Poverty

The glamorous coaching age left behind physical reminders, especially the inns in Berkhamsted High Street. Until 1889, the Red Lion Inn provided stables and accommodation for travellers, but behind this façade was a story of deprivation in Red Lion Yard. The plight of some of these folks was published in the Chronicle volume XII (2015).

In 1975, Percy Birtchnell received a rusty, battered blue and white enamelled street nameplate, “Red Lion Yard”. He wrote: “This recalls the time when there were as many as 18 little cottages behind the Red Lion public-house, which lost its licence in mid Victorian times”. The sign had been dumped on the edge of the Common with other debris, probably when the few remaining cottages were pulled down. (Percy Birtchnell writing as ‘Beorcham’, Berkhamsted Review, Dec 1975)

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Entrance to Red Lion Yard, by Bill Bailey 
BLH&MS (DACHT : BK 7379)

In Nov 1872, Sarah Catherine Cope née Underwood, widow of baker William Halsey, was about to marry Henry James Wood, gentleman. Part of the settlement of property on marriage included eleven cottages in Red Lion Yard, situated near and behind two messuages on the High Street (dwelling houses with outbuildings and adjacent land) belonging to Mrs Halsey. (BLH&MS, Abstract of the title of Mrs. Catherine Timson to freehold hereditaments, Ref: DACHT : BK 11613.18). Seven of the cottages had been erected on garden ground and the other four had been completed out of the stables and wood houses on the property.

On the far left of Bill Bailey’s painting, the property known to most of us as Figg’s chemist (now Claire Lloyd Properties) was identified as the oldest known urban jettied building in England (Kennedy, M., ‘Victorian façade hides the oldest shop in England’, The Guardian, 27 Feb 2003). Taking the 1839 Berkhamsted parish tithe map as the basis for the layout of the High Street, it has been possible to locate the households in subsequent census records (Griffin, J. Berkhamsted parish tithe map, 1839). The 1841 census shows William Halsey’s bakery situated opposite St Peter’s church, but by 1851 he had moved closer to the centre of town, to Figg’s. Sarah Halsey continued to run the bakery after William died in 1863.

John Haddocks was the innkeeper at the Red Lion in 1823 (Pigot & Co. Commercial Directory of Hertfordshire: Berkhamstead, 1823). The tithe map shows that James Bailey had taken over by 1839. Census records show that the inn changed hands regularly and was managed by Charles Simmons in 1851, William Dinsley in 1861 and Samuel Ivory in 1871. William Bailey was the owner in 1872 at the time of Sarah Halsey’s marriage settlement with Henry Wood. The annual brewster sessions were held in 1877 before a full bench of magistrates. An application from Mr. Job Seabrook for an outdoor license to sell beer at the Red Lion was granted, on the application of Mr. Fellowes, of Rickmansworth, who complained of the deprivation of the license by the bench in the first instance (Bucks Herald, Sep 1877).

Sergeant Job Seabrook, a Crimean campaigner and grandson of a Waterloo veteran, was instructor to the local Volunteers and for 14 years gym master at Berkhamsted School. His wife took an off-licence (by virtue of his office the sergeant was unable to do so himself), and another part of the premises was converted into a greengrocer’s shop. The Seabrooks also sold goods and provisions to the first members of Berkhamsted Cooperative Society, which virtually started at the old Red Lion (Birtchnell, P., Berkhamsted Review, Feb 1981).

Job Seabrook’s daughter Fiona evidently had happy memories of her time at the inn. She wrote of the old days when the Red Lion was a posting-house, with good stabling. Circuses were held on a long meadow at the back of the premises stretching up to Butts Meadow (Clarence Road did not exist at the time). From her bedroom window overlooking the Town Hall, Fiona could hear her father drilling the Volunteers in the market hall. She helped to put up festoons which stretched across the High-street for Queen Victoria’s jubilees. She remembered one of the features of the 1887 celebrations “a competition for a leg of mutton, and to gain the prize men had to climb a greasy pole placed outside the Town Hall, of all places!” (BLH&MS, Scrapbook of Birtchnell’s cuttings Ref: DACHT : BK 3914.02.10).

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Demolition of East’s premises for Midland Bank
BLH&MS (DACHT : BK 11945.148)

In 1889 the old Red Lion pub was sold to Mr Edwin East, who ran an antique shop until the building was pulled down in 1939.

Inhabitants of the Red Lion Yard shared access to the High Street by foot or via carts and carriages via the gateway belonging to the Inn. In this small section of the Berkhamsted parish tithe map in 1839, Red Lion Inn is identified as number 637 with the access road between it and building 643, a shop and storehouse belonging to Ann Prior. Next to this is 642a, William Bailey’s property with 642 and 642b behind, which were evidently converted to tenements for rent by several families in Red Lion Yard.

Parish Tithe Map

Properties along the High Street of Berkhamsted
Source: Berkhamsted parish tithe map 1839

The seven cottages on the garden ground of Bailey’s property were occupied by George Davies, Daniel Preston, William Wingfield, William Fleming, Stephen Sills, Reuben Dwight and Levi Rance and the converted stables by John Horwood, James Collier, Elizabeth Fisher and Mary Cooke (BLH&MS, Hereditaments). It has been possible to follow the trials and tribulations of these families via the census and newspaper reports (Bucks Herald). By 1881, the number of households in the Yard had grown to twenty-two.

Under the 1855 Nuisance Removal Act, overcrowded housing was illegal. There were rules governing accommodation to ensure that each person had 300 cubic feet of air, and appropriate sleeping arrangements (Morning Chronicle, Feb 1855). By 1886, the Yard had come to the attention of the sanitary authority: “The Inspector reported several houses in Red Lion Yard, Berkhampstead, as being over-crowded, and orders were made in the cases of Thos. Belcher, George Kingston… and Emma Dolling to abate the overcrowding.”

We can follow the movements of these three families. At the time of the inspection, Thomas Belcher was 15 in a household with his parents, three sisters and an 8-year-old brother. By 1891, Thomas was living with an older sister and her family in King’s Road. George Kingston and his wife had sixteen children in all between 1870 and 1897, four died and there were ten children sharing their house in the Yard. By 1891 they had moved to Canal Side. Edward and Emma Dolling were living in Bridge Street in 1871, but by 1881, they had nine children ranging in age from 3 days to 20 years living with them in Red Lion Yard. Edward and the youngest child died later that year and Emma was left to bring up her family alone.

In 1900, G.B. Hudson, M.P. for North Hertfordshire was still asking pertinent questions regarding overcrowding: “Are there not crying evils that need a remedy in our midst…? There can be little religion or morality where families of men and women live together in one room. It will be the duty of each successive Government to find a remedy, and the sooner the housing of the working classes in the various slums is taken in hand the better it will be for our nation.” (Luton Times and Advertiser, Oct 1900).

In these densely-populated dwellings, perhaps it is no surprise that drainage problems in 1874 meant that “typhoid fever had been in the Red Lion-yard and other places… from bad and impure water.” In 1886, Dr. Saunders stated that four houses in Red Lion Yard were “filthy and dilapidated, and quite unfit for human habitation”.

It was recognised at a meeting of the Church of England Temperance Society in Berkhamsted in 1890 “that an enormous percentage of the evil arose from drink, but there was often a cause for drinking. Many poor people’s circumstances were so intolerably miserable that they drugged themselves with drink.” Being so crowded and cramped in the Red Lion Yard, inevitably there were disagreements that occasionally boiled over into assaults, often involving the women. These disturbances were duly reported in the Bucks Herald; most cases concluded with a fine and the perpetrator bound over to keep the peace.

In 1862, Mary Ann Emery and Mary Ann Preston were charged by Sophia Norwood with assaulting her. From the evidence it appeared that the alleged assault “seemed to be of rather doubtful character, but as to the language used there could be no doubt”.

Lydia Mills was charged with assaulting Mrs. Emma Rance in 1869. It appeared that the assault was committed in consequence of Rance “going after” a little child belonging to Mills, who had, like its mother, been guilty of a breach of the peace towards Rance’s infant child. Mrs. Rance was in delicate health at the time, the assault proved serious to her, and very shortly after she was confined in the workhouse (she died there in 1888).

In 1879, Mrs. Mary Preston was charged by Mrs. Sarah Duncombe with using abusive language to her. It appeared that first the children and then their mothers fell out, but only the children came to blows. This case was dismissed. Jane Dealey pleaded guilty to assaulting M.A. Rance in a dispute about a child in 1881 and in 1884, Charlotte Tarsey, a married woman, was charged with being drunk and making a disturbance.

David Belcher was charged by P.C. Lake with a breach of the peace towards Frederick Rance, in the Yard early one morning in 1885. Rance was, it appeared, in liquor, and Belcher knocked him down. Mrs. Belcher, who said that her husband was at work, and could not attend the hearing, stated that Rance hit her husband early in the evening. Belcher was bound over to keep the peace for six months in a £5 bond. Rance was also charged with being drunk and disorderly and fined.

A “disgraceful affair” was reported in 1884. Eliza Kingston was charged with assaulting Mary Belcher, both being married women. The evidence was of a strange nature. Kingston pawned her husband’s Sunday clothes to pay a fine inflicted on Mary Belcher, after which Belcher was turned out of a public house in consequence of something said by Kingston. They ended up fighting; the two women pulling each other about by the hair of their heads.

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Urchins in Red Lion Yard
Source: BLH&MS (DACHT : BK 5141)

There were cases where Red Lion Yard boys followed the example of their parents. In 1888 Thomas Belcher and Ernest Kingston, were charged with using obscene language. In 1895, a Red Lion-yard youngster, Albert Kirby, aged nine years, and small for his age, was charged with stealing 12 shillings. P.C. Ephithite gave evidence that the boy maintained he had found a box containing the money under his mother’s bed. The boy was taken to his mother, who asked the constable to threaten him, which he did. He found afterwards that the money and box had been stolen from Annie Davies’ house in the Yard, and the boys admitted they stole it. Mrs. Kirby assured the Bench she did not know the boys had stolen Miss Davies’ money; but she had since paid her 12s. The boys were ordered to have six strokes with a birch rod.

A final case from the Bucks Herald in 1905 involved an inquest held by Mr. Lovel Smeathman, coroner, at the Police Station, on the body of the infant illegitimate child of Lydia Beddall, of Red Lion-yard. Evidence was given by the mother and grandmother as to the child being weak from birth. Dr. W.P.Kerr spoke to finding it as described and with its legs drawn up. It had evidently suffered from convulsions; there was no sign of it having been “overlaid” (smothered by a person rolling on to the child when asleep). A verdict was returned in accordance with the medical testimony.

In 1897 Local Government Board Inspector Col. Preston tried to encourage self-sufficiency in the community. Out-relief was not given to families with able-bodied sons or other relations who could maintain them, or to women with illegitimate children. A widow should support herself and one child, and it was usual to pay 1s. 6d. per head for other children. By 1911, there were still fifteen cottages housing 77 people in Red Lion Yard. In two cases, large families had joined two cottages together to make five rooms. Five premises were described as “old cottages” and were no longer inhabited. By 1913, just before the outbreak of war: “It has been estimated that nearly eight million people were living on incomes of less than 25 shillings per week, underhoused, underfed, and insufficiently clothed.” (Warren, M.D., A Chronology of State Medicine, Public Health, Welfare and Related Services in Britain 1066 – 1999, 2000). It is probably safe to assume that the poorer inhabitants of Berkhamsted, particularly those in Red Lion Yard, were included in that number.