The month traditionally marks the start of the harvest when all is gathered in. However, this particular September saw a collision of hopes and fears, not only within confines of the parish but with happenings at national and international levels.
Locally, the harvest was threatened. Strong winds from the west swept across the country at the start of the month. They risked serious upset to the hops which had an importance for the economy of the village. As though to add to the woes of the village, the child deaths from whooping cough continued.
On the positive side, the success of the proposal to enclose the heathland of Aldershot Common carried with it the prospect for economic revival. Additional land could be brought into cultivation; that, and any associated plans for new buildings and drainage, meant extra opportunities for work and income for both households and the parish vestry. That optimism might have been offset in some quarters by concerns about loss of rights to forage and turbary, for foodstuff and fuel.
Nationally, the newspapers made continuing comment on the success of the Camp held on Chobham Common, cannon fire within earshot 14 miles away in parts of Aldershot, as reportedly it was as far away as Aylesbury in Buckingham. Commander-in-Chief Hardinge had expressed public satisfaction to Lt General Lord Seaton and to the officers and men under his command. Privately he had confided his intention to secure a permanent camp of military exercise. This plan was being taken forward in earnest with the support of none less than Prince Albert who had taken assumed a leading interest.
Near the close of August, following renewed inspection, Commander-in-Chief Hardinge had written to his Adjutant-General declaring,
“The ground around Aldershot is excellent for our purpose.”
Internationally, as though in a parallel universe, the tensions between Turkey and Russia remained unresolved. The repeated talk of war in the newspapers might have occasionally been mentioned in the village, but without any sense of having relevance for its future.
Ruptures were also occurring in the unity of Britain’s so-called ‘Coalition Ministry’, associated with differing views within Cabinet.
These developments were unfolding as though in layers. Threads intertwine, complicating the telling of the history of this village.
Saturday, 3rd September 1853
The Hampshire Chronicle reported that gales had blown down hop-poles in Farnham; some hops had become uprooted. The fields exposed to the southwest and west and on rising ground had suffered the most. The Chronicle noted that the cold weather had already “retarded growth, and consequently the hop are very small”.
The rain had come after the few days of fine weather. The consequent delay in harvesting spring-sown crops was prompting concern for the season, according to the Portsmouth Times. Similar impact was reported for Alton, near Bentley where the Eggar family, the absentee owners of Manor Farm, were based.
In its summary of the previous week’s news, the Hampshire Chronicle reported that “it appears from the latest foreign intelligence, no definitive settlement of the differences between Russia and Turkey has been made, and an amicable termination is still a matter of doubt.”
Amongst other news carried that Saturday by the Chronicle was reminder of the new law: anyone issuing receipts had to buy and fix stamps for payments of £2 or more. Were this irritant for farmers and other traders not met, the receipt would be invalid and there was risk of a £10 forfeit.
Farmers were not given to kind words about the Government of the day, especially that of the ‘Coalition Ministry’ which brought together the ‘free trade’ politicians intent upon liberalising the economy; that meant maintaining the abolition of import restrictions on grain.
With contrary opinion, the Morning Post ran the summary of an article giving “cordial support to the Government [which] amply justified its formation by the services which it has already rendered to the country.” That was the judgment of Fraser’s Magazine which had been published the previous day carrying a piece entitled ‘The Session and The Ministry’.
Full praise was given for enacting the range of financial measures included in the 1853 Budget. The new Chancellor of the Exchequer William Gladstone was described as “the foremost figure in this year’s House of Commons” for abolishing or reducing a great array of taxes on everyday goods, including tea, and introducing the Succession Tax on inherited wealth.
The article noted that unity of the Government had not been tested by matters upon which there were differing opinions within the Coalition. Potentially divisive issues of Church and State existed, including the relationship between the clergy and the laity, the Established and the Nonconformist and the enfranchised and the excluded. The matter of a new Reform Bill had not yet been presented to Cabinet.
Lord Palmerston was also singled out for his energy in his new role at the Home Office. He and his ministers had been fulfilling a reforming agenda during the short session. Their achievements included the abolition of penal transportation to Australia, the reduction of sentences for minor crimes and addressing social nuisances such as betting houses, smoke and wayward cab drivers.
Particular mention was made of Palmerston’s “heaviest task .. [that] of completing the organisation of the militia.”
The article also made a point of noting the angry language used by the supporters for each of Palmerston and Prime Minister Aberdeen with respect to their opposing views on foreign affairs. As yet, the differences between the two over the Russo-Turkish Question had not “betrayed itself in Parliament.”
Monday, 5th September 1853
Her mother had travelled to Farnham during the previous week to register the death of her infant nephew Stephen Barnett. Elizabeth had suffered from bouts of ‘Hooping Cough’ for three weeks. Her cousin Stephen Barnett and the infant Jesse Stonard had both died during that period. The infant Ann Bedford had been the first to die in August, her death stated by her mother to be due to teething convulsions. The causes of none of those child deaths had been certified by a doctor.
The widow Harriett Derbridge lived at Bakers, renting a cottage from Mrs Benham.
The cottages at Bakers were on the northern edge of the village, in the area marked as Plot 278 in the map extract shown below.
This map was drawn up as part of the Tithe Apportionment Survey of 1841.
In 1841, the Derbridge family had rented from George Falkner. This was not the George Falkner who was the landlord at the Red Lion but a much older man who in 1841 was a farmer at Upper Old Park, Farnham, up by Long Bottom and Brixbury. He lived there with his wife Mary who was seventeen years his junior.
George had married Mary Stovold in November 1830, in Farnham where both had been baptised: George was then 39, Mary 22. By February 1843, when George died at age 52, Mary was a widow.
Two years later, Mary, remarried. She was widowed, aged 37 and with property. Her new husband was Edward Benham, eight years her junior.
They married in London under special licence in June 1845, their first child was born in Farnham the next year.
Edward Benham was the son of a farmer of a small holding in Crondall with whom he was living in 1841, before his marriage.
Listed in the local Rate Books as Mrs Benham, Mary was the owner of several properties in Aldershot, including both the cottages (at Plot 278) and the two acre homestead (at Plot 285). The custom and practice within the Crondall Hundred, of which Aldershot was a part, supported women in legally owning property, through both purchase and inheritance. According to the Rate Book for April 1853, Mrs Benham was one of the eight women holding land having a rateable value of £10 or more, as did twenty-eight men.
Mrs Benham’s second child was born in Bentley in 1847. The family were living there in a large household in 1851, by which time Edward Benham was a farmer’s steward.
Tuesday, 6th September 1853
The French Emperor had invited the King of the Belgians, the King of Portugal and Prince Albert to attend a series of military manoeuvres of his army at his ‘Camp of the North’ in Boulogne.
The self-styled Napoleon III greeted Prince Albert on Tuesday who had sailed from Portsmouth Dock the previous evening on the Victoria and Albert. The Prince introduced his host to those in attendance, including the Duke of Newcastle, who was the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, Viscount Hardinge, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, and General Lord Seaton, who had commanded the Camp at Chobham.
Viscount Hardinge and General Lord Seaton had both distinguished themselves during the Napoleonic Wars and each had served in colonial administrative positions afterwards, Seaton in Canada and the Ionian Islands and Hardinge in India. When a Member of Parliament, Sir Henry Hardinge had spoken in 1840 in support of the award of a pension for the newly-ennobled Sir John Colborne. They were close allies and shared an intent on military reform, one towards which Prince Albert was also committed.
- Like Viscount Hardinge, who was accorded the title of General in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Lord Seaton was accorded that title for his past appointments. Both later were promoted to that substantive rank in 1854.
Given what is known from previous correspondence and their presence at Louis Napoleon’s ‘Camp of the North’, it seems extremely likely that, at some stage in their time together, the visiting party discussed their shared interest in establishing a camp at Aldershot.
Thursday, 8th September 1853
The gales in the previous week might have blown away any excitement that had been generated in the village last month by the overnight stay by Viscount Hardinge at the Red Lion Inn. Few, if any, would have any inkling of the plans being hatched by the Commander-in-Chief for a military camp on Aldershot Heath.
A glimpse of potential impact of those plans is framed, by way of past and future, by two funerals which were held on this Thursday at either end of Hampshire.
At the top end of the County, family and friends gathered at a rural parish church for the burial of the daughter of a labourer’s widow. No record of this event in Aldershot, nor its circumstance, is found in newspapers. By contrast, the funeral held in the garrison town of Portsmouth was widely reported. It was for a national military hero who, having repeatedly suffered and then survived the wounds of war, had seen out his allotted three score years and ten. His death was also regarded as untimely. His funeral was attended by Viscount Hardinge and tens of thousands of other mourners.
With fine hand, the Reverend James Dennett would enter the child’s name in the parish burial register, incorrectly recording her as aged 7.
Elizabeth’s baptism in May 1847 at St Michael’s Church was also recorded in the parish register. So too her siblings, the eldest ten years earlier in September 1837. Her parents, Joseph and Harriet, had married at the same church in the previous October, 1836.
Her mother had been baptised as Harriet Barnett at St Andrew’s Church, Farnham in 1816. Her father, Joseph ‘Durbridge’ had earlier been baptised at St Lawrence’s Church in Seale in 1809.
In 1841, with only their eldest son James born, Joseph and Harriett had taken in two lodgers in their rented cottage in Aldershot at Bakers. One was James Barnett, Harriet’s older brother who had also been baptised at St Andrew’s in Farnham; the other was Charles Hunter, a police officer.
Elizabeth’s father Joseph died in 1849, buried in May, a month after the baptism of his youngest child Eliza. The 1851 Census listed his widow in receipt of parish relief with six orphaned children, her eldest James was an errant boy.
Sir Charles Napier
The funeral service that took place in the Garrison Chapel at Portsmouth was for General Sir Charles James Napier.
His brothers, Captain Henry Napier RN and Lt-Generals William and George Napier, and their cousin Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Napier, were amongst the principal mourners.
General Napier had died in his bed at Oakland House, Purbrook, just north of Portsmouth. He was not on active service, his funeral therefore not properly a military event. Portsmouth, however, was a garrison town, with officers and soldiers from the 35th, 42nd and 79th Regiments of Foot. The hearse was guarded by soldiers from the Rifle Brigade, the unit which Napier had his first commission when serving as a lieutenant in 1800.
Viscount Hardinge, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, was prominent at the funeral, in the presence of 4,000 troops and in full view of what was estimated to be a crowd numbering 50,000. The Mayor and other officials from the town were among the official mourners, so too the Lieutenant Governor of the garrison and the Lords of the Admiralty.
The death of Sir Charles Napier at the age of 71 had deprived the country of a war hero, praised in national and regional newspapers as an able general. He was recognised as a foremost example of a new generation having recent experience as a field commander. Through his own and the writings of his younger brother William, the views of Sir Charles had been influential. His death was a loss to Commander-in-Chief Hardinge, himself aged 68, of a potential ally for the military reforms he was advancing.
In 1843 Sir Charles Napier had been lauded nationally as the Conqueror of Scinde, extending British reach into the Punjab. Three years later, there was national celebration of victory in the first of the Anglo-Sikh Wars, Sir Henry raised to the peerage in recognition in 1846 as Viscount Hardinge of Lahore.
These plaudits were symbolic in recognising the importance of the Indian sub-continent to the emerging British Empire, both commercially and as a theatre of warfare where military skills and strategic thinking were advanced.
Hardinge had also gained an important admirer, Prince Albert writing in correspondence to the King of Prussia in April 1846 that “Sir Henry Hardinge has most deservedly been created a Peer … [He] is a great man in every sense of the word.”
Viscount Hardinge’s brother-in-law, the Earl of Ellensborough, who had earlier been Governor General in India, was also in attendance at Napier’s funeral. Hardinge had succeeded Ellensborough as Governor General in India in 1844.
Major General Simpson, by now the Lieutenant Governor at Portsmouth and present at the funeral, had also served in Bengal during this time, commanding the 29th Regiment of Foot. Other mourners included Sir Colin Campbell who had experience of military command in India, both in Lahore during Hardinge’s tenure and subsequently in the second of the Anglo-Sikh Wars.
Sir Charles Napier had been accorded the rank of General in March 1849. He was the exception amongst such senior staff, however. His rank as General, at the age of 67, was ‘local to India’ in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief in India.
In contrast, the General Staff at the Army headquartered at Horse Guards was either very elderly or without having recent experience of senior command in theatres of conflict. On 11 November 1851, less than a year before the close of his last ten years as Commander-in-Chief, Wellington had overseen the promotion to the rank of full General of twenty-two officers, many of whom had been favoured as veterans of the Peninsular War. With average age of 76, the oldest of those then made General was 85.
Five were dead within not much more than twelve months, one within five weeks of his promotion. The funerals of three more had already been held by September 1853. Four more were dead by the end of 1853. Of those that remained, eight were colonels of their regiment, representative of those who favoured the old Regimental system.
Viscount Hardinge had returned to England from India in 1848. His subsequent designation in 1852 as Commander-in-Chief of the Army, promoted from a prior appointment of Master-General of the Ordnance, was resented by parts of the ‘Old Guard’ who were close to the Duke of Wellington. Notable opponents to reform included Lt-Generals Fitzroy Somerset and George Brown, in post, respectively, as Master-General of the Ordnance and Adjutant-General.
- Prince Albert was to remark in later correspondence, in January 1854, that “Lord Raglan (Fitzroy Somerset) has never forgiven not having been made Commander-in-Chief; and his thirty years’ subordinate position as military secretary, living upon the strength of the old Duke’s position, has created for him a large following, who are personally hostile to Lord Hardinge, and regard me as the cause of Lord Hardinge’s promotion [to that post].”
Saturday, 11th September 1853
Cracks were beginning to show within the Coalition Ministry. There was risk that the Government might lose its majority in the Commons.
Expressing concern that Viscount Palmerston, “thwarted in his endeavours to press a hostile policy [with regard to the Eastern Question] upon the Cabinet” Prime Minister Aberdeen wrote to Queen Victoria,
“Unless [Palmerston] should continue to be a cordial member of your Majesty’s Government, he may very easily become the leader of Opposition.
… there is no amount of flattery which is not offered to Lord Palmerston by the Tory party, with the hope of separating him altogether from the Government.”
The Queen had long been disapproving of Viscount Palmerston but she agreed with the remedy outlined by Aberdeen which was to invite him to be the Minister in Attendance at Balmoral.
Palmerston was accordingly issued an invitation to Balmoral which he accepted. Following his attendance, he remained at the Home Office and in the ‘Coalition Ministry’. The Government survived.
Thursday, 15th September 1853
Meanwhile, the news spreading across the village was of yet another infant death. Mary Porter was only six months old. She had failed to survive a three-week bout of ‘Hooping Cough’. Her funeral would be held after the weekend.
The disease of ‘hooping cough’, now known as pertussis, was severe in its effect on the very young. Infecting and killing children of all social classes, it featured prominently amongst the deaths reported regularly in the weekly summaries for the Health of London.
- In July, the highest number of attributed deaths in the ‘zymotic class’ (that subject to contagious epidemics) in London for the week, as stated by the Morning Post on July 14th, were hooping cough (44), typhus (43), diarrhoea (34) scarlatina (25), measles (24). In August, the corresponding counts for the week ending August 20th, as reported by Bell’s Life in London, were diarrhoea (126, of which 115 amongst children, 97 in their first year), typhus (48), hooping cough (28), scarlatina (27), measles (13).
Occasionally, there were reports of outbreaks in the larger cities and towns. The incidence in villages generally went unremarked in newspapers, although it was at large in rural as well as urban settings.
All parents in the village would have had some familiarity with the whoops and ‘100 day coughs’ exhibited as symptoms. It was very contagious. With an incubation period varying from two to four days, after prolonged onset of the disease, the airways would swell. There would have been many in the village infected with the disease, very much larger than the number of fatalities.
The details about the deaths of the two children were listed consecutively in the register, entered straight after those for Ann Bedford. The entries were signed off by John Mayor Randall, the surgeon and general practitioner, aged 66. His residence was along the street in Farnham known as the Borough. It is unknown whether he had been prompted to investigate this cluster of infant deaths, there being no resident doctor in Aldershot.
The surge of deaths might have been noticed by the Registrar, John Mayor Randall, the surgeon and general practitioner, but it would not have been a trigger for any action. Some twenty years before another doctor would write,
“The treatment is, in most cases, left to the care of nurses and mothers …; whilst the serious nature of the complaint remains disregarded in consequence of the numbers who recover without medical treatment, and of the fact, that when the assistance of the physician is at length obtained, and the disease proves fatal, the death of the patient is not ascribed to Hooping Cough, but to inflammation of the lungs, or to convulsions, the most prominent symptom of the fatal stage of the disease.”
‘On the Pathology of Hooping Cough’, paper read in April 1830
Unlike smallpox, there seemed to be no means of prevention through vaccination, nor was there any agreed remedy, although some would later argue for the use of leeches and cupping as treatment for the build-up of blood in the swelling of airways.
Having been introduced into a neighbourhood, whooping cough could spread locally in various ways, in rural areas as well as in towns and cities. At another time of year, attendance at the small one room schoolhouse would be one way in which it could spread from child to child through coughs and sneezes. Local visiting and play with other children were the likely the major means of infection, supplemented perhaps via the activity of young errand boys across the village.
Once in the home, however, babies would be infected by older siblings or adults, some now immune themselves from previous infections and unaware that they carried the disease. It could also occur the other way about, as might have happened to six-year-old Elizabeth Derbridge, perhaps having acted as a carer for her cousin, the infant Stephen Barnett, when nursed in the household by her mother who had been present at his death.
Saturday, 17th September 1853
Quite by chance, Major-General Freeth noticed the mention of Aldershot in the morning’s edition of The Times. It was included amongst the list of places authorised as “Nearly the last act of the late session [of Parliament]” in a column inch entitled ‘NEW ENCLOSURE ACT’.
Major-General James Freeth was the Quarter Master General for the Army, at Horse Guards Headquarters, on the staff of Lt-General George Brown.
Monday, 19th September 1853
On returning to work at House Guards on the Monday following and having investigated further, Major-General Freeth affixed the cutting from the Times to the letter he wrote to Commander-in-Chief Viscount Hardinge.
Coincidentally, this Monday was also the day on which, in another part of Government, the Inclosure Commissioners issued a notice that a meeting was to be held at the Red Lion in Aldershot for all those having an interest.
The wheels for the formal process for the enclosure of Aldershot Common had been set in motion.
The notice from the Inclosure Commissioners would have been displayed on the door of St Michael’s Church in Aldershot. It was subsequently advertised in the Hampshire Chronicle on September 24th.
Mary Ann Porter
There was a more sober event taking place that day at St Michael’s Church. The young curate Reverend James Dennett was obliged to oversee the funeral of a child he had baptised at the very start of his tenure, on April 3rd.
Mary Ann Porter, barely six months old, was another taken by ‘Hooping Cough’. She was the child of Stephen and Eliza who lived in a cottage and gardens known as ‘Neals’ which owned by the widowed Mrs Tice on Place Hill.
Stephen and Eliza had married at the parish church in July 1839. Note of the baptisms all their six children could also be found in the parish register, dating from November 1839, as could that of the dead child’s father Stephen, in 1812. Stephen was the son of William and Sarah. The dead child’s mother was baptised as Eliza Ragget five years later at St Andrew’s Church, Farnham in 1817. Both parents had been born within the parish of Farnham, in Badshot Lea and Hale, respectively.
The 1841 Census records Stephen as an agricultural labourer, ten years later the 1851 Census lists him as a carter. In 1852 he had won £3 as the “best ploughman, with two horses … servant to Mr. Richard Allden” at the year-end meeting of the North East Hants Agricultural Association held in Alton.
Stephen’s brother John, an agricultural labourer aged 30, lodged close by, with William Gravett, the Keeper at Copse Lodge.
Tuesday, 20th September 1853
It is unclear exactly when Viscount Hardinge would have received the letter sent by Major-General Freeth on Monday. It is, however, easy to imagine the shock with which he read the mention of Aldershot in the cutting from The Times.
Coincidentally, on September 20th, the Morning Post had two column inches listing the places authorised for enclosure by the legislation, including not only Aldershot, which was 18th on the list, but also that of Farnham and Chobham.
Freeth had enclosed a copy of the Act itself, but this did not provide much more detail. He also referred to the purchase of enclosed land at Hounslow in 1818 for the purpose of exercising cavalry. He noted the price then paid was £40 per acre, “but it is near London and better land than I believe is to be found at Aldershot.”
This all represented a serious setback for Commander-in-Chief Viscount Hardinge.
His thoughts might have raced back to the time, some four weeks before, when he lodged that night at the Red Lion Inn. Unaware of the meetings which had earlier taken place there about enclosure, he had then been in positive mood. He had, however, then remarked in his letter to Prince Albert that there had already been some meetings in the neighbouring parishes for an enclosure bill. This might have referred to the newly authorised enclosure for Ash Common.
Viscount Hardinge had also made mention in his letter to the Prince of intending to take care ‘before the next week expires’ to draw up a memorandum “for submission to your Royal Highness before I approach the Government.” It seems likely therefore that he had already drafted much of the very long official memorandum in which he set out the case for both a permanent site on waste ground for annual military exercise and instruction and for the purchase of waste land at Aldershot.
Friday, 23rd September 1853
Skilled as a former politician and administrator, Viscount Hardinge had set about identifying who to contact at the Board of Inclosure Commissioners. He met with William Blamire, a former Member of Parliament who had given up his seat in 1836 to become Chief Commissioner of the Tithe Commission and later, following merger with the Board of Inclosure, he had the post of Chief Commissioner for Enclosures.
They discussed how best the Government could purchase the land which had now received legal authority for enclosure. It seems that Blamire was keen to secure political cover from Home Secretary Palmerston for any actions that he might take.
Saturday, 24th September 1853
Viscount Hardinge wrote to Home Secretary Viscount Palmerston the very next day from South Park, his house at Penshurst in the Weald of Kent.
Viscount Hardinge wrote at length, as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and from one member of Cabinet to another, in a letter which on the surface is polite and courteous:
“My dear Lord Palmerston,
“I believe I am in order in addressing you on the subject of purchasing waste lands for a permanent Camp of Instruction.
“1st Because the House of Commons expect that before any new work on establishments for military purpose is brought forward, it shall receive the sanction of the Home Secretary of State for works in Great Britain – or the Colonial Secretary abroad.
“And 2nd because the new Board of Commissioners for enclosing waste lands are under the Home Office.
However, an undercurrent of frustration might be detected.
“And I also naturally apply to you, for in the course of last Session most useful and energetic decisions were the result of the meetings held at the Home Office by the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Master General of Ordnance, the Secretary of War and the General Commanding in Chief [Hardinge].
“When the experiment of the Camp at Chobham was generally admitted, you and the Secretary of War and the members of the Government at large were very favourably disposed to consider the policy of purchasing a waste tract of Common for a permanent Camp and I mentioned Aldershot as being the best adapted for the collection of troops in peace – sufficiently large for the [exercise] of 10,000 men of the 3 Armies and in case of war, most admirably calculated for assembling a large body of troops and rapidly moving them to any parts of the Coast.
In this he implies that Home Secretary Palmerston should have been well aware of the importance that should have been attached to Aldershot Common for the Government’s purpose.
“You will at once perceive the great value of such a strategical decision if you look at the Railway map.
“In two or three days I will send you a Memorandum on the policy of the purchase of such a piece of waste land in which for 6 months the Line and the Militia [for which Palmerston was responsible as Home Secretary] could be exercised – whilst in Germany in France with trifling exceptions the best half of the year is lost until the harvest is gathered in towards the end of September.”
Hardinge then gets to the nub of the matter, requesting that Palmerston does what he can to help secure Aldershot Common for the Army:
“My present object is to invite your assistance with the least possible delay for I find to my surprise and regret that an Act passed on the 20th of August for enclosing Aldershot and 26 other parishes, and as I have not been in the House of Commons since 1844, I knew nothing of this new and rapid[?] system of legislation – and was not aware of what had been done ‘till I received a letter from the Quarter Master General [Major-General James Freeth] of the 19th September.
“Yesterday I saw Mr Blamire, the Chief Commissioner for Enclosures – He is of opinion that the Deans and Chapters, and some of the smaller Proprietors, who have claims for allotments will be ready to sell theirs to the Government, and that if we can buy up a majority out of about 60 claimants, there will be little difficulty in applying to the House of Commons next Session.
“Mr Blamire proposed that an Assistant Commissioner should be present at a meeting on the 14th October, and ascertain the feelings of the parties.”
Hardinge had lost no time in identifying who was operationally in charge. Now he wanted to provide Blamire with political authority.
“As the Board of Commissioners act under your Department, I am most anxious that the preliminary steps, proposed by Mr Blamire, should be sanctioned by you, and in the interval, I will send you the Memo making the proposal for the purchase of waste Lands for a Camp of Instruction.
“If you have any suggestions to make as to the course of proceeding, be so good as to apprize (sic) me.”
Of course, the villagers of Aldershot knew nothing of this correspondence. Their interest was in the contents of the notice buried on page 7 of the Hampshire Chronicle,
“a Meeting of Persons interested in Aldershot Common … will be held on the 26th Day of October next, at the hour of eleven in the forenoon, at the Red Lion Inn … for the purpose of appointing a Valuer in the matter of the Inclosure of the said lands”.
The advertisement, placed by Edgar Chris[t]mas on behalf of the Board of Inclosure Commissioners, was dated September 19th. According to the law, a notice to that effect should have already been posted on the door of the parish church.
The rival weekly Hampshire Telegraph instead repeated the two column inch report from The Times, part-way down its third page.
The Eastern Question
Queen Victoria wrote from Balmoral in Scotland to Foreign Secretary Clarendon, stating,
“… The accounts from Constantinople are very alarming, and make the Queen most anxious for the future. She quite approves of the steps taken by the Government .. [with respect to the] presence of the Fleets at Constantinople in case of general disturbance”
Much of the attention of Home Secretary Palmerston would have been on the continuing tension between Russia and Turkey, against a background of growing Russophobia in the country’s newspapers.
- Viscount Palmerston had been Foreign Secretary for most of the period from 1830 to 1851. His policy had been to sustain the integrity of the Ottoman Empire against incursion by that of Russia. Although nominally without having a brief for foreign affairs, he and Lord John Russell were in the camp within the Cabinet favouring a hard line against Russia in its continuing occupation of the Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia. One outcome, in June, had been the despatch of the Fleet to take up position in the east of the Mediterranean.
At this stage, neither Russia nor Turkey had declared war.
Britain and France had joined Prussia and Austria in a conference in Vienna in August to draw up a proposal which could be put for agreement to both parties in order to resolve their conflict.
- The ‘Vienna Note’, however, was not well worded. It omitted any statement about the Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia and contained ambiguity which asserted Russian authority for “the protection by the Sublime Porte of the Christian religion” for the Greek Orthodoxy in the Holy Places. Turkey proposed a modification which stressed that such privileges were granted at the will of the Sultan and were not guaranteed by treaty. This had been rejected on September 7th by Russia who had refused to remove its troops from the Principalities until the Vienna Note was accepted by Turkey.
There was added complication from the time taken for news to travel between the diplomatic area of The Porte at Constantinople and the capitals of Europe, the newspapers full therefore of reports that were ten days or more out of date.
The London Evening Standard was now reporting that, having combined in the Mediterranean, parts of the fleets of the Royal Navy and that of the French had entered the Dardanelles. These were the straits connecting with sea towards Constantinople beyond which, through the Bosporus Straits lay the Black Sea and Crimea.
Sunday, 25th September 1853
Up at what had earlier been termed ‘The Great House’ in Aldershot, a former military man had personal matters to attend. Miss Georgina Newcome, an older twin sister of Captain George Newcome had just passed away, aged 51. She had previously taken up residence at nearby Hale Place. The funeral date was set for the following month, to be held at the Church of St John the Evangelist at Hale on Saturday.
The occupants of what by then was referred to as ‘The Manor House’ had been the first dwelling included in the return made by the blacksmith Henry Hone as an enumerator for the 1851 Census. In residence on that night of March 30th were Captain Newcome and his wife Harriet, together with five servants, who like themselves were also all born outside the parish, and three visitors.
George Newcome and his wife Harriet had moved into the village some six years before. He might have enjoyed being referred to in the Hampshire Chronicle as Captain Newcome ‘of Aldershot’, even though his possession of what was called the Manor House did not confer any manorial rights. He had, however, begun to establish himself within the village hierarchy. Now serving alongside Charles Barron as a churchwarden, Captain Newcome had also assumed the chair of the Vestry.
Captain Newcome was the eldest and only surviving son in the Newcome family. As such, he had the arrangements to make, perhaps assisted by his two younger sisters Rose and Harriet. They who lived not far away, at Poyle House in Tongham and at Woodbridge, near Guildford, both having married into the Mangles family.
=> More on Captain George Newcome told next month, in the October chapter.
Monday, 26th September 1853
Commander-in-Chief Hardinge completes and dates his Memorandum. It would later be copied several times for circulation to other members of the Government.
Considering Chobham to have been a successful ‘experiment’, justifying the repeat of such camps of military exercise, he argued,
“It is quite out of the question to rely upon hiring similar tracts of Waste Land from year to year. Every Session Acts of Parliament are passed for enclosing these barren Commons … the difficulty of purchasing ground for military purposes is increasing rapidly …
He went on,
“The late and the present Government have determined to enrol 80,000 Militia and 60,000 have already volunteered … The Artillery has most prudently received a large increase for men and field guns – and ought to have ground for exercise.
“Ten or twelve Battalion of Militia could thus be exercised at a time in 4 reliefs each Summer – and on the apprehension of war, the possession of such a tract of ground would be of the greatest importance.
Viscount Hardinge noted the advantages of Reigate with its several railway links by which to move troops very rapidly to various ports, but it had no Waste Land. Aldershot Common was waste land and had the Farnborough railway station close by, connecting to the garrison town and ships at Portsmouth. Hardinge wrote,
“The extensive Heaths of Aldershot, Farnham and Ashe [sic], about 30 miles from Reigate, are admirably adapted for the assembly of a large body of troops, in direct communication with Portsmouth and for strategical purposes are one of the most important points next to Reigate, with an ample supply of water at all seasons.
“It is therefore well suited for a permanent Camp in peace or war.
Hardinge then refers to the matter of enclosure of the lands of interest, disclosing that he had surveyed Aldershot Common in April as well as August. He makes plain that plans for enclosure had been put to Parliament without knowledge of his staff.
“I annex a map of these Commons, drawn up so as to give a comprehensive of the ground. I had visited this country in April and August, then confident that no Bill would be brought into Parliament for enclosing such a large and important tracts without the knowledge of the Horse Guards or the Members of the Government connected with Army.”
Once informed, Viscount Hardinge states that he has acted promptly in arguing the case for Aldershot,
“In a letter written to Lord Palmerston on the 24th Instant I have informed hm of my communications with the Commissioners of whose actions as a Board I was not aware until I received the Quarter-Master General’s letter of the 19th September.
“I do not believe that any Waste Ground possessing the great advantages of Aldershot from its position towards the Coast and Dockyards and the nature of its ground can be found in any other of the Southern Coast Counties.
“If the purchase of the lots of a majority of the Claimants even at a high rate can lead to the acquisition of the while I should strongly recommend that no effort or reasonable expense be spared to repair the unfortunate step that has been taken of enclosing the Commons of 27 parishes towards the Coast without any notice of intimation whatever to the Military Departments of the Government.”
“.. I naturally waited ‘till the Camp [at Chobham] broke up on the 25th of August to collect the reports before I addressed the Government whilst the Acts for these very extensive Enclosures had passed on the 20th of August, a few days before the troops returned to their quarters.”
Wednesday, 28th September 1853
Two days later, Viscount Hardinge remains downhearted, despite having met Blamire, writing directly to Palmerston and now completed his Memorandum. The Commander-in-Chief pens a short note to Adjutant-General George Brown, declaring,
“I fear we have lost the Aldershot ground!
=> October 1853