Brett Volume 1: Chapter III - St. Leonards 1830

From Historical Hastings

Chapter III - St. Leonards 1830

Lady Lubbock's arrival from the French Revolution
The first religious services
Quadrangle Chapel
Application to Parliament for a church
Burton's boundary wall
Erection of Lavatoria
Removal of the barrier (in 1841)
Removal of the Archway – Harold Hotel
Rivalry and jealousy
First fox-hunt
The St Leonards Tap
Daring act of smuggling
Incidents and accidents – Rapid building
The first three years' erections.

Transcriber’s note

[ 18 ]

Dowager Lady Lubbock - Mrs Offen - Inhabitants in 1830 - Longevity

In the year 1830 the Dowager Lady Lubbock fled from the fury of the French Revolutionists and (like Louis Phillipe, eighteen years later), took up her abode at the St. Leonards Hotel. Her ladyship then went to 52 Marina, taking with her from the Hotel a youth named William Welsted, who graduated from page to footman, and from footman to butler, in which last capacity he remained until, after a permanent residence of twenty years when her ladyship died. Her loss was felt in many ways, for she had a liberal hand, and it used to be said of her that having provided for her family, she was resolved to live pretty well up to her own reserved income. In her establishment the servants found a good home, and the tradesmen a good demand for their commodities. Her ladyship always gave her servants a summer pic-nic and a winter party, the latter in the house; nor did she deny them the privilege of having a friend or two to see them at any time, so long as those friends took their departure before 10 p.m. The old lady was very decided in celebrating New Year's Eve, which I believe was her birthday, e'en though it should sometimes fall on a Sunday. This I can testify by having been engaged in a musical capacity[a] to attend these festivals, and on one occasion when people were going to church. For several years I accompanied the party in their summer outings, together with several young tradesmen and others - some times to Bodiam, some times to Herstmonceux, and once or twice to the Swiss Gardens at Shoreham.

I was therefore well acquainted with the venerable Dowager's servants, and I am reminded by the death of Mrs. Offen while writing of these occurrences that she at one time was cook to her Ladyship. It was on the 24th of March 1889 that Mrs. Sarah Offen took her departure through the valley of death to the unknown regions beyond. She was in her 84th year of age, and was the widow of James Offen who died at St. Leonards forty-three years ago. The following few particulars will recall to the memories of our older inhabitants of the movements and characteristics of the generally cheerful and chatty oldtownswoman who has passed away. At about the time that town of St. Leonards was commenced (1828) or soon after, the deceased, having seen some five-and-twenty summers, was one of the domestics in the service of Mrs. and the Misses Bird, at 31 Wellington Square, Hastings. She next entered upon the duties of cook to the Dowager Lady Lubbock, who came to St Leonards during the French revolution of 1830 and took up her residence at 52 Marina.

Her ladyship, we may say parenthetically, died in 1846 in the 95th year of her age. But, several years before that event, the subject of this notice had taken a situation as cook and housekeeper to Sir Andrew and Lady Pilkington, at Catsfield; and my impressions is that she relinquished that service to become the wife of James Offen, a painter and plumber in the employ of Messrs. Neve and Milsted or Neve and Hall, at St. Leonards. In the year 1837 or '8 Mr. and Mrs. Offen hired of Mr. Robert Deudney the house 14 Undercliff and let it out in apartments to visitors. They had then for their immediate neighbours, Mr. Chas. Pilcher at No. 9, Edward Pearce at 10, Wm. Waghorne at 11, Miss Pearce at 12, Major Jeffries at 13, Hy. Hughes at 16, C. H. Southall at 17, and E. Waghorne at 18. At the same time the following tradesmen occupied shops in the South Colonnade, opposite - George Viner (grocer), Welsted and Chandler (painters), Newton Parks (butcher), T. B. Williams (baker), A. Walter (greengrocer), T. Price (fishmonger), J. Job (watchmaker), E. Waghorne (butcher), B. P. Smith (chemist), H. Beck (draper) and T. Brown (wine-merchant). Our of all these neighbours the only two who survive Mrs. Offen were Messrs. N. Parks and J. Job. From 14 Undercliff Mr. and Mrs. Offen removed in 1841, to No. 2 (now 35) Norman Road, and there ingaged in a small ironmongery business, to which were added toys and earthenware. At the end of three years, however, namely, February, 1844, Mr. Offen died, aged 36, and was buried in the St. Leonards Cemetery. After that time the widow continued the business for about fifteen years, and thus supported herself and a family of three children. Retiring from business, Mrs. Offen removed to Eastbourne, where she resided, near the residence of her daughter (Mrs. Hall) and where she died at the age of over 83 years. Besides her daughter Mary, she left James Edward, a married son, at St Leonards (who had to sorrow for the death of his mother and his child within a few days of each other), and John, another son, who went to Dunedin, New Zealand, where his interest was cared for by the successful journalist, Mr. H. Brett[b], who emigrated to Aukland, in the same colony, and in whose welfare Mrs. Offen took a kindly interest when the said journalist was a lad at St Leonards.

There was no church in St. Leonards when Lady Lubbock came in 1830, and if there had been, the inhabitants were hardly numerous enough to support it, and much too few to fill it, Some attempt, however, was made to establish both a religious service and a Sunday School. The initiative was taken by Mrs. James Burton (the wife of the founder) who with Mrs. and the Misses Wood, a lady of the name of Bignal, Edward Towner and Mary Ann Flemming, held a meeting in a room at 36 Marina, and there for the first time, engaged in religious exercises. This small meeting was the nucleus of an institution which soon grew into fair proportions and took up its quarters in the western portion of the Assembly Rooms. As the congregration increased a curate was engaged, and religious instruction was imparted to young and old. The school was afterwards held in the crypt of the building where it continued for four years, when it was removed to the top of East Ascent, where a National School had been erected by means of funds raised at a fancy bazaar.

From what has already been said it will be imagined that a church was in contemplation; but the original site on the West hill having been abandoned in deference to the opinion of Mr. Burton's friends that a site easier of access would be better, the work remained for a short tie in abeyance. A chapel for the Independents was, however, erected on the West hill, to which was attached a small house on each side. The first minister was the Rev. Joseph Wood, whose wife kept a small seminary for young ladies at 11 East Ascent. The chapel - Quadrangle Chapel as it was called - after undergoing many viccisitudes and getting into litigation, became disused for a considerable time, and at length it was purchased and turned into dwelling-houses. Near the cliff in front of the Chapel there was a railed in pond of water, but its site is now covered by some of the houses known as West Hill.

The Quadrangle and its adjuncts have since been converted into mansions. But that the intention to build the Episcopalian Church or chapel - since designated the Parish Church or the Old Church - was still in force is shown by an advertisement which on the 30th of November 1830, appeared as follows:-

Messrs. Burton and Fraser intent to make application to Parliament to erect a Chapel in the new town of St. Leonards, within the Liberties of the town and port of Hastings, and for those of the adjoining parish of St. Mary Magdalen, and to enable marriages, christenings and burials for both parishes, and divine service to be performed in the said chapel and burial ground according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England; and to regulate the nomination of a curate, etc

In the mean time the town continued to spread and the houses and shops began to find tenants; and what is more, a goodly number of those early settlers were still alive, after weathering the storms of fifty years. This History first appeared in 1878, when at that date, I could call to mind no fewer than twenty-five persons who came to St. Leonards between the years 1828 and 1830, and a larger number who made it their home a few years later. It speaks well for the salubrity of the place that the average age of those 25 persons was 72 years, the higher figures being 76, 78, 80, 82, 84 and 89. Some of these have since departed as nonagenarians. It has already been stated that Lavatoria was commenced in 1829, and it may well be supposed that 1830 saw its completion. It covered a portion of what used to be known as the Chapel Field, near to which on the south was a projecting cliff called the Goat's Point, and on the east, sloping down to the Warrior's Gate was the Warrior Field. Originally the houses in Lavatoria were enclosed on the east side by a high wall, and this wall which was familiarly spoken of as "Mr. Burton's Boundary", continued up what is now Kenilworth Road in the direction of North Lodge. At a later period the impediment to traffic was so great that on a representation of the inhabitants, backed by a subscription, the wall was taken down in 1842 or 43, and a direct communication was opened up between Norman Road and Mercatoria. Among the early occupants of Lavatoria were Mr. Putland, Mr. Towner, Mr. Thorne, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Avery. But whilst in 1830 the laundry region (which the classical term lavatoria implies) was receiving its finishing touch, so also was the range of larger houses near the Archway, or as it was first called East Lodge. One of these, the Harold Hotel, was opened by Mr. Edlin, the said opening being celebrated by a public dinner on Wednesday, Dec. 15th. There were nearly 100 persons present, and in the post-prandial speeches the designs and energies of Mr. Burton, as the founder of St. Leonards were highly eulogized and assurances given by the speakers that no rivalry existed between the two towns, albeit that a report had got about of a contrary nature. I will not stop to discuss the accuracy of these views, but I shall have occasion, ere long, that facts are not always in unison with after-dinner compliments.

The Boundary Wall - Lavatoria - The Harold Hotel - The first fox-hunt

I have alluded to Mr. Burton's boundary wall which for about a dozen years enclosed Lavatoria on the east side, and obstructed the traffic to all but foot passengers, who made their ingress or egress between a couple of posts. I stated that the wall was taken down and a direct communication opened between Norman Road and Mercatoria about the year 1842 or '3; but I have since discovered it was a year earlier, and that in addition to the giving up by Mr. Burton a small strip of land outside his boundary wall, an equally important strip [ 19 ]was sacrificed by Mr. Manser, who, on the 30th of August, 1841, conveyed the same to Messrs. Alfred Burton and Stephen Putland in trust for the public. Before taking a final leave of Lavatoria, I may as well say that the north side was erected at a somewhat earlier date than the south; and as I have already stated that of the former the houses were severally erected by Messrs. Towner, Smith and Thorne, the enumeration will be more complete by adding the names of Messrs. Putland, Burgess and Mortimer as the builders and inhabitants of the latter range. It is as well to note that these houses, after a period of fifty years were enlarged and modernised as places of business. Shop-fronts, brought out in a line with Norman Road, were given to them and the locality itself having survived the purpose for which it was designed, Lavatoria is now incorporated with Norman Road, and is, consequently, more technically than authoritively known by its old familiar title. By this incorporation is ratified, so to speak, the arrangement, which in 1841 destroyed the barrier between the "insiders" and "outsides" or, in other words, the people who resided within and without the boundary of Mr. Burton's original purchase.

It was the opinion of most people that to render this union more complete there only wanted the removal of the East Lodge, better known as the Archway. This had long since fulfilled its purpose, and it was thought that, like the Temple Bar, of London, its removal would be a decided improvement. Certainly, when the traffic had increased in proportion to the growth of the town, and the widening of the road at that spot was necessary to lessen the chances of accidents - which had been numerous during the past fifty years - the plea for its retention on the score of preserving the original design was more than met by the argument for its removal on the ground of public convenience. Since then the said Archway has been taken down, and even those who objected to its removal have acknowledged the surprisingly great improvement thereby effected.

The accompanying view shows the roadway as it originally existed: also (westward thereof) 15 to 21 Marina, the latter number being the Harold Hotel, distinguished by its projecting entrance; also (eastward of the archway) Adelaide Place to the Saxon Hotel treated of in another chapter; then Nos. 1 & 2 Cliff Cottages (now 5 & 6 Eversfield Place) between which and the Saxon Hotel was a large vacant space, afterwards occupied by Seymour Place and Warrior Square.

Caption reads: East Lodge, Harold & South Saxon Hotels. St Leonards

I will now hie me back to the 15th of December, 1830, and resume my story of the first public dinner at the Harold Hotel . The hotel in question was what are now Nos. 21 and 21½ Marina and the dinner which was provided by Mr. Edlin to celebrate its opening was attended, as before stated, by more than one hundred persons. Mr. B. P. Smith, a surgeon residing at 40 Marina, presided, and the feast thus prepared was acknowledged to be of a superb character, whilst of the wines it was said that although served out in a new house in a new town, they were of an old and excellent quality. There is no doubt that Mr. Edlin did his best for his first patrons, and it is possible that he might with fair propriety have expressed his sentiments thus:-

When a new landord takes a brand-new inn,
How should the novice his career begin?
If all the house is propertly prepared,
The larded stocked and beds and bedding aired,
The servants hired - all promising recruits-
Head waiter down to even Tom, the boots,
The host most surely with his smiles should wait
On his first guests assembled round the place;
Present his bill of fare, and hope the'll find
Each little item perfect of its kind
My constant aim shall be to meet your wishes,
I this before you place some tempting dishes;
Old wine made mellow and improved by age,
New fruit just brought me by the London Stage,
My decorations, too, are quite complete,
Best rooms and attics also clean and neat,
In short, your host now humbly recommends
The "Harold" to the notice of his friends

As might be supposed, the venerable founder of St. Leonards was one of the dinner party, and as there were also many Hasting men present, it is not surprising that when Mr. Burton was called on to give a toast, he should compliment the representatives of the older town by proposing "Prosperity to the Town and Corporation of Hastings." Nor is it at all marvellous to those who are acquainted with the amenities of such promiscuous gatherings that an unpleasant fact should be glozed(sic) over or altogether ignored. On this occasion Mr. Burton introduced his toast with the remark that reports had been circulated of a feeling of rivalry existing between St. Leonards and Hastings; yet nothing could be farther from the fact. He was, moreover, convinced that the success of the new town must add to the prosperity of the old town. Now, whilst I endorse Mr. Burton's conviction of the success of one town adding to the prosperity of the other, I must take exception to his denial of the reported rivalry which existed between the two. I will go even farther, and fearlessly asset that it would not be at all out of place to substitute jealousy for rivalry; and at this distance of time it should be regarded as an act of no unfriendly criticism to revert to a condition of things which happily, has now all but passed away. I may premise that when beginning this history I had eleven years experience of that so-called rivalry while living in Hastings, and had completed half a century of such experience by a residence of 39 years in St. Leonards. If, therefore I presume to write with some authority, I do so on the ground of personal knowledge.

As I proceed with this History, I shall have occasion to explain a few of the causes of that rivalry and jealousy, but my readers may rest assured that nothing but a perfectly friendly review of those causes will be recorded by my pen. Now let it be imagined that the successful spread at the "Harold" has been well and duly partaken of, and that the conviviality which extended far into the night has come to the end. There need be no sentimentality in wishing that "the evening's amusement may bear the morning's reflection." It shall only be supposed that the next day has arrived, and that sufficient of the good things of yesterday remains for a cold collation. Mr. Edlin shows himself to be a man of resources, and by previous arrangement with Mr. A. Brook, of Bexhill, for the employment of his hounds, gets up a fox-hunt. In this he is assisted by G. J. C. Durant, Esq., who at the time is residing at 18 Marina, and is consequently Mr. Edlin's near neighbour. Mr. Durant unbags Reynard on the new Race-course at Bopeep - the annual races having been removed from [Bulverhithe(sic) Salts a year or two previously - and a run of forty minutes duration ends in the capture and death of the fox. The pursuers, as "hungry as hunters," hark back to the Harold, and appease their appetites with the cold collation. And now for a brief space I will take my readers back from the Harold Hotel to the St. Leonards Hotel, where, in consequence of refreshments being required for a large number of workmen, and public-houses being as yet but few and far between, it is felt to be a necessity to have a Tap or Tavern in the basement even of the hotel which is already patronised by Earl Mansfield and other important personages, and is destined shortly to be honoured with the visits of royalty. In the year to which I am referring the "St. Leonards Tap" was kept by Mr. Charles Vine, who at a later period was transformed from a publican to a baker, and exchanged the retailing of eau de vie (the "water of life") for bread and rolls (the "staff of life"). At that time was still rife, and even the St. Leonards Tap was not altogether proof against the temptation to admit the proof spirit of contraband into its vaults and vats.

A smuggling feat - The first Annual Races - The first Batchellor's(sic) Ball

This reminds me of a daring act of which in that year was successfully performed in broad daylight and in close proximity to the hotel here alluded to. In the month of October, between 7 and 8 of the morning, a number of men had assembled just above the North Lodge, and in reply to Mr. Robert Deudney, who accosted them, said "You see that boat on the water; that's loaded with tubs, and we mean to have them." Mr. Deudney then went back to his house and called Mr. Beecham, who happened to be staying there, to ac[ 20 ]company him to witness the exploit. On getting down to the space in front of the Hotel, where the Baths, but not the parade wall had been built, the boat came ashore, and the "batsmen" assembled on the beach, confronted by a solitary preventive-man. This guardian of the coast was made to understand that it would go hard with him if he fired his pistol. This he did, nevertheless, but as no one was wounded, the party rushed upon him and might have inflicted on him some bodily harm but for the interposition of Mr. Deudney, whose friend, Mr. Beecham, had gone away from sheer fright. The result was that the preventative mans pistol and cutlass were wrenched from him and thrown into the sea, whilst with surprising dexterity, the large cargo of spirits was got clean away to Westfield and other places without the loss of a single keg.

I have previously alluded to the races of 1828, then known as the Hastings Races, which were held on a suitable course just westward of St. Leonards, and by way of diversion I might have added that six years before that memorable period found me — a child of six summers — at similar races when they were held on Bulverhithe Salts. I had followed the stream of horsemen and pedestrians, unknown to my parents, and but for my having been discovered on the ground by a Mr. Fisher, eating-house keeper, of Hastings, and by him restored to my home, I might have come to grief, as did several of the riders of the running horses. My present allusion to the races, however, is to show that in its second year of existence, St. Leonards combined with Hastings for the first time in carrying out the arrangements of this, the greatest event of the year.

It was also in 1830 that St. Leonards started its first regatta, which in consequence of rough weather, was postponed to the 5th of October. But in the meantime an elegant two o'clock dejeuner was set out in the St. Leonards Assembly Rooms by Mr. Hodgson, the event being more memorable by a display of fireworks at night. So, too, in the same year was inaugurated that terpsichorean gathering known as the Batchelor's Ball - an annual re-union which has existed from that time to the present. This first event of the kind was attended by 170 persons, and the company expressed great satisfaction at the catering of Mr. and Mrs. Hodgson. It was then that the commencement of fashionable assemblies at St. Leonards gave a spur to the people of Hastings, who, in a spirit of emulation, engaged in a round of gaiety such as had not before been known.

Only two evenings after the first Batchelor's Ball, Mrs. Camac entertained 300 guests at a ball and hot supper. Then followed in rapid succession subscription balls at the Swan Hotel, balls and parties by Mr. and Mrs. Milward, the Misses Milward, Sir Wathen Waller, Mr. Planta, Mr. Elphinstone and others. But more of this anon. 'Ere St. Leonards had been in existence for two years, the Poet Campbell had taken up his abode at No. 10 South Colonnade where he resided for a period of five years and wrote his "Ode to the Sea," his poem on Poland, and other pieces.

St Leonards Hotel, Baths and Library.png

The accompanying view shows the locality of the transaction in 1830; also the Hotel, the Baths and Library, the mansions created west of the Hotel and then the space then unbuilt upon between 57 Marina and the Sussex Hotel

References & Notes

  1. Brett was a musician as well as newspaper man - see T. B. Brett
  2. Transcriber note - Harry Brett was Thomas Brandon Brett's nephew who followed his uncle into journalism, albeit in New Zealand