St James's Church, Hampton Hill

Chapter 8 - The Victorian Village: A General Picture

'The Birth and Growth of Hampton Hill'

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We have heard in the preceding chapters that even at the end of Victoria’s reign Hampton Hill was still a country village, having been, until a few years previously, surrounded by cornfields skirted by nothing more than leafy lanes. We have not only been told of its farms and nurseries, but also of its unsurfaced roads, dust baths in summer and unpassable quagmires in winter, and of its cesspools and midden heaps.

Despite these drawbacks the countryside was by all accounts delightful, but the village nevertheless had all the material disadvantages of too great a proximity to the natural state.

We know that very real poverty did exist, although possibly not quite so acutely as in surrounding districts; overcrowding was common, drunkenness and its attending evils also, and the control of the leading classes not invariably benevolent. One old lady reminiscing of a long-departed mistress tells us, “she was a proper tartar,” and one suspects that the villagers’ acceptance of their patrons was sometimes more than a little influenced by a shrewd assessment as to which side of the bread the butter lay. In listening to the sometimes glowing, and often nostalgic accounts of the older residents, one must, to assess the scene correctly, take into account that the passage of time may have lent too much enchantment to the mind’s eye remembrance and that the reminiscences may sometimes be coloured by a sense of “horas non numero nisi serenas.”

Notwithstanding this, the outward scene must indeed have been truly delightful. An elderly lady tells us how she used to ride over from her father’s farm at Whitton to have her horse shod at the smithy in New Hampton, and she rode through open and pleasant country all the way. Over and over again we have heard, “it was such a pretty little place, and life was very pleasant - there was such a lovely spirit in the village.” An elderly gentleman chuckles as he remembers the panic when the fire alarm went, the rush to borrow a tradesman’s horse to pull the manual pump and the excitement the day the new steam boiler burst, due to an excess of enthusiasm and firing. He told us of fishing for chubb in the quiet reaches of the Longford. “It was a pretty place - with a grand spirit.”

It is this spirit that remains in the mind of the researcher. One cannot study the archives of those Victorian days without being impressed by it, for it makes itself felt wherever one turns for information. The community was a tightly knit one, with a fiercely parochial outlook which was the direct result of its struggle for independence and dignity.

One of the facts which emerges is that there was a rigid class system and that, broadly, the classes were divided into three groups, the “gentry,” the tradespeople and the cottagers. Everyone knew each other and much of each other’s business. Each class had obligations which it honoured. The gentry, in the main, felt and acted upon, a sense of “noblesse oblige” and the tradesmen and villagers expected this of them. The tradesmen supported local efforts and expected local support in return. In 1882, at one of the many annual suppers which were a feature of the day - on this occasion it was that of the Horticultural Society - in giving the health of the Hampton Hill tradespeople, the curate, a Mr. Keen, described them as “A very obliging and attentive body of men . . . in addition they were particularly honest . . . it often fell to the lot of clergymen to have to pay ten per cent more than anyone else, but the Hampton Hill tradespeople had no such practice of overcharges.” Mr. Keen also mentioned that in the village there were to be found shops of better class than formerly existed there, and this was a sign of progress. Mr. Embleton in his turn touched on “mysterious baskets” burdening “gentlemen returning from town,” saying that “of course none present were guilty of such a practice,” and he respectfully reminded the assembled gentry that “New Hampton could, and would, serve them as well and cheaply as town.”

The villagers and tenantry participated with remarkable enthusiasm in most of what was done for them and took a very real interest in the affairs of the gentry who were local dignitaries and as such had a news value all their own. Their entertainments, for instance, often embraced the community, as when Mr. and Mrs. Bligh celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary by inviting over a hundred local guests to “A Musical At Home” in the Vicarage. In the afternoon Mrs. Bligh was presented “with a beautiful bouquet of white flowers” from twenty-four ladies of Hampton Hill, and this she carried all the evening, giving much pleasure to the donors.”

It is only a comparatively short time since the leisured, moneyed class has become a thing of the past in the village. As stated in a previous chapter, as late as 1939, some of the remaining inhabitants of the large houses in St. James’s Road, puzzled by the influx of professional “daily breaders,” not knowing in which strata of society to place them - as they were neither gentry, tradespeople nor artisans - either gave last regretful tennis parties and moved away, or remained to have their influence obliterated by a society which neither knew nor cared, about their days of local greatness. It is only by looking back through the buried records that an appreciation of the part they undoubtedly played in laying the firm foundations of our village can be gained.

Their epitaph is the recording of such remarks as those made by an elderly villager when she said, “They were real gentry - well born. Few people could have been better to their tenantry than was Mrs. Fitz Wygram to hers - she was a lovely lady.”

The same elderly informant, who had spent her childhood in one of Mrs. Fitz Wygram’s cottages, went on to stress the part the church played in the life of the community. “St. James’s used to be packed, they had to use the side aisles in those days.” A telling remark, however, was that the morning service brought the gentry in their carriages and it was tacitly understood that evensong should be patronised by “the lower orders.” How troublesome life must have been for anyone not certain into which category they fitted! And how pleasant it is that nowadays we are not troubled by such considerations.

The clergymen took a very great and powerful part in the community life. The first two vicars of St. James’s were members of the aristocracy and were men of considerable substance, their office carrying great weight and only declining in power towards the beginning of the new century.

The Victorian village as it emerges from our researches seems much farther away than the mere sixty-odd years that separate it from our own era. Life was obviously more leisured. There was time to comment at length on local events and personalities, and time to walk, or get out the trap and drive, over to Hampton to enjoy watching a smart society wedding, such as the marriages of the three daughters of Mr. de Wette, High Sheriff of the County; or perhaps the harriers’ sports or the watermen’s regatta which always attracted great crowds, for the river was a constant source of entertainment. Local burials were of great interest to the whole community; gifts and settlements were discussed at length in the local Press, lists of wedding guests and presents, and of mourners and donors of wreaths, were printed in full so that all could assess the importance of the various occasions being reported.

As there was no “pipeline” entertainment, local efforts in that direction were made much of, talked about in advance and supported in a big way, not only by the parishioners themselves but by those of neighbouring communities. Programmes were often most elaborate and were circulated and discussed well before the event. Bands played, minstrels sang - with varying degrees of success - flags and bunting fluttered on every excuse, “substantial” or “capital” meals for large numbers were provided on numerous occasions and fairy lights and Chinese lanterns gleamed in the night whilst dancing went on on the various lawns graciously made available by the various patrons - for patronage was important, both to the patrons and the patronised, and seems to have been given and accepted ungrudgingly for the most part.

Gentry, such as the Fitz Wygrams, the Blighs, the Jobs, the Butlers, the Stutchburys, the Nortons and the Isdells, to quote but a few of the most prominent, took their responsibilities seriously, both in the fields of local administration and in social life. They were obviously genuinely interested and concerned with their community’s well being; some had money invested in the village and to many it was their life’s interest. They were the chairmen of the meetings and committees, the first names on the many subscription lists, they patronised bazaars, sports days, concerts and flower shows with impartial regularity. They formed the “large and fashionable gatherings” so admiringly alluded to in the pages of the SURREY COMET. They were benevolent, at all times correct and very conscious of their fortunate position in life - as were the tradesmen, the Singletons, the Makepeaces, the Rowland Moores, the Baileys and the Austins and Storeys who formed the first bulwark of the working community.

“The parishioners of a different class” as the SURREY COMET so quaintly puts it, were expected to be, and indeed seemed to be (and had, for the most part, every reason to be!) duly grateful and appreciative and co-operative. The comparatively small population and its inter-dependence, not only made for a family atmosphere on a “do-it-yourself” scale, but made the dissemination of news and instruction easy.

The classes met together in public life to work, and to play when the occasion and the village demanded it, and if a worthy cause was in need of support the parishioners set about raising the necessary funds. Together they “got on with it” in a sturdy and self-reliant way. The village community stood on its own feet and shouldered its own responsibilities, and from all accounts enjoyed itself hugely in so doing - a point that should not be overlooked by persons who in the future may be concerned with the revival of a community life in the village.

Besides the social activities mentioned in the previous chapters there were several other social occasions of a rather different character which are interesting to note. Each year the deputy steward of the Royal Honor and Manor of Hampton Court, representing Her Majesty, held “the customary Homage,” usually at the Red Lion, in Hampton, when copyholders under the Crown in the district “assembled to pay suit and service.” Owing to the continuous enfranchisement local copyholders kept dwindling in number but nevertheless the remaining ones sat down to “a capital dinner” and drank the loyal toast followed by that peculiar to the manor - “Maids, wives and widows.” In view of the history of the Court one cannot help cogitating on the extreme aptness of the manor toast!

Presentations were a very pleasant feature of the day. “Large and fashionable gatherings” turned out even for the modest school treats and parish meetings at which these presentations were usually made, in order that due honour. might be done to those who were deemed to have served the community well.

The ceremony of the Beating of the Bounds, which occurred at roughly seven-year intervals, was always the occasion of a certain amount of local excitement. One description, written in 1893, tells us that such “old fashioned observances” were fast dying out and that it had required some effort to gather the assembled company together for the occasion in question. In spite of this the custom was still being observed past the first decade of the twentieth century and it is regretted that time has not allowed the finding out of the last occasion that such a custom took place. In 1893 we learn that “the weather was charming and continued all day” and that the company included such local notables as I. G. Sanders, T. Bailey and Mr. Basey, the school master, and “selected schoolboys from Hampton and Hampton Hill,” followed by “a very strong contingent of the uninvited.” The SURREY COMET prints a vivid description written by one of the participators and we reproduce here that part relevant to our district.

“Down Burton’s Lane amid a cloud of dust; allowed an enterprising photographer to perpetuate the occasion, saw no boundary marks, partially ran over a small boy and on arriving at Cordery’s farm (?) found its stone had fallen. The enthusiastic Parish Warden (E. G. Mellish) ordered its restoration forthwith and it was promptly rechristened “Warden’s Point.” Riverdale Cottage possesses a dear old lady of forty-two years standing” (presumably this alludes to her length of local residence and not her age) “teeming with old-time reminiscences, but the searchers after parochial knowledge could not tarry (pity!); consequently traversed a dry ditch, through a gap in the hedge to the Queen’s River which presented anything but a queenly appearance and was not savoury . . . the vicinity of Donkey Hall yielded a valuable dissertation on the law of trespass from a comely lady of great volubility, and the clouds of dust were superb. Cabbage gardens, potato plots, clover fields, radish plantations and all manner of lands were in turn invaded with great zeal.”

We have found many other “snippets” of interest dealing with varied aspects of village life and some of these we include below:-

May, 1870
A “sad accident” happened at New Hampton when a man digging gravel “at the top of Hampton hill” undermined a part which suddenly gave way and buried “the poor man” beneath it. When extricated he was found to be insensible and taken home and a medical man sent for. He was later reported as “going on favourably.”

July, 1875
Another, this time “lamentable accident,” occurred at the house of Mr. de la Rue, of High Street, New Hampton, “owing, it is feared, to the practice of reading in bed” of his seventeen-year-old son who took a benzolene lamp with him and “sleep took possession of him ‘ere he put out the light and while in this unconscious state he overturned the lamp and became immediately enveloped in flame.” His mother rushed in to his assistance and before the father could reach them “both were inflamed.” Both were removed to Richmond Infirmary “their sufferings being most agonising.” The Rev. F. J. Fitz Wygram did all in his power to aid the sufferers who, fortunately recovered. Mr. de La Rue, himself burned, in a letter to the Press tendered “his respectful, sincere and grateful thanks for the kindness and sympathy shown towards himself and his family” and hoped that “the kindness may bring its own reward to those who extended it to him.”

February, 1881
A fire occurred in overcrowded cottages in Providence Row (Cross Street) when a small child was seriously burned and not expected to live.

October, 1881
Smallpox broke out in a cottage adjoining St. James’s School, off Mill Lane, but the parents refused the child’s removal to hospital, thus placing the School Managers in a quandary. Should they close the schools or risk infection? However the Congregational Schools lent their schoolroom to the boys and infants and the girls were located in St. James’s mission room at Pantile Fields and Providence Row and thus the risk of having four hundred children infected was lessened.

July, 1882
Rev. J. Burrow, of Hampton, died, having been vicar for twenty years. “By his judicious management he . . . increased the value of the living to upwards of £1,000 a year.” (H.H. living worth £300!)

January, 1885
A carman and a painter were seen to enter gardens in St. James’s Road by P.C. Poplett who took them into custody. They said they “had simply been going round with the Lamplighter” but the lamp-lighter knew nothing of them and so they were remanded.

February, 1885
Advertisement: E. H. Ripley, Plumassier, Bird, Animal and Fish Preserver, Heads, Horns and Lamps artistically mounted. Hand and Fire Screens.

April, 1886
Gipsy Encampment “cleared off the face of New Hampton” from a plot of ground “situate in the centre of the High Street, having three frontages singularly adapted for the erection of shops, villas, cottages, etc.,” the subsoil consisting of a “deep and almost inexhaustible bed of gravel.” A few months earlier a gipsy had maliciously damaged a plantation in Wellington Lane (presumably Burton’s Lane) and stabbed a man who had attempted to arrest him.

May, 1889
Fulwell Station the scene of attempted suicide. Mr. Vesey saw a groaning man “who appeared very strange in his manner” tying with his head on the rails and asking to be allowed to “lie there and die.”

The Hon. Mrs. Bligh and Miss Barnard working for the S.P.G. sent seventy-nine articles to their Head Office for transportation overseas. The items included four women’s flannel petticoats, four native girls’ skirts, one tea-cosy, boys’ sailor costumes, nine fancy pinafores, one chemise and nine scrap books!

February, 1891
Hampton Hill Stabbing Case. A lad drove his knife into the back of another lad “in a fit of passion” and was sentenced to ten days hard labour and five years in a reformatory. (Changed times do not appear to bring changed habits, only changed sentences!)

March, 1891
“The Post Office Clock which Mr. Makepeace has, in a public-spirited manner provided for the convenience of inhabitants, at his own expense, is being much appreciated. It is regulated by Telegraph every morning at 10 a.m. from the Chief London Office and gives correct Greenwich time.”

March, 1891
The Highways and Lighting Committee agree to move a street lamp a few yards to allow the above-mentioned clock to be seen at night.

April, 1891
Advertisement: Accepted by H.M. Queen Victoria. The History and Topography of Hampton-on-Thames, by Henry Ripley. Third Edition. 500 copies only, 210 pages, royal octavo, price 2s. 6d. - ready in a few days. Orders received by the author or local booksellers.

September, 1891
Wife threatens to shoot Mill Road resident who brought a summons against her. “She, a stylishly dressed, robust-looking young female, was bound over to keep the peace.”

January, 1892
Note of a Lending Library being opened at Hampton Hill Post Office.

Influenza is a killer, having been responsible for nine burials in one month in the village.

July, 1893
A note appears in the SURREY COMET that “a memorial urging the runnng of a workman’s train from Fulwell to connect with the 5.9. a.m. train at Twickenham, is ready for signing at Mr. Storey’s baker’s shop.”

October, 1893
Notice of a box being put in John Ridge’s Grocery Stores (Wolsey Stores) to collect for starving wives and children of miners in the Cc Strike. It received “liberal support.”

September, 1894
The Local Board received complaints from inhabitants of Hampton Hill of nuisance caused by swings and steam roundabouts. There is a bye-law referring to gipsy encampments but “the Board had powers with regard to roundabouts, coconut shies and swings.” The persons aggrieved were told that they must “proceed by indictment” of the user of the ground. Mr. Embleton had let the ground for twoi days “thinking it would be, as it was, a very great amusement to a lot of children (hear, hear) and he believed that to that day they bless him for it (laughter).” After two days he had attempted to “send the things into the road by force” but they simply removed to a small piece of land a few yards further on. He had got a dozen men and endeavoured to remove them but it had proved beyond his power and his men “were threatened with all sorts of violence.”

“Christmas Shows of Tradesmen. Mr. Marsh and Mr. Paines, leading butchers, have again shown great determination to be to the fore.” They obviously achieved this ambition as we are told with unconscious humour that “Mr. Paines’ front has been literally bulging out with his Christmas supply” and “Mr. Marsh, with an extensive front makes a most attractive show.” Incidentally, we learn that the butchers were selling pigs from Mr. Kitchin’s Manor House Farm and Mr. Deacon-Howe’s Wellington Farm.

June, 1902
Ingenious Flower Bedding. Mr. John Wilkins, a workman upwards of seventy years of age, took advantage of the slope of No. 1 allotment, Bushy Park, to set out five different 5ft. by 4ft. beds with borders and lettering appropriate to the Coronation of King Edward, with centres composed of pansies, variegated plants and red daisies. The SURREY COMET advises all and sundry that “the beds are well worth a visit.”

July, 1902
An elaborate scheme of illuminated decorations for the Coronation was provided by Mr. Wiseman, host of the Crown and Anchor. It was lighted in spite of the delay occasioned by the King’s illness and “great was the pleasure derived by many of the inhabitants by the life-size transparency of the King surrounded by floral decorations, about two hundred flags, and as many lamps, besides ninety yards of festoons of flowers and six flag poles surmounted with floral decorations.” The inn signboard was also covered on both sides with flags and bore the inscription, “God Save the King.”

One hundred and sixty-three poor children were given a dinner beef and plum pudding at the Fitz Wygram Club and Institute and men who were out of work were given a substantial supper.

St James's Church
The Parish Church of St James, Hampton Hill, TW12 1DQ
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