Thomas Brandon Brett (1816-1906)

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Brett was born in George Street, Hastings in 1816, his father being a smith who was found dead by Thomas in a fishing boat during 1826[1]. As a result of this, from this point onwards he had to act as the support of his widowed mother and help in the house and the care of his siblings when his mother worked ironing clothes. Upon his mother's marriage, to a Mr Woolgar in 1828, he was sent to school at Mr. Neve's in Bourne Street[1]. In total he had only a year and a half of schooling before leaving to assist his stepfather as a builder.

In 1831 he worked as an errand boy in Inskipp's draper's shop near the Fishmarket for 3½ years at 4s. a week[1], the hours of business being from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and often later. In his dinner hour he would then run home to help the men in the smithy. He learned to mend and make his own clothes from Mr Inskipp, becoming an apprentice in the trade[1]. During the cold winter of 1833 he began to write poetry and started to study music. He left this occupation after a bad bout of influenza in 1837.[1] At some point in his life, he developed a deep distrust for members of the medical profession and it was only during his illness leading to his death that he finally relented and permitted a doctor to examine him[2]

Postmaster[edit | edit source]

Between 1837 and 1839 he worked in the post office in George Street, rising at 4.20 a.m. to take in the mail and working there till 10.30 at night. His account of this undr the title of 'The Postman' presents a useful reference work about postal history via the medium of prose. The kindly old postmaster of the time, Mr. Woods, taught him to knit shawls and make tables and chairs. He had a tool chest at that time containing a hammer, a chisel without a handle, a broken carving knife, an old plane and a gimlet.

School Master[edit | edit source]

In 1839 he set out for America, but the weather was bad; he had an accident and damaged his spine, and so returned to Hastings. That autumn he started a small school on his own at Market Terrace near the St Leonards Archway[1]. By all accounts, he was an enthusiastic teacher preferring to motivate the boys rather than utilising disciplinary measures, and for a time was requested to take charge of the National School, which he ran concurrently with his own school.

Marriage[edit | edit source]

On January the 25th, 1844 he married Celia ? (1821-1900) at Winchelsea Church.[1][3][4].

Music[edit | edit source]

Then started a new chapter of his life, a more public one. He established the first brass band[5][6] to play on the Parade in the evenings and on holidays, as well as a string band much in demand for soirees and entertainments. In 1848, with Philip Hook, he helped to establish the St Leonards Mechanics Institute, being elected treasurer in 1853, a position which, with that of president from 1888 he held for very many years. During his life-time he produced around 100 compositions[7]

Draper & Stationer[edit | edit source]

By the time of the 1851 census, he was recorded as being occupied as a Draper & Stationer living at 17 Norman Road West with his wife and two daughters, Catherine and Amelia[3], then at 28 Norman Road West with his two sons ( Rowland B. Brett (c1853-) and Arthur B. Brett (c1859-)) with the aforementioned daughters and also an assistant printer/compositor, William Hayward at the time of the 1861 census[8]

Newspapers[edit | edit source]

He had a great reverence for the power of the press, and acted as correspondent for the Sussex Advertiser from 1839. Then in 1854 he bought his own printing press and started producing The Penny Press as a monthly. The following year he commenced printing the St Leonards and Hastings Gazette, managed entirely by himself. He could be seen in the mornings running up and down the steps of the leading lodging houses, collecting the names of the visitors for the 'Fashionable Arrivals' columns in the paper; later in the day he would compose his leaders, often setting up the type as he thought out the subject. He also took part in the actual machine work of printing, and finally helped to deliver copies of the papers to his subscribers.

To gain some insight into his character, it might be mentioned that the man he employed from London to teach him printing for a month said at the end of that time: "I have been thinking over the mistakes of my past life and the money I have squandered. Your energy and perseverance have impressed me so much that I am determined to reform for the future ". He returned to London and kept his word.

Politics[edit | edit source]

Many a time Brett was invited to stand for the town council, but he invariably refused, saying: " I am too independent in politics, and too poor in pocket". He was also an advocate for the Temperance Movement throughout his life, although not outspoken as many were.[2]

Later Life[edit | edit source]

On the occasion of his Golden wedding he was presented with an illuminated address and a sum of 100 guineas by his fellow townsmen, with a further 100 guineas donated by his nephew from New Zealand[5]. The ceremony was held in the St Leonards Mechanics Institute in Norman Road, which he had co-founded with Mr. P. Hook, and was attended by a large number of people of all backgrounds.

Brett compiling his manuscript histories circa 1902

The illuminated address, which was executed by Mr. Butler, of St. Leonards bore the following inscription :—

To Mr. Thomas B. Brett.—We, inhabitants of Hastings and St. Leonards, in memorial of your golden wedding, beg your acceptance of the accompanying purse of two hundred guineas as a slight token of respect and of our appreciation of your long continued services to your fellow townsmen. Of the many benefits you have conferred on us we would particularise two : the foundation of that useful institution, the St Leonards Mechanics Institute,and the establishment of that inexhaustible reservoir of local information, the St Leonards and Hastings Gazette, in which for forty years there has been a continuous supply of antiquarian lore regarding our old Cinque Port, of full and minute records of the Hastings of your boyhood,and the complete story of St Leonards from its foundation. But we admire most the example you have set in a well-spent life, during which hardships have been patiently endured, self-denial has been constant practice, and unceasing difficulties have been overcome unparalleled toil and perseverance. We offer our hearty congratulations to you and Mrs. Brett on this anniversary of your marriage at Winchelsea 60 years ago, and fervently pray that the Almighty may have many blessings in store for both of you.—Signed on behalf of 270 subscribers.—B. H. W. Tree, Mayor; J. W. Tottenham, treasurer; A. R. Croucher, ex-Mayor, chairman; S. E. Davis

It was hoped on this occasion that his manuscripts would one day be published, an omission which this Wiki is hoping to rectify.

Historian[edit | edit source]

Brett authored the 'Bretts Manuscript History of Hastings and St Leonards', which he commenced writing at the age of 82 based upon columns in his paper and notes made during his life which is available at the local studies section of Hastings Library (ESCC Library). An index and transcription of the manuscripts are on this wiki at Manuscript Histories

1891 Census[edit | edit source]

At the time of the 1891 Census, he was living at 66 Norman Road (possibly the same address as that of the 1851 census due to the roads merging) with his wife, grand-daughter Annie Kirby (c1878-) and a servant [9].

Death[edit | edit source]

He died on April 4th, 1906, in his 90th year, leaving £414 6s 8d to his son Rowland Brandon Brett


Offspring of Short name: Thomas Brett

and unknown parent

Name Birth Death Joined with
Catherine M. Brett (c1848-)


Amelia A Brett (c1850-)


Rowland Brandon Brett (c1853-)


Arthur B. Brett (c1859-)


Footnotes (including sources)[edit]

  1. a b c d e f g Hastings & St Leonards Observer 14 October 1893 pg. 6
  2. a b Hastings & St Leonards Observer 7 April 1906 pg. 3
  3. a b UK Census Records (England, Scotland, Wales): FreeCEN - UK Census Records (England, Scotland, Wales), accessdate: 23 January 2020
  4. Brett, Thomas Brandon, accessdate: 19 February 2020
  5. a b Hastings & St Leonards Observer 27 January 1894 pg. 7
  6. Brett's St Leonards Band
  7. Brett,Thomas Brandon, p.4, accessdate: 19 February 2020
  8. "FreeCEN -Scottish General Register Office: 1861 Census Returns database". FreeCEN. Free UK Genealogy. Retrieved 23 Jan 2020.
  9. "FreeCEN -Scottish General Register Office: 1891 Census Returns database". FreeCEN. Free UK Genealogy. Retrieved 23 Jan 2020.