Jubilee History of St Leonards (St Leonardensis) 5th April 1879

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"THE JUBILEE HISTORY OF ST LEONARDS." [1]


But to return to the purchase of the St. Leonards poorhouse and adjoining pieces of land. It should said that the Earl Chichester displayed his liberality in selling the same for £20 whilst a further sum of £40 was paid to executors of John Tayior for giving up possession. The Overseers at the time were Messrs. Edward and Chas. Overy, and to the former gentleman the property was conveyed, he executing deed declaring that held it trust for the parish.

Taylor Ownership[edit | edit source]

The John Taylor here named was, believe, the grandfather of "Alec" Taylor, a late well-known boatman and publican of St. Leonards. He was also related to Jesse Chapman, who was many years in the service of Mr. Robert Deudney's father ; and, like the present worthy Alderman himself, must have witnessed such a number of local changes and events as have come under the observation of but few other persons. He is approaching the age of an octogenarian, and was born at Pear Tree Cottage, the once-existing habitation next to the one purchased for a poorhouse.

It is said of old John Taylor that whilst in receipt of parish relief, his daughter - who kept house for him after Mrs. Taylor's death - was endeavouring get out with a knife thin sixpenny-piece which had got into chink in the bottom of an old chest, when, to her astonishment, she discovered that the chest had false bottom. Curiosity led her to remove it, when she made the further discovery of about £80 in money.

Treasure[edit | edit source]

The oak chest, the story is told, came to her mother at the death of a relative who had previously resided at Yew Tree Cottage, near Westfield, but without the recipient's knowledge of the valuable treasure which it contained. It is a curious coincidence that whilst I am writing the account this discovery, my son is reading from a newspaper of current date similar discovery of money that had long lain hid in an oak chest.

The newspaper paragraph prefaced with the remark that " Materials for an exciting novel ' might be found the case Orme v. Shipton, which was recently heard on appeal before the Lords Justices." The case is described at some length, but for the sake of brevity the following condensed account must suffice. At an auction sale a man named Shipton purchased an oaken chest for the sum of 4s, and whilst examining it he discovered a secret drawer, at the bottom in which were forty " spade " guineas of a date anterior to 1792.

The chest was part of the goods and chattels which the executors of Mrs. Anne Midlan had ordered the sale of, the said executors making a claim to the money as soon as the purchaser had incautiously made known his discovery. Along with the guineas were two memoranda, one of which contained the words, "When my uncle Brown gave me fifty guineas as a Christmas present for waiting on him during his illness. Anne Lofton, Broomieshall, 1790."

Justice Bramwell tried the case, and gave judgment for Shipton, it having been shown on his behalf that a person named Anne Lofton had lived at Broomieshall in 1798, and that she died at the age of 83, when her niece's husband sold her effects. It was also shown that Anne Lofton was in no way related to Anne Midlan. A new trial was, however, granted, and when the case came on again Justice Brett reversed the judgment of Justice Bramwell, and found for the plaintiffs a right to the forty guineas or to so much of them had not been melted by a neat little bill of costs.

Fortunately for John Taylor and his daughters, in the St. Leonards case there were no rival claimants dispute the ownership, and thus in one particular only the coincidence is wanting in completeness. Yet there is another coincidence brought about by the reading of the newspaper paragraph from which I have quoted. It there stated that the second memorandum found with the forty guineas related to the repair of a watch belonging to a certain John Bennett, and it was proved that Anne Lofton had relatives of the name of Bennett.

Winchelsea[edit | edit source]

"Oh how curious," exclaims a person who is sitting at my elbow, and who has also relatives of the name of Bennett. " I knew two old men in Winchelsea, some forty or fifty years ago, of the name of Bennett, one of whom lived in a cellar, and towards whose maintenance the inhabitants occasionally and voluntarily contributed, on the supposition that the man was in indigent circumstances.

After his death, however, it was discovered that old Bennett was possessed of considerable sum of money." Whether the Winchelsea Bennett hoarded his money in an oak chest, or whether he was related the Bennetts who in turn were related to the hoarder of the forty " spade" guineas, my deponent sayeth not.

Perhaps Mr. Cooper's History of Winchelsea (which I have never read) may throw some light on the subject. It was in the year 1834 that the first building in connection with All Souls' Convent was first erected, but the establishment did not attain to any considerable magnitude until some six years later. It was built mainly at the expense of the Rev. John Jones, whose liberality to the poor, and considerate practice of giving unemployed workmen something to do, endeared him to many of the inhabitants of both towns.

Convent[edit | edit source]

The building in its original dimensions was rated to the parish at about £40 per year, and was enclosed in about fifteen acres of land, upon which there was an additional assessment of £30. It was erected either in the "White Rock Field" or the adjoining "Eighteen acres," and for several years it stood in an isolated position.

St. Leonards Without was beginning to grow, but the nearest erections to the Convent building were Mr. Troupe's cottage in the centre of Warrior Square, and the two houses known as 1 and 2, Cliff Cottages, which now constitute Nos. 5 and 6, Eversfield Place. No. 1, Cliff Cottages, was owned and occupied by Mr. George Duke, and No. 2 was successively occupied by Mr. Walter Inskipp and Mr. John Jeffery.

The older habitations in proximity to the new Convent building were the Chapel Farm, the Bohemia mansion and lands, and the houses occupied by Messrs. Whybourne and Weller, of the Bohemia-road, near Mr. Brisco's Lodge.

Bohemia Farm[edit | edit source]

In tracing back the history of these three or four habitations - all that existed in the district now under notice before the convent house was built find that what is now recognised as the Bohemia mansion and grounds was known in 1702 as " Mrs. Collier's Land," and was farmed by Samuel Cramp at a rental of 10s. This occupier continued upon the farm until 1769, at which time, either by purchase or otherwise, the property got into the possession of General Murray, and the tenancy changed hands from Samuel Cramp to Benjamin Foster.

Ten years prior to this transfer General Murray was Governor of Quebec, but from 1770 until 1796 the gallant General appears to have principally resided in the neighbourhood of Hastings. Anyhow, the property at Bohemia was described as "General Murray's land " during that twenty-six years, although it is known that the mansion at Beauport was rebuilt for him, and that he resided there, and not Bohemia, during the great part of the period here named.

Benjamin Foster continued the tenancy of "General Murray's Land" from 1770 till 1782, when William Foster - probably his son - carried it on until 1804, when he was succeeded by Mrs. Ann Foster, who, I presume, was his widow, and who kept on the farm for two years longer. During the thirty-five years' tenancy of the Fosters and the previous occupancy by Cramp, the house and lands in question appear to have let at the same sum of £53 10s., although they had passed through three ownerships and four tenancies.

The third owner was Mr. Green, and from 1797 to 1805 the property was described as "Squire Green's Land." In 1806 Mr. Webster Whistler became the tenant, and the rent was raised another eleven guineas, thus making it £65 per annum. After being held by Mr. Whistler for four years, Mr. Henry Farncombe succeeded to the occupancy, when the name of " Bohemia " appears to have been first associated with the farm. Mr. Farncombe held it from till 1813, when it was passed over to Mr. John Vincett, who occupied it for eight years.

In 1821 a new tenant was found for Bohemia in the person of Anthony Crisp, who built a malt-house on the land, but instead of using it for its intended purpose, made a dwelling of it for himself, and let the farmhouse to visitors.

Tourism[edit | edit source]

Hastings was then becoming a place of fashionable resort, and it was no uncommon occurrence for visitors to take up their abode for a season even in the neighbouring farmhouses. Among that class of persons was a Mrs. Newnham, who first hired Bohemia farmhouse, and subsequently purchased it.

Her son, Mr. G. L. Newnham who, after the death of Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood, married one of the two daughters of that distinguished officer, and took the name of Collingwood - became its possessor in 1824, whilst from that date until 1827 the land was in the tenancy of Messrs. Thos. Breeds and Co.

Conversion of Bohemia Farm to Mansion[edit | edit source]

Mr. G. Newnham-Collingwood, however, decided on having the pleasant farmhouse converted into a mansion, and employed Mr. John Smith as his builder. But the progress of the work was so slow that the owner took himself off to Hawkhurst, where he became a permanent resident. In a short time Mr. Collingwood returned to Hastings, and whilst temporarily locating himself in Wellington Square gave instructions for the house to be sold in its unfinished state.

Mr. Boykett Breeds, it is said, became its purchaser, but it soon got into the hands of his assignees and afterwards into those of Henry Bonham, Esq. In the same year (1830), the mansion was let to the Princess Sophia of Gloucester, who entered it on the 6th of May for a fortnight's sojourn, and liked it so well that she stayed for three months.

Brisco[edit | edit source]

It afterwards passed into the possession of Wastel Brisco, Esq., who, by consent of magisterial and other authority, enlarged the ornamental grounds, and by diverting the original footpath through the step meadow (now Cornwallis Gardens) did away with one of the prettiest walks out of Hastings. It is supposed, however, to have enhanced the value of the estate for in 1837 the mansion and its appurtenances, together with the lands, were assessed at £578; the previous assessments being upon rentals of £53 from 1762 to 1805, and on £65 from 1806 to 1829.

The prestige derived from a royal occupancy as in, the case of Gloucester Lodge and Victoria House - might have had some influence on the estimated value the mansion, but even that assessment has been subsequently augmented in consequence of the general increase the value of property.

Mr. Brisco continued in possession of Bohemia House until 1878, when he quitted it for another world at the great age of 85 years. His father died at the the age of fourscore, in 1834, the year which my history of St. Leonards is supposed to have reached.

  1. Hastings and St Leonards Observer - Saturday 05 April 1879