December 1853

Edging Towards The Close

The hours of daylight had started to shorten, the sun now set now before four o’clock in the afternoon. Life was lived much more indoors.

The ecclesiastical and the agricultural calendars intertwined.  The notion of an Advent Calendar was unknown, a tradition that had yet to be manufactured. The focus of Advent across the village was religious and one of anticipation.

This was a period of twilight, a sense of change, of a new beginning, although all around was much the same.

Talk at this time last year was mostly about the weather and its severe impact then upon agricultural activity. The weather then had been atrocious. The newspapers were reporting it as the wettest since 1767, the year when records at the Radcliffe Observatory in Oxford had first begun.

In consequence, the harvest of 1852 had been poor. Subsequent winter sowing had been frustrated by the continued saturation of the soil and the cold weather, all resulting in a short crop. In 1853, the conditions for spring sowing had been just as unfavourable, the outcome being that this year’s harvest had also been poor.

An extract from local record keeping in nearby Crondall, later supplied to J Arthur Eggar by Samuel Chaundler, provides the following account of annual wheat yields in terms of bushels per acre:

1849: Fine and good year
1850: Small wheat yield despite fair season
1851: Fine year, but wheat only 28 bushels
1852: Bad year, wheat yield 25 bushels
1853: Very bad year, wheat yield 20 bushels, regarded as disastrously short

Notwithstanding, recent weeks had been busy with winter sowing, as made plain in the Agricultural Report for November by the Farmers Magazine (included in the Hampshire Chronicle on December 3rd). Great progress had been made in ploughing and sowing as the weather turned favourable. Encouraged by high prices and prospects of wheat and other corn continuing dear, “more than double the quantity of wheat has been sown compared with the same time in 1852.”

The innate business sense of the farmer about the future, although he might never to be accused of optimism, had motivated the investment of their time and money. Likely, that business sense had also been behind the application to enclose Aldershot Common. The push to increase the extent of land under cultivation had featured for centuries, as land was taken as ‘encroachment from the waste’.

The talk now was also about what was to do about the proposed sale of the common land to the Government.

Divisions within the village

Argument about the future of Aldershot Common had brought a strange and new tension associated with differences within as well as between village strata.

The Report from the Inclosure Commissioners had stated the 2,715 acres of Aldershot Common to a be “a large tract of land, now almost useless.” For the farmers who had applied for the enclosure, it must have been understood that reclaim of such rough land would be a long term venture. It required considerable investment of capital but with the promise of long term reward. Such had been the case across the centuries when land was encroached from ‘the waste of the Lord’.

In contrast, the news that the Government was willing to pay upfront for Aldershot Common carried the attractive prospect of a quick cash return. This would have appealed to the practical men whose business was what they could do with land.

Twenty of Aldershot’s ‘Commoners’ had voted at the meeting held at the Red Lion in mid-November in favour of the principle of a sale. Those men and women had represented just over half (54 percent) of the total rateable value for the parish. The men also positions in the Vestry sufficient to sway the vote on behalf of the land owned by the Parish Officers.

Not all had agreed, however.

There had been five dissenting voices when the Government’s wish to purchase Aldershot Common was made known. Four of those were men who held property at Aldershot’s West End; two were farmers who were active on the Vestry, one a solicitor from Farnham who had newly acquired the 60 acres of West End Farm. The fourth was a master brickmaker who perhaps had a vested business interest in continued access to the common land.

Captain George Newcome was the fifth man objecting to the sale. Newcome had ended his military career with a short posting in the West Indies in 1841. Having reached the rank of Captain, he married well to the daughter of a wealthy descendent of a Huguenot family in 1844. The couple had then moved into the so-called Manor House estate in 1847,  been bought for them by his wife’s eldest brother Charles Andrew Girardot, a Captain in the Coldstream Guards who held the rank of Lieut.-Colonel and kept a large household at Priory Lodge, Kew.

Having moved into the village five years previously, he had assumed the trappings of a man with a seat in the country. He already had good family connections in West Surrey, his younger sisters, Harriet and Rose, married respectively to the brothers Ross Donnelly Mangles, the Member of Parliament for Guildford, and Charles Mangles of Poyle House in Tongham. George’s twin sisters had taken up residence in nearby Hale although tragedy had struck with the death of his sister Georgina in September.

Having served in the military for fifteen years, he was now well settled in a life where the Hampshire Chronicle could describe him this past April as “Captain Newcome, Aldershot Manor, near Farnham”. He had became active on the Vestry, recently been made a churchwarden and having taken over the role as chairman. However, having the Army camp on his doorstep might not have been what he had intended for his retirement.

There were three other former soldiers in the village who would understand what the proximity of a military camp could mean. However, it is less easy to judge what they might have thought about the prospect.

All had served in the ranks as enlisted men; none were owners of property in the village. Mention has already been made of one of the Chelsea Pensioner, the Waterloo veteran, James Hone, the blacksmith’s father.

John Bare was another Chelsea Pensioner; he had served in India, discharged with rheumatism in 1816. Originally from Crondall, he later married a local girl, ten years his junior, in 1820. Now aged over 72, John Bare and his wife lived up towards Lynchford at the edge of Aldershot Heath in a cottage rented from the absentee landlord, Mrs Leghorn. It was close to the parish boundary with Farnborough, where some of their children had been baptised. Their eldest son had also enlisted, the 53rd Regiment of Foot sent to India to take part in the Anglo/Sikh wars.

The third was George Finch. Having taken part in the Anglo/Afghan war, he was subsequently honourably discharged with the rank of sergeant in 1848. He had married when serving in Ireland which was where his son Emmanuel was born. The family were in Aldershot by 1851, living in a cottage rented from Robert Lloyd Junior.

Opinions about the implications for the village would have differed across the 160 or so households in the village. These Chelsea Pensioners were doubtless a source of knowledge about life in and around a military camp, shared with others during evenings spent in the Red Lion and the Beehive Inn. Whatever their opinion, by not owning property, they would have no direct say in determining the future of Aldershot Common.

Divisions within the Cabinet

The ‘Coalition Ministry’ had brought together talent from politicians holding different opinions; those were now becoming more evident.

The Viscount Palmerston, a former long-standing Foreign Secretary under the Whigs, had long been at odds with Prime Minister Aberdeen, a Peelite Tory, over the position that should be taken in defence of Turkey against Russia. The Leader of the Whigs, Lord John Russell, had shared Palmerston’s opinion on that matter. However, Russell was keen to advance electoral reform. Palmerston was not.

As Home Secretary Palmerston advanced several aspects of social reform, but he was opposed to the further extension of the franchise to the urban working classes. He and Lord John Russell were now at odds.

Lord John Russel had earlier written to the Queen as Leader of the House on November 19th, outlining the Reform proposals drawn up by a Committee of the Cabinet. The Queen had indicated the support of the Palace, making additional suggestions in subsequent correspondence.

This division in Cabinet threatened to undermine the continuing existence of the Government. As such, they put Viscount Hardinge’s plans for securing Aldershot Common “with all haste” at risk.

Divisions at Horse Guards

Since his appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the Army in September 1852, Viscount Hardinge had pushing through several reforms. This was despite the opposition from the ‘Wellington Old Guard’. They were suspicious of initiatives which might undermine ‘the regimental system’ which Wellington had laid down. Adjutant-General Lt. General George Brown was amongst their number. He had had favoured Viscount Somerset (Lord Raglan) as the more suitable successor to the Duke.

Unlike Viscount Hardinge of Lahore, and several of his confidents, the post-Waterloo careers of the ‘Old Guard’ had not included more recent command experience in the colonies.

Politically, Hardinge was also well placed, with support across the House of Commons. He had been appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Army, with the support of the Palace, during the previous Tory Administration. He had then agreed to stay on within the Cabinet of the Coalition Ministry which was itself committed to a variety of reforms. That included the Militia, the responsibility for the latter taken up by Home Secretary Palmerston .

Having begun to re-equip the artillery with heavy guns when he was Master of the Ordnance, Commander-in-Chief Hardinge had taken forward reform of small arms, with the introduction of the Minié and the Enfield rifles in place of the old ‘Brown Bess’ smoothbore. He had also established central provision for training at the Hythe School of Musketry in April 1853.

The Camp at Chobham in June had been regarded as a success, capturing the public’s imagination and making plain to Parliament the benefits of a camp of military exercise.

Advised that the Army needed a more permanent military camp, as he had confided in June to Lt General Seaton, Viscount Hardinge had selecting Aldershot Common as his preferred location, drawing upon his experience in India as a military governor and commander.

The discovery that the process for the enclosure of Aldershot Common had been given Parliamentary approval in August, was both a shock and a setback for his plans.

As a former parliamentarian and minister, Hardinge’s response was to bring to bear his political and administrative experience. Having recruited Commissioner Blamire to his purpose, that the heathland should be bought by the Government, Hardinge had promptly drafted a Memorandum which was used to lobby his fellow members of Cabinet.

Having the backing of Prince Albert, Viscount Hardinge first gained the support of Viscount Palmerston. As Home Secretary, Palmerston was responsible for authorising new work on establishments for military purpose in England as well as able to provide political cover for the Board of Inclosure. To that was added the endorsement of Prime Minister Aberdeen.

The feedback from the meeting of Aldershot’s ‘Commoners’ in mid-November had been mixed. Matters of price aside, there seemed every prospect that the necessary two-thirds majority could be achieved for the sale of the land. It had been sufficiently encouraging for Commander-in-Chief Hardinge to declare in his note to his Adjutant-General of 30 November,

“I think we should get Aldershot”.

Hardinge’s Memorandum had also prompted William Gladstone, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to write to Home Secretary Palmerston supporting the proposal. The Chancellor had, however, advised financial caution. It was his view that the allocation of the necessary funds required parliamentary approval.

Thursday, 1st December 1853

Using the convoluted language of the civil servant, Sir Charles Trevelyan, Assistant Secretary to the Treasury wrote to Horatio Waddington, the Permanent Under Secretary at the Home Office about the release of funds for purchase of Aldershot Common. He stopped short of actually empowering Home Secretary Palmerston to act. 

The House of Commons was not in session. The Cabinet had decided to suspend Parliament which by Royal declaration had been prorogued last Tuesday for the whole of December. Neither the Commons nor the Lords would have opportunity to question the actions of the Government. That task was readily taken up by the nation’s newspapers.

Sunday, 4th December 1853

This was the second Sunday in Advent, the approach of the Festivity of the Nativity. The Order of Service at the Church of St Michael the Archangel was geared to the coming of Christ. Reverend James Dennett would select the First Lesson for Matins and Evensong from the Book of the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament, as he would do for all four Sundays of Advent.

There was celebration at the close of Matins for another infant with the baptism of Jane Knowles. She was the fifth child of Ann and Thomas Knowles. They lived next door, in one of the four cottages, known as Cawoods, in locality of Drury Lane.

These cottages were owned by the proud grandfather Joseph Miles, the village hayward. He was the owner of several cottages and therefore had a financial interest in the outcome of decisions about Aldershot Common. He had voted in favour of a sale.

Joseph Miles was not amongst the elite in the village. However, he occupied a second layer of village society. In addition to his position as hayward, charged with protecting parish land and ensuring hedges and fencing were maintained, he had earlier been a superintendent of the Aldershot Workhouse.

=> Miles Family [to be added]

The child’s mother, Ann, was Jospeh’s third daughter. She had married Thomas Knowles in October 1843. Their eldest Robert had been baptised at St Michael’s Church in the following March.

Thomas Knowles had also been been baptised at St Michael’s, in January 1823, as one of seven children raised by William and Jane Knowles. His parents now rented one of the cottages owned by the widowed Mrs Harding.

    • The Knowles family, like the Cawood family, had experienced downward socio-economic mobility during the previous fifty years. 

Thomas’ other brother William lived closer in; he had also recently married. He had wed in March 1850 to Mary Hone, from nearby Runfold. Their household included a younger sister, listed as scholar, and Mary’s widowed mother, aged 60 and listed as pauper. She was cousin to Henry Hone, the blacksmith.

Monday, 5th December 1853

Sustaining the notion that much would remain the same, the Management Board of the District School appeared unaffected by the news that the Government wished to establish a military camp on the heathland close by the Union School. They had announced arrangements for “the election of a Superintendent, Matron and Bailiff” for the District School, with salaries of £45, £25 and £15 per annum respectively.

Tuesday, 6th December 1853

Risk of Cabinet Resignation

Prime Minister Aberdeen was at pains to do all he could to prevent the resignation of Viscount Palmerston. Writing to the Queen, he expressed concern that Palmerston would use the pretext of his objection to the proposed plan for Reform as opportunity to break with the Government.

Making oblique reference to the Tory Opposition, Aberdeen warned that

Palmerston would then lead “the War Party and the Anti-Reformers … who are essentially the same.”

Resignation Delivered at Horse Guards

The source of tension for Viscount Hardinge had come to a head. It was resolved by a letter sent by his Adjutant-General setting out why he had resigned.

Lt. General George Brown wrote at length, stating,

” .. I happened to be inimical to the project of visionaries … Your Lordship’s view on these points … happen to be so diametrically opposed to mine”

Brown, however, concluded,

“There is no reason however that we should quarrel before we part, and I therefore trust Your Lordship will allow me to consider that we have parted without anger?”

Wednesday, 7th December 1853

Viscount Hardinge replied the next day to General Brown, the letter sent to his address at Heriot Row in Edinburgh. Hardinge stated that he had written to the Queen advising her to accept Brown’s resignation. He too held no resentment and intimated that he would wish to give General Brown an active role in commanding troops.

Thursday, 8th December 1853

In other correspondence, Viscount Palmerston wrote to Lord Lansdowne, a senior member of the Coalition Cabinet, setting out his position on the proposed Reform Bill.

There are three points on which he could not agree: “the extent of disfranchisement, the extent of enfranchisement, and the addition of the Municipal Franchise in Boroughs to the £10 Householder.”

Palmerston said that such an arrangement would

“… increase the number of bribable Electors, and overpower intelligence and property by ignorance and poverty”

Writing further at length, Palmerston indicated that he was prepared to resign; he clumsily linked that to positions being taken in Cabinet on Foreign Affairs which were “injuriously to the interests and dignity of the Country.” 

Friday, 9th December 1853

Perhaps extraordinarily, Prince Albert chose to address the Prime Minister directly on the Queen’s behalf on “the question of Lord Palmerston’s position” on the Reform Bill. He wrote from the royal family’s holiday home at Osborne on the Isle of Wight. 

Saturday, 10th December 1853

The news about the Russian attack on the Turkish port of Sinope on the southern shores of the Black Sea was only now reaching England. It had taken ten days from the time Turkish ships were caught in harbour on November 30th. Details were sketchy, the scale of the damage done hardly believed by the Admiralty.

When Viscount Palmerston first heard the reports, he took the opportunity to write once more to Prime Minister Aberdeen. He reiterated his aggressive stance towards shoring up the integrity of the Turkish territories. Palmerston stressed the importance of establishing naval supremacy and of restricting the Russian fleet to harbour at Sebastopol in the Crimea.

Monday, 12th December 1853

The Morning Post broke the story about Sinope, with a report received ‘by submarine and European telegraph’ from Vienna via Paris:

“On the 30th November, a division of six Russian men-of-war attacked and completely destroyed in the port of Sinope, a Turkish
squadron, consisting of seven frigates, two corvettes, one steamer, and three transports. .. The Turkish Admiral, Oman Pacha, was taken
prisoner, and carried to Sebastopol.”

Tuesday, 13th December 1853

Back in the village, James Elstone had several reasons to be cheerful as the year came to a close.

He was soon to be a father for the third time, his wife Caroline due to give birth in the New Year.  Only last month, one of his men had been awarded prizes for the best ploughman and three others had been rewarded for the loyalty in their employment.

To add to this, he had won two prizes for livestock he had taken to the Christmas Cattle Show at Alton, some twelve miles away. One was a plate worth £4 for the best pen of Ten Fat Ewes; the other was another plate worth £2 for second place for the Best Fat Ox.

James Elstone, born in Headley, had long been active in the meetings of the North East Hants Agricultural Association.  And as far back as 1845, Elstone had won £5 for his Southdown as second prize for ‘the best pen of ten fat wethers’ as well as another £5 as second prize for his Devon in the ‘Best Fat Ox’ category.

Eggar and Manor Halimote

Likely, none of this would have gone unnoticed by the Eggar family who featured prominently in the meetings of the North East Hants Agricultural Association. The Eggar family were well known in that part of Hampshire, having founded Alton Grammar School in 1641. They held properties and farms at Holybourne and at Bentley, the tombstones of their family occupying the largest part of the churchyard of St Mary’s Church.

James Elstone and Samuel Eggar had both been at the meeting of the Commoners in Aldershot last month. Aged 74 and resident with his own farm at Jenkins Place, Bentley, Samuel Eggar was one of the twenty voting for a sale of Aldershot Common to the Government.  His holdings, although significant as amounting to about £148 of rateable value, were not regarded as special in any way by Assistant Commissioner Wetherall in his notes of the meeting.

That was not the impression to be gleaned in the advertisement placed on Samuel Eggar’s behalf in the Hampshire Chronicle in June 1851. That stated that “The whole of the Manorial rights of the Manor of Aldershott, including Sporting, Pasturage for Cattle, and also cutting Peat and Turf, belong to the Farm.”

Such an exclusive claim was clearly incorrect. Moreover, the ‘Manor of Aldershot(t)’ was a confection. Eggar had claim to Halimote but it remains unclear that the Government would have been obliged to regard that as having monetary value in their purchase of Aldershot Common.

Wednesday, 14th December 1853

Of greater national significance, Prime Minister Aberdeen wrote in reply to the forceful strategy urged on him by Viscount Palmerston, noting, “I confess I am not prepared to adopt the mode which you think most likely to restore peace.”

This was the moment that Palmerston chose to resign from the Cabinet.

Friday, 16th December 1853

Prince Albert had been keeping a close watch on political events whilst at Osborne. His personal memorandum, penned after Prime Minister Aberdeen had visited with news of Palmerston’s resignation from the Cabinet, provides an insight into the flurry of political activity that followed.

The Queen, anxious that the Government should survive, wrote that day to Lord Landsdowne. He too had resigned. She was keen that the Reform Bill should succeed and invited him to attend her at Windsor at a Council at which Lord John Russell would be present on Friday of the next week.

A replacement had promptly been found for the post of Adjutant General.

Saturday, 17th December 1853

Anxious that war should be averted, Queen Victoria wrote to Foreign Secretary Lord Clarendon, returning various  drafts and despatches.  The Queen explained at length that she found Ambassador Stratford to be obscure in his Despatch, and insufficient to justify declaration of war.

The Queen makes plain that the orders to the Fleet to prevent “such disasters as that of Sinope” should not mean support for the Turks in aggression towards Russian territory, “such as an attack on Sebastopol [in Crimea], of which the papers speak. This point will have to be made quite clear, both to Lord Stratford and the Turks.”

Local News

The weather had turned to frost, the wind from northeastly wind making Aldershot Common a most inhospitable place. The Hampshire Chronicle carried two advertisements relating to its enclosure.

One was from the seasonally-apt Mr Christmas. On behalf of the Inclosure Board, he announced that there was to be a meeting of interested persons at the Red Lion Inn on December 24th. This was “for the  purpose of resolving upon further Instructions to the Valuer, not inconsistent with the terms and conditions of the Provisional Order made by [the Inclosure Commissioners]”.

The second advertisement was from Edward Hewett, of Winchfield, the Valuer appointed for the “Inclosure of Aldershot Common”, announcing that he would hold a meeting in the Red Lion Inn on January 7th.  Its purpose was to receive claims in writing of rights or interests in Aldershot Common.

Another Infant Burial

Regardless of the severity of the weather, it was the duty of the Reverend James Dennett to oversee the burial of yet another child. This was William Henry Bailey, an infant who less than two years previously had been baptised at St Michael’s Church.

The curate placed a note in the parish burial register that William Henry had been resident in Crondall. There was, however, an Aldershot connection, although the parents originated from the Somerset/Wiltshire border, both born in 1829 and baptised in churches ten miles apart.

The child’s father was John Coles Bailey, born in North Bradley, near Trowbridge, the county town of Wiltshire. He would give his address as Crondall when registering his son’s death at Hartley Whitney. Reporting his occupation as ‘innkeeper’, Bailey confirmed that he was present at his son’s death, the cause of which was recorded as ‘cynanche trachealis certified’ [commonly known as croup].

Elizabeth, the dead child’s mother, had been born in Frome, Somerset, later baptised at Taunton in 1834 at the same time as her younger sister. She was the daughter of the widowed William Fricker, the retired painter who had  served as one of the two Overseers on the Vestry during the year ending March 1852.

Aged 22, Elizabeth had been present in her father’s household in the area of Aldershot known as Heath End. at the time of the 1851 Census, together with younger brother Edmund, aged 14.

The marriage of Elizabeth Fricker to John Coles Bailey was registered in London, at St George’s, Southwark in the last quarter of 1851. The child, William Henry, was baptised in Aldershot not long after, in February 1852.  John Coles Bailey was then listed as a farmer in the baptismal register.

In that same month, Bailey was recorded as an “inhabitant” in the minutes of a meeting of the Aldershot Vestry. Likely, the young family were living with Elizabeth’s father who owned 8 acres of land at Heath Villa.

The family young family had relocated by 1853 to Ewshot, by Crondall, where Bailey was an innkeeper, likely of the Windmill Inn. 

There is a longer story to explain how William Fricker and his daughter came to be in Aldershot. He and his family had been living on Mortlake Lane, Richmond in 1841. The answer reveals a connection with the successful careers of locally-born Lucy Luff and James Sumner of neighbouring Ash.

Sunday, 20th December 1853

This was the last Sunday of Advent before Christmas Day, which this year would also fall on a Sunday. Readings taken from the Prophet Isaiah would be supplemented earnestly by those from the Book of Matthew in the New Testament.

During the month, the country’s newspapers illustrated the revival of interest in the older, pre-industrial and pre-Christian ways in which the season had been celebrated. The holly and mistletoe still featured for decoration and the Yule log was obtained to burn in the grate. Of special interest was the wassail bowl, variously of cider or of strong ale, which formed part of the ceremonies held in orchards during the approach to the winter Solstice and the promise of a new agricultural season:

Here’s to thee, old apple tree!
Whence thou may’st bud, and whence thou may’st blow,
And whence thou may’st bear apples enow!

Whether and how the old rural traditions were still celebrated locally in the village is not found noted in diaries. In his Cottage Economy, William Cobbett makes various recommendations for brewing beer within the home, including “really good fat ale” in order that the “judicious labourer … [should] keep Christmas as well as the farmer.”

Monday, 19th December 1853

A national mood of outrage had developed towards Russia.

The Morning Herald reported that Russian battleships had deliberately sunk unarmed transport ships with thousands of soldiers on board. coining the phrase, referring to the savage massacre at Sinope. This was used to embarrass Prime Minister Aberdeen for his inaction, the phrase ‘massacre at Sinope’ then to be taken up by the Morning Post and other newspapers.

Amongst the first of a series of comments regretting the resignation of Lt. General George Brown as Adjutant General emerged in the Morning Herald, syndicated from the Naval and Military Gazette.  Reference was made to “the kindly interference of a very high personage.”

Tuesday, 20th December 1853

Questions could not be asked in ‘The House’, so pseudo-anonymous letters were written to the press, two to the Daily News (aka The Express), one bemoaning that for Brown’s replacement, the Deputy Adjutant General had been by-passed by someone of a junior rank. The other, advising that further resignations at Horse Guards should be expected, remarked “that Lord Hardinge may soon be left alone to carry out his peculiar system which few, if any, can concur.”

In other news, The London Evening Standard reported how intensely cold the weather had been on the last few days, the thermometer on Sunday night as low as 26 degrees [Fahrenheit]. Although it had risen to 29, the Serpentine in Hyde Park had frozen with a covering of ice; so too had the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens.

Thursday, 22nd December 1853

The Daily News continued to promote criticism of Viscount Hardinge, as made a letter signed by ‘A Civilian’,

“Lord Hardinge is far too fond of pleasing a certain high personage, who is beginning to make himself much too busy in the affairs of the army. … Lord Hardinge toadies the Prince”

Ordnance Estimates

On that same day, Commander-in-Chief Hardinge attended a meeting with the heads of the War Department and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. According to the London Evening Standard this was to finalise preparation of the Ordnance Estimates which would be put to the next session of Parliament.

Those estimates would be for a net increase of 25 per cent in the total vote to be spent on the military. Two new items of expenditure were included. The sum of £85,000 was earmarked for the improvement of artillery practice at Woolwich. As subsequently reported by the Sun,

“there was an item of £100,000 for the purchase of land at Aldershott [sic] for a camp, which was to be immediately enclosed.”

Saturday, 24th December 1853

The process for enclosure of Aldershot Common remained incomplete. Moreover, there had been no agreement reached on the price and conditions for its sale to the Government.

Indeed, it is unclear whether the “meeting of persons interested in Aldershot Common” called for on this day on behalf of the Inclosure Commissioners went ahead as previously advertised. Its purpose had been to provide the Valuer, Edward Hewett, with instruction.

Another advertisement had appeared on this very same day in the Hampshire Chronicle in which the Valuer had called for a meeting for January 11th. The stated purpose of that meeting was to receive claims in writing from persons with rights or other interests in Aldershot Common. This was a correction to the an earlier notice placed on December 17th.

The Hampshire Chronicle also ran summary reports syndicated from the Daily News, the Morning Herald and the [London Evening] Standard about likely changes in the Cabinet of the ‘Coalition Ministry’. This followed “the present Ministerial disturbances” associated with the resignation from Government of Lord Palmerston. The Chronicle speculated,

“Lord Palmerston’s place in the Ministry [as Home Secretary] has not yet been filled up. It is known that Lord John Russell and Sir George Grey have refused to accept the vacant office. Various rumours have, in consequence, been been current; and, from the circumstance of Mr. Gladstone having had a long interview yesterday with the late Home Secretary, it is thought probable that he will be induced to return to office.”

Mention was also made of the ‘Sinope massacre’ and that the combined fleets had received orders to enter the Black Sea.

Sunday, 25th December 1853

Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens had an urban setting and yet, published just ten years before, the tale was well known.

Dickens was a very popular author, many of his writings serialised in Household Words. In its issue on Christmas Eve, Dickens declared “I have a tenderness for beef” in his support for ‘Christmas Beef’.

The royal family were at Windsor, having followed the Germanic tradition of exchanging gifts on Christmas Eve.

As with many aspects, the form of royal celebrations at Christmas had been reported widely in the press in previous years, establishing the new tradition of the decorated Christmas Tree.

It seems probable that the ‘Roast Beef of Old England’ featured on several tables that Christmas Day in the village, as would the decorations of holly. Whether any decorated trees were to be found seems less likely, except perhaps in some of the grander houses. 

The late William Cobbett might have favoured the meat of the hog, writing in Cottage Economy that close to “Christmas, if the weather be coldish, is a good time to kill [the cottager’s pig] and that for preparation, “the Hampshire way, and the best way, is to burn the hair off.” This he said “tightens the skin in every part, contracts all the sinews and veins in the skin, makes the flitch [the side of bacon] a solider thing, and the skin a better protection to the meat.”

Oddly, on Christmas Day, Prince Albert found time to record another lengthy personal memorandum. It had its focus on the fraught matter of the necessity of including Viscount Palmerston in Government. The Prince noted,

“the Government had no chance of going on with Lord Palmerston in opposition, and with the present temper of the public, which was quite mad about the Oriental Question and the disaster at Sinope”

Prince Albert expresses the view that Palmerston himself,

“begs to have his resignation considered as not having taken place.”

Monday, 26th December 1853

The matter was resolved the next day.  The Prime Minister wrote to the Queen with news of the reply he had received from Palmerston,

“a note arrived this morning, merely asking if a Cabinet was likely to be summoned in the course of the week, as he was going into the country; in fact, a note just as if nothing whatever has taken place!”

The Government had survived. Palmerston had returned to the Cabinet.

There may have been confusion in the village as, like elsewhere on whether Boxing Day was to be regarded as a public holiday or not, Christmas Day having fallen on a Sunday. It had last done so in 1842.  Bell’s Messenger reported that “almost all the respectable tradesmen in London and elsewhere intend to close their establishments ..  so as to ensure to their servants and others in their employ” had the benefit of a holiday. Application had been made to the Government to close public offices but this had been refused.

Tuesday, 27th December 1853

The leader writers across the country filled their columns with what they knew of the comings and goings of Viscount Palmerston. The Times , known for its support for Prime Minister Aberdeen, remarked that “There is something in the month of December which seems uniformly to make Lord Palmerston unmanageable.”

The Morning Herald, which generally took Palmerston’s side, remarked that it had [almost] been a year since Lord Aberdeen had displaced the previous Tory Government with a Coalition of “all the talents”. He had, the paper argued, now placed the Country in the dilemma of either waging war with [Russian] one of the greatest empires in the world or retract the advice given to Turkey, recall the fleets and abandon an ally.

Further complaint about the possible reasons for what was said to be the resignations of both the “resignation of the adjutant and deputy adjutant generals at the Horse Guards” was made in letter signed Justita [the Greek goddess of justice] appearing in the Morning Herald.

Saturday, 31st December 1853

Parliament was not sitting, having been prorogued. The Gazette announced royal proclamation that the prorogation of Parliament would be further extended beyond January 3rd. Neither the Commons nor the Lords would sit until after January 31st.

Without Parliament to be able to scrutinise the Government, it would continue to be the country’s newspapers which would attempt to hold it to account. All forms of political viewpoint had free rein with the public’s attention.

The Hampshire Chronicle had included the syndicated report from The Times about the behaviour of Viscount Palmerston, the major national celebrity of the time, although ranking below the interest shown in the Queen and her Prince. The paper also summarised the reports from the Morning Herald, the London Standard and the Globe. The contrasting opinions expressed, reflecting different political positions, distilled into the question whether “Lord Palmerston has proved too strong for Lord Aberdeen and his wretched Cabinet, or Lord Palmerston has been a dishonest truckler.”

The Salisbury and Winchester Journal opted to end the year by featuring a syndicated summary of the earlier newspaper reports [excepting the Times and the Morning Chronicle] “imputing to Prince Albert an undue intermeddling in state affairs”, wondering whether they were entirely groundless.

The Journal included another piece, syndicated from the Spectator, noting that “Stories are multiplying in the papers and in conversation, to make out a case .. [that] there is something wrong ‘at Court’.” The paper implied that the suggestion of undue influence by the Prince was groundless. However, it did elect to note the “insinuation is coupled with another emphatic assertion … that Lord Palmerston’s resignation, first announced to the public on Friday, was known in Berlin and Vienna early on Thursday.”

This extension of the prorogation of Parliament also meant that the purchase of Aldershot Common would have to be delayed until the necessary required were approved and available.

As 1853 came to a close, the fate a rural village was all but sealed.  And yet, several matters remained unresolved.

Even so, this would be the last year in which the villagers could hold in their memory closely resembling the “agricultural and nice productive little parish”, as once regarded by William Cobbett twenty years before. Within less than twenty months, the village would begin its transformation to become a garrison town, And so would begin another episode in the history of this place.

=> New Year’s Resolutions