Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Old Bell Inn Bromley

As the Bromley Arts and Community Initive (BACI) continues to gather support and funding, my mind has turned to Bromley Archive to look at the original Inn and it's place in Bromley's history.
After several months I have gathered together threads about the site. The history of the current building is relatively easy to research but to place the original in the context of Bromley as a market town close to London (many of the City's population came to Bromley) is more elusive.
The parish registers contain some clues and other records are associated with the Inn.
In the burial register for 1652 there are two mentions of the burials of the Gyles brothers,sons of Daniell Gyles of "the belle".
We later have records of the Wilson family who from 1773 until 1822 were Master of the posting house. James Wilson and then his widow and family all acted as landlords;during this time the Beefsteak Club was formed in Bromley and many notable gentry characters united in a love of sport met there.
The Wilsons were succeeded from 1823 to 1845 by James Painter Davis and his daughter. Davis was an enthusiastic cricketer. His daughter Mary Ann Davis took over when he moved to Farningham until 1845 when she left. Horsburgh describes her leaving  to fulfil an appointment as housekeeper to the Lord Mayor of London at the Mansion House but there appears to be no documentary evidence to support Horsburgh's account.From 1846 until it's demolition and rebuilding in 1897 it was run by William Sutton and his family. The neighbouring bakers shop in Market Square was also demolished and the site was incorporated in the rebuilding of the Royal Bell Hotel that we see today.
Before the coming of the railway to the town Bromley was something of a rural market town some 12 miles from London. It is often described as such but it had a constant passage of horse drawn traffic between London, Tunbridge Wells and Hastings.
The Bell and another Bromley Inn, the White Hart grew to serve this traffic and the local population. The stage coach service between London and Tunbridge Wells and onward to Hastings had need of a staging point in the town and the Bell and White Hart could stable up to 100 horses for  travellers.
Two coaches a day left Bromley at 9 a.m. in the summer or 7-30 a.m. in winter. One coach travelled to the Boars Head Fleet Street the other for the Spread Eagle,Gracechurch Street.Over time additional stage coaches added to the service with two to Charing Cross and an additional coach to Gracechurch Street until the railway arrived in the town.
In addition there were two local daily carrier carts to London and these are recorded as late as 1884. Consequently the Bell found fame and Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice has Lady Catherine de Bourgh recommend to Elizabeth that she change horses at the  Bell.
There are also references to death's of those accommodated at the Bell overnight in the parish register and adjacent to the Market Square. It was also popular for travellers at market days and the ancient Fair days. Bromley although rural has a surviving 1801 census with a total population of 2,700 (including schools and Bromley College which housed widows and families of deceased clergy). Bromley's population of permanent residents hardly increased over decades.
Bromley has for centuries been a place for Romany and other travelling families and the parish registers record substantial burials of traveller  families who were a feature of Bromley Common and seasonal fruit pickers and agricultural workers can be found to move through and work the land.
 One cause for increase in population was the attraction of permanent residence to be under the care and supervision of Mister James Scott who until retirement in 1829 to Clay Hill had become renowned as a surgeon specialising in diseased joints and ulcerated hips. He had succeeded Mister Bagshaw in his medical practice in Bromley. Thus the town attracted patients and residents and there is a notable decline in population after his retirement. "Scotts Coaches" brought patients from all over the country to the practice.
The Bell became "Royal" when royal coaches began to change horses there and in this respect it came to attract a different clientele to it's companion the White Hart.
Bromley had resident ostlers and stage coach men and traffic between nearby "Croyden" and between Bromley Bishop's Palace and Rochester was also undertaken. The initial passenger bus services between the town and outlying villages and parishes like Keston, Downe and Cudham were horse drawn and necessary to connect to the rail services which developed after the 1850's when the town rapidly expanded to occupy the land to the south and east along Bromley Common and north to created the need for a branch railway line to Bromley North.
Copyright (c) Henry Mantell 2013

Friday, 27 December 2013

Old John of Bromley Common and the Long Island USA murder

I am grateful for the Reverend Henry Smith D.D. who from 1785-1818 was Vicar of Bromley Saint Peter and Saint Paul and maintained detailed registers. Reverend Smith provides detailed footnotes and biographical details for several burial register entries.
Old John spent a large part of his life serving the households of the Norman family and resided at Bromley Common.
However as Reverend Smith describes John Reynolds was born in the USA and was a fugitive from that country for the murder of an Custom House officer at Long Island. He died aged 85 in 1797.
John Reynolds was buried by the Reverend Smith on 26 November 1797 in the churchyard of Saint Peter and Saint Paul Bromley as at that time Bromley Common was within the Ancient Parish. The Reverend Smith records:
"This man was a servant to James Norman Esquire of Bromley Common and afterwards his son George Norman. He was by birth an American who left that country for murdering a Custom House offical at Long Island. He had been in the family many years and was allowed his weekly wages to the day of his death."
George Norman lived at the Rookery Bromley Common and the Norman family had originally occupied a tenancy of the house from Thomas Chase from about 1755. James Norman purchased the property and land of 37 acres on 8 February 1765 and subsequently James Norman and his son George employed John Reynolds.George Norman was a prominent businessman in London trading in timber with Norway where he had large holdings. The Norman family were Treasurers of Bromley College; five members of the family acted in that capacity from 1776 for over 150 years.
Clearly his employers knew of his flight from America and since it is openly recorded that he had murdered a Custom House Officer presumably two generations of the Norman family were aware of this. The Norman family were one of the most influential families in Bromley. George Norman had been resolutely opposed to the enclosure of Bromley Common which became enclosed by Act of Parliament dated 6 April 1821,over 60 years after the initial enclosure Act of 1764.
I would be delighted to receive any further information from the USA on John Reynolds life before he came to England as a fugitive. No doubt the Declaration of Independence offered John Reynolds some protection in England.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Bromley Coroner's verdicts of Felo de se

On 16 May 1809 one William Goldsmith alias Smith was buried on Shooting Common near the sign post . He had been committed from Bromley to Dartford for the theft of "Beetle and Wedges" from Mister Bonner at Chislehurst. The Beetle and Wedges were tools used for log splitting to create firewood.
Before he could be committed and whilst he was detained in the town Cage in the eponymous Cage Field, he hung himself in the Cage on 16 May 1809. The Cage was the town Lock up and had recently been constructed to form two spaces to lock up detainees and was open to the elements. The present East and West Streets stand on Cage Field which was close to Market Square and was largely at that time a field of corn. The Bromley Town fire pump was housed in the adjacent shed and these two buildings were the only buildings on the Bromley edge of Cage Field.
The suicide in the cage lead the Bromley Coroner to record a verdict of Felo de se.
This archaic term meaning literally "Felon of himself" referred to suicide and had the effect of making the victim a felon prior to the nineteenth century movement to consider suicide a mental health condition. In this case in Bromley the internment conformed to the tradition of burial at a crossroads often at midnight with no mourners or clergy present and no rites observed. There is no record whether the body in this case had the traditional stake driven through it. The exceptions were suicides of children or mentally incompetent persons.
In 1824 the law relating to interment was repealed and amended and in 1882 the Interments (felo de se) Act 1882 and the coroners verdict of non compus mentis became more common due to the trend to view suicide as a mental health issue affecting human behaviour. Victorian mental health legislation also influenced the elimination of the use of the term.
However this passed by the Bromley Coroner who returned a verdict of Felo de se in 1906 and conforming to the 1882 Interments Act the parish register of Bromley Common Holy Trinity records the internment in a burial plot close to the West wall of the Church of "Man Unknown, about 45, suicide by poison found in Oakley Road, no service held verdict of Coroner's Jury Felo de Se". The burial plot is numbered 772 on the burial ground map. The transcript of this burial is available at Kent Online Parish Clerks .
The Coroner's verdict is perverse not only due to repeal but the verdict of non compus mentis had been in use for over 100 years locally and nationally. Quite why the Coroner recorded such a verdict remains a mystery.
I wonder whether those passing along the modern A21 have any sense that to the side of the road lies the interred remains of William Goldsmith alias Smith.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

The Pimp Maker and Spile makers of Bromley Common

Bromley Common had a very few houses in the 1801 census which I transcribed earlier this year. John Dunkin,an author, wrote of only 25 houses on the Common and it's borders in 1815. However the transcripts of Bromley Common Holy Trinity which I have completed reflect the rapid growth in population after 1843. All Bromley Transcript material is available on a single page Bromley Kent Online Parish Clerks transcripts .
So we have a population occupying the Common land who are often travellers or inhabiting the wooded borders of the Common land as at Skim or Skym Corner; a hamlet since mediaeval times.
Our Pimp Maker is John Whitehead , whose son John is entered at Baptismal Register number 237 on 22 May 1853 and lives at Bromley Common. The large group of Whiteheads on the Common and particularly at Skym Corner are descendants of the Chelsfield Whiteheads.
The Pimp maker or Spile Maker is also found in some census entries as a Bavin maker. In wooded areas, particularly on Commons, the collection of firewood bundles often called spiles or bavins could provide a lucrative income when sold to householders or inns in the town.
In the 1873 marriage of William Johnson and his bride Louisa Bowers the groom's occupation is recorded as a Shine and Spile Maker.
The wooded areas of the common supported rural crafts as many traveller families made a range of wooden items and other occupations include basket making.
The Common was home for part of the year at least to many Romany and traveller families. Bromley Racecourse also attracted other local families who travelled with fairgound rides and are connected with other traveller families in Kent and Surrey.