The start of the merry month was as it should be. According to the Sussex Advertiser, all across the southern counties it was “warm, sunny and balmy.”
The farmers likely remained less merry despite that cheery sentiment, the weather having been “changeable” towards the end of April. The Advertiser had noted that the protracted cold caused “vegetation everywhere [to be] most backward” and unpromising, the wheats showing a yellow and unhealthy tinge.
Last year’s May Day had been one of local celebration in Aldershot, the village schoolmistress Miss Naomi York had been married at the parish church on that Saturday. It is easy to envisage gaily dressed children accompanying the bride in her finery as she processed to St Michael’s Church, then greeting her again as she emerged with her young husband, Mr Edward Snowdon, a machine maker from Farnham.
With the various customs of May Day thought to be so deeply ingrained in the culture of English rural life, it is also tempting to imagine the Maypole set in the middle of the village green at the foot of Church Hill. There were about thirty young women in the parish aged from 15 to 19, suggesting that there might have been some competition to be Queen of the May.
No record is found to say who she was in the village that year, nor how she was selected. Indeed, what evidence exists suggests that the day may not have been celebrated in that way at all.
Even by the 1840s, the customs of May-Day belonged to a time gone by.
Part of ‘May-Day In The Last Century’ by Anthony, Illustrated London News, 3 May 1845
Later on in the week in May 1853, the Weekly Chronicle had also reflected that,
“the dance round the May-pole on the village green has been given up … the rising of maidens at early dawn to gather the dew on the first morning of May [is] no longer .. a custom amongst our less primitive rural populations.”
The only reports of May Queen in the newspapers that year related to a boat; similarly, references to May Day were to a racehorse with that name. When there was mention of a May-pole being erected, it was either to note that the Royal Surrey Zoological Gardens had put on a show of the maypole, morris dancing and other “Old English rural sports, such as we are told were customary among our ancestors in the good old times”, or else report about one erected in the gardens of a mansion in Swindon for children to dance around.
All matters to do with May Day went completely without comment in the Hampshire Chronicle and in most regional newspapers, although the Halifax Courier did report that its parade had been postponed until Monday as the day fell on a Sunday.
Sunday, 1st May 1853
That May Day was on a Sunday in 1853 would no doubt have put a damper on frivolity in the village, at least as far as the the curate was concerned, even supposing that the young man from the New Forest was interested in how May Day was celebrated at ” ‘ampshire’s top end”.
The Reverend James Dennett was very much a rural man, expected to do well for a parish community dependent upon agriculture. Just how he had made the move from his father’s cottage to hold the position as perpetual curate in their village might have seemed a mystery, even to the two churchwardens, Captain Newcome and Charles Barron Esq. Neither of them had a formal role in Dennett’s appointment. Nor had it been for the Bishop of Winchester alone to decide. In Aldershot, the advowson, that is the right to select and appoint the perpetual curate for the parish, was in the control of a consortium of four families of yeoman farmers. Their only representative now resident in the parish was Mr Richard Allden.
- Despite that formality, candidates for the nomination as perpetual curate would very likely have originated from the man who operated as a rural archdeacon at Winchester Cathedral, the Very Reverend William Wilson. The 1851 Census recorded James Dennett as his house servant in Southampton where he was the Vicar of the parish of Holy Rhood.
=> More about James Dennett (& William Wilson)
The curate’s first month had been demanding, not only a wedding and three baptisms, but also his first meeting of the Vestry attended by those men of influence in the village.
The good news was that there had been no burials to oversee with funeral ceremony. However, with report of two deaths in the village, that good fortune was about to change. An infant had died on April 30th, Friday just passed, following the death a woman who had died the day before. This was the first time the curate would observe his parish clerk Thomas Attfield in is role as sexton and preparing the graves for the dead.
The dates of the funerals were fixed for Tuesday and Wednesday of the following week. Even with those dates entered in his appointment diary, the curate’s month ahead looked less full of parish duties than it had been for April.
There were no banns to be read this Sunday, his only additional duty was a baptism.
The curate would not have known much if anything of the family of Caroline, the infant baptised at Matins on that first Sunday morning. She was the third surviving child of the agricultural labourer James Marshall and his wife Elizabeth, both parents now in their mid-thirties.
Caroline’s mother was from Farnham, baptised there in 1817 as Elizabeth Downes at the Church of St Andrew, the same church at which she and James had married in November 1845. Their first child had been born the next year when Elizabeth was aged 29. Sadly, Anne was buried five days after her baptism at St Michael’s Church that April. A second child was baptised two years later, in September 1848 at the new Church of St John the Evangelist in Hale; the couple were then staying along the Farnborough Road. The couple were back in Aldershot by 1851, their third child baptised at St Michael’s in January that year; the Census lists the family living at Dog Kennel.
James Marshall was from a local family of agricultural labourers, he and his father, also called James, were both baptised at St Michael’s Church.
He had been the eldest of at least five children and had been in his late teens when his mother had died in January 1835 at the age of 36. His youngest brother Henry had been baptised only two years before, in 1833.
- James’ parents were both underage when wed “with the consent of all concerned” at St Peter’s Church, Ash in 1816; (There is no proof that the marriage was forced by a pregnancy: no baptismal record found for a child of the couple before that of James in 1818, nor was one found baseborn of Jane Brown, that being his mother’s maiden name.)
James’ father, widowed with five children, had remarried a year afterwards in August 1836. His bride was Caroline Chandler, more than 27 years his junior; at not yet 20, James’ stepmother was but a year older than he was.
- Caroline was the daughter of a carpenter, baptised in Egham. However, she married in Aldershot, not in Egham. Neither was able to provide a signature in the marriage register. (Thomas Attfield had signed as one of the witnesses, as the newly appointed parish clerk.)
Sadly, James’ half-sister Ann had died at age 14 in 1838 and by 1841 James and his two brothers Charles and William had all left home. his brother William died in 1848, at age 28. His youngest brother Henry had remained with their father and stepmother Caroline, then living on Place Hill. By 1851 James’ brother Charles has moved back to be with his father and stepmothert: they had moved to a cottage on North Lane owned by the farmer Thomas Smith; that Smith paid the rates suggests that this was a tied cottage. James’ brother Henry had left to be a farm servant on the Poyle House estate by 1851, staying on Poyle Lane with the bailiff George Nurse, from Norfolk.
The Great Encampment
More details of plans for a camp of military exercise were becoming available in the newspapers, the exact position of ‘the great encampment’ was to be Chobam Common.
According to the report in Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, the event would last about six weeks from the beginning of June. Viscount Hardinge, the Commander-in-Chief, was to stay at a mansion at Summer Hill and the Duke of Cambridge was to establish the headquarters at Bagshot Park.
Participating regiments were preparing to move from their barracks in Windsor, the Tower, Chichester and Regents Park. The event was expected to be …
“no doubt … one of the grandest military spectacles
.. witnessed in England for more than half a century”.
With the choice of Chobham decided, plans were well in hand for maps “to guide the Generals in the choice of positions, manœuvres, marches, &c.” for the ‘Great Encampment’, as recorded soon afterwards in a ‘History of the Royal Sappers and Miners’. The Four large sheets were compiled, drawn to a scale of four inches to a mile, then lithographed and coloured. A 12-inch plan of the encampment around Chobham also was commissioned.
An area of about 220 square miles around was surveyed, with cardinal angles selected at Wokingham, Chertsey, Guildford and Farnham, as roughly sketched below.
A special survey of the ground at Aldershot Heath was made and plotted by Sgt. Spencer and Cpl Macdonald, the scale being six inches to the mile. All was to be carried out and completed between 1st May and 14th June. Sappers from the Royal Engineers would be seen in their working dress uniform with surveying equipment all across the heathlands.
Monday, 2nd May 1853
Topics in the newspapers the next week included concern about the growth of population and of the spread of disease and its associated causes, with the weather, the state of public health competing as explanation with that of poverty and threats of pestilence and infection from abroad.
Public interest was fed by the extensive publication of statistics, especially of child mortality. When presenting before the Epidemiological Society of London on May 2nd, Dr John Snow reported that
It is well known that the average duration of life in the large towns of this country is much less than amongst the rural population.
This depends, as most persons are aware, partly on the smaller number of persons who attain to old age in large towns, and partly on the greater mortality in infancy and early childhood.
He contrasted the high proportion of total deaths in cities being of children under five [Liverpool (52%), Manchester (51%) and London (>40%]) with the “the more distant and rural part of Surrey” around Guildford, Farnham and Hambledon in which less than 29% of deaths were under five years old.
However, Dr Snow went on to state, living in a town is not itself cause of the difference in mortality in general: “In London the mortality amongst females, between fifteen and twenty-five years of age, is lower than in the rural districts; but in the towns w[h]ere textile fabrics are manufactured, the mortality at this period is higher.”
- These are, of course, the ages of the young women who had left villages to enter domestic service in the towns and cities, so perhaps this was the explanation.
The focus then was on the squalor of life in parts of the cities with prospect of low life expectancy. In contrast, the villages, where half the population still lived, was taken by default as the comparator. What was not then thought relevant was that the much greater extent of physical work, including the lengthy walk to work, combined with large consumption of fresh and varied produce meant that the agricultural workers of the 1850s were very healthy.
Tuesday, 3rd May 1853
The curate conducted his first funeral in his new parish for the a child called Charles Young. He had died aged only four weeks old on 30 April. The cause would be listed as “Inflammation of the lungs – not certified” when the death was eventually registered on 17 June 1853 by Mary Matthews, a younger sister to the child’s mother Martha who had been present at the death.
Reverend Dennett would likely have checked that the child had been baptised, noting that this had by done by his predecessor in the previous month. Perhaps he would have recalled how shocked he himself had been when hearing of the news in March of the death of Frank Henning, the infant he had baptised when first visiting Aldershot in January.
Just how much the curate would have known about this child’s parents, Charles and Martha Young is unclear. Thomas Attfield, who had dug the grave for the infant in his combined role as sexton as well as parish clerk, would have surely known of the gossip. The father Charles had been a prisoner in the Police Station in Farnham at the time of the Census in 1851. His wife Martha had been a mother prior to their marriage, two children in the household with her maiden name of Matthews: ‘Miriam Crane’ Matthews, registered in Farnham in 1844, and Richard Matthews, baptised as illegitimate in Aldershot in 1846.
Wednesday, 4th May 1853
The curate’s second funeral, held on Wednesday, the next day, was for Eliza Nicholls. She had passed away on April 29th, aged 37 with cause was noted as “Chronic Disease of the Heart – not certificated”. She had died with her mother Eleanor Nicholls at her bedside. Her mother reported Eliza to be a ‘Servant’ when later registering her death.
Born in the village, Eliza was the eldest child of Eleanor and James Nichols, an agricultural labourer with a rented cottage at West End. Eliza had been baptised in August 1815, her sister Mary in November 1817, Jane, the youngest daughter in February 1820. She had two younger siblings, George and Agnes who were with their parents as teenagers in 1841. Eliza and her two sisters, Mary and Jane, had left home by 1841. It seems likely that they had all been working in London; Eliza was then a female servant in the household of the artist Edward Pasquier in Upper Gower Street, St Pancras, in 1841.
Eliza’s sister Mary had married a baker in London in 1849, Eliza recorded with her as a visitor in Isleworth, near Brentford, in 1851. In that same year, Jane was a domestic servant in an orphanage in Clapham. By then George had also left the family home, a cottage in the West End rented from Stephen Barnett. Agnes, however, had remained in Aldershot, recorded by the 1851 Census as a lodger in her parents’ house together with her husband and children. She had married the tilemaker Henry Stonard in 1844; he was the son of one of the two Brickmasters in the village. The baptism of Agnes’ fifth child earlier in the year, in January 1853, had been a happy family occasion for the grandparents, in stark contrast to the ordeal of attending the burial of Eliza, James and Eleanor’s own eldest child.
- Eliza’s parents had married in St Giles, Ashtead, Surrey in October 1814. The entry in the register notes that the marriage was by Banns, “with consent of Friends”. As bride, her mother, Eleanor, could sign her name, James Nichols could not. Both were described as “of this parish”, likely because James was working in the area near Epsom, where Eleanor had been baptised in January 1789, to parents John and Penelope Iles. She was older than James who had been baptised in February 1792 at St Peter’s Church, Ash, to parents Charles and Elizabeth.
Monday, 9th May 1853
The increase in the ‘excessive mortality’, attributed to smallpox, scarlatina, typhus, influenza and bronchitis, reported in the Quarterly Returns from the Registrar-General, was featured in The Illustrated London News.
- There had been 118,251 deaths in the first three months of 1853, the ‘winter quarter’, exceeding by 11,550 (10.8%) the deaths in the equivalent period of 1852 and “still more for any previous except 1847 and 1848 when influenza and cholera prevailed”.
The Morning Chronicle noted that the Registrar-General attributed many of the deaths to small-pox to neglect on the part of parents to have their children vaccinated. The Poor Law Board used the publication of its Annual Report to call the attention of guardians of several unions to the mortality arising from this epidemic, including printed notices to secure public attention amongst the poorer classes.
A bill was being introduced in Parliament directed at compulsory vaccination of babies against smallpox. It was to be debated that month in the Committee stages in the House of Lords. Notwithstanding, the newspapers were reporting progress being made with Smallpox vaccinations. The total number of persons successfully vaccinated by the public vaccinators in England and Wales during the previous year had been 397, 128, an increase of 58,181 (17.2%) over the number in 1851.
Tuesday, 10th May 1853
The keen eyed amongst those who frequented London from the village might have noted, with interest bordering on curiosity, two advertisement in The London Gazette and The Globe. These had been placed by the Office of Ordnance as tenders for “paillasse straw” and “Wood for Billets”, respectively. These were to be “for the Service of the Troops at the proposed Encampment in the neighbourhood of Chobham-common, in the County Surrey, and of Aldershot Heath in the County of Hants.”
What Dennett Did Next
Now with a clear diary, the young curate had opportunity to take stock and reflect upon his priorities for the parish, both personal and for his vocation.
At some stage there was still that obligation for Reverend James Dennett to meet with Bishop Sumner at his palace in Farnham Castle. That was but an hour’s walk from the curate’s parsonage, with a choice of route, both much the same distance. Being new to the area, the simpler of the two was to go due South, all the way down the lane from the schoolhouse to where Boxalls Lane met the foot of Place Hill, then to go on to the Pea Bridge and over the Blackwater into Badshot and the road Farnham. Then finally, when arriving in the town, to turn right and walk up to the top of Castle Street.
The alternative route, likely preferred by villagers for the ease of its gradient, required some local knowledge. Rather than take the lane from the schoolhouse all the way down, there was a path to the right that cut diagonally southwest through fields which in bygone years had once been farmed by the Cistercian monks from Waverley Abbey. That way came out at Arnsted Lane, across from Dog Kennels. Then it was due west past the alehouse on the corner and left up towards Hale going by Weybourne House. Finally, by going straight on at the crossroads and onto the Six Bells, there was a path right along the edge of Farnham Park to the Castle grounds.
Doubtless, the new curate would also have wished to confer with Reverend Wilson to seek advice about his recent experiences. As one of the more senior rural deans, he held the position of Canon at the Cathedral in Winchester.
The journey to Winchester might be made by coach from Farnham although it could also be done by railway from the station at Farnborough. That was the railway that ran from London to Southampton.
Reverend Wilson was Rector of Holy Rhood in Southampton, but of greater relevance that city was also where Mary Ann Compton lived. She was the daughter of a local businessman in Reverend Wilson’s parish. Keeping in touch with Mary Ann, the young woman to whom James would later be married, was now easy by letter, the penny post now well established. However, according to the railway timetable, published every Saturday on page 6 of the Hampshire Chronicle, there were daily trains from the station at Farnborough to Southampton.
Of course, making use of Farnborough station would mean a longer walk from his parsonage, but that could be done in not much more than an hour and a half. If he needed to take luggage, perhaps he might shorten the time taken by making use of one of the carriers in the village, Joseph Miles or Stephen Porter.
There was a train from Farnborough which left at 9.35am and arrived in Southampton five minutes before midday. The earlier one at 8.18am would do so by ten o’clock, suggesting that he could be there and back in a day. The very last train left Southampton at 7pm, changing at Basingstoke, arrived back in Farnborough by nine o’clock in the evening. To avoid a long walk to Aldershot after dark, he would need to check whether there was a coach from the station to Farnham with a convenient stopping place along the Turnpike Road. Having to catch the three o’clock train back might have seemed too short a visit to be worthwhile.
Refocussing his attention upon his vocation and mission as curate, the Reverend James Dennett had obligation to attend to the needs of the poor. That required an understanding of the stance of the Aldershot Vestry towards poor relief, especially ‘out-door relief’, that is, assistance by way of food, clothing and money, as well as lodging and medical attention, given in a person in their own home, rather than through admission into a workhouse.
Provision, especially for those regarded as ‘deserving poor’, such as the elderly, the infirm, lunatics and widows and orphans in distress, had long been governed by the Poor Laws. The Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 attempted to unify nationally the varied provision given in each parish. Intended to lower the cost of poor relief, parishes were grouped into unions of parishes. These were given national direction to reduce outdoor relief and have different types of workhouses for the aged, for children and for men and women, all to be monitored by a central government agency. It took years to come into effect.
- Training for the ministry would have provided the curate with an understanding of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834. The Report of the 1832 Poor Law Commission, drafted by Edwin Chadwick and chaired by the Bishop of London, had included Bishop Charles Sumner’s elder brother, John Bird Sumner, a future Archbishop of Canterbury.
Opinion was divided on the appropriate approach to assisting the ‘deserving poor’. The curate would therefore have been interested in reading past minutes of the Vestry, and perhaps also in the Overseer’s Account Book, in order, thereby, to understand something of past practice in the parish.
The Curate and the Vestry Minute Book
With the year ending March 1853 closed, the record of the rates collected in the Poor Rate Book for 1852/53 was due to be audited, so too the accounts of expenditure by William Faggetter and Francis Deakins as joint Overseers. Both had to be signed off by the District Auditor appointed by the Farnham Poor Law Union to which the parish belonged. That would happen in June, although not without amendment.
Asking to inspect the Overseers’ Book might have seemed a rash move, even for a young man in a hurry. However, as the Vestry not due to meet again until July there was surely opportunity to look at the Minute Book. The numbered pages of the Vestry Minute Book would enable Reverend James Dennett to glean some understanding of the history of poor relief in the parish.
The entries were generally brief and summary, some just reporting the rate in the pound set for the poor law rate.
The notes referring to the Vestry meeting held in April just passed were on page 109 of the Vestry Minutes Book. That had been written by Reuben Attfield in his role as the Assistant Overseer. They were very brief indeed, noting little more than agreement to make a rate for the relief of the poor at 15 pence in the pound. Dennett would need to remind himself that to assess the total amount collected, rates were levied more than once a year, often three times annually.
Turning to the start of the Minutes Book, the first minutes were of a meeting held on 10th day of April 1835. There, almost twenty years previously, was the name of Richard Allden as one of the churchwardens. He was ever present in one post or another down the years. The other churchwarden was John Eggar. There was none of the name Eggar now living in the village. The curate would learn that John Eggar had inherited the Manor Halimote for Aldershot in 1808 and that it was his younger brother Samuel who in 1853 was now the absentee owner of Manor Farm which he had let to the tenant farmer Henry Twynam.
John Eggar had been a man of significant influence in the village for over thirty years until he left, at age 69, to retire to his home village of Bentley. The Great House, also referred to as the ‘Manor House’, together with its surrounding estate, had been sold by John Eggar in 1842. That was also when he handed over what became known as the Manor Farm estate to his younger brother Samuel, together with “the reputed Halimote Manor of Aldershot”, as referred to in the will of Thomas Buddle, from whom John Eggar had inherited.
The departure of John Eggar coincided with both the statement of a deficit in the parish accounts and the greater presence of Charles Barron in village governance, having rebuilt Aldershot Place on the ruins of another Tichborne mansion.
One supposition is that Barron, aged 41 and having experience as a land proprietor in London, took charge in proposing the Tithe Apportionment Survey of 1841. Charles Barron was installed as one of the churchwardens in March 1843 and continued as such thereafter, still retaining that office in 1853. Charles Barron Esq, who had a house in Pall Mall, seemed to be a man of substance and influence in the village. As Dennett would discover, Barron also owned the Grange Farm estate, across the Blackwater in Tongham.
Perhaps of more direct interest for the young curate was the role taken by the churchwardens in chairing the Vestry. In a meeting of the Vestry in 1835, the curate Reverend Hume had been the chairman, as might have been expected and there were several occasions during the 1840s when Dennett’s immediate predecessor, Reverend Carey, was recorded as having done so. However, it was now Captain Newcome who assumed the role as part of his appointment as Churchwarden alongside Charles Barron.,
The curate would also note that the Vestry exercised control over what could occur on ‘Common Land’, although making reference to the Dean of the Cathedral, who was Lord of the Manor. Various initiatives to offset the effect of unemployment were taken in 1835 and later in 1842. There was also preference given to outdoor relief, including assistance given to Widow Matthews and for the washing and clothing of two men called Hall.
There was rich information on that amongst the minutes, as well as detail of office bearers and the appointment of parish officials, such as the parish clerk, the hayward and parochial constables.
In March 1837 there had been reference to the let of two acres of land at Brixberry to Richard Cawson, to expire at Michaelmas 1841. Brixbury (Bricksbury) Hill, a place known previously as Tuxbury (Tukesbury) Hill, lay outside the parish boundary of Aldershot, located to the north of Farnham Park . This was the one of several puzzles the curate would have to solve about the actions of the Vestry towards poor relief.
=> Brixbury [to be added at a later date]
In what might have been confusing, there was a younger John Eggar, the nephew of the older John and Samuel Eggar, who later held various positions on the Vestry up until 1850. He had taken over management of family’s farmlands in Aldershot; three of his children would be baptised in Aldershot during the period 1845 to 1849.
The minutes made various references to the sale of the Aldershot Workhouse, noting that “the Paupers of this Parish be removed to the Workhouse at Farnham at a charge of 3 shillings and six pence each person per week”, an annual sum of £9 – 1s.
With the Reverend Henry Carey in the chair, the March meeting in 1848 was attended by the leading men of influence in the village: Richard Allden, Charles Barron, John Deacon, John Eggar [the younger], James Elstone, William Herrett, John Kimber, George Newcome and Henry Webster. The latter, the landlord at the Bee Hive Inn, had been made Collector of Taxes.
The minutes of that meeting make mention of a charitable bequest, a legacy left to the parish by Mrs Viner’s will. The mystery about Mrs Viner, her will and how that related to the Aldershot Workhouse, was something which the young curate would surely have wished to resolve. It might have taken some years before he knew the full story.
The building for Workhouse had been a rebuild of what had originally been constructed by Sir Richard Tichborne as his sub-manor when he had become the 2nd Baronet in 1629. The rebuild had been made possible through a bequest from Mrs Raleigh Viner, a descendent both of the sister of Sir Richard and also from Sir Walter Raleigh, a hero of the later Elizabethan age.
=> Mrs Viner and the Aldershot Workhouse [to be added at a later date]
In the minutes of Vestry meetings in more recent years was note of the appointment of Henry Elkins (baker), William Downes (dealer) and John Dutton (labourer) as Parochial Constables. The March meeting of 1852, chaired by Charles Barron, once again confirmed Messrs Allden and Elstone as Guardians and also Charles Barron as Churchwarden, this time alongside Reuben Attfield who was also appointed Assistant Overseer at a salary of £20. William Jefferson and Francis Deakin were made Overseers, James Elstone taking on the post of Surveyor, apparently without renumeration.
Page 108 contained the minutes of the Vestry meeting held in March 1853. It listed the office-holders in the Vestry for the coming year. Once more, Richard Allden and James Elstone were the Guardians representing the parish at the Farnham Poor Law Union and Charles Barron was a Churchwarden, the other being George Newcome. James Elstone had taken the post of Overseer alongside Thomas Deacon.
George Newcome had chaired the meeting in March 1853, the attendees listed as Messrs Elstone, Allden, Twynam, Herret, Hart, Stovold and George Gosden (his father William having died in 1851).
There was no mention of Charles Barron being present. The supposition is that he might therefore have been in London at his Pall Mall residence.
Friday, 13th May 1853
What might either have passed unnoticed by any associated with the village, or to have set hares running, were two advertisements placed by the Board of Ordnance.
One appearing in the Globe on this Friday was “for the supply of wood for billets for the service of the troops at the proposed encampment in the neighbourhood of Chobham Common, in the County of Surrey, and Aldershot Heath, in the County of Hants.”
A similar advertisement had been placed in The London Gazette for ‘paillasse straw’, that is oaten straw used for bedding.
Saturday, 14th May 1853
What would not have passed unnoticed was the accident on the railway at Farnham that afternoon. Charles Cannon, aged 20, was a porter employed by the London and South-Western Railway. He had been cut in two by the arrival of a second train shortly after the regular passenger train had done passed by. The Coroner’s Inquest would be held promptly on the Tuesday. It generated considerable interest in the town, as was later reported the next day in the Evening Standard. It transpired that the station master had not been informed of the timing of the arrival of the second survey/observation train.
Monday, 16th May 1853
The date of Whitsun Monday followed Whitsun, the name given to the Day of Pentecost. Whit Sunday was the sixth Sunday following Easter Sunday.
The roots of the Pentecost went back to a celebration fifty days after the Passover. In the Christian calendar it signified the descent to the Apostles of the Holy Spirit.
Reverend Dennett would have followed what was written in the Book of Common Prayer to guide the services he conducted on both Whit Sunday and Whit Monday.
Whit Monday was a public holiday, although what that meant for those who worked on farms was moot; even in the towns and cities this was not a paid holiday. However, something special had been advertised in London.
There was a fascination with electricity, the science now being translated into inventions having practical use, such as long-distance telegraph to speed up communication. It was now being promoted as a source of light to rival the newly introduced gaslighting in the nation’s cities.
According to the Globe, “crowds of holiday folks” assembled on Hungerford Suspension Bridge to witness both towers brightly illuminated. “(T)he numerous gas-lamps on either side of he bridge appeared eclipsed, as it were by the marvellous action of the electric batteries.” The latter had been developed by Dr Watson at a lower and potentially economical cost.
Saturday, 21st May 1853
The leader column of the Mark Lane Express, which was syndicated in the regional weeklies, commented that the wet autumn had meant that farmers experienced difficulties in getting seed into the ground. Since then nights had been exceedingly cold and the days dull and cheerless. In the months of April and May there had been “an excess of wet”. Even now, temperatures were more typical of March than of May which had “commenced auspiciously” but “since had been a total of want of genial warmth so much needed”.
Prices had not risen however as there had “been large arrivals from the Mediterranean and Black Sea ports and “good supplies from the Baltic.”
The editor of the Mark Lane Express was Henry Corbet, Secretary of the London Farmers’ Club. He berated the malt-tax and supported the interests of the tenant farmer as much as he advocated the use of science to advance improvements in agriculture.
The Hampshire Chronicle also included the leader from the Morning Herald which had an ambiguous messaged about the Eastern Question:
The dispute between France and Russia about precedence at the Holy Shrines had apparently been settled. However, the Russian Ambassador, Prince Menshikoff, had demanded with Turkey to oversee the rights already granted to the Greek (Orthodox) subjects. The newspaper was calling for action to resist what was in the form of treaty, bemoaning “the compliant [Prime Minister] Aberdeen” and invoking the name of Viscount Palmerston.
The Hampshire Chronicle also included report that the exact position and form of the ‘Great Encampment’ on Chobham Common was now decided, the ground having been surveyed and “judiciously selected”.
There would be 10,000 encamped, some “on the ground about the 1st of June, but the whole of the encampment will not be formed until the first week of Ascot races”. Lord Seaton was to take command, stationed at Highams in Chobham where he would entertain the Queen and Prince Albert.
- It would later be suggested that Prince Albert had urged the choice of Chobham.
Lord Hardinge would occupy a mansion near Sunninghill, the Duke of Cambridge would reside at Bagshot.
The Guards stationed at at Windsor, Winchester and Regents Park had already received orders to prepare format was to be “one of the grandest military spectacles which have been witnessed in England for more than half a century”:
Saturday, 28th May 1853
The leader in the Mark Lane Express, included in the Hampshire Chronicle this Saturday, struck a more optimistic note . It declared that a “decided improvement took place in the weather at the commencement of the week .. The autumn sown wheat looks better than it did eight to ten days ago .. but .. many farmers are of the opinion that the yield to the acre must prove short .. [Although the] days have been very hot, with bright sunshine .. the nights have been cold.” Despite all that, trade in the market was dull, largely due to “the continued liberal receipts of foreign grain”.
The Hampshire Chronicle included notice of about 150 acres of land newly available for sale through the enclosure of Ash Common. The land, declared freehold and tithe-free, was to be auctioned “in suitable lots from one acre to twenty acres, being good sites for building with frontages to good roads”. Further particulars were to appear in next week’s paper although additional information could readily be obtained from the valuer, Mr Charles Pink of Fareham.
This was a further stage in the process that had been underway during 1852 when Mr Pink had started to hold public meetings at the Greyhound Inn, just across the Blackwater from Aldershot, not far from the Ash Bridge.
General enclosure of common land had not yet come to Aldershot, although as with much of the area previously known as the Hundred of Crondall, land had been taken into cultivation from ‘the waste’ over the centuries. That process had been overseen by the local ‘Court Baron’ of Crondall and recorded in times past as ‘encroachment’, with hedges grown to mark out one field from the next, recognised as owned by different individuals through the system of copyhold. Encroachment on the ‘waste’ increased the extent of cultivated land in a parish, although it did require authority. Before the English Reformation that had been the Priory of St Swithun, the monastic order attached to the Cathedral, had been the ‘lord of the manor’; after the Reformation, the Priory was dissolved but the Prior was translated to become the Dean of the Cathedral along with its possessions. However, in practice, decision making on what could be ‘taken from the waste’ was devolved to the Vestry.
Nationally, enclosure of land had been carried out through a large number of individual Inclosure Acts going before Parliament. In 1845, to speed up the process, the authorised enclosure of lands other than common pastures by provisional order alone. Permanent salaried Enclosure Commissioners were appointed having the power to issue Enclosure Awards without submitting them to parliament for approval. They had Assistant Enclosure Commissioners and Valuers/Surveyors to help them with their work.
As a result, by 1849, the parishes of Binsted and Headley had been subject to enclosure, of 990 and 1532 acres, respectively. This was followed in 1851 by the enclosure of 108 acres at Bentley, the home of the Eggar family who owned the Aldershot Manor Halimote with rights over about 3,000 acres on Aldershot Heath.
This General Enclosure Act was further amended in 1852 to require statutory authorisation for all enclosures.
Monday, 30th May 1853
The death of yet another infant brought sadness to the village at the end of the month. Aged only 15 months, Francis was the son of William and Esther Barnett. His death, registered at Farnham on that very same day, was reported as due to ‘Dentition’ after three days of convulsions by Jane Newell, the child’s grandmother, who had been in attendance at his passing.
=> June 1853