Brett Volume 1: Chapter VII - St Leonards 1832

From Historical Hastings


Chapter VII - St. Leonards - 1832

Memoirs of Lady Boothby and family
More about Quarry Castle
Sir Woodbine Parish; his family; his various services under Government
Swimming Baths
Curious church bell
Hook's Tabernacle
Building of West Ascent
Marvelously low rents
Township jealousy
More events
The submerged "Amsterdam"
A facetious huckster and his practical jokes
Storms, wrecks, and accidents
Sir Godfrey Webster's "One-two-three"
Additional buildings
The early Royalty and Nobility
Revival of Hawking by the Grand Falconer
Inundations and tenantless property
An acoustical rarity
The New England Bank
Bopeep Fair
The Fountain
Memorials in St Leonards Cemetery
Opening of St Leonards Church
More encounters
Finding a smuggler's skeleton
Fatal conflicts
Reform demonstrations
The Grand Reform Banquet (full details)
Mysterious disappearance of the “American" banner
A marvelous dancing crush at an election ball
The St. Leonards Assembly Rooms.
Frederick North, M.P.
Sir Howard Elphinstone (1773-1846), M.P.
Further extension of the town
A gay season
The first baker's oven
The Rev. Joseph Wood
Distinguished visitors: Royalty and Nobility
Two views of the Marina and two of the Assembly Rooms.

Transcriber’s note

 Pg.55 

Lady Boothby and other occupants of Rose Mount

To those who, like myself, had a personal acquaintance, at a later period, of Lady Boothby, it may be of interest to know that celebrated actress used to visit the Dundases at Quarry Castle years before she became a resident at Rose Mount - a house within a stone's throw of the Castle That lady will be remembered firstly as Miss Macnamara, secondly as Mrs. Nisbett, and lastly as Lady Boothby. Her ladyship lost her mother, her only brother and a sister in quick succession, and this had so depressing an effect on her mind as to induce her to remove from St. Leonards to Norwood. I shall not easily forget the melancholy tones in which this once cheerful and fascinating lady said to me "I am come back to take away some few things of importance, and to bid a last adieu to your beautiful St. Leonards, which now, alas, hath no charms for me." "Forgive," she added, "these involuntary tears, for those have passed away for whom I cared to live, and I shall never re-enter Rose Mount after this day." And I believe she did not; for in a few weeks her soul had taken its flight to another sphere. Her Ladyship died on the 16th of January, 1858 at the age of 46 years, and her remains were brought to St. Leonards to be interred in the small cemetery of that parish. She was the widow of the baronet, Sir William Boothby, and her maiden name was Louisa Cranstown Macnamara. Her brother, Frederic Augustus, was two years the junior of his sister, at whose residence (Rose Mount) he died on the 20th of October 1856, and was also buried at St. Leonards. Her Ladyship's mother, Jane Eliza Macnamara, resided with her daughter at Rose Mount, but died at Worthing. Her Ladyship's sister, Mrs. Price (whose husband was serving in India) occupied apartments, one room of which I am now writing in; and well do I remember her son, a lad of about ten years of age, accompanying me to get two pails of water from Beaney's Well in Western road. It was during the severe winter of 1854-5, when all the water mains were frozen, and when, in only lifting a pail from the well, the bail of the said pail was completely frozen to my hand, the severance of which tore off some skin and left a mark for several weeks after. Mrs. Price died, in 1857, a few months before her sister, and this was the last drop that filled her ladyship's cup of sorrow to overflowing. Well might she exclaim "All those have passed away for whom I cared to live". Rose Mount was occupied by Lady Boothby about 12 years, and it being her own property, the house was altered for the greater convenience of receiving invited company to occasional private theatrical representations.

[Notes 1]This reminds me that after Lady Boothby's death, the house was tenanted by F. H. Brandram, Esq., and when I also recollect that I purchased from Mr. Brandram's library shelves at Rose Mount, among other books, several well-thumbed Shakespeare's and others’ plays, and that the late Mr. Brandram was a popular dramatic reciter, I get the idea that Rose Mount was a sort of dramatic home.

After Mr. Brandram quitted Rose Mount, it was tenanted same seven or eight years by Mrs. Foster, and since about 1881 to the present time, 1896, by the Rev. J. Wright.

Having been drawn by associations away from Quarry Castle to Rose Mount, I think I ought to return to the former to say that when the next occupant took possession the name was altered from Quarry Castle to that of Quarry House. Sir Woodbine Parish had been a frequent visitor to St. Leonards when the town was young, and at length took up his abode at 2 West Ascent. Some overtures, he once told me, were made by himself for the lease of the mansion and grounds, but he was forestalled by the Hon. W. Dundas. He, however, occupied the premises in the summer of 1853, and afterwards purchased the freehold from Mr. Burton. In the first year of his occupancy Sir Woodbine was elected on the Board of the St. Leonards Commissioners, in the room of Robert Hollond, M.P. He continued a member of that body for twelve years, resigning the same in 1865. He took a practical part in the successful efforts to secure the Archery Grounds from being sold for building purposes, and interested himself in many other ways to benefit the town. Sir Woodbine was about 57 years of age when he became a permanent resident at St. Leonards, he having been born on the 14th of September, 1796, and his father being the Mr. Woodbine Parish who was Chairman to the Scottish Board of Excise. He entered service in the pay of Government when he was only 15 years of age, his first employment being with Mr. Herries, when Commissary-in-Chief, in 1812. He was sent to Sicily in 1814; and after being present at the restoration of the King of Naples, was ordered to Paris, and employed there with Lord Castlereagh during the Congress for the settlement of Europe in 1815. He was appointed to the clerk-ship in the Foreign Office in August, 1817, and accompanied Lord Castlereagh to the Conferences of the Allied Sovereigns at Aix-la-Chapelle. He accompanied his lordship to Hanover, when in attendance on George IV. in 1821. He was sent to Buenos Ayres as Commissioner and Consul-General in 1823; was appointed Plenipotentiary to the Provinces of Rio de la Plata in 1824, and concluded with them the first treaty, whereby the independence of the new South American States was recognized and upon the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1825 was made Chargé d’Affairs. He obtained, in October, 1828, the ratification by the Argentine Republic of the preliminaries of peace with Brazil, establishing the independence of the State of Uruguay, under British mediation: He returned to England in 1832, and upon the abolition of his office as Consul-General, was granted a compensation allowance.

Before quitting South America he concluded a convention securing full indemnities to British sufferers from the Brazilian war, and he also obtained the release from Paraguay of all the British and other foreigners who had been for many years forcibly detained there by Dr. Francia, receiving the thanks of the French and other Governments. He was the last of the Knight-Commanders of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphie-Order, having been knighted, in 1837, shortly before the death of William IV. He had been a Fellow of the Royal Society since March, 1824; was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (of which he was some time vice-president), and member of other learned institutions. He married in 1819 the only daughter of Mr. Leonard Becher Morse, of Norwood, who, after having a family, died in 1833. He married again in 1844, his second wife being Louisa, a daughter of John Hubbard, Esq., and sister of the Right Hon. J. G, Hubbard, M. P.; also sister of Miss Hubbard, who still resides at St. Leonards. Sir Woodbine was married to his second wife in 1844, the same year that I took to myself a similar domestic partner; and he was born on a 14th of September, which was a day and month corresponding to the death-day of a son of mine. As a further coincidence, I am writing these memoirs, undesignedly, on the 52nd anniversary of the said two weddings.

Sir Woodbine died on the 17th of August, 1882, so that he was within a month of completing 86 years of life, His remains were interred at, where there had been previously deposited his son, George Woodbine, aged 19 years; his third daughter, Mary Ann, wife of the Rev. John Martin Cripps, aged 32; his daughter, Nina, Louisa, aged 30; his brother, Henry Headley Parish, aged 73; and his sister, Eliza Parish, aged 72. Lady Parish survived her husband four years and a half, and died on the 21st of March, 1887, since which time Quarry House has been sold, and is now occupied by W. F. M. Copeland, Esq. Of the chief mourners who followed Sir Woodbine's body to the grave at, there have since died, his relict, Lady Anne Parish; his sons, Admiral Parish and Capt. Parish; his son-in-law, the Rev. J. Cripps; and his brother-in-law, the Hon. J. G. Hubbard; also the brother of the last-named, Mr. Egerton Hubbard; the Rev, Canon Crosse; the Rev. C. L. Vaughan; the Rev. J. A. Hatchard; and Mr. Wheatley. Of the family still surviving there are Sir Woodbine’s son, the Rev. W. D. Parish, vicar of Selmeston, Sussex: his daughter and her husband, Lady and Sir Ughtred J. Kay-Shuttleworth, Mr. Frank Parish, and Mr. Arthur Parish.

Quarry House was beautifully situated, with a commanding view both of the sea and the Subscription (now the Public) Gardens. It was built of stone, quarried on the spot, and in the Tudor castellated style, surrounded by pleasure grounds, within which were shrubberies, a vinery, and lawn terrace. There was also a stable and a coach-house, the whole covering more than an acre of ground. The principal apartments were reception rooms, two drawing-rooms, a very large dining-room, library, boudoir, a circular tower, and about a dozen bedrooms.

Harry Hook's "Tabernacle" & West Ascent - Accident at the Church &c &c

At a very short distance from Quarry House and a still shorter space from Quarry Cottage, namely, on the site of the present swimming baths, built for Mr. Tottenham, there used to be a wooden hut, to which was attached a good sized bell, which latter served the double purpose of ringing the quarry-men and other men to their work and meals on week-days, and of tolling the worshippers to Church on Sundays. This was, of course, before the real church was built, and when the services were held in the St. Leonards Assembly Rooms. The hut in question was owned and occupied by a Mr. Hook, and was afterwards removed to Norman road, where its owner built the house now numbered 61, and placed his more primitive domicile in the rear. There, I believe, it still remains, not in its original character of ‘Harry Hook's Tabernacle, but as a memento, nevertheless, of one who has long since gone to his rest.

Close to Harry Hook’s “Tabernacle” was built a row of houses called West Ascent, some of which houses were erected in the year 1881, and the remainder in 1833. It was originally intended to continue the range of houses in West Ascent to the top of the hill, uniformly with the opposite range known as East Ascent, but the design was interfered with by the erection of the  Pg.56 church on its present site instead of where it was first intended. Although, after the innovation referred to, it was impossible to complete the original design, it appeared to be undecided whether to execute as much of it as was possible, or to stop at the six houses in West Ascent already built. The latter alternative was ultimately adopted.

It is possible that Harry Hook, already alluded to, was in some way connected with the building of these houses, as I learn that No. 4 was at one time occupied by him, Be this as it may, the Mr. Hook of my story has long since tenanted a house of clay. His wife, also, has gone to her account; and whilst I was first writing this history his wife’s brother, familiarly known as "Old Ned Pearce," took his departure for another world. He had worked for Mr. Putland for nearly fifty years, and had lived to see the Jubilee year of the town. This reminds me that another “old soul”—Mrs. Kirby, of Caves road, who was one of the first inhabitants of St. Leonards, had also crossed that bourne whence no traveller returns. Thus, with the previously recorded deaths of Mrs. Putland and Miss. Roberts, four of the oldest residents passed away soon after I commenced my story.

But before leaving West Ascent, let me say that Nos. 1 and 2, which form as it were one handsome house, and possess some novel architectural features, were the original "West Double Villa," although, for reasons which have never been eplained to me, some of the early inhabitants persisted in giving the same name to 57 Marina. The first occupant of No. 1 West-double-villa, which was also No. 1 West Ascent, was Miss Harriet Deudney, whilst No. 2 of that twin dwelling was tenanted by Miss Ranger, a lady of whom I shall have something to say further on. These tenants paid, respectively, about £20 and £25 a year rent. Fancy, ye would-be hirers of a brand new villa residence in St. Leonards, the difference between the times of 1831 and 1896. Fancy, also, such mansions as those of 48 to 56 Marina being let at £35 per annum! Imagine, further her present Gracious Majesty, Queen Victoria, residing at a mansion at St. Leonards whose rental, only three years previously, was estimated at £40! What wonder is it that the property holders of Hastings who had been getting £8 and £10 a week for houses situated at the Croft and Gloucester place, became jealous of St. Leonards? And why should we marvel that - independently of other causes, of which there were several — such jealousy became afterwards intensified as the St. Leonards rents went up while the Hastings rents went down? A somewhat higher rental was placed on Castellated Villa (afterwards Glo'ster house and Glo’s-ter lodge), but then that was the abode of Royalty; and with the Princess Sophia of Gloucester for tenant, Mr. Burton could surely afford to be assessed at £55. Yet even in 1833, when Nos. 5 and 6 West Ascent were completed, Mr. C. D. Davies was only assessed at £20. It was at Glo’ster lodge, at a later date, where, during a wedding feast, the discovery was made that a self-styled Rev. J. Workinan, alias Rawlings,who had married the couple at the St. Leonards Church, was a returned convict. Of the wrong doings of this reverend offender I had some personal experience and exclusive information, but which must be left for future description.

As my historical sketches have not yet got beyond the years 1831 and, 1832, it may not be amiss to mention two or three matters pertaining to the first-named year which I had well nigh passed over. On the 18th of June, 1831, a rather considerable portion of the masonry used in the construction of the St. Leonards Church Chapel it was then called) fell to the ground, by which accident two of the workmen were seriously hurt. This must have been before the laying of what is called the Foundation Stone, as that event did not take place until some weeks later. And, as accidents, it is said, never come singly, it may be mentioned, incidentally, that on the same day, a boy, twelve years of age, while searching for birds’ nests on the East Cliff at Hastings, fell an estimated distance of 100 feet, and—miraculous as it may appear escaped with only a fractured leg and a few bruises.

On the 13th of October in the same year, two cart loads of contraband spirits were seized off St. Leonards by the Customs officers; and, three nights later, there was a serious skirmish between the coastguards and smugglers at about a mile eastward of the town, £500 being afterwards offered by the Government for information which would lead to the conviction of the offending contrabandists. To the credit of the Hastings smugglers, be it said, they very rarely betrayed a comrade, howsoever great might be the reward held out as an inducement; and I never heard that this offer of £500 effected its object any more than did the lesser temptation of £100 for the apprehension of one or more smugglers who maltreated Lieut. Dixon.

Work at the "Amsterdam" - A facetious Huckster

This last-named affair occurred twelve months antecedently to the commencement of St. Leonards, and just at the time when an attempt was being made by some labourers of Bexhill and Little Common to dig down to the hold of the Amsterdam, a Dutch ship which has been submerged in the sands for about 147 years. It was laden with a valuable cargo of cutlery, glass, copper, etc., and in the year 1749 foundered in Bay. It was run ashore at a short distance eastward of the land owned by Sir Charles Eversfield, and of whose descendants, I hardly, need say, Mr. Burton purchased the site for St. Leonards.

I witnessed the efforts made to recover the buried treasure in 1827, and some of my relations who assisted at the undertaking have in their possession several articles as souvenirs of their labours on that occasion. One of my nearest relatives was also with the family of Col. Halkett when that officer, in 1810, gave permission to two companies of the German Legion, then stationed at Bexhill, to make a previous attempt. Although the civilians were more successful in their work than the soldiers, that success profited them but little, for the Lord Warden claimed the greater portion of the goods recovered. From personal experience of the latter's efforts in 1827, and from conversations with old people, one of whom (Mr. Edwards) was a plough-boy’ at the time when the ship was submerged, as well as from actual measurement of the ship on one occasion when its upper part was five feet above the sands, I was able to publish some exclusive information in BRETT'S GAZETTE of August 31st, 1878, April 12th, 1879, and May Ist, 1880. But the fullest details were those contained in several letters written from Hastings in 1749, coeval with the occurrence, and published in the GAZETTE of June and July, 1894, by permission of G. L. Sayer, Esq, under the head of "The Collier Correspondence."

I have thus dwelt upon two incidents of and two attempts to recover long-buried treasures — the latest pair of which events occurred in February, 1827 — because of a somewhat amusing eccentricity springing out of them. There was a facetious huckster, who, as one of the Bexhill labourers, and a smuggler, to boot, had a grievance both against the Lord Warden and the officers of the Blockade Service. As a retaliation, it might be, for a loss of money or liberty, this eccentric huckster adopted a procedure which, while it was perfectly harmless in itself, served both to amuse the public and to keep alive the feeling that it was a hardship for the people of a professedly free country not to be permitted to exercise themselves in a system of free trade. With lusty lungs and with as much irony as he could summon to his aid, this merry hawker vended his vegetables through the new town and the old as the "Lord Warden turn-ups" (turnips), the "Blockhead (Blockade) cabbages," the "Amsterdam traitors" ("taters"), &c. Much to people's merriment, the ironical huckster was particularly vociferous and descriptive whenever he halted as he invariably did at the coastguard stations and other Government offices

The name of the facetious huckster, to whom I have referred was Stubberfield, and his paternity was owned by the late John Stubberfield, formerly a corn factor at Hastings, and latterly a grocer at St. Leonards. What I have already said of him from my own knowledge has brought me some additional items of his eccentricities from a friend who was well acquainted with him; and by these additional particulars I am enabled to confirm the opinion I expressed that his ironical shouts when hawking his vegetables were due to a grievance or grudge which he had against the Blockade service and the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. It appears that the blockade officers took him out of bed at night in mistake for his son, and lodged him in the tower at. At that time Quartermaster Isum was stationed at — the same Henry Isum who was afterwards shifted to Hastings, and while there, was tried and acquitted on the charge of shooting smuggler Roper in the leg. In some of my preceding narratives I have alluded to storms and other severe weather which occurred at about the time St. Leonards was commenced, and I might have added that grievous as are the maritime disasters of the present day, our own coast at least is less the scene of shipwreck than it was in earlier times. From forty to fifty years ago, the Channel shore between Hastings and Pevensey was rather noted for shipping casualties, and a few of these just now come to my recollection. On one occasion an East-Indiaman was in extreme danger of being driven ashore at Bexhill; and on another a large French brig or barque, laden with wine or brandy, was wrecked under the cliff at. After that there were six or seven large ships narrowly escaped getting ashore.

Then followed several serious mishaps, including the wreck of a large logger, driven ashore at St. Leonards; also the partial destruction by fire of the Albion, of Newcastle, which was towed ashore at enveloped in flames. ‘The two Hastings fire engines rendered considerable service in getting the fire under, and in saving several thousand pounds worth of valuable cargo, consisting of silk handkerchiefs, calico, rum, and other mercleandise. Burnt bandanas were so extensively in the possession of people hereabouts after that event, that I should not be at all surprised if some old inhabitant still retains one or more of them as a memento.

I have merely alluded to these few occurrences to show how easy a thing it was for Stubberfield to play a practical joke upon his friend Isum. It was his wont to call him "my friend" although he secretly regarded him as his enemy. Coming along as usual with his cart-load of fruit and vegetables, keenly eyed, no doubt, by Quartermaster Isum, who was always on the look-out for contraband, the witty huckster was asked, "What's the news?" "Oh!" replied Stubberfield, "there's a ship ashore at Bexhill loaded with wool and tallow." Isum, for once, was innocently but completely bested by his old antagonist, Pg.57 he having no suspicion that it was a sheep, instead of a ship, “loaded with wool and tallow,” which Stubberfield was thinking of. My readers have scarely(sic) need to be told that a Sussex rustic usually pronounces sheep as ship. Whether the semaphore was set to work to ascertain the truth of Stubberfield’s statement, or whether Isum went to Bexhill only to find himself befooled I do not know; but the “ship (sheep) loaded with wool and tallow” was for a long time a standing joke. Another of Stubberfield’s grim jokes was that of going to the Blockade station on the Rope-walk (now Robertson Terrace) with an immense conger eel, declaring to the Lieutenant that the Bexhill labourers had dug it out of the Amsterdam, and that therefore it belonged to the Lord Warden. This he did in derision of the claim set up by his lordship for the stores which the said labourers recovered from the sunken ship. The conger eel which the huckster had dragging along at the tail of his cart was of gigantic growth and was regarded as a monster of its species.

I have been assured that the creature was 16 feet long. It did not, however, come out of the Amsterdam, but was one of a large number of congers which at that time mysteriously drifted ashore. I wonder if it was a progenitor of the great sea-serpent which has been so often seen but never caught! Stubberfield was the owner of a couple of dogs, and to show that he was not always successful with his practical jokes, I may state that these two curs while going over the old White-rock hill, attacked a large Newfoundland dog belonging to [[Sir Godfrey Webster (1789-1836)|Sir Godfrey Webster]. Seeing that his two dogs were getting worsted, Stubberfield jumped from his cart. and laid his whip about the animal, which appeared to be more than a match for two. Just then, however, he received a "one-two-three" from the powerful digits of Sir Godfrey, which sent him reeling to the fore. He took his punishment with good grace, and acknowledged his fault with the frank exclamation, “ All right, Sir Godfrey, I desarved(sic) it, and I've got it.” I must hasten on, however, and just one more anecdote of the eccentric huckster, must conclude my notice of him. In after years Stubberfield was afflicted with a diseased leg, and getting reduced in means, he was obliged to go into the Battle Workhouse. While there his leg was amputated, and immediately after the operation, he asked to be allowed to sit up and sing a song. This request was not granted, the surgeons, I suppose, regarding the proffered vocal accompaniment to their labours as too great an innovation.

It was in 1832 that the seven houses, 65 to 72 Marina, were erected, the church meanwhile between that range and a similar range on the east side, being hastened on to completion. But although built in that year, they were not thoroughly finished until the following year, and were not inhabited by recognized or rateable tenants until 1834, when their Royal Highnesses the Duchess of Kent and the Princess Victoria having taken up their abode at 57 Marina, the houses in question were briskly requisitioned. The house nearest the church (65) was built by Mr. William Waghorne, and tenanted by Mr. John Painter, who afterwards let it to the Duke and Duchess of Buccleugh. For the use of this family, Mr. Murdock used to milk a cow in front of the house twice a day, thus affording proof of the genuineness of the article supplied, and receiving, I suppose, an adequate compensation for his trouble. The other six houses (66 to 71) were the property of Mr. T. J. Rawson, a gentleman who also at that time owned the Sussex Hotel and some of the cottages in Cliff (now Caves) road. The tenancy of 65 Marina was transferred from the Duke of Buccleugh to Sir Francis Burdett, and at about the same time, Nos. 66, 67 and 68, were respectively occupied by the Rev. Edward Allen, the Rev. J. Harvey Ashworth, and the Rev. Sydney Henry Widdrington. These seven additional houses, westward of the church where the three clergymen resided next door to each other are shown in the accompanying view.

66 67 and 68 Marina.png

At 64 on the east side of the church, Lord & Lady Moray resided at the same time, whilst at 62 was Lady Brownlow. No 65 was afterwards tenanted by a rich family named Broadhead, who with the Hon. W. Dundas, Lady Lubbock, and a few other early residents of St. Leonards, displayed a liberality towards the middle and lower classes of the town, the like of which is now looked for in vain. It was, I believe, in the month of November, 1832, that the Duke and Duchess of St. Alban’s occupied apartments at the St. Leonards Hotel, and it was then or early in 1833, that the Duke, as Hereditary Grand Falconer of England, revived the sport of “ Hawking” at St. Leonards — a sport which is of Saxon origin, and which in this instance was witnessed by the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland, (then at Hastings), the Baroness Howe, Mrs. Camac, and a host of other notables. In this enumeration of the nobility, gentry and clergy who were among the first occupants of the Marina houses, I find I have omitted the names of Lord Brougham at 61, and Sir John Conroy at 55. My readers will understand that there were no houses between 71 and the Sussex Hotel until several years subsequent to 1832, but the intermediate arches for the coal-cellars were put in and the roadway was formed. Unfortunately, the new road, although higher than the old one, was allowed to slope westwards to the depth of ten or twelve feet, and the houses and store-yards beyond the Sussex Hotel — now forming a portion of the — having their foundations below the level of the springtide flood, were so frequently inundated, that many of the occupiers left them, and much of the property was tenantless for several years. Even as late as 1838 and '9, about half of the sixteen houses first built beyond the "Sussex" (now 111 to 127 Marina) were empty. So, also, were eleven of Mr. Burton’s houses in the rear (now known as the Old Market), as well as four or five cottages in Cliff-road, owned by Mr. Rawson. Whether Mr. Burton, Mr. Carey, Mr. Chas. Deudney, and a few other persons erected their property in that locality under the presumption that the immense ridge of beach which existed at that time would always prevent an inroad of the sea, this deponent sayeth not; but if such was the case "Davy Jones" very soon revealed to them the error of their ways. It was quite a common occurrence then for the sea to dash through the main entrances to the market, which sloped inwards from the front, as well as into the houses, most of which, however, had no underground kitchens in those days; and when one recollects the sad condition which befel the property and the people even then, one is at a loss to discover the wisdom in after years of giving underground basements to the houses and of extending the range to where the ground was even lower, without first taking precautions against a possible and probable inundation. "'" himself — the name under which this History was first penned—recollects advising the late Mr. Birch, at a more recent date, to fill up the basements of two houses, and to put two additional storeys on the top. Now, however, that the battle with the tides in that district appears to have materially subsided, and a magnificent parade, together with a wider road, has been constructed, the stranger can only view the place as the beautiful, and can only imperfectly realise the change from a sparsely tenanted and often dilapidated Market Place, by the brief description given. "The Market" was really the only name by which all the property thereabouts was known during the first few years of its existence, there being, as already intimated, a considerable via media intervening that cluster of buildings and 71 Marina, and it not having been determined until a later date how many mansions should be built on the intermediate site. Would any of my readers care to know who were the first inhabitants of that region? Well, it would hardly be expected that I could enumerate them all, but I will cite as many as my memory will enable me for the period of 1830—'34. They were the families of Jas. Mann, Chas. Tapp, Wm. Barham, Samuel Bishop, Thos. Barnes, Wm. Bell, Jas. Oliver, John Lansdell, Wm. Smith, Michael Hanlan, John Carey, Chas. Deudney, Wm. Kirby, Geo. Brett, Robt. Reed, and John French. The last named kept the Sussex Tap, until about the year 1836, when he was succeeded by Edward Smith, who, together with Wm. Kirby, rented from Mr. Rawson the Sussex Mews, and were losers by the undertaking. The Tap was afterwards conducted by Mr. Horley, and during his time the long room was frequently used for dancing and other convivialities; it was, in fact, to the middle classes what the St. Leonards Assembly-rooms were to the upper. The acoustics of this room were most remarkable, and such as made a couple of musical instruments more effective than would some other rooms a full band. It was, indeed, a pleasure to experience this acoustical rarity, as I can well attest as the result of my own musical engagements thereat. That pleasing effect was, I believe, destroyed some years later, when the room was altered to form an integral part of the Hotel.

The Sussex Hotel and West Marina (with view) - The Dundases and Boothbys

 Pg.58 I repeat that there were no houses, in 1832, between 71 Marina and the Sussex which now takes the place of 110, whilst it has also been greatly enlarged and improved. The accompanying view, however, shows the original elevation of the Hotel and the range of smaller houses beyond.

WestMarinaBrettC1830.png

While dwelling on the Sussex Tap, my thoughts seem to fly off at a tangent to another tavern which then existed in the neighbourhood, and which had probably been the scene of many "a tale of a tub," but whose place is known no more. I allude to the old wayside house known as "The New England Bank" at Bopeep. It stood at the foot of a hill, over which wound a path to Filsham Farm, as well as to the Hastings Races, when those races were regarded as one of the great events of the year. Bopeep Fair was also held there both before and after the early history of St. Leonards. This fair mainly consisted of a booth for drinking and dancing, and one or two gingerbread-stalls in proximity to the lofty white posts, between which the familiar sign of the New England Bank oscillated to the bidding of Æolus. It was a favourite resort of the Hastings fishermen, of whom it has been said, they there played pitch and toss with golden guineas. I suppose this was before my time, as never saw the guineas so trifled with, although I have more than once seen the skittle-pins get some hard knocks. The first landlord of whom I have any recollection was Richard Maplesden, who was succeeded by Stanton Noakes in 1831, and who gave place in turn to William Payne, who was the last tenant, and who, when the site was sold to the Brighton Railway Company, built the Railway Terminus Inn, now known as the ''Bopeep Hotel''. Stanton Noakes, in the mean time, erected a house nearly midway between Bopeep and the Sussex Hotel, which he afterwards employed as a public-house, and which still retains its original name of ''The Fountain''. Mr. Noakes also built one or two cottages adjoining, in one of which his widow resided after his death.

I will not close my reference to the New England Bank without adding that it was respectably conducted by Mr. Payne, and that during his tenancy the young tradesmen of St. Leonards had many a quadrille party and social gathering. The introduction of the Brighton railway caused its removal in 1844, and the West Marina Station at Bopeep now occupies the site.

Before I further proceed I will answer a few enquiries that have been made, and at the same time correct an error which appeared in the preceding chapter[Notes 2]; in connection with the man-cook at Quarry Castle. To take the last first, I may say that although familiarly known by his companions as "Grouchy" or "Grochy," his real name was Grogan; and instead of being alive, as was supposed in 1878 he had been dead about nine years. There is a serio-comic story told of him in a venture across Channel in company with the late Mr. John Skinner and other St. Leonards people, and which I will reserve for another occasion; but I may here state that not only was Mr, Grogan a very proficient chef in the culinary art, but also very clever at carving in wood and other materials. He had a surviving sister residing in Warrior Square, of whom I had no knowledge when I wrote my account of him, and whose family have courteously shown me some real pictures in wood carving, framed and glazed, which afford additional proofs of Mr. Grogan’s ingenuity.

In reply to a query as to where and when the Dundases were interred, I have already stated that they have lain in their graves at St. Leonards burial-ground many years; but, to be more precise, the Rt. Hon. Wm. Dundas died in November, 1845, at the age of 84; and Mary Stewart, his wife, died on March 9, 1852, aged 92. And now, having visited the said burial-ground to ascertain the above dates, I will also quote the inscriptions from the memorial stones of Lady Boothby and her relatives, by which it will be seen that whilst they afford a few additional particulars, they corroborate my previous notice of their deaths. Lady Boothby is there described as "Louisa Cranstoun, widow of Sir Wm. Boothby, Bart., died Jan. 16th, 1858, aged 46 years". Her brother, sister, and mother, whose deaths I described as having so depressing an effect upon her ladyship, are also named on the same memorial stone as follows: "Frederick Augustus Macnamara, of Rose Mount, died Oct. 20th, 1856, aged 38.” "Anna, wife of Thos. Price, Esq. (sister of F. A. Mac-namara), died in the West Indies, July 13, 1857" "Jane Elizabeth, widow of Frederick Haynes Macnamara, Esq. (mother of all the above), died at Worthing, Dec. 8th, 1857."

As to the objection that "the house occupied by Miss Deudney was No. 3 East Ascent; and not No. 1, as stated," that lady certainly did reside at No. 3, but it was many years later than the time I mentioned, and I must adhere to my original statement, that the first occupant of 1 East Ascent was Miss Harriet Deudney. She previously rented 55 Marina.

Midway between the two blocks of Marina Houses, which were erected in 1831-2, stands the St. Leonards Church, whose first stone-laying ceremonial, already described, was a grand feature in the early history of St. Leonards. The Church was completed before the end of 1832, and service was permitted by the Bishop to be held in it-until Thursday the 22nd of May, 1834, when it was formally opened by Dr. Maltby, late Bishop of Durham. The first minister was the Rev. Caleb Molyneaux, and the clerk was a Mr. Abraham, who also assisted the choir as a flautist. From this it will be readily understood that the Church at that time was not furnished with an organ; and it will excite no surprise when I say that for a considerable time until, in fact, Mr. Elford exchanged his violin for a "box of whistle-pipes," as the small organ was slightingly spoken of — the choir had no instrumental help beyond that which was afforded by the flute and violin. This organ was first placed in the gallery over the entrance, and the only two living members of the original choir — now 60 years ago — are Miss Scott, of Stanhope Place, and her cousin, the present writer. Of the church and its associations I shall have more to say, further on.

Fatal Smuggling at Warrior's Gate - Reform bill rejoicings

The year 1832 was so full of incidents associated with St. Leonards, that one feels to have a difficulty of getting away from it. On the very first day of that year there was a terrific encounter at Warrior's Gate, in which several of the "fair traders" were wounded and three of them reported to have died. Several of the coastguard were also badly beaten by the batsmen. At  Pg.59 least two bodies were seen in the early morning after that sad event lying in pools of blood, one of which was under a hedge on the Gensing Farm; but they were quickly removed, whither no one knew except their surviving comrades or immediate relatives. It is, however, a rather curious circumstance that on the 11th of August, 1877 - more than 46 years after that terrible conflict, the skeleton of a man was discovered by some workmen while quarrying stone on the north-west side of Hollington Park, near the foot of the road leading from St. Leonards Green via the old road to Hollington Church. It was judged to be that of a man from 25 to 30 years of age; and but little doubt is entertained by the few persons now living who remember that sanguinary conflict of 1832, that the remains here described were those of one of the unfortunate smugglers. The fight was obstinate on both sides, and notwithstanding that the smugglers were personally the greatest sufferers, they succeeded in "working off" a considerable quantity of their contraband cargo. They had, no doubt, grown desperate on account of their many losses about that time, and more particularly from the fact that on the previous Thursday night the Ranger revenue cutter had seized a boat containing five men and 205 tubs. The former were lodged in 39 Tower, at Bopeep, and the latter were deposited in the Custom-house yard at Hastings. As they were being conveyed through the town, many of the inhabitants were so incensed that they assaulted the officers with stones. Only four days elapsed, however, before the men made their escape from the Tower at Bopeep, the event taking place at six o'clock on the morning of the 5th of January

Although not coming strictly within the title of my subject, yet as connected with transactions, it may be mentioned that at this time a widow named Swaine, whose husband had been shot, had her house broken open, and the sum of £20 0s. 6d. was stolen from the trousers pocket of her deceased partner. The widow had allowed that sum to remain after her husband's death, with an intention not to touch it until she was quite compelled. Another desperate affair took place on the 27th of February, at 40 Martello Tower, Bopeep, in which a coastguard was killed and three others were injured, one of them dying soon after. It was also thought that some of the smugglers were wounded, but if so, all traces of it were removed, On that occasion the coastguards captured 150 tubs of spirits, and warrants were quickly issued for the apprehension of the smugglers. To assist the coastguards in the performance of their duty against what was believed to be a more than ordinarily desperate and well-trained body of men, the 36 dragoons and 40 rifles, previously mentioned, were brought into the town and neighbourhood. They did not remain a very long time, however, and people were uncharitable enough to suspect the soldiers of being quite as ready to make friends of the smugglers as of the blue-jackets.

About two months after the affair last described, or more precisely, on or near the 17th of April, a workman named George Wilson was severely burnt and lacerated about the head and face while engaged with others in blasting rocks in front of the town. His subsequent recovery was looked upon as being almost miraculous. He afterwards built a house for himself in Shepherd Street where he resided many years, and after his death was still occupied by his widow until a few years ago.

On the 5th of June, St. Leonards shared with Hastings in the manifestations of joy on the passing of the Reform Bill. At four o'clock in the afternoon, Sir Godfrey Webster arrived at Hastings in his carriage, with ribbons and two royal standards, and passed on to St. Leonards, announcing the fact; and on this receipt of the joyous news, the people immediately struck work, decorated the buildings, saluted the event with several rounds from a small cannon, and lighted fires upon the beach. Church bells could not be rung for the simple fact that there were not any to ring. Even the parochial notices at this time were rung out or sung out at one of the Hastings churches, it being recorded that one James Finch, clerk of St. Mary's-in-the-Castle was paid 7s for crying notices. Whilst, then, the new town did all that it had the means of doing in this impromptu celebration, she was outdone by her elder sister, Hastings. There the church bells of St. Clement's and All Saints’ were set a ringing, bunting was flaunted everywhere, tar-barrel fires were made on the, and the town band paraded the streets. Guns were also fired from the Castle hill, and perhaps with the greater vigour because they had belched out their detonations two months previously on a false alarm of the bill having passed.

The Great Reform Bill Banquet

The Reform Bill of Lord John Russell did not really receive the royal assent until two days after this preliminary celebration, but it passed the committee on the 30th of May, and was read a third time on the "glorious First of June," its advocates having a majority of 84. The greater celebration, when six thousand persons sat down to dinner at Hastings, did not take place until six weeks later, but a meeting was held at the Town Hall on the 18th of June, under the presidency of the new mayor, John Goldsworthy Shorter, Esq., who was elected on the previous Sunday. At that meeting the Reform Bill celebration was proposed and discussed, and the St. Leonards people joined their Hastings brethren in a subscription there and then of £400. Just a week later- June 25th, there was a grand celebration of the event at Battle, in which, as may be supposed, Sir Godfrey Webster took a leading part. It might appear at first sight to be barely within the province of a history of St. Leonards to describe with any degree of minuteness and event, which strictly belongs to the record of Hastings; yet there are circumstances in the case now contemplated which not only warrant such a course, but almost demand it. The Reform Dinner was a local celebration of a national political achievement, which, while it greatly extended the voting power of the old town, also gave to the new town, its first registered privilege of the franchise. The two towns being incorporated in the same parliamentary district,  Pg.60 their interests became, as it were, identical, and they both shared in the general rejoicing as well as in the expense of the same in some sort of proportion to the means and numbers of their inhabitants. That the 19th of July—a day so memorable in local History-was a day of hearty feasting may be easily imagined by such of my readers as had neither taste nor sight of its bountiful provisions; and that it was a day in all respects as different as could be from the 6th of February preceding, when there was a general fast on account of the cholera, can be pictured with equal facility. The town of St. Leonards was then but four years old, yet its people contributed, as already intimated, to the dinner fund; and thére are still living a few of the goodly number of its inhabitants who helped to make up that monster dinner party of six thousand. The writer is one of these, and he will now describe, as sufficiently as he can, a demonstration which for magnitude and completeness of arrangement as has never since been surpassed in this locality. A few days previously a younger brother of mine had been run over and killed through the careless driving of a carter, and it is probable that my spirits were not quite so jubilant as those of many other persons who took part in the day's proceedings. It may also be that in commencing work at three o'clock on one of the coldest July mornings I ever remember, the almost frigid temperature was in my case intensified by the anticipation of pleasure being subdued by a feeling of depression. If the reader wonders why I was at work at the early hour of cock-crowing, his wonderment will be satisfied when he gets a little further into the narrative. For a month previous to the 19th of July, or say, between that day and the 18th of June, when the sum of £400 was promised at a public meeting, the necessary funds were collected, the Priory Brooks fixed upon as the site, the stewards and subcommittees chosen and all arrangements perfected. Priory Brooks consisted of all that space which is now occuied by Bank buildings, Priory street, Havelock road, Middle street, Station road, the Recreation ground, St. Andrew's square and portions of St. Andrew's road and Queen's road. This large open area was provided with intersecting ditches, which drained into an open channel of longer and wider dimensions through which the water from the adjacent hills and slopes found its way under the arch of the Priory bridge into the sea. I may mention, for the information of Young Hastings, who imagines that the "St. Andrew's Floods" are a modern "institution," that it was quite a common thing, from 50 to 60 years ago, to see all the space alluded to covered over with a flood of water, either from the clouds or from the sea. I may also say, in passing, that I have known the same extensive plain frozen over for weeks together, and bearing upwards of a thousand skaters, sliders, and spectators, among the first of whom were the Hon. John Ashburnham, Mr. Major Vidler, and others, competing for the mastery of pedal movements in the formation of incised words and sentences.

But I must to my subject, lest my early recollections of Hastings lead me into uncalled for digressions. Let me say, then, that although the greater portion of that large area was more or less monopolized by the publican’s booths, the post-prandial amusements, and the fifteen or sixteen thousand persons who were present, a more circumscribed area sufficed for the al fresco dinner itself. This extended from south to north nearly the length of Meadow (now Queen's) road, and from east to west between the old post-and-rail fence of that road and the main ditch which ran parallel therewith through what would now be nearly the centre of the Cricket Ground. For a day or two previously, wagons and carts were employed in depositing deals, stumps, poles, evergreens and other materials on the ground, but not very much was fixed until the auspicious morning, when all doubt appeared to have vanished as to the suitability of the weather.

There were 80 tables, each capable of accommodating 64 persons, in addition to the one or two tables in the centre for the Mayor and other personages. These tables were to be covered with new white calico, supplied by Messrs. Clement and Inskipp, of Manchester House, near the Fish-market. To them also was intrusted(sic) the work of cutting, fitting and fixing the calico, the total quantity of which must have been near upon 4,000 yards. I was one of the persons engaged in this, and it was thus that I commenced work at three o'clock in the morning. At first the carpenters and labourers were too slow for the drapers, but the northerly wind was so and so strong as to numb the fingers of the latter, and to defy their attempts by tacking and tying to keep the cloths upon the tables. Much of the work, therefore, had to be done over again, and this gave the table-makers time to get ahead. With unusual dexterity, however, and with the stimulus of a few rounds of gin (Fie, fie! says the teetotaller) the cloth-layers accomplished their work within the stipulated time. Category:America_Ground#Eviction The constructing and covering of tables was, of course, but one feature in the grand scale of preparation; for, whilst that operation was going on, the work of erecting booths, flagstaffs, triumphal arches, etc., was proceeding with the utmost celerity. A grand entrance, with a span of sufficient width and height to admit several vehicles abreast, and adorned with evergreens, flowers, banners, and mottoes, was placed at the south end, not far from where the Police Office now stands; and this led to the central space between the two immense rows of tables, as well as to the Mayor's table, close to which was a pole 50 feet in height, bearing a trophy of laurel, and a St. George's ensign. At the opposite end was a booth, 60 or 70 feet long, which served the double purpose of a rendezvous for the committee by day and a dancing saloon at night. Close to this a stage was also erected for bobbing at treacle rolls, horse-collar grinning, and other amusements. The whole of the dinner space was encircled with ropes, and to this enclosure no one but the officials, managers, and working-men's families living in the borough was admitted until after dinner. But I ought to say something of the other festive preparations which the spontaneity of the inhabitants caused them to make, for it must not be supposed that the whole efforts of the town were monopolized by the dinner field. I have already stated that the work there commenced at three o'clock, but it was thought that at six o'clock everyone was astir except those who were absolutely indolent or out of health. At that early hour a salute was fired from the Castle, and answered by another from the Gas Works, the bells of St. Clement's and All Saints’ at the same time ringing out their sonorous chimes. Then it was that the women vied with the men in putting out flags, handkerchiefs, garlands, green boughs, etc., from their windows, whilst in Castle street and on the Priory bridge handsome arches were erected to form, as it were, the eastern and western entrances to a region in which was placed for the nonce the temple of Reform and in which was to be seen, as with a prophetic eye, the future grand centre of the borough. That in Castle street was close to the "Foreign Depot" of Mr. J. Murray, and was mottoed with "Enter in Triumph" and "Depart in Peace." The one on the Priory bridge marked the western boundary of the old town and the eastern limit of "America," so nicknamed in consequence of some of the inhabitants forming a settlement in over the (Priory) water. It was here where the formal proceedings of the day may be said to have begun. At about half-past ten in the forenoon, the town band—augmented for the occasion—headed by a very large procession of "Americans," who, setting out from the parish of Holy Trinity, passed over the arch of masonry, and under the arch of foliage at the Priory bridge with a very large and handsome banner which they had arranged to present to the Mayor for the use of the town, These Trinitarians being not strictly under the jurisdiction of the town authorities, had expressed their willingness to join in the celebration upon the condition that they should be allowed to preserve their "nationality" by carrying an American Ensign in the procession.

This condition was not acceptable, it being contended that it would be unpatriotic, if not indeed illegal, to parade the Stars and Stripes without the Union Jack above them. As a compromise, the Union Jack was inserted in one of the corners, and a shield with the Hastings Arms in another. There were also other devices and an inscription — "Presented to the Town and Port of Hastings, by its junior inhabitants, July 19th, 1832, to commemorate the passing of the Reform Bill." The loyalty thus displayed was appreciated by the authorities, and the flag was formally received by the Mayor at the Town Hall. It was afterwards carried, with a number of other flags and banners, in procession round the old town, and finally to the dinner field, where the band took up position on a raised platform, and the flags were fixed in the places assigned them. It was then about mid-day and notwithstanding that the air was comparatively cool in the shade, and the wind still a little fitful, the heat was very considerable in the sunshine, and the bandsmen and bannermen were seen to be throwing off perspiration rather copiously. Thousands of people followed in the wake of the procession, and thousands more came in from other towns and villages, so that by one o'clock it was computed that the approaches and boundaries were occupied by at least ten or twelve thousand, old and young of both sexes. The order and decorum of that great assemblage was remarkable; yet as may be imagined, the vans bearing the viands made but slow progress through so vast a crowd.

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The organisation, however, was such that in a comparatively brief period the tables were laden with eatables, each table having had previously a cask of beer placed in close proximity. At about half-past one, everything being in readiness, the signal for admission was given by lowering a flag and firing a gun. The phalanx of ticket-holders then walked in and took their seats at the tables according to their numbers. At each table there was a chairman, deputy-chairman, carvers, waiters, and a butler. The waiters were chiefly tradesmen’s assistants and other young men of the borough, who volunteered their services for the occasion, and wore distinctive dresses at each table according to the fancy of the chairman, or his money means to equip them. The number of waiters was intended to be three to each table, but that number was rather too limited, and as if with a fore-knowledge of such a fact, some few of the tables were found to have more waiters at the end of the feast than at the beginning. I was, myself, a supernumerary, having obtained the greatly coveted honour somewhat clandestinely. Feeling that I had borne the cold of the early morning when laying the cloths with sufficient endurance to entitle me to not to be "left out in the cold" at dinner time, I donned a rosette, a cap, and Pg.61 a new white apron with the word Reform traced upon it in blue ribbon; and, thus attired, I had no difficulty in getting through the sturdy ring of humanity and making my way to a table where my help was at once welcomed by a friendly staff, each of whom had already discovered that to wait upon 21 hungry persons was quite enough for one pair of hands. But I ought to say that the dinner was not actually begun until a second gun had been fired, and a blessing asked at every table, one of the clergymen at the Mayor's table first setting the example.

The beef, mutton, potatoes, and hot plum-puddings were cooked at the bakehouses, hotels, and private houses; and at a proper time were collected by a committee specially appointed for that duty. Good as this arrangement was, it failed in one or two cases, as shewn by the fact that several plum-puddings cooked at the Priory farm were not called for. A few other puddings — perhaps a very few — also missed their way in going to the field. One was seen "walking" over the West Hill in an opposite direction, and another was supposed to have slipped from its "neck-tie" while riding in one of Stevens's vans. Not many days ago, I asked an old St. Leonards resident, who was one of Stevens's drivers in 1832, if the latter supposition was well founded, and his reply was in the affirmative; "for, don't you see," he said "we fellows who did the work couldn't get to the dinner, so 'tis very likely a pudding or two took compassion on us, and stowed themselves away in one corner of the van."

However, with about 350 large joints of meat, 500 puddings, and 80 kilderkins of beer, there was enough for that large dinner pasty, vast as it was; and there were not a few of the still greater host of on-lookers who also managed to get a snack of beef or pudding "just to remember the Reform Dinner." After the company had been bountifully served with their roast beef and plum pudding, and grace after meat had gone the round, the wine glasses on the Mayor's table were charged, and the mugs on the other tables were filled, and toasts were proposed in honour of King William and his Ministers. Drinking and smoking then went on, and the cords being unable to withstand the increased pressure from without, the charmed circle was invaded by an immense, but well behaved throng, who began immediately to participate in the afternoon's amusements. These consisted of jingling matches, treacle-roll bobbing, smoking contests, races for men and women, climbing greased poles, hunting a pig with a greasy, tail, kiss-in-the-ring, dancing, &c.

One of the effective scenes was the sudden appearance of four boys on the top of the triumphal arch, dressed in costumes to represent Earl Grey, Lord John Russell, and two other persons, one of them holding in his hand a roll to represent the Reform Bill. Two of these boys, I understood at the time, were sons of Mr. Alfred Vidler. Another of the novel sights was the Elphinstone galley, mounted on wheels, and drawn through the crowd by means of a rope. On board this boat were four sons of Neptune, attired in striped guernseys and caps, each holding an oar erect. Daddy Neptune himself was also on board, with his gilt trident. He was a fine dark-featured fellow, with a long black beard, in which there was no sham. Had I not been assured that he was really old father Neptune, I should have said that he was a Mr. Dunk, who worked at one time as a stone-mason for Mr. Vennell on the "" and afterwards for Mr. Major Vidler, the afterwards octogenarian, at Pevensey; but, of course, he was Neptune, if only for that day. This was shewn by his godship when he shouted through his speaking-trumpet something after the following strain:—

Hail, hail, ye joyous sons of Britains Isle!
To see you all so happy makes me smile,
At sea we heard a most unusual clatter,
So pulled we in to see what was the matter.
From Parli'ment, I hear you‘ve got Reform;
I'm mighty glad on't; it will do no harm
I have come rom Neptune’s daughter—
That is, we've left awhile the briny water,
To see fair Hastings, and indeed to court her;
And now, your Worship, we should like some porter,
To drink Reform, the King, aud Britain's laws,
And shout three cheers, with hip, hip, hip, hurrahs!

There were some other classic representations personified by "Trimmer" Breach in a carriage drawn by goats with gilded horns, and "Pop" Gurr in another vehicle, but I cannot remember what these were. There is a great deal more however, that I can remember, for the whole scene is almost as fresh to my mental sight as though it were but a day, instead of 63 years since the event took place; yet as I have written this almost exclusively from memory, should it occur to any one of the few persons still living who participated in the Reform. dinner rejoicings, that I have stated anything erroneous, I shall be pleased to receive correction. I will say, however — and I hope without egotism - that the late George Scrivens, Esq., in calling attention to my narrative when it was first published, declared that its accuracy was evidence of a marvellous memory.

After the first appearance of the foregoing narrative "A Chairman at the Reform Dinner," whilé complimenting me for presenting a "generally true picture," thought that my estimate of ten or twelve thousand persons present during the day was much too low. His own estimate was nearer twenty thousand. My correspondent, however, misread my words. I said such number was computed to be present at one o'clock. For aught I know, his own estimate of 20,000 during the day may have been near the mark. Of course there were not 20,000 inhabitants at that time, but, as I stated, people came by thousands from the adjacent towns and villages. The census of the previous year showed the population of St. Leonards (which embraced the parishes of St. Leonards and St. Mary Magdalen) to be 1,300; and the population of Hastings to be 10,231. It is clearly certain, then, that if there were 20,000 persons present at that grand fete, nearly or quite one half of them were non-residents of the borough. Equally certain it is that the nearly 6,000 persons who dined together on that occasion constituted a very large proportion of the inhabitants. I may mention, incidentally, that the cost of taking the census for the parish of St. Leonards in 1831, was a very moderate one, namely 26s. 2d. to Mr. John Phillips as Vestry Clerk, and’ 30s. to the overseers and assistants. As regarded the destiny of the large flag which was presented to the town by the inhabitants of Holy Trinity I was not able to give "a chairman" any information, but I expressed ‘a hope that if it was still in existence it might be exhibited, if only as a curiosity; or, if it had been purposely madé away with, some one would be good enough to let the subscribers or their descendants know how, when and where.

As a last word in connection with the Reform Dinner, I may mention that the Borough Members (Messrs. North and Warre) who were present at the dinner, and also sat in the first Reform Parliament, gave a ball at the Swan Hotel, on the 18th of December following, at which there were 600 persons present. Fancy six hundred persons attempting to dance in the Swan Assembly Room when it was even smaller than it was when it disappeared a few years ago in the demolition of the hotel to make way for new property. I have seen many crowded meetings in that ancient hostelry during more than half a century, but I do not remember ever seeing such a "happy crush" as that of the Election Ball of 1832.

The Assembly Rooms - A Brilliant Season

St Leonards Assembly Rooms.png

Quadrilles — which about that time were first introduced to the Hastings people by the late Joseph Hart — were out of the question; but the country-dance went merrily on in the ball-room, in the ante-room, and even on the stair-landing. Of course there were many disciples of Terpsichore, but there were many who had not previously paid their devotions to the dancing deity. Yet all went merry as a marriage bell:

For those there danced who never danced before,
And those who always danced danced all the more.

Seeing that the invitations to the ball were so numerous, and that they applied to St. Leonards as well as to Hastings, and knowing as everybody did that the Swan room was incapable of accommodating half the number, it was freely expressed that the better plan would have been to hold the ball both at the Hastings and at the St. Leonards Assembly Rooms, and thus divide the party for their greater convenience. Perhaps the existing jealousy in other matters between the two towns might have ruled for a contrary decision. The St. Leonards suite of rooms were not only much more elegant than the old Swan room, but also in every way much better adapted for a ball of that magnitude.

Of late years the rooms have undergone considerable alteration for the purpose of meeting new wants, and probably with the additional object of realising a more adequate return for their cost and maintenance than the revenue which had been derived from them as assembly-rooms and club-rooms. When the baths on the parade were abolished, it was felt that other baths should be provided within a reasonable distance of the old ones, and the happy thought occurred that they might be constructed in the crypt beneath the large hall and spacious anterooms without detriment to the latter; also that an excellent tepid swimming bath might be prepared at the same time. This was done and an efficient manager and swimming Pg.62 instructor was engaged. The foregoing view shows the front of the exterior since its alteration for more utilitarian purposes, and although such alteration does not much detract from the noble proportions of the edifice, it may be well also to present the reader with the original design.

St Leonards Assembly Rooms as built.png.png

Ere I closed the account of the Reform dinner and the later ball I might have said that they were closely associated with the names of two reformers—one a veteran in the field, and the other a sort of lieutenant, who was destined to make his way to the front against a strong tide of family influence The latter gentleman, I need hardly say, was the greatly respected Mr. North, who spent so many years of his after life in the conscientious discharge of parliamentary duties in connection with his native town.

I had only intended to make a passing allusion to the last-named event, fearing that my early recollections of the old town would keep me too long away from matters more directly pertaining to the new; but I feel it incumbent on me to refer to one other similar event, if only in simple justice to a name of which St. Leonards, for many years, had the honour of a resident representative. One of the early reformers was Mr. (afterwards Sir) Howard Elphinstone, and although in 1832 he contested a seat for Hastings unsuccessfully, he gave a dinner in the Pelham Arcade on the 20th of Nov. to 200 of his supporters; and on the 28th of May preceding he presided at a "Reform Dinner" at the King’s Head Inn, which was served up under the direction of host Dunk. Mr. Elphinstone afterwards sat for Hastings 1835-7, and for Lewes 1841-7.

In a paragraph, cut from a county newspaper of June, 1832, I read "There are several more magnificent buildings in course of erection at St. Leonards, and extensive preparations are making for the coming season, which is expected to be a gay one." The buildings here referred to must have been 65 to 72 Marina, 9 to 12 Maze Hill, end 3, 5, 7, and 9 West Hill, which as I have before stated, were all built in that year. I have also stated that what is now 3 West Hill, or West-hill cottage, was first tenanted by Edward Smith, and kept by him as a beerhouse; but I have not said that attached to that house was the first baker’s oven in St. Leonards, wherein was baked the bread that was sold at a shop in the South Colonnade; nor have I stated that the rating of the said house, which is now probably £80 or £90 was then only £13, inclusive of the garden.

The house below that together with a garden, rated at £10 a year, was at that time occupied by the Rev. Joseph Wood, a dissenting minister, who preached in the adjoining place of worship known as Quadrangle Chapel. I have given some account of this chapel already, and my main object in referring again to a now non-existing place of worship is that I may give credit to its first minister as a successful trainer of youth. The sons of several of the earliest tradesmen of the town received instruction from that gentleman, and it was he who here first taught a system of mental calculations. I believe Mr. Samuel Chester was one of his most apt pupils; and it is not improbable that Mr, Chester’s great success in commercial pursuits was in a great measure due to his ability when a boy to outstrip all his schoolfellows in mental calculations and arithmetical problems. Mr. Chester was not the only man among my acquaintances who rose in the commercial world as much by smartness of calculation as by other fitness for business.

I am not forgetting that the newspaper paragraph above quoted states that the coming season (1832) ‘is expected to be a brilliant one.’ The paragraph in question was written just at the time of the passing of the Reform Bill, and I have already described some of the gay doings of the period. I am able to add that in fashionable circles the season was indeed a brilliant one, thus realising as it were, to the full, the expectation of the paragraphist. With such distinguished families as those of the Duke of Buccleugh, Sir Frances Burdett, Lord Brougham, Duke and Duchess of St. Alban’s, Sir Francis and Lady Sykes, all residing at one time in St. Leonards, my readers can well imagine the many balls, dinners, and evening parties that were held, and the bright prospects of success which were opened up to the tradesmen and other inhabitants of so young a town thus brought into note.


  1. For additional memoirs see "Historico-Biographies", 1858 - Brett
  2. The apparent error is not within the preceding chapter, but within this same chapter see Lady Boothby and other occupants of Rose Mount - Transcriber