last update 26 June  2016

We currently produce our magazine quarterly. In it can be found articles submitted by members, articles considered to be of interest to our members, and snippets of information relevant to Family History. In addition the magazine has a number of regular items including :-

  • Committee members and helpers.
  • New members and their interests.
  • Occasional cartoons.
  • FHS programmes.
  • Map of Parishes covered by “Family Roots”.
  • “Family Roots” publications.

To give a flavour of our magazine we print summaries of the talks given by our monthly speakers.

7th May 2015 Sold Separated and Divorced

A Talk by Ian Waller.

This was a very informative talk given by Ian with much detail on how to find that ancestor whose marriage had ended abruptly. It could be that someone had died or been deserted or even been a bigamist and Ian’s talk was all about the different ways relationships could break down, some of which were light-hearted such as ‘wife sale.’

Until the 16th Century the Pope was the only person who could grant a divorce so death was the only way a marriage could end. By the end of this Century, England was the only country in Europe with no divorce laws and this remained much the same until the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act which was the start of modern-day divorce. The Act moved divorce from the Ecclesiastical Courts to the civil courts and made it more accessible to the less wealthy. However, this was only the beginning and not ideal as divorce could only be obtained in London but gradually County Courts could grant a divorce. Before 1857 desertion and elopement were ways of parting from a spouse, with mutual agreement but neither could marry again and if they did this was bigamy. Ian went on to describe the records to look at if it was thought that an ancestor had deserted their husband/wife. Bigamy was quite common and if discovered could bring on a prosecution. Quarter Session Records, Poor Law Unions’ Gazette and Parish Chest Records are all sources of information. Many couples opted for a Private Separation which was done by private agreement but neither party could re-marry. Judicial Separation was a bit nearer to getting a divorce. This included marriage annulment for various reasons. These Separations can be found in the National Archives Decree Rolls – Courts of Chancery (C78), Quarter Sessions, Privy Council Records, Diocesan Records and the Right of Appeal in Higher Ecclesiastical Courts (i.e. The Court of Arches).

Wife sale did exist, where the husband would sell his wife to another and this was pre-arranged and afterwards there would be a celebration. In the book The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy, this particular ceremony was in the plot.

It seems that most of us have some sort of marriage breakdown in our family history it’s just a question of where to look for information and Ian gave us quite a talk on how you would go about this search.

4th April 2015 AGM followed by A Talk by Helen Warren.

Eastbourne – Memories of a By-Gone Age

This April meeting was the occasion of the Annual General Meeting and this short meeting was followed by a lovely talk with many many pictures of Eastbourne in times gone by.

Helen told us that what we were going to see and hear were not her personal memories but photographs she had borrowed from a ‘Facebook’ site ‘Gone but not forgotten Eastbourne’s Vanished Shops.’ Her sequence of pictures was a random ramble around Eastbourne. Old posters of the railway came first, stating that the sun was always shining in Eastbourne. Old Town pictures of The Lamb and the Church and a nearby sheep fair came next. We saw pictures from the collection of Walter Budgen, the Vicar of Eastbourne, who took many pictures from the Church tower looking towards The Lamb. So many pictures of places which have long since gone and have been replaced, such as the old Workhouse which is now St Mary’s Court, were displayed. Ocklinge Manor and the windmill in Eldon Road came next and we heard a short history of the Manor and the fact that the windmill was taken down in the 1970’s but the millstone is still embedded in the wall on the site. Altogether we had a lovely pictorial and historical tour of Eastbourne

5th March 2015 Riots, Randies and Women not Their Wives

The Railway Navvy – Social Life and Living Conditions

A Talk by Judy and Chris Rouse.

Judy and Chris have previously given a talk on the Working Life of the Railway Navvy and this talk concentrates on their social life and living conditions. We were able to see for ourselves because pictures were shown to illustrate the talk. The word Navvy comes from the word navigator, a name by which the canal builders were known. However, as the work of building canals ran out and the building of the railways began to take over, the navigators (navvies) turned to laying tacks. Although people quite often associate navvies as being Irish, only about ten percent were from Ireland, mostly navvies were English, some Welsh and some from Scotland. Navvies were noted for their great strength and had their own code of conduct and were not always welcome in the communities where they worked. They were free agents but could be violent and disruptive especially when drunk and it was not always possible for the local police to cope with them. Quite often with large disruptive crowds, the Riot Act had to be read and navvies certainly had a terrible reputation and terrified people. Having said all this they were a close-knit community and although tensions did occur between the different factions, they generally looked after their own. When navvies found jobs, their accommodation was quite Spartan as they would have to build their own shacks and shanty towns would be created while the work was going on. Sometimes board and lodging could be found amoung the local inhabitants but navvies were sometimes overcharged and different shifts had to share one bed. If a job was a long-term one, the contractor would build wooden huts to accommodate the navvies and their families. The Ribblehead Viaduct took several years to build, consequently the huts became homes. As for food, navvies ate well and had huge appetites, as the manual labour was hard. A navvy could consume 14 to 20 lbs. of beef per week. ‘Tommy shops’ sprang up amongst the settlements but often navvies were swindled with high prices. Wages were paid by the ‘truck’ system whereby wages were paid by vouchers to be exchanged by goods in the tommy shop. This was changed with the Truck Amendment Act as it was an unfair system. Navvies drank a lot of ale as the water was not fit to drink, sometimes, resulting in cholera and typhus. This brought about drunkenness and eventually Temperance Societies trying to stop the drinking of ale but it made no difference. Fights and drunkenness were commonplace. Navvies entertained themselves in all sorts of other ways, not just drinking. They played cards, formed singing groups, played football and went poaching. Mission huts sprang up in the camps to encourage navvies in more gentle pursuits, encouraging education along the way.

As well as working navvies, women were also present at the camps leading a strange roaming life, looking after the men and marrying in their own way ‘jumping over the broomstick.’ Wife swapping and wife selling also went on as this was their way of divorce. However, most wives stayed with their men and raised the children, going from camp to camp.

Although navvies were a body of people set apart and sometimes shunned by the people in the locality where they worked, they did a remarkable job in building up the railways system and the talk was so informative for people now who have navvy ancestors, they would be able to see how they lived.

5th February 2015 Life in Eastbourne 1914-1926

A Talk by Paul Jordan.

This was an unusual talk to say the least. Paul gave us a flavour of what it must have been like to live in Eastbourne at the start of the First World War, up until 1926. He did this by using the lives of a fictitious family called the Woods family. They were Arthur and Emily Woods and their four daughters, Violet, Daisy, Rose and Ivy. Arthur is a retired grocer and they live in Whitely Road in a house with a garden, electricity and a bathroom which was ‘quite the thing’ at this time Daisy and Rose move to London but Ivy, who is 20 years old, works as a typist in Bobby’s Department Store. Ivy is 14 years old and has just left school and is poised to go out to work. We are told which pub Arthur goes to for his pint and how entertainment was found in those days.

However the build up towards war is taking place but people of Eastbourne seem more interested in the opening of the new Sainsbury’s in Cornfield Road.

In August the arrival of the ‘Endurance,’ on its way to the South Pole caused much excitement with Ernest Shackleton coming ashore to speak to reporters.

We learn of the effect the start of the War has on the family and their neighbours and how they begin to read stories about the battles on the Western Front. We also learn how Eastbourne coped with all the changes brought about because of the War. Rose writes home from London, telling them all about the Zeppelin raids over London and we learn how rationing comes into being as so many Atlantic Convoy Merchants Ships are being attacked by German U Boats. We learned of Summerdown Camp and Egbert the Tank coming to Eastbourne to promote war bonds. Women and voting came into the talk as it affected the Woods women and how Ivy took a job on the buses as a conductress as there was a lack of men to do these jobs. We learned how Eastbourne people coped after the war and how the war memorial came into being. Eastbourne Council in 1922 made improvements at Holywell and the Redoubt Gardens. In the meantime, Ivy and Vi both get married and have babies, born at home which was normal at that time.

Paul took us through so much of the times and all the changes taking place and all through the eyes of this family which made it so much more than just a list of dates and happenings and he accompanied his talk with on-screen pictures He plans to continue his talks on the Woods family.

3rd April 2014 Eastbourne Heritage and Museum Service

Discovering Stories.

A talk by Jo Seaman

Jo is the Heritage Officer for the Museum and has held this post for five years. He is also an archaeologist by trade. His enthusiasm for the history of Eastbourne shone through and he accompanied his talk with pictures on-screen.

We heard about the history of the Redoubt Fortress which he decided was a hidden gem at the wrong end of town as visitors tend to stop at the Pier. We were shown some of the exhibits in the Museum, for example a bed desk of no particular beauty, turning out to belong to Lewis Carroll, giving it a whole new image. We saw photographs as old as 150 year donated by families whose ancestors walked above Eastbourne on the Downs. We learned about how the Museum Service took over the Pavilion Tea Rooms for use in displaying exhibitions as well as serving tea and cake!

He told us about the Summerdown Camp which opened in Eastbourne in 1915 to care for convalescing soldiers during World War 1 and of the big exhibition the Museum plans in 1915 to display the many aspects of this camp.

Volunteers working for the Museum number about 300 and Jo devoted some of his talk to explaining the many jobs they do.

He talked about the exhibition ‘Eastbourne Ancestors’ and the many archaeological finds which were unearthed and are on show. Bones were tested and a picture painted of the times, nearly two thousand years ago when the Eastbourne area was a thriving community. The Beachy Head Lady was also shown in pictures and how her face was reconstructed to show that she would in all probability have come from the African Continent.

It was an interesting and enthusiastic talk and prompted loads of questions from the members.

6th November 2014 LEONARD CHESHIRE V.C.

A Talk by Roger McKenna –

The war with Japan ended 70 years ago next August 2015 and Roger’s talk begins with events leading up to that ‘end’.
On the 6th August 1945 an Atom Bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. While the Japanese political and military authorities were trying to decide what to do after realizing that the bomb was an atomic bomb and thinking that the same thing couldn’t happen so quickly again, three days later another bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. It was originally destined for Kukura but an industrial haze prevented a clear visibility.
Two planes were involved, one to drop the bomb and one to observe. Two Englishmen were on board the observation plane, one was Dr William Penny who had worked on the Manhattan Project which developed the Atom Bomb and the other 27 year old Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, the most decorated bomber pilot of the Second World War.
The bomb was painted bright orange and 1,800 ft. above the city it was detonated. Leonard was transfixed by the exploding bomb and was convinced that it was right to explode these bombs, thus bringing a war that would have dragged on to a speedy conclusion.
Although Roger never knew Leonard, he used to work with his wife, Sue Ryder and met him through her on several occasions. He found that when the name Leonard Cheshire cropped up, people either thought he was the ‘chap’ who dropped the Bomb on Hiroshima or the ‘chap’ who started the Homes for ex-servicemen. Neither of these descriptions is quite true however.

Leonard was born in Chester in September 1917 and the family moved to Oxford when he was 1 year old. He was not at all academic, he had no ambition and ‘wanted to be an ordinary man, just like his father’ even though his father was a legal academic and professor at Oxford University. Obviously, Leonard was not impressed by his father’s achievements. He was awarded a scholarship to Stow Public School where he excelled in sports, especially tennis.
He left Stow and went to Potsdam, Germany for a year to learn the language and came back to attend Merton College, Oxford to learn law and modern languages.
He played tennis, joined the University Air Squadron, attended dog tracks in order to bet on races, but sadly it didn’t make him rich. He lived quite a ‘fast life’ and he made the local newspaper as he was caught for speeding at 40 miles per hour.
He made easy friendships with all manner of people at Merton, gardeners, porters and barmen, flouting the conventions of the time. Leonard was an easy-going no-nonsense man who engaged with everyone at college from lowly workers to high-up ‘Dons.’
However, the Second World War was approaching as well as his final exams and he applied for a commission in the Royal Air Force.

He took his finals first and was awarded a 2nd Class Degree. Leonard was interested in flying fighter planes but he became a bomber pilot along with his brother Christopher who was shot down in 1941 and spent the rest of the war as a Prisoner of War.
At the end of Leonard’s flying training, he was rated ‘above average’ and would ‘make a good leader with experience’.
He finished his training the day the evacuation of Dunkirk was completed but by this time his rating was regarded as ‘exceptional’ and he was posted to 102 Squadron where the officer in charge was Frank Long. Leonard, along with one other, Melvin Young, was the first graduates to join this Squadron and came in for a lot of ribbing,
although they all became a close unit. Nearly all the members of the Squadron were killed in action, except one who was a prisoner of war, and Leonard decided that as well as skill, much luck was needed in order to survive.
He became familiar with his plane by blindfolding himself so he knew where everything was off by heart and he got the ground crew to pass on their knowledge of the plane to him as well.
After twenty Operations with FrankLong, he was given his own crew.
After several operations he flew over Cologne when a shell targeted his plane, followed by a second shell but
undaunted, he continued towards his target, released his bombs and made his way back home despite the extensive damage to his plane. One of his crew was injured and taken to hospital where Leonard visited him before going on to see a Fred Astaire picture, obviously making little of his heroism. It was shortly after
this that he received word that he had been awarded the first of his eventual three DSOs.

He went to America in order to ferry planes over to England and spent three months enjoying American hospitality.
During this time, he met Constance Bening, a retired actress and they married although she was seventeen years
older than Leonard. Six days later he returned to England and Constance followed later on a troop ship.
At the age of 25 he was promoted to Group Captain and went to Marsden Moor and at the time he was the youngest Group Captain in the RAF. He could have had officer’s quarters but he preferred to live on the job and had a railway carriage brought to the base so he could be close at hand but his wife was not used to this way of life. He wasn’t happy at Marsden, he didn’t like the administrative work, nor being called ‘sir’ all the time, preferring to be in on the action so he upset his father and wife by joining 617 Squadron (of the Dambusters fame) dropping to the rank of Wing Commander. He needed to be in on the action to speed up the war and bring it to an end. Being behind a desk was not an option. Training was given to 617 Squadron to drop a new type of bomb (the Tallboy bomb) which was released from a great height, penetrating the ground below so the bomb would blow up from underground.
He flew various types of planes including a Mustang borrowed from the Americans which arrived on the back of a lorry in a couple of packing cases and it had to be assembled in a hurry but made it for the raid that particular night.
He was then awarded a second bar to his DSC and a DFC. Operations continued until July 1944, and up until then Leonard’s command of 617 Squadron made over 100 operations.
The tour operations of a Wing Commander was 30 and some men didn’t make it past one so Leonard’s achievements and lack of regard for his own safety were to be recommended for a third bar to his DSO but this award was refused and instead it was recommended that he receive the Victoria Cross and this award was for bravery over a four year period and not one isolated act of courage.
He had a reputation second to none and his crew idolised him, they knew they had a good chance of safe return as during this four years 55,000 men lost their lives and 10,000 were taken prisoner. The average age of those that died was 22 years and some were only teenagers and the life expectancy of these men was three weeks.
There were 35 VCs awarded during the war and 34 of these were for individual acts of courage, only Leonard’s VC was awarded to a long sustained period of courage.
Leonard was an extraordinary man, he got on with everyone, lower and higher ranks, he was considerate and thoughtful with everyone. It was thought he never gave orders just made suggestions which his men would follow to the letter.
Leonard went to India and his wife went back to America where she became seriously ill. He was given leave to visit her and this led to a meeting with RAF delegation in Washington which would eventually lead him to that second plane heading for Nagasaki.
After Nagasaki, Leonard and Contstance parted and on returning to England, he was completely exhausted and was admitted to the hospital at Muswell Hill where he was discharged from the RAF, ending his career in that service.
He was 28 years old with no idea what he could do with the rest of his life. He thought he might grow mushrooms, do some writing and was interested in space travel.
In 1945 he met a girl in a bar and the subject of God came up and Leonard thought that God might be a person’s conscience but she said that was rubbish and that God was a person and he realised that she was right and that this was quite a significant turning point in his life.
He went about giving talks and lectures and was invited to write a newspaper column. He then went on to
establish a colony for veterans and war widows at Gumley Hall, Leistershire called Vade in Pacem (Go in Peace). He had plans for more colonies where veterans and their families could work together and be self-sufficient but the lack of money was a big problem. Leonard bought from an Aunt a property called Le Court in Hampshire at a knock-down price and help from his father and residents were transferred from Gumley Hall to Le Court. All was well whilst Leonard was in residence but terrible arguments broke out when he was on extended lecture tours and the scheme folded with huge debts.
He had a call from a hospital in Petershill to inform him that Arthur Dykes, an ex RAF nursing orderly known to Leonard, was dying of cancer and there was nothing they could do for him and were looking for a place of charity for Arthur to go.
Leonard took Arthur to live in the now empty Le Court. Leonard looked after Arthur and grew vegetables and eventually got another phone call to take on a 90 year old stone deaf grandmother. Leonard was now looking after Arthur and the grandmother.
Arthur was a lapsed Catholic but he found his faith again and he and Leonard had many discussions about faith and after Arthur died, Leonard read books about the Catholic faith and decided to become a Catholic.
At this time there was 8 patients in Le Court and two staff and a year later there were 32 patients and a larger staff. He just seemed to attract them and they were young and old and suffering from different complaints including tuberculosis.
He was always short of money and he did house repairs himself and looked after the dying in his care. As time went by volunteers came to help and charities donated time and items. By early 1951 it was all too much for his health and a board of trustees was appointed to run Le Court. He was 34 years old.
He worked for a while as a researcher with Vickers Armstrong and worked with Barnes Wallace who invented the bouncing bomb.
He moved to a cottage in Cornwall and at weekends he worked at Le Court. He took an epileptic man from Le Court to live with him in Cornwall, thus beginning another Home, St Theresa’s. In the end he had to give the research up as he wanted to devote himself to helping the disabled as both Homes were becoming full.
Unfortunately at this time he was diagnosed as having TB and spent some time in a hospital in Midhurst, Sussex. His parents sold their home and bought two cottages in the Le Court grounds and his father recommended forming a charitable trust which was set up under the chairmanship of Lord Denning and by this time there were four homes. He was still in hospital and organised this from his hospital bed and by the time he was discharged he had a further two homes, making six homes.
After discharge from hospital he went to India at the request of a man who thought that a house there could be used as another Home.
While there he acquired a piece of land a mile and a half from the nearest road and he lived in a hut on the land. One day a dying man arrived and Leonard put him up in this hut whilst he slept under a tree. Although it was illegal for foreigners to own land, Leonard was given a piece of land by Pandit Nehru to build a Home in
India. Nehru thought him the greatest man since Ghandi. This work went on for the next 50 years and now there are 85 Cheshire Homes in Britain and 200 other Homes in 50 countries all over the world.

Leonard met Sue Ryder in India as they were both asked by the Indian government to do work with Leprosy patients and they formed the Ryder/ Cheshire mission for this purpose. They married in Bombay (Mumbai) in 1959.
In 1981 Leonard was awarded the Order of Merit and he usually refused Honours and awards but the Order of Merit only has 21 members at any one time and it’s a personal gift from the Queen so Leonard agreed to accept this Honour.
He eventually accepted a life peerage in 1991.
In September 1988 he founded the Memorial Fund for Disaster Relief which was supported by many governments and well known people but for reasons that Leonard couldn’t understand, the whole scheme went wrong and the UK part of the fund was wound up after his death with just £27 left in the Estate.
At the age of 73 Leonard still worked all day and every day even though he was getting more and more tired. He had so many letters to deal with and the Homes generated a good deal of work. He had a great and tireless interest in people and he replied to all letters with compassion.
In 1992 he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease and he went downhill quickly. He was in a wheelchair and he planned to go on a last visit to India.
His last engagement was an Order of Merit dinner with the Queen who mentioned his many qualities in her Christmas speech.
He never complained about his condition and always made light of it. He died in July 1992.
Newspapers wrote page long obituaries and many tributes were paid to this great man. He had a simple funeral service and later a Memorial Service at Westminster Cathederal was held. It was amazing how such a quiet man could do so much for so many people and as a boy his ambition was just to be an ordinary man and whilst he was such a great success in helping his fellow man, he was a complete failure at being ordinary.
What a Man!!!!!”]

A History of Gatwick Airport - David Harrison November 2013


It was at short notice that David Harrison stepped in to talk about Gatwick Airport at our November meeting. In the audience were several who, like David, had worked at Gatwick, all with their own recollections of the place. He had been employed at Gatwick for many years.

David started by giving us a history of the land ownership on which the modern airport is built. The earliest records go back to 1241 when Richard of Warwick gave the land to Richard de Gatwick. Until the 19th century, it was owned by the De Gatwick family. Its name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon words gāt, ‘goat’, and wīc, ‘dairy farm’, i.e. ‘goat farm’.

In 1890 the land was purchased by the Gatwick Racecourse; it was ideal as the London and Brighton Railway Company’s line ran adjacent. In 1891 the racecourse opened, later it was to have its own railway station.

By 1930, flying pilot and enthusiast, Ronald Waters, started a small flying club allowing race supporters to arrive by plane. He also taught society girls how to fly!
In 1933 the site was aproved by the Ministry for commercial flights. Maurice Jackman bought the racecourse for £13,000; he floated shares at 5/- each on the stock market netting a £210,000 profit, this enabled him to develop the Surrey Aero Club with the terminal known as the Beehive, which was the centre of aerodrome operations. On 17 May 1936, the first scheduled flight to depart The Beehive was bound for Paris with an air fare of £4-5 -0d , including a first class rail ticket from London Victoria! On 6 June 1936, the Secretary of State for Air, Lord Swinton , officially reopened Gatwick Airport.

The Air Ministry requisitioned Gatwick in September 1939. During World War II the airfield became a base for RAF lt night-fighters and an Army co-operation squadron, although it was mainly a repair and maintenance facility. Women pilots were employed to ferry the aircraft back from Canada. During WWII the racecourse ceased operating.

Despite opposition from local authorities in 1950, the Cabinet decided that Gatwick was to be an alternative to Heathrow and British European Airways (BEA) began operating from Gatwick to the Channel Islands with charter flights to the continent.

In 9 June 1958 Queen Elizabeth II flew into Gatwick to officially reopen the modernised airport and railway station. Gatwick was the world’s first airport with a direct railway link and the first to combine mainline rail travel, trunk road facilities and an air terminal building in one unit.

The airport has continued to expand with passenger traffic reaching the ten million mark in the 1990s and continues to grow at an astounding rate. With its second, North Terminal, Gatwick established itself as Britain’s second busiest flying field and a world player. Despite the robust opposition from residents and environmentalists, expanding Gatwick Airport even more is still being considered: from building a third terminal to a second runway to the South of the existing one, this would allow the airport to handle more passengers than Heathrow does right now.

Lastly, we learnt that through his work in the baggage-handling department David had been given the opportunity to be an adviser and teacher at airports all over the world. Thank you for an interesting talk about a place we take so much for granted, who would ever had thought that it started as a horse racing track.

September 2013 Chris Farrar-Mills Martello Towers

In a very fluent and well-paced talk, Chris explained his background as a Criminologist trained, Brighton property developer, with an obsession about Martello Towers. By descent he is half European Jewish, from a refugee who had escaped to England just before WWII, and half Kentish yeomanry. His family interest is loosely linked to the Martello towers through both sides of the family, in that he has an ancestor in Admiral Harvey, captain of the Fighting Temeraire, which was second in line to Nelson’s Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 at the pivotal moment of the Napoleonic wars, which was when the towers were first built as a defence against Napoleonic invasion; and through his Jewish forbears who saw the towers as a metaphor for England’s defence against Hitler, when they were used to mount rangefinders, artillery and observation posts watching for the aerial armadas of the Luftwaffe coming to bomb England.

We were reminded that Napoleon had been quite as much a feared threat as Hitler had been, and his dominance of Europe quite as cruel, arbitrary and selfish as the Nazi regimes. Also that his threat of invasion of England was quite as real and terrifying to anticipate. So certain of victory over Britain was Napoleon that in 1805 he had struck a “Victory over London” medal, ready to award to his victorious army. Fortunately for us, the Franco Spanish fleet that he needed to protect his invading army, was destroyed by Nelson’s fleet at Trafalgar.

Chris first knew the towers as a boy coming for his holidays to the Pevensey Bay area, when the towers dominated to coast, as there was little or no housing development around them, so that when as an adult he learned through his professional connections that Tower No 61 was coming on to the market, he did all that he could to successfully secure it for himself as a home.

For much of the Eighteenth Century there had been conflict with France, with each striving for a world empire, and in 1794, the Royal Navy was frustrated by a single small artillery tower at Martella Point in Corsica, armed only with two eighteen pounder seaward firing canon, and one landward firing six pounder canon. Two ships, HMS Fortitude
(74 guns) and HMS Juno (30 guns), had bombarded the tower for two and a half hours for very little effect. They were forced to draw off because of extensive damage caused by heated shot, and the tower was eventually subdued by a land force led by Sir John Moore. Only two of the garrison of 33 men were wounded in the action. When the force was withdrawn from Corsica, the tower was only rendered unusable with great difficulty, and expenditure of a great deal of gunpowder.

The British version of these towers grew out of the threat of invasion of Britain by Napoleon, and the difficulties in taking and destroying them were partly instrumental in persuading the British government to invest in them as a front line defence of the vulnerable South coast. The name Mortello being an English corruption of Martella. The string of 73 along the Kent and Sussex coasts were begun in 1805 and completed by 1807. Tower 74 in Seaford was completed later. A further string of forts were build up the East coast, numbered A-Z etc. and many more throughout the empire during the nineteenth century.

The original cost was estimated at £3,000.00 per tower, but tower 74 alone, which admittedly was built later, cost £18,000.00, a six-fold increase. The cost of London bricks quadrupled during the building period, and all prices escalated steadily. The structure was very simple, with walls 30 feet high, between 13-16 feet thick to the sea facing side, and 5-6 feet thick to landward. There were three floors supported by brick vaulting from a central column which ran the full height of the building, with entry through a first floor door by ladder, which could be withdrawn into the tower. The first floor held stores and a powder magazine.

Access to the basement storage areas, was by trap-door and ladder from the first floor, with similar arrangements from the first floor to the accommodation level on the 2 nd floor; and to the roof gun platform by a staircase built into the thickness of the sea facing wall from the 2 nd floor. The towers were typically garrisoned by an officer and 26 men living on the second floor, with the space divided by wooden partitions, one third for the officer, two thirds to the enlisted men. There were only two small windows to the landward side, one for the officer’s accommodation, and a slightly larger one for the enlisted men. Heating was by two small fireplaces, one in each room, and drinking water was collected from rainfall, which was stored in a lead-lined basement cistern. There were no windows, or any openings at all to the seaward side.


Armament consisted of one heavy smooth bore canon, a 24 or 32 pounder, mounted on a centrally pivoted carriage with about 300 degrees of traverse. The reach of each gun was 1 ½ times the distance to the next tower, so that there was interlocking defensive fire along the whole line of forts. Vulnerable parts of the coast, where deep water came closer to the shore, were protected by Redoubts mounting a greater number of guns, as at Eastbourne and Hythe. In the 1820’s the large bore canon were replaced by a smaller calibre howitzer type weapon, which was more accurate and adaptable to changing circumstances. One of these was found abandoned in the cistern during restoration, and is now mounted on the original gun level.

The towers never fired their guns in anger, but were retained as defence against threat of invasion until the 1850’s or 60’s, when it was realized that developments in rifled guns with explosive shells and greatly improved ranges had made the towers untenable. However, the towers survived, and came into their own again during WWII, when many were used to house range finders and units of the Air Observation Corps. Between 1940 & 42 tower 61 was garrisoned by Canadian troops, who built a further two levels on the top of the tower to house a range-finder and observation post, before they left to take part in the disastrous Dieppe raid, after which it was turned over to the Home Guard.

During the Victorian period Chris’ tower 61 was briefly owned by Val Princeps, the Pre-Raphaelite artist, but he did nothing with it before he died. During the 1930’s it may have been used as a shingle grader, though there are some who think it may have been tower 55 or 56, although it is a fact that the shingle has been removed from around the base of tower 61, exposing the stonework foundations, making the surrounding land several feet lower than the nearby beach. The stone from the foundations was found to have been taken from Pevensey Castle, a very opportunistic use of free local resources. Since the 1950’s there have been several owners of the tower, one of whom was sued for making an illegal opening through the thickness of the wall of a scheduled monument, which bizarrely does not conform to any logical level. Another, Terry Yeo began an enthusiastic restoration, but died before completing it.

The original foundations and a few courses of Georgian brickwork are exposed at ground level, but the bulk of the tower is encased in modern brickwork up to the level of the gun platform parapet. The internal Georgian brickwork is generally in very good order, but there is something of a problem with the Canadian concrete, which is beginning to deteriorate, and needs constant attention. The upper floors built by the Canadians were originally open to the elements, but have now been glazed, and made into living accommodation. Damp is a perennial problem, which is being treated by the removal of all damp-proofing attempts, to allow the fabric of the building to “breathe”, and the liberal use of dehumidifiers. Chris showed several slides as a tour of the tower, illustrating the work that has been done to convert it to a habitable home, at a cost so far of a six figure sum. The original shot storage lockers have been adapted for contemporary use and not hidden behind cupboard frontages.

Current thinking by English Heritage is that any improvements of additions should be easily seen to be different to the listed elements of the structure to allow the original to be seen, thus access to the first floor entrance is by a semi industrial looking fire-escape type ladder, and the safety railings at the top do not pretend to be of the same age as the structure. Generally the whole is very successful.

Following the refreshment break, Chris answered questions, and the membership plus numerous guests expressed their appreciation of the talk with enthusiastic applause.

Of the original 73, 26 South coast towers survive, with up to 10 in the “at risk of collapse” category, with between 6 and 8 in residential use. Some have been lost to sea erosion, some destroyed as targets for artillery, some demolished for residential development. But tower 61 is in good hands and good order. Chris told us was much like an old aunt, full of interest and idiosyncratic foibles, with an exciting story to tell, but a bit leaky!

6 June 2013 Putting Meat on the Bones – Jeanne Bunting

Jeanne started her talk by saying: When you tell people that you are researching your family tree, they ask two questions! Firstly, how far have you got back and secondly, have you found anybody famous?

Descendant and pedigree charts tend to be boring with their lists of names and dates. As Jeanne told us, there is much more to be found than just the bald facts.

What makes your research exciting and interesting is finding out more about the people themselves. There is so much than can be discovered about their jobs, places of work, their dwellings and where they were located, photos or paintings of people and places, and even police convictions. Jeanne went on to explain how she found out more about her own ancestors and their families.

Jeanne found her 2x great-grandfather, Charles Atterley, listed in 19th century trade directories and an early Post Office Directory. He had a business described as a ‘scale and machine’ manufacturer, moving his home and place of work around the Mile End Road area of London.
Using an Alan Godfrey street map she was able to pinpoint the addresses; by using Google maps she could find the modern locations and by using Google street view could see what still exists today. In fact, a contemporary photograph showed that one shop building had changed very little over the years.

Using Booth’s Poverty Maps Jeanne was pleased to report that her ancestor was living in a fairly well-off street, although the alleys and courts nearby were habitation for the very poor.

She went on to tell us how useful newspaper articles could be; she found a report of a case at Stratford Petty Sessions where the accused, a relation, threatened to kill someone.
He later moved to Canada, Jeanne is now in touch and has visited her Canadian relations. By searching the card index at the Essex
Record Office she found reference to a magazine article concerning another relation. This led her to discover much about this branch of her mother’s family including an eel catcher who became a master mariner but then lost all his money.

Even marriage reports can give detailed information.
One account listed all the regalia the women wore at a wedding, although Jeanne’s grandmother was to say later that they were all borrowed clothes and went back to the pawnbrokers on Monday! Local newspapers can be seen at the British Library online.

Found by looking at wills and obituaries were details about a female relation who went to New Zealand, aged 19, to become a servant to an old man of 79. She married him but, (you’ve guessed it), he died soon afterwards, so then she married his grandson!

Lots of other useful websites were mentioned, such as: Cyndi’s List, The Old Bailey online, London Gazette, Collage – City of London Library and
Wirkesworth, Derby data base. Images can also be found online, try: Google images, Frances Frith, pictures of churches etc.
Thank you Jeanne for an interesting talk which opened up new avenues to
explore, helping us to add meat to the old bones and maybe find a few skeletons in the cupboard too!

2 May 2013 9th Century Poverty – Paul Carter

This was not a general resumé about poverty in the 19th century but an enthusiastic, informative talk, telling us what can be discovered in the detailed records and correspondence concerning the Eastbourne Poor Law Union – the Eastbourne Workhouse!

Throughout Paul Carter’s enjoyable talk he made it relevant to Eastbourne, by using the audience to explain matters he made it feel very real and understandable. He began with a quote made in the early years of the Eastbourne Poor Law Union Workhouse: “Pauperism exists to an extent I have not yet witnessed in this county.”
He asked, “What was it like being poor in Eastbourne 160 years ago?” How did they manage without a welfare state?” We see something similar happening today in countries like Greece where the structure of state pensions,
a health service and unemployment pay has broken down.

After 1834 new ways of managing poverty were introduced, but before that there was the “Old Poor Law”. The directive may have came from the government but the Parish Council was at the centre of the system, putting in
place the Incumbent, the Churchwardens, Parish Constable, Surveyor of Highways and Overseer of the Poor. The Parish Council or vestry also levied a tax on local landholders, raising money on acreage. This payment went towards housing for the poor, money to buy clothing and tools, apprenticeships, foodstuffs and work. The system just did not work as, when the population went up, there was not enough money to sustain it, especially when crops failed or there was blockade on grain during the war with France.

The Swing Riots of 1831, massive in the South East, brought more problems threshing machines were destroyed and crops purposefully burnt. It was at this time that the government set up a Royal Commission conducting a
detailed survey of the state of Poor Law administration. The report took the view that poverty was essentially caused by the indigence of individuals rather than economic and social conditions. Thus, the pauper claimed relief regardless of his merits: large families got most, which encouraged improvident marriages; women claimed relief for bastards, which encouraged immorality; labourers had no incentive to work; employers kept wages artificially low as workers subsidized from the poor rate. Of course, all this was before the time of trade unions.
In 1834 changes implemented by the Central Poor Law Commission meant that there was now a new hierarchy set up headed by the Poor Law Commissioner and his assistant, based in London. Under these officials were the Poor Law Guardians, who oversaw the different Unions; the parishes had been grouped together to form the various Unions, each with its workhouse. [The Eastbourne workhouse was on the site of the old St Mary’s Hospital, where Letheren Close is now, before it became the workhouse it was the Napoleonic barracks. HW]
Locally based Poor Law Guardians set paupers a question known as “the workhouse test”. They asked those seeking relief if they had relatives able to support them or a means of supporting themselves and their family. If the reply was no they were sent to the workhouse.

Through the Clerk to the Guardians correspondence went between London and the various parishes. As all letters were hand-written twice and copies kept much of this, between 1834 until about 1900, has survived and can be
viewed at TNA under NH12 complete with a guide to explain it.

The Eastbourne area records have much detailed information, including:
* A sketch map of the Eastbourne area and outlying parishes drawn in 1835 W H Hawley
* Questions about bastardy orders and how the law should work
* Ratepayers listing voting for guardians, chairman, clerk, medical officer etc.
* Vaccination programme documents
* Listing of people asking for poor relief (Some of these can be found in the
County Record Office)
* Also in the County Record Office is the Governor’s Report Book, which amongst other things lists punishments meted out to the Eastbourne inmates.
Ordinary people had no say in the system, it was expensive to run and so abhorrent that paupers turned away from it. This caused a reaction – The Anti -Poor Law Movement and the rise of the Chartists. However, the system continued into the 20th century and it was not until men and women had the vote, pensions and the National Health Service came in, that change gradually came.

Paul’s excellent talk was rounded off by an interesting question and answer session.

January 2013 Collecting Postcards by Kevin Gordon

We were delighted to welcome Kevin back as a speaker at our January meeting. Before he began his detailed history of the postcard together with “where” and “how” to buy and sell postcards these days, he brought us up to date on his latest findings concerning his own fam- ily research into a story told in his grandmother’s diary. Living next door to his grandmother in Eastbourne was her friend and neighbour Amy who always said that her father was bed-ridden because he had been bitten by a lion! When Kevin looked at the 1911 census he found Amy’s family, her father’s profession was described as “Big Game Hunter”!
Kevin began his talk proper by telling us about an early German postal card invented by Dr Emmanuel Hermann in 1869. However, it was in France that the picture postcard first became popular, increasing in popularity during the 1880s. Images of the newly built Eiffel Tower in 1889 and 1890 gave impetus to the postcard, leading to the so-called “golden age” in years following the mid-1890s.
In 1894 the Royal Mail , British publishers were given permission to manufacture and distribute picture postcards, which could be sent through the post. To start with the Post Office only allowed a message to be written on the same side as the image with the address on the re- verse but by 1904 the reverse was divided allowing room for a hand- written message. With several postal deliveries each day the postcard showing a local scene, famous person, studio portrait or even a scene of murder became the most popular means of communication.
As Germany had better printing techniques they produced many of the cards sold in the UK until WWI. Raphael Tuck was a German im- migrant who settled in London, and the colour postcards he produced were printed in Germany. His postcard of Queen Victoria sold in mil- lions.
A publishing company called Bamforths, based in the town of Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, created the best-known saucy seaside post- cards, many drawn by Donald McGill. Frances Frith used his photo- graphic collection of UK towns and villages to produce local views. Judges,( still going strong in Hastings), also photographed rural views typically using sepia tones. Another manufacturer was Valentines of Dundee; they used a large number of graphic artists including Louis Wain, famous for his cat paintings, Mabel Lucie Attwell, illustrations of cute children and Tom Browne, known for his “Old Bill” sketches.
With junk shops, boot fairs, postcard fairs and especially ebay these days all types of old cards have become collectible. In fact the Internet has transformed the market and it is now easy to access what is avail- able and at what price. Subjects covered include birthday greetings, catastrophes such as shipwrecks, rail accidents and mining disasters, heraldry, nudity (i.e. dirty postcards), military history including WWI and WWII, London views, railways, suffragettes, churches and famous people, e.g. royalty, sportsmen and film stars. However, it is not the prettiest cards that command the best prices. What looks like a rather boring picture may be a rare example. Condition is also important es- pecially with the more popular images. Modern reproductions of old cards are also collected and local.

November 2012 The Mary Stanford Disaster – Geoff Hutchinson

November is a time of remembrance and we were delighted to welcome our speaker: Geoff Hutchinson who came along to give a moving presenta- tion about the Mary Stanford disaster. Although based on fact, Geoff used the fictitious diary of Thomas Drew to tell the story of how in 1928 the Rye Har- bour lifeboat capsized in a terrible storm with the resulting loss of her seven- teen-man crew. Together with extracts from “the diary”, pictures, sound and music he gave us a poignant entertainment as we remembered the lost crew of the Mary Stanford lifeboat.
The Mary Stanford came to Rye Harbour in May 1914. It was a 38 foot (11.7 metre) Liverpool, non self-righting, pulling and sailing boat with four- teen oars. It was thought to be the ideal craft to operate in the surf conditions of Rye Bay. Also, according to the brother of one of those lost, the crew re- jected a self-righting boat as it would have been too heavy to drag across the shingle and launch. There was a strong south-westerly storm on the night of 14 th /15 th Novem- ber 1928; nobody in the close-knit community of Rye Harbour, wanted to hear the call to launch the lifeboat, but at 4.00 in the morning the summons came and men hurried from their beds to the lifeboat station. The response had come from a German vessel that had collided with the Alice of Riga , a Latvian ship, which was said to be drifting off Dungeness. It was a long walk
to the beach and there was no slipway, so sixty launchers hauled the lifeboat down to the sea. Because of tremendous waves it took three attempts to launch and the sad thing is that after only five minutes at sea, news came that the crew of the Alice had been rescued and the lifeboat was no longer needed. The recall signal was fired three times but the crew did not see it and contin- ued on in the worsening, stormy weather.
By midmorning there were rumours that the Mary Stanford had been spot- ted and Hasting’s lifeboat was called. Sadly at mid-day the capsized boat was seen drifting and with difficulty was pulled ashore. Because of the heavy weight an army tank was needed to right it. Two crew members were still strapped in and during the following hours other bodies were washed ashore. All seventeen men of the crew perished.
Hundreds of mourners from all over the country attended the funeral for the fifteen found, with the town band heading the long procession. The pall- bearers came from other lifeboat crews and the British Legion. Three months later one man’s body was found at Eastbourne, however, one was never re- covered. At their grave is a memorial depicting a lifeboatman. On the stone are the names: it says: “Died gallantly, seventeen men of Rye”. All the de- pendants were pensioned by the Lifeboat Institution and the local fund raised over £35,000.
The Board of Trade held an enquiry into the cause of this terrible event. Blame was put on the lifejackets that might have swelled up causing choking or the heavy seas that made the boat overturn. However, it will never be known for certain what was the real cause of what happened when the life- boat was only one and a half miles from safety. If only they had taken five minutes longer to launch the boat they would have got the message not to go!

If you want to find out more, Geoff has published a book about the disaster. It can be bought online from Di and Saul Books, www. for £8.99. He was profusely thanked for a most interesting and moving presentation.


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