William Mantell Eldridge (1794-1858)
Born in 1794 and baptised at St John the Baptist, Sedlescombe, William was the son of Mary Mantle (1770-1818). When he was two she married his father, Richard Eldridge (1774-1808) and added three daughters and two sons to the family. As an adult William changed Mantle to Mantell and used it as a middle name.
William's many business interests included innkeeping, brewing, farming at Loose Farm, Battle, Brans Hill and Burnt Chimney in Battle and Westfield, the latter two properties being leased for seven years in conjunction with Robert Eldridge a farmer (presumably a relative); he was also at some point a coal merchant and a keeper of fishing ponds. Between 1836 and 1858 he owned an astonishing number of licensed premises. Firstly he bought the prominent Swan Hotel in May of 1837, then went bankrupt shortly afterwards. When James Breeds also went bankrupt in 1837, William purchased from his estate the Bell Inn at Bexhill, with stabling and a large dwelling-house, and the Queen's Head at the Fishmarket, together with a house, some cottages and stables.
He bought the Harrow Inn at Hollington in 1850 and the Broad Oak pub 'on the turnpike road to Battle', together with a blacksmith's shop and a cottage. In Rye he acquired the Ship Inn on the Strand in 1853, and the Horse and Groom near the station, the Free Trader public house, and a cottage in the Gun Garden. In purchasing the Crown in All Saints' Street, he also acquired Crown Lane, part of which he sold to the council in 1854 for £75 to give public access to Tackleway. He also acquired the Marine Hotel, the Queen's Head at Sedlescombe, the King's Head at Horsebridge with extensive premises attached, and the Tivoli Tavern at Silverhill, together with a house, a row of workers' cottages, a distillery, extensive pleasure gardens, the Tivoli Pottery and several plots of building land.
In central St Leonards he owned the Norman Hotel, and in 1851 bought the Crown Brewery in Shepherd Street, a residential cottage in the grounds, and a beerhouse associated with it, called the Crown Tap, and also the Old England Tavern. He advertised his 'Eldridge's St Leonards Bitter Ale' as suitable for families. From 1854 to 1858 Mr Eldridge had a partner named Young.
His most impressive endeavour was commissioning the construction of the Saxon Hotel (on the east corner of London Road and the seafront) in 1831 (it was demolished in 1905), becoming its first landlord in 1833 just before he turned 40. He also built and owned the associated Saxon Shades (renamed the Yorkshire Grey, then the Admiral Benbow and is now a private dwelling). He owned residential letting property at Silverhill and Norman Road, and a terrace of six houses on London Road. Lastly he purchased a beershop with yard and garden at Mount Pleasant on the road to Fairlight. (From 1854 to 1858 he was in partnership with shopkeeper William Young, and until 1853 with George Bennett, who may have jointly owned some of the above named property). Despite his enormous holdings, fancying a prestigious town centre address, in 1854 he rented 38 Robertson Street, a shop with 12 rooms above.
At St Mary's, Whitechapel, in 1819 he married Mary Ann Venis of Guestling. He was 25 and she was 21. Her father was a farmer, whether impoverished or prosperous is not known. The couple lived in Sedlescombe, where they had four daughters, the last in 1835. However, by early 1840 he had left her and moved into his Tivoli Hotel, where his distant cousin Richard and his wife were landlord and landlady. Clearly William did not do the decent thing and offer to support the family he had abandoned, because Mary Ann had to obtain a court order ordering him to pay maintenance. It amounted to just five shillings a week - a surprisingly measly sum considering his income from rentals.
In July 1840 Mary Ann attended the White Rock Fair when she spotted her estranged husband arm in arm with a much younger lady. Incensed, she marched up to his paramour and tore off her bonnet and cap. Her adulterous husband had her arrested and charged, but the bench dismissed the case and the lovers were booed and hissed as they left court. From then William withheld the maintenance payments, prompting Mary Ann to report him to the magistrates, who told her to apply to the overseers of her parish.
By this time William's young lady friend was pregnant. The 1841 census shows the pair living together at the Tivoli Hotel. He was 47 and she was 30. Her name was Louisa Barnett and she was shown as a servant. Their baby son, Alfred, had been registered with the surname 'Eldridge'. The couple had three more children, all with the Eldridge surname: William Mantell, Louisa Mantell and Richard Hastings. In the 1851 census they are shown as William's children; however Louisa was not given the respect due to the mistress of a prominent entrepreneur; she was still designated as a mere servant. William could not marry Louisa because he was still married to Mary Ann. Divorce was not viable because it was difficult and expensive to obtain, and in any case the only grounds upon which William could have pursued that option would be if his wife were adulterous.
When Mary Ann died in December 1852 the death notice in the HSLO described her as 'the wife of William Eldridge', diplomatically concealing their estrangement and his adultery. Four months later William married Louisa at Battle church, by which time their children were aged between 4 and 11. Ironically, once married they had no more offspring.
William's personal life would have been considered scandalous by those who knew his situation; even they would have spoken of it in hushed tones because his social standing afforded him automatic respect, and the incongruity of his disreputable love life clashed with this and would have made people feel uncomfortable. Judging by news reports, he was a disrespectful, aggressive individual whose bad temper landed him in front of the beak at least twice. The first was for an actual bodily assault with a stick, the second for using abusive language and threats of serious violence against Valentine Levett, a tax collector living at 21 North Street (after whom Valentine's Passage was named). By all accounts he was sarcastic, tetchy and belligerent in his dealings. This, plus his propensity for threatening behaviour and violence, suggest that perhaps it was Mary Ann who had sought the separation.
William must have given the Tivoli Hotel to Louisa, for a press report of 1848 describes her as being its owner and occupier. Naturally she applied for the licence to be transferred into her name but the magistrates refused her, purely on the grounds that she was not a respectable person because she was cohabiting with a married man. It is notable that no similar penalty was inflicted on that married man, as we shall shortly see. Louisa's brother James Barnett, who was landlord of the British Queen in North Street in 1855, became licensee of the Tivoli Tavern in 1857.
Despite his blatant adultery and unashamedly fathering four children out of wedlock and convictions for assault William was elected a town councillor at least three times. He was also placed on the exclusive guest list of a sumptuous banquet given to welcome the new mayor James Rock.
Just five years after marrying Louisa William died, aged 65. He was buried at Sedlescombe. His many properties were then offered for sale, as these press cuttings illustrate. After being sold the Crown Brewery's name was changed to the St Leonards Brewery and the Crown Tap became the St Leonards Arms. The Tivoli Hotel was on a five-acre, triangular site on the junction of Sedlescombe Road and Battle Road, opposite where Asda is today. After it was sold the new owner pulled it down in 1860 and replaced it with a mansion called Silverlands (which was in turn demolished in 1894; the site is now covered by Silverlands Road.) A new Tivoli Tavern was built at 133 Battle Road in 1860, with James Barnett continuing as landlord until 1870, becoming also a market gardener. The second Tivoli Tavern was demolished in 2013.
During her thirty-seven years of widowhood Louisa had no profession but lived on her own private means, probably from William's estate. She occupied various rented lodgings including at East Ascent and, in later life, near to her brother, then running a plant nursery at Silverhill. She died in 1895, whilst James survived until 1902.
Of the six only Richard (1797-1871), Annis (1798-fl1871), Stephen (1804-1874) and Harriet (1805-1836) survived to adulthood. By 1841 Stephen was the postmaster at Marina and served as a special constable. He started his own business as a fly proprietor (i.e. taxi company), and by 1861 was based at 6 Gensing Road, operating from a small mews adjacent to the Nag's Head. After his wife died, Stephen married widow Laura Lee and moved into her house, 16 Lavatoria Square, where they ran a beerhouse, but he continued to operate his cab firm in partnership with his son.
Ellen married Richard Mudge and Flora married William Gurr. Caroline and Mary Ann never married. They worked as ladies' maids, then co-managed a lodging house, firstly at 57 Eversfield Place and later in London. Caroline gave birth to a baby at Glover's Farm, Battle, the home of her friends the Neveses. John Edward Eldridge (1851-1931) became a Metropolitan police officer. She moved to Bournemouth, where she let rooms in her house, which she named 'Eversfield'. William's three sons would have taken precedence over his daughters if any money was inherited. It proved impossible to find out anything about Alfred and William Eldridge as there were so many men in Hastings with those names. I did discover that Richard Hastings Eldridge (1849-1891) married Amelia Dukes and had two children.
References & Notes
- The National Archives: Lease for 7 years to William Mantell Eldridge of Tivoli St Leonards, brewer and Robert Eldridge of St Leonards, farmer | The National Archives, accessdate: 8 September 2021
- Brett Manuscript Histories Vol. 5 Chap. 50 Pg. 23
- Brewery History Society Wiki: Hewett & Co - Brewery History Society Wiki, accessdate: 7 September 2021
- An explanation of old currency and coinage may be found at the following website Pre-decimal currency, accessdate: 16 June 2022