Thomas Brandon Brett (1816-1906)

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Brett was born in George Street, Hastings in 1816, his father being a smith who Thomas found dead in a fishing boat in 1826[1]. As a result 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. When his mother remarried, to a Mr Woolgar in 1828, he was sent to school at Mr. Neve's in Bourne Street[1]. He had only a year and a half at school 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 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 the study of music. He left this occupation after a bout of influenza in 1837.[1] At around this time, he began to study music.

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 is a most valuable story in our postal history. The kindly old postmaster, Mr. Woods, taught him to knit shawls and make tables and chairs. His tool chest at that time contained a hammer, a chisel without a handle, a broken carving knife, an old plane and a gimlet.

School Master[edit | edit source]

Then 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 carried on concurrently with his own.

Marriage[edit | edit source]

On January the 25th, 1844 he married at Winchelsea Church.[1]

Musician[edit | edit source]

Then started a new chapter of his life, a more public one. He established the first brass band 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' Institution, being elected treasurer in 1853, a position which with that of president from 1888 he held for very many years.

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 The Penny Press as a monthly. The following year he commenced the St. Leonards & Hastings Gazette, managed entirely by himself. He might be seen in the mornings running up and down the steps of the leading lodging houses, collecting the names of the visitors; 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 to his subscribers.

As a sidelight on 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.

Historian[edit | edit source]

Was the author of the 'Bretts Manuscript History of Hastings and St Leonards' which is available at the local studies section of Hastings Library (ESCC Library). An index and partial transcription of the manuscripts are on this wiki at Manuscript Histories


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". On the occasion of his Golden wedding he was presented with an illuminated address and a sum of 200 guineas by his fellow townsmen. He died on April 4th, 1906, in his 90th year.

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Hastings & St Leonards Observer 14 October 1893 pg. 6