John Howell (1825-1893)

From Historical Hastings

Originally from Birmingham and coming to Hastings with his mother and sister, Sophia by 1841 to live at White Rock Place[1], John Howell was a builder and Councillor. Marrying Ann Osborne in 1850, they resided at 21 White Rock[2]. By 1861, they had moved to 12 Cambridge Terrace and 50 Havelock Road by 1871[3].

Howell was known to have a sawmill in Middle Street that was constructed in 1862/3 being completed on July the 11th 1863 and celebrated by the workforce being given the afternoon off to celebrate both this and John's 39th birthday[4]. The mill became the scene of a horrendous accident on the 2nd of October, 1863, when the engine-house supervisor, a man by the name of Peter Gain became entangled in the machinery, resulting in his leg being torn off just above the knee[5]. Although Gain survived and was taken to the General Infirmary, it would appear that he succumbed to his injuries - there being a record of a Peter Gain being buried at Guestling (the place of his birth) later the same year[6].

The sawmill was put up for sale in 1876, with the possibility of a theatre or permanent circus being constructed on the site, this led to a court case being brought by the local surveyor William Wett against the proprietor of a well-known circus operator F. Ginnett for work carried out, but not paid for to the sum of £49 19s. 6d. Mr. Wett had been verbally commissioned by Mr. Ginnett following a meeting at the York Hotel to measure up the sawmill site and draw up plans which were to be left at the Hotel. The plans were duly drawn up following a week of work by Mr. Wett and left, as requested at the aforementioned hotel. Payment, however, was not forthcoming, Ginnett claiming that he had not issued instructions for the work to be carried out, and that, in any case, the fee was preposterous. Mr. Howell was called as a witness and would not initially give an opinion as to the reasonableness of the plaintiff's claim, although a previous witness (Mr. Heath, surveyor) had stated it was perfectly reasonable for the amount of work and time expended. The jury could not initially decide for either side and asked the judge if he would accept a majority verdict. The judge declined to so do and instructed the jury to go out for a further half-hour to be locked up in deliberation. Prior to the expiration of that time, the jury returned with a verdict of £15 to be paid to the plaintiff[7].

His many works around the town include the below-ground portions of the Queens Hotel, the Waldegrave Drinking Fountain, Reeves Corner, Holy Trinity Church, Sandrock Hall and the extended Robertson Street Congregational Church.

By the age of 39, it was reported by Brett that he had in excess of 100 workmen in his employ[4]. Also, unlike most of the builders of the 19th century, he managed to stay afloat and avoid the many bankruptcies that occurred to builders who embarked on the large-scale building works in the local area - his son John later joining the firm, eventually to take it over - and amassed a considerable personal fortune. By the time of the 1881 Census, he resided at Priory Mount - which later became the Priory Mount Hotel and later still Westwood House). As a Liberal Councillor, he was highly respected among his peers, and reportedly enjoyed the respect of his employees, being known to regularly organise dinners and other social events for them[4][8].


Children of: John Howell and Ann Osborne (1827-1886)
Name Birth Death Joined with
John Howell (1851-1903)


Ann Howell (1853-)


Sophia Howell (1854-1899)


References & Notes

  1. UK Census 1841; Civil Parish: St Mary Magdalen; County: Sussex; Enumeration District: 5a; Folio: 11; Page: 3; Line: 1; GSU roll: 464158
  2. UK Census 1851; 1851 England Census; Sussex; Hastings; St Mary Magdalen; 5a; Page: 14; Line: 253
  3. UK Census Returns 1861/1871
  4. a b c Brett Manuscript Histories Vol. 10, Chap. 70 Pg. 140
  5. Brett Manuscript Histories Vol. 10 Chap. 69 Pg. 121
  6. Civil Registration Death Index 1863
  7. British Newspaper Archive Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 15 January 1876 Pg. 0006
  8. British Newspaper Archive Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 2 December 1893 Pg. 0005