a wonderfully hale man of 74, or thereabouts. He died an octogenarian. William Lamb, the other postman referred to, left the Post-office in 1838, after a service of about thirteen years, which did not entitle him to any further consideration of the Government. He followed, I believe, several occupations after that, and died in the month of May, 1879, at the ripe age of 82 years. His place in the Post-office was fittingly taken by Mr. Hide, the young man who for 9½ years had traversed the out-bound district, as before described for the small pittance of 5s. per week. His promotion therefore to a post of 14s. per week was justly his due; and here again the Postmaster made a wise choice for the public good. Mr. Hide continued on for another 35 years, thus making his entire service 44½ years, and like his fellow-worker, Mr. Tompsett, was in the receipt of a small annuity. It is a pleasure to be able to record the fact that the long and faithful services of two of my old associates thus received a suitable recognition; and I could have wished that in proportion to his responsibilities, his strict integrity, and his long service, he who was Postmaster for many years, both under the old and new systems, had been better cared for than I fear was the case. How far remunerative was the stipend in his later officials (sic) years is not within my knowledge; but, as before stated, his emoluments during my own term of service were insufficient to live upon after deducting the expenses involved in official requirements. The fixed salary of Mr. Woods was not even enough of itself to cover the amount of rent and taxes; and to remove from an ill-conditioned house, whose only recommendation was its position, was not permitted. The house in question swarmed with rats, mice and beetles; and I have sometimes wondered - knowing the fondness of some of these domestic quadrupeds for paper - that some of the letters were not carried away by them. I had a great aversion to this sort of company, and perhaps it was fear more than bravery which made me their uncompromising enemy. But if I was wanting in genuine courage, I had at least an abundance of self-will, and this served me in good stead when I had once made up my mind to be the mortal foe of a colony of insiduous nocturnalians.(sic) I fought these invaders of the domestic hearth single-handed, and although it may savour of egotism to claim credit for the success of my generalship, the mere fact that I was victorious may palliate the offence, whilst a description of the plan of battle may be useful to others should they ever be drawn into a similar conflict. That I laid a trap for the enemy I hold to be no dishonour, seeing how disproportionate in numbers were the combatants. The first to make their appearance were the beetle troops. These came, at nightfall, several hundred strong, and occupied the entire area of the back kitchen. I could not dislodge them by any ordinary means, so I swept rapidly round them with a long-handled instrument betuffed (sic) with bristles, and forced them into a disordered heap upon their centre. Then with a shorter weapon of a similar character I rolled them over into a receptacle called a dustpan, and although some of them made their escape, I by that means took a large body of them prisoners, and afterwards put them to death. Nothing daunted, their shattered forces returned to the attack nightly until their gradually decreasing numbers dwindled down to all but total nullity. Later in the night a foraging party of mouse-coloured quadrupeds ascended the heights in search of provisions. One of their routes was over a deep gorge known as The Copper, and it was here that I laid a trap for their capture. It consisted of two pieces of laths projecting from the brick-work, with weights upon the inner ends to keep them firm. A wooden platter (a small piece of board would have done as well), pivoted on strong pins, was placed upon the laths in such a manner as to tip over as soon as one or more of the foragers got beyond the centre of the platter in pursuit of the bait on the outer edge. They were thus precipitated into a vessel beneath, where they found a watery grave, whilst the trap resumed its original position in readiness for the next comers. The number thus nightly entrapped was so great that the pantries, safes and cupboards were in a short time freed from depredation. So far, so good! But then came the Heavy Brigade - the rats, and for their destruction my stratagem was also complete. I procured an instrument known as a clam, placed it at the bottom of a shallow pan, and covered it with bran. Not suspecting any foul play, the brigade attacked the bran, when one of their number was usually caught in an iron grip, whilst the others beat a hasty retreat, only to defer their turn for a short season. I remember an instance in which one of these victims of treachery, more mighty than the rest, leaped out of the pan with the instrument of torture tightly gripping his hindmost nethers, by which he was prevented getting through a hole in the wall. It was a piteous sight to view the poor thing writhing in agony, and my otherwise stout heart almost quailed before such a scene. The morning mail had just arrived, and this required my attention for about ten minutes, after which I found the means to put the poor brute out of its misery. Even this was not an easy task, for it was a brave rat, and seemed determined not to die. It should be stated that the rear of the house butted against a stable, and that the latter was probably the rendezvous of those nightly marauders.
For an establishment of that kind the Post-office in George street had as mean an exterior as could well be conceived. Except for a few printed notices in the window, there was nothing to indicate to a stranger the official character of the building; and to remedy this defect, Mr. Woods, at his own expense had some canvas stretched upon a wooden frame, whereon was painted a crown and the word "Post office," on a red ground. This was put out every morning as a sign-board, and taken in every night as soon as the mail had left. Even this was barely visible at night, and so another "Post-office" was painted on a slip of glass suspended from the iron bracket of the out-side lamp. This caused a good deal of amusement, for as the glass was transparent, and the compound word was written only on one side, it read "Post-office" from one direction, and "eciffo-tsoP" from the other. Some years later when the Post-office had again gone westward, and Hastings was "revisited" by The Ghost of the Old Commission, at the bidding of Mr. Pittar, the disembodied spirit soliloquised thus :-
"The light is somewhat dim
And yonder lamp, once bright and full,
Now burns most marvellously dull;
But certainly ‘tis Number 4,
And this should be the office door;
But where, oh horror! where are flown
The scarlet board and yellow crown!
The tsop eciffo on the lamp,
And all that bore th' imposing stamp
Of royalty and Rowland Hill!
Don't Mr. Woods reside there still?
What means all this? Tho' I'm a ghost,
I must enquire to find the Post."
Leaving the ghost to trace out the whereabouts of the new Post-office, it may be here explained that the old unstately building had a side entrance in "Hopper's Passage" - a narrow thoroughfare which still retains the name which it orignally (sic) derived from a blacksmith named Hopper who owned some property close by. Hence, we see that between the years 1818 and 1839 the Hastings Post-office had severally occupied the corner of Waterloo passage, Post-office passage, and Hopper's passage. As it was in Hopper's passage that I was first taught my "letters," so it was apropos that in after years I should have to do with letters in the same locality. As, also, my first instructress was an abcdarian of the name of Duffy, so may it account for my being a duffer at literature and a dabster at letters. But, of the late Mr. Hopper I must here relate an anecdote. The old man suffered a good deal at times in consequence of his having a chronic cough. One evening three boys, named "Fox" Prior, William Kirby and William Stonestreet, took it in to their heads to play him a lark by fastening his door on the outside, and filling his room with tobacco-smoke blown through the key-hole. Their glee was at its height when they heard Mr. Hopper coughing in a distressing manner. The success of this boyish trick induced the unfeeling urchins to repeat it a few nights later. As though he anticipated this repetition of their mischievous pranks, the old gentleman placed the brown coat which he used to wear on the back of his chair while he secreted himself in a snug corner on the outside of his house. The boys arrived, and one of them soon commenced operations with his pipe and lighted tobacco. It was not long before the young smoker had to "pipe his eye," in consequence of old Hopper commencing retaliative operations with a rope upon his back. "So we'll smoke old Hopper out, will we?" exclaimed the flagellator, as he applied the rope most vigorously, "So we'll smoke old Hopper out" he repeated with every smack of the rope, until, with a howl, Bill Kirby hopped out of Hopper's sight.
The Penny Postage - A Day Mail
I have referrred to the views of Rowland Hill, as expressed in his pamphlet being shared by the Hastings Postmaster and his clerk, and I have stated much to show that those views were apparently sound. Mr. Hill's contention was that the revenue of the Post-office during twenty years had slightly Pg.220 decreased, whereas, according to the growth of population, it ought to have increased to the extent of nearly £600,000 a year. From an estimate of letters which passed through the London twopenny post, as well as from some other data, Mr. Hill calculated that a year's transmission of letters and newspapers was about 96 millions of the former and 30 millions of the latter; also that of the letters about 7,400,000 contributed nothing to the revenue, they being franked by Members of Parliament and Government officials. By the returns subsequently obtained from Hastings and other Post-towns at the instance of Mr. Hill (a namesake of one of the Hastings mail-guards) the calculation by that gentleman was somewhat excessive, the total of chargeable letters delivered in the United Kingdom in 1838, being in round numbers 76 millions. This was the last complete year of the old system. Seeing, however, that until that year no accurate number of the letters had been recorded, Mr. Hill's estimate was sufficiently near the truth for his purpose. Then, with some niceties of calculation of receipts and expenditure he endeavoured to show that the average cost of receiving, transmitting and delivering a letter being but the fraction of a penny, a uniform rate of a penny for letters of a certain weight would produce a profit even on the old numbers, and that about a six-fold increase would allow for the additional working expenses, and bring up the revenue to what it was before. He proposed, therefore, that there should be a uniform rate of one penny on all letters not exceeding half an ounce, and an extra penny for each additional half ounce; that the letters should be prepaid; that stamped envelopes should be sold to the public, inclusive of the postage; and that franking should be abolished. He contended that such an arrangement would simplify the then complicated accounts, destroy the well-known illicit traffic in letters by carriers and others, lessen the temptation to dishonesty, and preserve the sanctity of correspondence from the eyes of officials who had theretofore been bound to examine letters to ascertain their contents. The scheme was denounced by the leading officials as absurd and visionary, and the Postmaster-General (Lord Lichfield) declared in the House of Lords that "Of all the wild and ruinous schemes I ever heard of it is the most extravagant. The mails will have to carry twelve-times as much weight; the walls of the Post-office would burst, and the whole area in which the building stands would not be large enough to receive the clerks and letters." The public, however, did not view the proposal in the same light, and during the session of 1838, no fewer than 2000 petitions were sent up to the House of Commons. A Select Committee was appointed, and after 60 or 70 sittings, a favourable report was presented, and at length the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. F. T. Baring) brought in a Bill to carry the committee's recommendation into effect. The measure was passed by a majority of 100, and became law on the 17th of August; but, as a temporary provision, the London twopenny post was reduced on the 4th of December to a penny, and a uniform rate of 4d. was charged on all other letters except where a lower rate already existed. In the week previous to this change the number of letters received in Hastings was about 1750, which at 6 3/4d, (the average at that time), would amount to a little over £50; and supposing the number despatched to be equal, the week's receipts, as concerned Hastings alone, would be something over £100. To this sum might be added a nearly similar amount for St. Leonards; for although the letters in that district were fewer in number, they were usually higher in price, in consequence of the more aristocratic character of the town, and the larger amount of foreign correspondence. But if the revenue of the Post-office was at the average of 6 3/4d. per letter, the net cost of conveyance and delivery was but a fraction of a penny; so that the profit derived was enormous; and in some of the petitions for Mr. Hill's postal reform it was urged that so large a revenue raised in that manner was a grievous tax upon education and a great bane to commerce. To this may now be added the saying of elderly people that the correspondence of courting couples in those days was a too expensive luxury to be much indulged in. I happen to know a case where the advice given to one party by another was to send foreign letters by a route which cost a shilling instead of by another which cost 1/10 being the immediate cause of breaking off a matrimonial engagement. The facts of this case, if related, would be stranger than fiction, but this is not the place for them. Epistolary courtship, however, was not always so expensive under the old postal system as has been here set forth; for Cupid is proverbially a sly boy, and he many times found the means to correspond secretly and gratuitously, notwithstanding the great vigilance observed in the examination of newspapers, previously described. There was also another mode of cheating the Post-office, of which the cunning Cupid was, doubtless, very guilty; and as it was one of these freaks which led to the adoption of the Penny Postage, it seemeth to the purpose that the story should be repeated here. Rowland Hill, whilst holding a Government situation, was allowed a customary holiday, and when he was spending this with his friends in the country he observed a servant give back a letter to the postman, with the remark that she could not afford to pay tenpence for it. Mr. Hill's sympathetic feelings prompted him to call back the postman and pay the postage of the letter, even against the girl's remonstrance. "Oh! sir," she said, "you might as well have saved your money; there is nothing in it; he has put a cross on the outside to show he is all right, and that is all I wanted to know." "Well," thought Mr. Hill, "this accounts for the numerous letters which are returned to the Post-office. Give cheap postage, and the revenue, as well as the public, will be the gainer."
During the interim of a fourpenny postage (Dec. 5/39 to Jan. 10/40) the Government offered premiums of £2,000 and £1,000 for the best designs for postage stamps. The competitors were so numerous (upwards of 2,6000) and the designs were so various, that the Lords of the Treasury could not adopt any one of the specific plans proposed without modification and combination with other arrangements. They therefore revoked their original offer, and decided to give £100 each to the authors of the four most suitable designs. There were Messrs. Bogardus and Coffin (who acted together), Benjamin Cheverton, Henry Cole, and Charles Whiting. Their Lordships directed that as soon as the multifarious and novel machinery could be constructed, there should be stamped covers of half a sheet of 4to letter-paper, stamped paper of a lozenge form which stationers might manufacture into envelopes, stamps stuck on any description of paper sent to the Stamp-office for the purpose, and small adhesive stamps to be applied to the outside of letters. These stamps did not come into use until the 6th of May, 1840, but on the preceding 10th of January the Treasury Minute came into operation for the charge of all prepaid letters, whether by local or general post, to be 1d. for half an ounce, 2d. for an ounce, and so on up to sixteen ounces. On that welcomed 10th of January there passed through the General Post-office, notwithstanding the great commercial depression then prevalent, 112,000 letters, or four times the number ever despatched before at the same period of the year. Yet, so unwilling were the heads of departments to believe in the ultimate success of the scheme, that Col. Maberly, some time after, stated that in the very first week of the change it was evident that it must fail. The public did not think so, however, for in their enthusiasm they sent thousands of letters with the words on the outside, "Thank Rowland Hill for this." Of the progress of this great postal reform I may have more to say further on, but for the present I will confine myself to 1839 - the year mainly under consideration.
As in most cases one reform begets another, so, no sooner had we got the penny postage, than we - that is to say the people of Hastings and St. Leonards - began to move for a day- mail. On Wednesday, Dec. 11th, the Mayor (F. Smith, Esq.), convened a meeting in the Town Hall, which was not so numerously attended as the importance of the subject would seem to demand. Mr. Bond, as the first speaker, combatted some of the objections which had been raised out of doors. One of these was that to convert one of the day coaches into a mail (mails paying no tolls) would cause deficit of £700 a year in the toll between Hastings and London, which would be a serious injury to vested interests. He understood however, that the coaches were then running only four days in the week, and that after Christmas the running would be reduced to three days. He thought if a day-mail were established there would either be another coach put on, or the running of the others would be so augmented as to prevent the contemplated defalcation. Another objection that had been started was that the worthy cits had denounced day mails as the greatest bores in modern existence; as, just when they are leaving their counting-houses for the smoking turtle or capon, in come the day mails with orders to be attended to. This objection Mr. Bond regarded as a trivial one. He looked upon a day mail as not only important in a commercial view, but also as affording great advantages to those who visited Hastings and St. Leonards for health or relaxation. Mr. Bond further remarked that foreign mails were frequently landed at Hastings, and that he need not enlarge upon the importance of such letters reaching their destination as quickly as possible. Dr. Mac Cabe concurred with what had been urged, and regarding the subject in connection with his own profession, he conceived it of the utmost importance that persons should be able to obtain frequent information of the health of their relatives and friends. Mr. C. Duke reminded the meeting that letters arriving in London in the morning were detained there for 14 hours before they were again despatched to complete the journey to Hastings. He submitted that this borough ought to be put on a par with Brighton and Dover, both of which towns had day-mails. Mr. North had just returned from the Post-office, where he had made enquiries on the subject. The only person, as he conceived, that would be inconvenienced by the establishment of a day-mail was the Postmaster, (Mr. Woods), whose present duties he (Mr. North) could testify were greater than his remuneration. He would suggest that the proposed memorial should be as brief as possible, and strictly confined to Hastings; for if they included Tunbridge-Wells and other places, probably none would get it. - A memorial was then drawn up, to be signed by the inhabitants, and copies of the same to be sent to the Borough Members (Planta and Hollond) with a request that they would communicate with the Postmaster General.
The day-mail so earnestly desired was ultimately obtained, but I was not connected with the Post-office at that time, nor, indeed in December when its advocacy was put forth by the meeting just described. I had left Hastings a few months before to seek a home in a far-off land; and, as described in Chap XX.[c], to be driven back, disabled, by the greatest and most persistent storm of that very stormy year. It is now my purpose to give some account of the other disastrous storms which affected the southern coast during 1839. On the 2nd of January a terrific gale assailed our shore to the serious detriment of four vessels which were delivering cargoes of coals and merchandise. These were the William Pitt sloop, the Louisa schooner, the Queen Victoria brig, and the Sussex sloop. As the tide rolled heavily in the vessels were all hauled out to the buoys, except the William Pitt, which could not be floated. The gale increased to a hurricane, and the three floated vessels came again to the beach, their crews being saved only by the utmost exertions. Had the Sussex passed the East groyne, as it was feared she would, she must have been dashed to pieces. As it was, they were all greatly damaged, but, with the exception of the schooner, which became a complete wreck, they were afterwards repaired. Three other vessels also belonging to Hastings, and owned by one firm (Messrs. J. Bayley & Co.) encountered the gale while at sea, and their crews had a terrible tale to tell. The brig Thwaites was caught on the northern coast and blown 200 miles over the North Sea. She lost her anchors, cables, bulwarks, small-boat and both masts. The sea made a clean breach over the vessel, and the crew, with only two gallons of fresh water for ten days, suffered terible hardships. The wreck was towed into Harwich on the 18th day. Five other ships were passed, dismasted, and on their beam-ends. The brig Telemachus (a vessel so familiar to Hastings people) was towed into Yarmouth with loss of mainmast and other tackle. The third vessel was the brig Pelican (another familiar name). This brig caught fire while on her way from London to Boston, and was extensively damaged, the flames not being subdued until after four hours' incessant exertion. These serious and simultaneous losses of one and the same firm seemed to illustrate the old saying that mishaps rarely come singly. The following lines were sent to a county newspaper by "E.Y.," of St. Leonards.
"Drenched by the brine, on the deck they stood,
While round them roared the angry flood,
And then the strong and lofty mast,
Bent like a reed before the blast,
As white the howling surges rose,
Like hosts of dreaded angry foes,
Most vivid ws the lightning's flash,
And awful was the thunder's crash.
It seemed as though the fiends of hell
Where (sic) holding there their carnival.
The hissing foam around them flew,
And skies though dark, yet blacker grew,
And high above the tottering mast,
The waves were lifted by the blast.
"Breakers ahead!" The shout was heard,
But barely came the warning word,
When, with a loud and sudden shock,
They struck upon a hidden rock.
The yeilded (sic) mast with tearing sweep
Fell headlong in the seething deep,
Hurling the seamen on the wave
That fain would bear them to their grave;
And then was heard above the roar
The echo of a scream on shore.
A frantic cry for help was there,
With outstretched arms, as though at pray'r.
The hard-clenched hand, the starting eye,
Both told the tale of agony.
His dying child, with frantic clasp,
The father caught within his grasp.
They called on God their souls to bless,
Whilst raging seas were pitiless.
The yawning seam, the crashing rope
Defiance bade to lingering hope;
One look of wild despair was given,
One last short cry arose to Heaven."
About the equinoctial period twenty-two boats sailed from Hastings to the western coast on a mackerel voyage, and one of the luggers named Adolphus anchored off Plymouth on Good Friday, when Mr. Harman (master) John Streeter and James Nash went on shore with a pilot, and there remained till eleven p.m. At that hour the boat put off with the three Hastings men and three men belonging to Plymouth. The boat capsized, and the whole of the men were drowned except Nash, who was completely exhausted when rescued. The event caused a feeling of sadness among all the fishing population of both towns, the boats at home being made the signal of grief by flying a token at half-mast.
So far as I can remember - and I have no note to the contrary - our fishermen were not over fortunate in their catches during that cold and trying spring but on the 20th of May there was an immense catch of mackerel in the Seine-nets at St. Leonards, a large sum of money being made by their sale at 6d. to 8d. each.
The 2nd of April was a cold and snowy day, and a sharp frost, with icicles, was seen on the 2nd of May, but on the 17th of June and the 7th of July, two most terrific thunder-storms occurred, the first continuing from 8 till 12 p.m., and the second lasting also a period of four hours. The inhabitants were in the utmost state of fear, but the damage in each case was comparatively small.
The destructive storms of the 31st of March and 19th to 26th of July have already been dwelt upon, and the next abnormal visitation was on the 17th of September, when a terrific gale blew down chimneys and hoardings, and was followed by a week of sunless skies and flooding rains which destroyed the hops and impeded commerce.
There being no ship-building in Hastings at the time I am writing worthy of the term, it may be of interest to add a few more particulars as applying to that important branch of industry in the year 1839. The two ship-yards of Thwaites and Winter's and Ransom and Ridley's were still in activity, and the latter firm was noted for the construction of smart yacht-like schooners with rakish masts, and specially designed for the fruit trade in the Mediterranean. Two of these, the Monkey and Nonpareil were greatly damaged by a storm that followed on the heels of that which on the 2nd of January wrecked the four vessels at Hastings as already described. On the 17th of the same month a brig was launched by Ransom and Ridley, named after Her Majesty, and built for a Mr. Diplock, of Brighton; and at the end of the year, namely Dec. 29th, another of the saucy-looking schooners, named The Torch, was launched from the same yard. As a last word on shipping matters for that year. It may be stated that about the 15th of August The Fearless Government steamer arrived off the town to survey the coast in pursuit of the best position for a harbour of refuge, and on the 20 th of November another Government steamer The Boxer, performed a similar duty which inspired the inhabitants with the hope that something even yet would be done towards the construction of a harbour. I have bare need to say that the hope proved delusive (sic) so far as Government were concerned, and equally non-effective were the proceedings of the local standing-committee for the furtherance of the object. They met at the Town Hall on the 27th of February, but accomplished nothing, and after that the subject seemed to die through inanition. But this harbour question reminds one that the harbour at Dover was at the same time the scene of a phenomenal occurrence. On the 16th of February there occurred the lowest flood-tide ever witnessed by the oldest of the inhabitants. The water was so shallow that the Channel packets could not be floated out of the harbour, and the mails and passengers had to be put on board the vessels which crossed from the other side.
That the construction of a harbour at Hastings would have realised all the benefits believed in by some of its sanguine promoters is open to doubt; but I am of opinion that the immediate decline and subsequent collapse of the ship-building trade was a cir- Pg.221 cumstance to be deplored. This industry not only gave employment, directly or indirectly, to a large number of tradesmen, artisans and labourers, but it also was a great attraction to visitors. The owners of the vessels, together with their friends, would come frequently to Hastings to watch the progress of construction, and even those who were not so closely associated, were to be seen manifesting a lively interest in the work. It was no uncommon thing to see thirty or forty persons on the top of the Pelham Arcade watching the various operations of the shipwrights in their front; and many a family has been known to prolong their stay in the town on learning that a vessel in full rig was to be launched on a certain day.
Three Day's Bazaar for the Infirmary - Accidents and Marvellous Escape
Whether it was for the purpose of watching the operations of the shipwrights that a young gentleman of the name of Thornton found his way on to the top of the Arcade I do not know but whatever might have been the inducement, his presence there would have had a very serious result but for an apparently miraculous escape. Venturesome, as boys too often are, he got upon the parapet which encases the elongated glass dome of the Arcade, and commenced walking thereon, when he lost his balance and fell through on to the floor. The strange thing is that although he carried away some of the bars and glass of the sky-light and descended to the depth of 17 feet, his greatest injury was the dislocation of a finger. Verily, some people have a charmed life! This happened on the 8th of April.
And now that I have referred to the Arcade, it will not be out of place to notice a few other events with which that building was associated at a later period of the year. On the 13th of December the "Unrivalled Fire King," Mons. Chylinski, who had performed before the continental monarchs and princes, gave his "chemico-physical and gymnastical exhibition" at the Arcade, to a full audience, and with the accompaniment of an orchestra. His feats of strength for a comparatively slender man were really marvellous, and no less so were his fire-daring performances. He placed a man on the table then held both the man and the table suspended by his teeth. He then placed two men on his shoulders and carried another in his hand. He next allowed a stone, weighing about 200 lbs. to be broken on his head. In his chemico-physical feats he took a red-hot iron from a charcoal fire with his bare hands, licked it, and twisted pieces off with his teeth; took coins from boiling lead with his fingers, stood in a cauldron of boiling butter, stood bare-footed on a charcoal fire, with a red-hot iron crown on his head, and did numerous other things, which had nothing in common with mere conjuring. The audience had good proof of the genuineness of the heating process, and the only explanation that suggested itself was that Mons. Chylinski, the marvellous Polish athlete, possessed the secret of a chemical application which neutralized in a most astonishing manner the power of caloric.
Four days after the above-named performance, the Arcade was used for a purpose more greatly to the advantage of the town, namely, a three-days' Fancy Bazaar in aid of the Building Fund then being raised for the Infirmary. The sale was under the patronage of Her Majesty the Queen Dowager, who contributed largely thereto, whilst the following ladies presided at the stalls:- Lady Fitzroy, Hastings; Lady Ashburnham, Broomham; Lady Micklethwaite, Tunbridge Wells; Mrs. Milward, Hastings; Mrs. Harwood, St. Leonards; Mrs. Brisco, Coghurst; Miss North, Hastings; Mrs. Birch, Bexhill; Mrs. Smith-Bird, Hastings; Mrs. Wrench, Salehurst; the Misses Rush, St. Leonards; Mrs. Druce, Hastings; and Mrs. Duke, Hastings. The first day's receipts were £371, the second day's £175, and the third days £92. This would make a total of £538; but the stated total at the time as I understood it was £662, less £25 expenses. On the first day of the sale a gentleman sold in front of the Arcade a pair of handsome goats, and handed the proceeds to the Committee. I described among the events of the previous year the contentions over the site and plans of the proposed Infirmary, and I may here remark that in the month of June 1839, an arrangement was made with the Trustees of the Eversfield Estate for a piece of land whereon to build the proposed institution. This arrangement was confirmed in a formal manner on Thursday the 7th November, by the Committee and other promoters, who met for that purpose at the Marine Hotel. The price of the ground was £300, and the site was at the White-rock, midway, as it was considered, between the two towns. The gentlemen present at that meeting were the Right Hon. Joseph Planta, M.P. (chairman), Drs. Cook, Harwood and Duke; Revs. Foyster, Rush and Pearse; Major Jeffries; and Messrs. Milward, Brisco, Troup, Phillips, Bishop, Alcock, Hardman and Hicks. It was decided not to begin the building until the money already promised amounted to £1,500. Four months later the donations had been considerably augmented, one of the £50 having been received from the Earl of Ashburnham. At the same time the Committee accepted the plans of Mr. Dillon, at an estimated cost of £1,750, and the work was immediately commenced. But here, for the present, I will leave the Infirmary project.
As the earlier meetings of the Infirmary Committee were held at the Marine Hotel, it may be stated that Mr C. P. Hutchings had become the successor to the deceased Arthur Deudney, and on the 22nd of March his opening dinner took place, which was attended by some forty or fifty of his friends and supporters. Mr. Hutchings lost no time in making it known that in consequence of the completion of new and nearer roads, he had established a more advantageous line of posting to London. This route was described as John's Cross,10 miles; Stonecrouch, 9; Pembury, 8; Sevenoaks, 12; Bromley, 14; and London 10. Then, as if to still further facilitate the posting business, Mr. Jas. Rock was announcing at the same time that visitors could be supplied at his coach-building establishment with traveling carriages for London without the additional expense of returning them to Hastings, he having business premises in Oxford street. While on the subject of traveling - as we had no railroad to Hastings at that time - its apropos to mention that on the 4th of December Dr. Lardner delivered in Hastings an instructive lecture "On the Locomotive Engine and Railroads," exhibiting a beautiful model engine constructed by a working engineer of the Brighton Railway Company, and stating that the construction of a railway from Brighton to Hastings would be a work of unprecedented facility. This lecture was given at the Hastings Mechanics' Institution, in Waterloo place, and in the presence of a crowded audience, including Lord Monteagle, Mr. and Mrs. North, Miss Shuttleworth (afterwards the mother of Sir Ughtred Kay-Shuttleworth), Dr. Cook, &c.
This brings me to other matters in connection with the Mechanics' Institution, the importance of which will be recognised by several of its now old, but still valued members. The meetings and classes had hitherto been held in a room in Waterloo place, situate at the lower end of Mr. Henry Thwaites's garden; but this, in addition to other inconveniences, was being left so far behind the centre of a population that was moving westward, that, at a quarterly meeting on the 6th of February, a scheme for removal was lengthily and entelligently (sic) embodied in the Committee's report. Mr. Major Vidler had submitted two plans, either of which he would adopt, for the erection of a house at his stone-yard in High street, and in which he proposed to let to the Institution on lease, a room, with movable partition, 17 feet by 33 feet, and 12 feet pitch, the same to be kept open from noon till 10 p.m., with his own services as librarian, for £25 per year. The rent and librarian's salary in the old room amounted to £17, yet the Committee were somewhat chary of encountering the increase of £8 per annum for the superior advantages which were almost certain to accrue from the change. The number of members at that time was 116, and these included, not only the present scribe, whose lot it would soon be to reside at St. Leonards, but also three or four other persons who were already located there, and where the advantages of a kindred institute were not then available. Obviously these western members were anxious for a removal that would bring the Institution somewhat nearer to them, but there was an "up-town" party then, as there has been since - the Town-hall business to wit - who were in favour of retaining the old room, with certain alterations which Mr. Thwaites had proposed to make. The meeting was therefore adjourned to the 18th of February, when a letter was received from Mr. North, promising to contribute £1 a year towards the additional expense. This seemed to be a sort of turning point, and it was finally resolved to accept Mr. Vidler's proposal. No time was lost in commencing operations, for on the 13th of March, Mr. North laid the foundation stone of the new building, of which Mr. Major Vidler was the owner and architect; and after the ceremony such of the members as chose adjourned to the Swan Hotel to partake of a cold collation. Mr. North was President of the Institution, but Mr. Dunk presided at the dinner, and among the party were the secretaries, Messrs. Womersley and Halloway.
It will have been seen that Mr. North was President of the Mechanics' Institution, and that to him was relegated the honour of laying the foundation-stone of the new building. My readers have also been informed of the fact that in the preceding year the same gentleman laid the foundation stone of the Literary and Scientific Institution, of which he was also President. It was proposed by the latter society that lectures should be delivered on alternate Wednesdays; and, as a commencement, Mr. North delivered an interesting discourse on the rise and progress, as well as the aim and objects of the Institution. He did so he explained, that he might not be charged with shrinking from a task the like of which he had himself urged upon other members. Tracing back the origin of the society, the lecturer dwelt upon the smallness of its beginning, and named the gentlemen who constituted the first seven members. These I will take the liberty of classifying as follows :- One president (F. North), one Colonel (Elliott), one surgeon (R. Ranking), one Independent Minister (W. Davis), and three solicitors (W. Scrivens, T. B. Baker, and J. Phillips). That small number, the lecturer remarked, had been since augmented to nearly 100. After adverting (sic) to the advantages which such an institution was calculated to confer both on the inhabitants and visitors, who had long complained of the want of a library of reference, Mr. North pointed out the principal objects sought to be attained, and dwelt upon the desirability of forming a museum of Natural History. He opined that the town and neighbourhood offered peculiar facilities for collecting valuable specimens of geology, botany and marine productions. He also stated that Capt. Smee had consented to the removal of the collection of birds, &c., which were deposited in his (Mr. N.'s) house, to the Institution. Speaking of science the lecturer said that its beneficial application to the ordinary affairs of life had been ably demonstrated, whilst the idea that extensive knowledge was prejudicial to religion, he refuted by a reference to Newton and Locke. He noticed with approbation the career of the Mechanics' Institution as a kindred society, and brought his remarks to a close amid general applause. - The second lecture by members of the society was one by Dr. Cook on "The Circulation of the Blood in Men and Animals," and the third was by Mr. Ranking on "Entomology." Dr. Cook's lecture was a kind of sequel to those which he had delivered at the Swan Hotel a year before, and which were so humourously (sic) described in verse by "Lousia Eliza Lovelore" (see chap. cxv.) These earlier lectures were repeated by the Doctor in the Literary Institution during the latter part of the year, and were regarded as being of an erudite and instructive character. One of them was "On the Structure and Functions of the Brain of Man and Animals," and another was "On the Nervous System of Animals. They were illustrated with numerous diagrams, wax models, and specimen skulls of all nations, including the head of an Egyptian mummy from Thebes. It may be stated that the Institution was presented with the head of a lion which was shot at Delhi by Mr. Robert Thatcher, and the head sent to Mr. Shadwell, of Hastings, as an acknowledgement of the latter gentleman's service in teaching Mr. Thatcher the skilful use of the gun.
It was the practice for the Hastings people to hold their Eastertide and Whitsuntide amusements on the East hill, and whilst doing so in 1839, a coastguard named Mintel was in a booth erected by Mr. Wood, of the George Inn, for eating and drinking purposes. Mintel was invited by the publican to take some refreshment, but after a short time he complained of being slighted, and then walking towards Mr. Wood, he pulled the trigger of a loaded pistol, which, fortunately for both parties, did not go off. The miscreant was immediately seized by several persons, who threatened to throw him over the cliff. Mr. Wood, however, saved his would-be murderer from the rage of the bystanders, and also exerted himself on the man's behalf when the case was privately investigated in the gun-room of the Watchhouse. Capt. Peat, in addressing the prisoner, remarked that he was a disgrace to a Service from which he must be dismissed with all the ignominy attached to one who had contemplated murder. It was only by the interposition of Providence that he was not standing at the bar of justice to answer for the murder of a man whose kindness afterwards saved him from the summary retaliation of infuriated witnesses. Here again Mr. Wood interposed, and begged that the man might be simply removed from a station in which it was not safe for him to remain. No cause could be assigned for this rash attempt by an apparently sober man unless it was that of a misconception of some trifling and casual allusion to. No explanation was, however, given by the man as an excuse for his rash act, even if had anything to do with it which is very doubtful.
But it is not doubtful that on a bitterly stormy night of the 7th-8th of December some seventy kegs of brandy were got ashore at the Rock-a-nore and hauled up the cliff at a height of nearly 300 feet. On the Sunday morning a Custom-house office while walking under the cliff near the [[East Groyne|[[East Groyne|[[East Groyne|east groyne discovered the bow of a boat protruding from between the rocks, and immediately suspected it of being one from which a cargo of contraband had been safely worked during the night. The officer in question has received some hint of the affair, after the intimation had become useless to act upon. The boat was a new one, and, like most of such craft, had been roughly put together for the purpose. The sea was in a too turbid condition to admit of the boat being put off again, hence the situation in which it was found. This achievement of the smugglers in getting ashore during an easterly gale, and hauling seventy or more tubs of spirits to a height of 300 feet, and then securing them without the knowledge of the coastguards and customs officers is worthy of record. A less hazardous but an equally spirited affair of was that which has been related to me by an eye-witness. A boat belonging to "Karby" Simmons - a fisherman who was well known in his day - had been seized for having smuggled goods on board, and after the removal of the same, the boat in question was drawn to the "Condemmed (sic) Hole" behind Beach Cottages, where all consfiscated (sic) property of that sort was secured until a time of general delivery by sale. The boat had not been in its new situation long ere a party of smugglers proceeded to remove a false bottom which the Customs officers had not discovered in the boat, and beneath which some kegs of spirits other than those which had been seized were concealed. These were quickly shouldered in the broad light of day, and carried round the Castle cliff over the space now occupied by 8 to 10 Breeds place. To what further distance they were conveyed, and in what place they were deposited, is a secret only known to the "free-traders" themselves. Albeit, this exploit was never more to be repeated, for every board seized after that was sawn asunder at midships, and its false bottom, if any, detected.
Although much has appeared in these pages concerning the Hastings benefactions, no part has been taken by the writer in the later controversy on the Magdalen Charity. The reason for this will probably be explained further on; but in the mean time, I will refer to a little matter in connection with the Saunders Charity which some persons may have forgotten and others have not know of. When a slip of ground was recovered by the taking down of the Priory Bridge and the filling-in of the Priory stream, the Trustees of Saunders Charity applied to the Town Council for permission to build a school-house thereon. The question was referred to a committee, whose report embodied a recommendation not to comply with the application, nor to suffer any permanent building to be erected in front of Kentish Buildings. Supporting this recommendation was a memorial from the inhabitants of the district which intimated that their promise of £50 towards the improvement would not be realised if the ground was not kept open. Mr. Clement advised the Council how they disposed of the ground. He knew a gentleman who was prepared to give a thousand pounds for it, and it was not unlikely that someone would give more. Mr. Thwaites did not believe that any such sum could be obtained for it, but this was met by Mr. Clement's offer to put down half the amount at any time as a guarantee of good faith. His object, he said, was to prevent the land being sold at a nominal price under a system of jobbery such as had existed under the rule of the Commissioners, by which persons obtained property on favourable terms because they belonged to that body - twenty pounds a year, for instance, below its value. My readers have no need to be told that not only was permission not given to the trustees of the Charity to build upon the land in question,but that in after years the open space was increased by the purchase and razure of Kentish Buildings contiguous thereto. The wisdom of the Council's refusal, as well as that of Mr. Clement's advice not to sell the ground for a small sum, and if at all, by public auction only, will not be doubted in the present day by any advocate of open spaces and improved positions.
Adieus by Eurythmus
Pg.222 On the 13th of November, the death of Mr. Thomas Breeds occurred at 23 High street, where he had resided a quarter of a century. It was one of the best houses in the street, and was conveyed from Stephen Tutt (who lived on the opposite side) to Thomas Breeds in 1814. The pedigree and principal events of Mr. Breed's commercial career have been given in connection with the Swan Hotel - not because he was a permanent occupier, but because he was owner of that renowned hostelry and its extensive adjuncts in times of greater excitement than the present, and because an ancestor of his possessed the property long before.
It was in the year still under review (1839) that a gentleman visitor, then sojourning at Laurel Villa (now The Laurels) wrote his Adieu to Hastings and the Hastings people, which latter included "Old Thomas and Mr. James Breeds." The death of Old Thomas, as may be imagined, had not then taken place, nor had The Swan, which was also included in the metrical adieus of Euthymus disappeared from the spot it had occupied for about 300 years. It was, however, as already shown, later in the same year that Mr. Thomas Breeds passed over to the invisible majority. And, as all the sixty or seventy other persons and some of the other objects referred to by the rhyming visitor have also passed away, it may be useful as a reminiscence to reproduce the "Adieus" which appeared originally in the long since defunct Cinque Ports Chronicle. But, as some of the names were incorrectly spelt and the rythm (sic) was defective, it is hoped that the lines by Euthymus are nothing the worse for their reproduction here in revised form.
Madeira of England - sweet Hastings, adieu!
How mournful I feel while I'm parting from you.
In tracing thy beauties I'm bound by a spell,
But in doggerel verse I must bid thee farewell!
So lovely a place I shall never forget;
Dear Hastings I leave thee with pain and regret.
Adieu to the cliffs, the old Castle, and Towers,
The roar of the sea and the breath of the flowers;
Adieu to the woodlands, the glens and the lawns,
The crabs and the lobsters, the shrimps and the prawns!
Adieu to the fish that are taken in shoals!
Adieu to St. Clement's, All Saints and All Souls!
Adieu to the Chapel high up in The Croft,
And even the shots at St. Clement's aloft!
If shot from a cannon I cannot well say,
For no man is living who lived at that day.
To churchyard adieu - the last home of old age,
And youth by consumption, brought down by the Stage!
Adieu to the Hills - East and West - and the Down,
Commanding a beautiful view of the town!
Adieu to Fairlight, with its sunshine and fogs,‡
And also the farmer named Thorpe, and his dogs!
Adieu Ecclesbourne, once the smugglers' delight
For running their cargoes when dark was the night,
Regardless of coastguards, regardless of fear,
Determined their boats of their burdens to clear;
Then selling for profit to folk in the town;
Thus doing the Custom-house officers brown.
Adieu to the Fishponds, the pride of so many,
To Arkcoll, the owner, or sea-coal, if any;
Adieu the blue flag which is planted on high,
On Planta's abode, of Conservative dye!
Adieu to the mem’ry of Dugdale, who died
From kick of a horse which he happened to ride.
A favourite horse, too, oh! fatal disaster -
That kick of a horse on a kind hearted master.
Adieu to the Well of the name of The Dripping!
Adieu to the deep sea and farewell to the shipping!
Adieu to the spot where young maidens may meet,
And vows may be made at the famed Lover's Seat;
And bones may be broken, providing a tiff
Occasion a lover to jump from the cliff!
Adieu the green fields, so like velvet they seem!
Adieu the shoed bullocks that work in a team!
Adieu to the mills grinding corn on the Down,
Receiving the breath of the wind through the town!
Adieu to Town-Clerk, and good-bye to the Mayor!
Adieu to White Rock, and farewell to Rock Fair!
The shield from Quebec in the High-street Town Hall,
And also the Custom-house, rather too small!
Adieu to Collectors for Government till,
So ably defended by Bevill and Gill!
Adieu to Ore church, such a beautiful ride,
As told to the stranger by Ross's cheap Guide!
Adieu to F. Hoad and his mettlesome steeds!
Adieu to old Thomas and Mister "Jim" Breeds!
Farewell to the names that one sees in the town -
A Day and a Knight, and a Noon and a Brown;
A Green and a White, and a Lock and a Ball,
Who figure so Large or who figure so Small!
Adieu Mrs. Tooth, Mrs. Catt, Mrs. Fox!
Adieu Dr. Cooke, and farewell Dr. Knox!
Adieu Mr. Dunk, Doctors Dutton and Duke!
Adieu the sweet girls from Matilda to Suke!
Adieu to the tooth drawing pale Mr. Pam!
To Southdown good mutton and finest of Lamb!
Adieu to the chemists - Stubbs, Mason and Lea!
Adieu the delectable Councillor Tree!
Adieu Arthur Gride, known as "Cupid" by some!
Adieu William Piper, as big as a drum!
Adieu to the tides - both the ebb and the flood!
Good-bye to the butchers, accustomed to blood!
Farewell to the p'rade, where the visitors throng,
The music to hear - instrumental or song!
Adieu to the Crescent, the Chapel, the flys;
And also the Crier, who shockingly cries!
Adieu to the donkeys which constantly bray,
But seldom to trot or to gallop away!
Adieu to the Baths, whether hot, cold, or warm!
Good-bye to the pleasure-boats caught in a storm!
Adieu to the beach and remains of the Pier,
And also to lodgings in front-line or rear!
Adieu to the Albion, Castle and Swan -
Those Hastings hotels, each a premier Don!
Adieu to the wine merchant Tongee or Tonge,
Whose stores are the Pelham place houses among!
Adieu to the Battery, Watchouse (sic) and guard!
Good-bye to your hat when it blows very hard!
Adieu to policemen who look after thieves!
Adieu to September and all the green leaves!
Adieu to the views, as productions from stones!
Adieu to church bells with their funeral tones!
Adieu to St. Leonards, with buildings so grand!
Adieu the parade, which can never long stand;
For lest it be built with more durable stuff,
'Twill crumble away when it blows a hard puff!
Adieu to the lawyers, all gentle as lambs!
Adieu to the beggars, soliciting alms!
To Mr. J. Troup, and the harbour that may
At sometime be made in the Warrior bay!
Adieu to the Bank and good-bye to the Bourne!
Farewell to all such as may grievously mourn,
To Wesleyans, Baptists, and ministers all,
Who preach to their flocks 'bout the Rise and the Fall!
Farewell to the grocers - and Gallop is one,
Another is Amoore; and now I have done:
And if I've offended one soul by my rhyme,
The Saints will forgive me, I hope, for my crime.
I swear by the powers of paper and pen
I mean no offence, Be ye witness, all men!
So having concluded my verse with an oath,
I offer my blessing; and thus you have both.
In about 53 years from the above-named date I regretted to have to chronicle the death of Mr. Boykett Breeds, a grand-nephew of Thomas Breeds, the merchant whose death in 1839 is described above. The lately deceased Boykett Breeds was the son of Boykett, the grandson of Mark Boykett, and the great-grandson of Boykett. He was born on Oct. 30th, 1827, and died Sept. 25th, 1892. He was one of a family of three boys and three girls, and at the time of writing is survived by only one brother and one sister. His remains were interred in the family vault at Guestling. The deceased was highly respected, and the coffin was covered with floral wreaths in token of the same.
Another instalment of "Adieus" was contributed by Euthymus to the Cinque Ports Chronicle which is here reproduced; and, as with the first portion of the rhyming effusion, a little liberty has been taken by way of emendation or annotation by one who, even in 1839, had a more intimate knowledge of the town and its inhabitants.
The people of Hastings, I'm fain to believe,
Are heartily sick of the taking of leave;
And equally sick of "Farewell and Adieu,"
Expecting this week to behold something new.
Yet, ere that my rhyme without reason is done,
I'll bring to completion the task I've begun.
Euthymus leaves not your good town in a hurry
For his cottage ornee at sweet Peckham, in Surrey;
And long before Christmas, or snow's on the ground,
In Hastings again he's a wish to be found;
When, should his effusions have met with distaste
He hopes its remembrance will all be effaced.
Adieu Mr. Elliot, a plumber, who makes
The pump handles go with a couple of shakes!
Adieu Mr. Brown - also plumber and glazier!
Adieu to the wealthy top-booted old grazier!
Adieu Mr. Selden, who deals in "old traps" -
Related to Selden the learnëd, perhaps!
Adieu Mr. Hill! and farewell Mr. Harris!
Adieu to the fashions from London and Paris!
Adieu Hastings Arms and its keeper R. Harman
Adieu to his waiter, with legs like a carman!
Adieu Mrs. Braye and he school that would suit
All those who ideas in their children would shoot!
Adieu Sir J. Giblets, a poulterer funny, -
J. Phipps who looks thankless when taking your money;
A look not of wisdom; for, pleasantness gains
An increase of custom without any pains.
Adieu Samuel Stace, and adieu William Ranger,
Who well shoe the horses led out from the manger!
These two jolly blacksmiths are men of such size
That, shown as fat cattle, they'd each get a prize.
Adieu Mr. Challis, the "ladies' own man,"!
Of fast coach the driver as long as it ran;
But now, for some cause, it has quite given over,
And grieved are the people of Hastings and Dover!
Adieu Mr. Poole, who the Sussex did drive;
As long as that coach was considered alive,
But, sadly I say it, on Saturday morning
It gave up the ghost, and it gave us no warning.
Adieu the "Old Blue" which has weathered the breeze
For seventy years on the road - not the seas!
Adieu "handsome Charlie," so steady and neat!
For years he has driven on just the same seat;
And jolly old Holmes, who's the whip of "The White,"
With a good natured nose and the eye of a kite!
Adieu Mr. Honiss, the great auctioneer,
So pompous and proud as the races draw near!
Good-bye to the booth he erects at the fair;
Adieu to his hammer now worn very bare;
Farewell to his rostrum, his "gone" or his "going,"
Adieu to his knock down and looks very knowing!
Adieu the "Harmonic" that's held at the Swan,
'Twill, doubtless, return as the winter comes on.
When Bolingbroke, Bromley, and others will sing,
And good instrumentalists harmonies bring
Adieu to your excellent Councillor Ginner -
His coal for your fire, and his porter for dinner,
He's a man of great weight, which is easily shown
When kicking the beam at less twenty-one stone.
Adieu Johnny Glandfield! a "Jack of All Trades,"
A lodging-house agent, for widows and maids;
A help to Insurance, a Registrar too
Of those who are born or bid final adieu;
Inspector of coaches, conductor of hearses,
And forwarder too of my doggerel verses.
Adieu "Sir" John Moore! the Arcadian chief,
Who books the Arcade to its every leaf;
Adieu to "Young Norval," the swivel-eyed clerk,
As brisk as a bee and as gay as a lark!
Adieu to Will Wellerd! a flesher, and fat,
Who jumps o'er a man without touching his hat!
Adieu Mister Strong, and his next neighbour Bell,
Who sell "ready mades" and behave very well!
Adieu Mister Jeudwine! a grocer quite rich,
And warden of church, but I cannot tell which.
Adieu to the Nelson, and Wingfield, its host,
Factotum of Planta, and true to his post!
Adieu to John Wimble! who keeps a cook-shop,
And serves very quickly all those who in pop;
The man ought to thrive, for he sells the best meat,
Which seemeth to say "Come and eat, come and eat!"
Adieu honest Cousens! the host of the Ship,
Who makes the best punch and a luscious egg flip!
Adieu Jemmy Oakley! who bore off the bell,
And took the Two Cutters, and does very well.
Adieu to straw bonnets and wife of James Ives;
A saint in her bus'ness, and well she contrives.
Good-bye, for the present! - Euthymus has done;
His subject's at halt, and his lines have all run.
His ink will not flow, so he puts down his pen,
Exclaiming God bless you! again and again!
Priory Bridge Removed - A Blind Letter carrier
Pg.233 The work of removing the Priory Bridge and laying down a culvert for carrying the water from the brooks into the sea was completed on the 6th of April, Mr. Jonathan Reed's contract for the same having been accepted on the 29th of October, 1838.
But for the receipt of two or three interrogative communications, the reminiscences pertaining to the year 1839 would now have closed; for, although the questions embodied in the said communications have been answered privately, they have impressed me with the notion that what may be of positive interest to a few, may be of comparative interest to many. One of the questions is, "Was there not a blind letter-carrier in the Hastings Post-office who had seen better days?" and another is, "Can St. Leonardensis inform a constant reader of the GAZETTE who is the oldest tradesman still in business, and whether there has been any general re-numbering of houses in the old-town since his connection with the Post-office?"
As concerns the first question, there certainly was a blind letter-carrier during the time that I was post-clerk, and of whom I intended to chat about further on. He was designated the rural postman, and his district comprised the parishes of Fairlight, Guestling and Pett. We know that many persons who are deprived of sight often accomplish some marvellous work, and perhaps not the least marvellous was the delivery of letters and newspapers by a man to whom the superscriptions were as a perfect blank. It was our practice to read over to him the whole of the addresses upon the letters in something like their proper order (some of which letters he would separate and place in different pockets), after which a rehearsal of those that had to be delivered in the nearest portion of his round would be made and then he would at once start upon his journey. He had one or two houses of call on the road where he could always depend upon honest and friendly help in case of doubt, and it was rare indeed that he committed an error. He was a healthy, respectable-looking man, quiet in his demeanour, yet cheerful in disposition. He used to say that he was fond of singing be it ever so good or ever so bad; for, if the former it delighted him, and, if the latter, it amused him. He was unmarried at that time, and his excuse was that being himself a good-tempered man, there was the risk of getting a good-tempered woman for a wife, and consequently the possibility of Darby and Joan having to live a hum-drum life. He could conceive no greater pleasure than the having a little tiff now-and-then, if only for the opportunity of "making it up again," when, according to his dictum the felicity would be akin to a second courtship. At an advanced age, however, our rural letter-carrier took to himself a wife, who with her husband lived but a few years in connubial bliss. He must have had something more than the small pittance derived from letter-carrying, or he could not have subsisted; but I never knew from what source that something came, although for a few months we lodged together in the same house. He more than once told me of the common practice of playing cricket on Sunday afternoons when he was young in the parish of Fairlight, of which parish his father was Vicar. When the church was restored in 1845, the remains of his father were removed from a grave in the churchyard to the chancel, but over the grave there still remains a monumental stone erected "To the memory of the Rev. Richard Wadeston, many years Vicar of this Parish." Also "Richard Wadeston, his son, who died Sept. 29th 1870, aged 80 years." Thus it will be seen that the blind postman was the son of the Rev. Richard Wadeston, who, as Vicar of that parish, must have died some years before 1839, at which latter date the vicarial duties were being performed by the Rev. W. Pearse.
There was an extrordinary (sic) performance at the Pelham Arcade for a few evenings in the month of December, by Mons. Chylinski, the so-called "Fire King". The performance was numerously attended, and the audiences were greatly astonished at the feats of strength and fire-proof representations. The performer was of slender make, and although possessing muscular power greatly exceeding the proportions of his bulk, his feats must have been the result of long training and a knowledge of the mechanical structure of the human frame. The impurity with which he handled, licked, and bit off red-hot iron, drank boiling butter and pitch, together with a variety of other feats which he performed, were, doubtless, due to the employment of some chemical preparation which neutralized the power of caloric in a most astonishing manner.
Transcribed by Jan Gilham