© 2002 Helena Wojtczak BSc (Hons) FRHistS


A Brief Note About Hastings & St Leonards/The Hidden Majority/The Status of Women/Marriage & Maidenhood/Pregnancy & Childbearing/Premarital Sex & Bastardy/Corsets & Crinolines/Occupations/Wives & Widows /Bed & Board/Landladies & Licensees/Shops & Services/Making & Mending/Soapsuds & Strikes/Artistes & Artisans/Schools & Seminaries/Matrons & Managers/Fishwives & Fishmongers/ Servants & Skivvies/Assistants & Apprentices/Hawkers & Harlots/Home Life & Leisure/Homes of the Rich/Homes of the Poor/Out & About/In & Out of Town/ Charity Work/Politics/Women & the Law/Crimes of Women/Crimes Against Women/Some Interesting Individuals/Appendices/Women’s Work in Hastings & St Leonards 1800-1872/ Maps/Mid-Victorian Prices & Wages/Miscellaneous Milestones/Further Reading.


Hastings is an ancient fishing town whose centre was in the Bourne Valley, between the East and West hills. From about 1760 it gained favour as a watering place for the well-to-do and its popularity grew after physicians endorsed sea-water as a cure for most ailments. By the 1830s demand for lodgings had outstripped supply. This, together with the housing needs of the growing population, propelled the spread of Hastings westwards into the Priory Valley. In 1828 architect James Burton founded St Leonards, a purpose-built resort one mile to the west of Hastings. Both towns grew and prospered: between 1801 and 1851 the population increased from 3,000 to 17,000 and they were described as two of the most beautiful watering places in Britain. The arrival of the railway in 1846 greatly expanded the towns’ tourism: the journey time from London was reduced from eight hours to three. Hastings station, opened in 1851, was sited in the Priory Valley where, over the next fifteen years, the post office and banks relocated and new hotels and churches were built. This shifted the centre of Hastings to the Priory Valley, and the Bourne Valley became known as the Old Town.


The history of men had been palmed off on us as universal history. Dierdre Beddoe

History books specifically about women are needed to rectify the omissions of other works. Our knowledge of women’s past has been obscured by standard history books. Male names are routinely selected as examples in secondary sources and when the data are re-worked they are cited again. If women are mentioned a brief account is given about some of note or notoriety then the narrative swiftly reverts to reciting only the deeds of men. And yet the history of women is not adequately covered by books about men because, for as far back as records began, women were subject to special laws and social customs which governed every part of their lives. Local history books – if they mention inhabitants at all — tend to focus on MPs, mayors, councillors, huge landowners and large businesses, so women are absent. Omitting to explain that women were straight-jacketed at every turn by legal disabilities and man-made social structures invites readers to misinterpret women’s absence from civic life, big business and professions as voluntary. Furthermore, when historians mention ‘the worker’, ‘the shopkeeper’, ‘the philanthropist’ or ‘the publican’, they habitually cite men as examples. One’s mind becomes so saturated with men’s names, by the constant repetition of ‘he’, ‘his’ and ‘him’, that the reader is duped into believing that no women existed in those categories. It is, therefore, necessary to correct this imbalance by writing specifically about women. The essential tools of the historian are the primary sources. However, the 1792 Sussex Directory seems to indicate that there were no women in Hastings. Not one female name appears under any of the categories listed: corporation, freemen, gentry, clergy, physicians, law and traders. Even the midwife is male! Yet women were the majority of residents. In 1851, when women outnumbered men nationally by half a million, they constituted 55% of the population of Hastings, which was 17,621. Ten years later this had risen to 58%: there were 3,859 more females than males. Within Sussex, only Brighton had a higher proportion of women, with 60%. In some parishes, almost two-thirds of the population was female. While the archetypal Victorian worker is assumed to be male, in some areas there were more women working than men. In Church Road, St Leonards, for example, 61 women and 20 men were employed in 1861. The parishes with most females were in the newly-built areas of central Hastings and St Leonards, which attracted many wealthy visitors and immigrants from London and elsewhere, who employed a large number of female servants. In one district — encompassing Marina, Caves Road, West Ascent and Gloucester Lodge — there were 554 males to 1098 females, and that included two boys’ boarding schools, which bolstered the number of males. Nearby were two sets of double-villas called Upland Views and The Lawn, built in the mid-1850s. These were, from the outset, inhabited almost exclusively by women. Fifteen years later the 1871 Census showed that 90% of their inhabitants were female. Women headed 14 of the 16 households, which typically comprised an elderly widow or spinster, some female relations and numerous female servants. Similarly, in central Hastings in 1871 women comprised 80% of the residents of Wellington Square and in the commercial district there were 831 females to 462 males. To give but one of many similar examples, the owner of a millinery shop at 4 Castle Street was the sole male in a household of 14. As well as his wife, five milliners, two saleswomen, two dressmakers, a mantle-maker, a cook and a housemaid lived on the premises. The reasons for this imbalance were manifold. James Burton built St Leonards for the wealthy, who employed many domestic servants: in most cases, the servants outnumbered the family. About 95% of domestic servants were female, because they were cheaper to employ than men, and were thought to be more docile and obedient. Another factor was the large number of schools, seminaries and convalescent homes. These establishments employed women as nurses, orderlies, matrons, schoolmistresses and servants, and many had female proprietors. Hastings new town and, most especially, St Leonards attracted rich spinsters and widows to the area: there were twice as many rich females as rich males in residence. Ladies with a private income or with money to invest in rental properties could find no finer place in which to reside. They were assured of plenty of charity and temperance work to occupy them, owing to the grinding poverty in the Old Town and the lack of sobriety amongst working men. The numerical superiority of women was obvious to any casual observer for the streets were busy with shop-girls and housemaids on errands, women served in most shops and the churches were full of women. It was a standing joke among residents and visitors, one of whom remarked in the Hastings & St Leonards Chronicle, 22 May 1874: Everyone knows that St Leonards has this similarity to Paradise: “that there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage”, the female population prepondering at the rate of about five to one. To rebalance the sexes numerically, some people wanted to send husbandless women to the colonies, where many men lacked wives; indeed, in October 1848 the Hastings & St Leonards News published a notice urging ‘surplus’ women to emigrate to Australia. Later a Hastings branch of the British Ladies Female Emigration Society was founded. In contrast, in Hastings’ ‘East End’ — the Old Town — the sexes were more evenly balanced. In this working-class area there were fewer wealthy people, fewer domestic servants, fewer spinsters and more employed males than females. There were also many more children, born in roughly equal numbers of each sex.


Under exclusively man-made laws women have been reduced to the most abject condition of legal slavery in which it is possible for human beings to be held ... under the arbitrary domination of another’s will, and dependent for decent treatment exclusively on the goodness of heart of the individual master. Dr. Florence Fenwick Miller

In the 1860s one-time Hastings resident Bessie Rayner Parkes calculated that, if society were divided into 13 units, one would represent the aristocracy, three the middle ranks and nine the working masses. However, all women, whatever their class, shared a special status as females, and suffered particular disadvantages in government, law, marriage, money, business and employment. Women and men were believed to be completely different from each other and this was reflected in every aspect of public and private life. The railways offered women-only carriages and waiting-rooms, there were separate schools for each sex, some hotels — notably the Queen’s at Hastings — had separate coffee rooms for men and women and some churches, such as Christ Church, St Leonards, had separate pews for each sex. Few jobs were performed by both sexes and, where they were, women were paid half to two-thirds the wages of men for the same work. Positive discrimination is widely believed to be a modern idea; in fact Victorian men practised it with great zeal, reserving for themselves every position as MPs, town commissioners, councillors, freemen, aldermen, members of Boards of Guardians, judges, magistrates, overseers, coroners, jurors, solicitors, police officers, journalists, civil servants and clergy. Every decision about public policy, every law and bylaw, every rule and regulation was made by men without consulting women and only men were permitted to interpret and administer the decisions of the men in power. Only men could vote for which men would govern. Entitlement to vote was, supposedly, based on property qualifications yet female landowners such as Lady Frances Elphinstone of Ore Place, a widow with 530 acres who employed 15 men, were denied the vote, while some of their own labourers were enfranchised in 1867. Some progress was made in 1869, when the Municipal Reform Act gave women householders the vote in municipal elections — but only if they were spinsters or widows. The economic structure hindered women from owning or inheriting wealth, throwing most into involuntary dependence upon men. Fathers routinely bequeathed to sons, partly because anything left to a daughter would later pass to her husband. With a woman, Queen Victoria, as Head of State it was ironic that women lived under such total male authority. Nor was women’s poor status entirely the result of ancient legislation. For example, an Act of 1835 ended the right of unmarried women who were qualified (by property) to vote in parish-based elections (such as for Poor Law Guardians), and an Act of 1857 reaffirmed that men, but not women, could obtain a divorce solely on the grounds of adultery. The ‘Woman Question’ was discussed in newspapers, magazines and journals, in parliament and at home. Woman’s place in society was a battlefield upon which competing ideologies strove for dominance. Some people challenged the narrow lives of women and argued for greater opportunities; others believed vehemently that women should be restricted to domestic work and child rearing. A single issue — that of women being trained and employed as watchmakers — dominated the letters-pages of the Hastings & St Leonards News for several months in 1857 after a lecture on the subject was given locally. The ‘cult of womanhood’ preached that women should be religious and god-fearing, and pure of heart, mind and body, which entailed pre-marital chastity and marital submission without enjoyment. They were expected to live contentedly in a state of perpetual childhood, passively accepting the actions and decisions of men, to whom they were supposed to be happily subservient. Coventry Patmore, a one-time Hastings resident, wrote a poem in the 1850s entitled The Angel in the House, in which he presented his submissive angel-wife as the stereotype to which all women should aspire. She was meek, humble and tranquil, and lived only to please her husband. Women who fell short of this idealised stereotype were criticised, even shamed, into complying.


In every social class boys’ education was considered of greater importance than that of girls. Poor children learned what they needed to know for life from parents or grandparents. Some attended a school run by an unqualified ‘Dame’; these were of dubious educational worth and acted more as crèches for the under-sevens. Schooling was not taken seriously and would be abandoned if any paid work such as hop-picking was available. Girls were frequently kept away from school to assist mother with the weekly wash. As late as 1871, 26% of brides, compared with 10% of bridegrooms, were so illiterate that they could not even sign their names and had instead to write an X beside their names in the parish register. Richer families had a resident governess until the children were old enough to attend a private seminary or boarding school. While boys learned a wide range of subjects including moral philosophy, Greek, Latin, geometry and science, girls were taught domestic and arts subjects with the intention that they would make pleasing and useful companions to men. Some girls never attended school but continued to be taught superficial accomplishments by a governess at home. Fathers educated their sons or apprenticed them to their own trade, but neglected their daughters, because their ‘trade’ was marriage. Given the numerical imbalance of the sexes not all women could marry, leading Jessie Boucherett to call the system ‘wicked and cruel, and based on a fallacy’. She and many other feminists argued that women should be allowed to attend training colleges and universities, but doctors claimed that women were mentally unsuited for education. Besides, an educated woman with opinions was a fearsome prospect for most men. Girls were raised to obey and any signs of rebellion were swiftly crushed. It was legal for parents to beat children and Judge William Blackstone had ruled that husbands could even administer ‘moderate correction’ to disobedient wives; indeed, the greatest control a man could gain over another human being was by marriage.


On census day, 1851, 30% of women aged 20 and over were spinsters, 13% widows and 57% wives. Marriage and childbearing were universally considered to be every woman’s life ambition, and 86% of women married at least once by the age of 50.


In the mid-19th century, marriage was a form of slavery hidden under layers of hypocrisy. A Victorian lady living in an elegant house with servants was like a bird in a gilded cage. Men vowed ‘with all my worldly goods I thee endow’, but the opposite was true: upon marriage, the control of, and income from, a woman’s real property (property held in the form of freehold land) passed under common law to her husband, though he could not dispose of it without her consent. Her personal property, that is, money from earnings or investments and her belongings, passed absolutely into his control. A married woman lived under ‘coverture’, which meant she surrendered her legal existence on marriage: she was a feme covert. To prevent a woman’s assets from passing to her husband, a marriage settlement could be made under equity law to give a wife control over her property; however, these were the subject of controversy and the fiancé’s consent was needed. In 1849 the House of Commons received a petition which argued that marriage settlements were ‘the most fertile source of domestic unhappiness’, and that by ‘placing her in a position of independence’ they enabled a wife to ‘break the vows she made at the altar’ (that is, the vow to obey). A middle-class woman without an inheritance was obliged to marry for subsistence, a situation Hastings feminist Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon described in 1854 as ‘legal prostitution’. She was alluding to a man’s ownership of what was euphemistically termed ‘his wife’s person’: the fact was, once married, a woman could not withhold consent to sex. The experience of marriage for a woman of the working classes was different from that of her wealthier counterparts. Not only did she have to perform all the housework herself without benefit of servants but in many cases her husband could not support her and she would have to work for wages as well. Such wages legally belonged to her husband, as did every item in the house and in a wife’s possession.


There was nothing that women could do about their poor situation: men had included a promise to obey husbands into women’s marriage vows (but not into their own) and had conferred upon themselves the legal right to return by force any wife who ran away. Until 1891 if an unhappy wife escaped her spouse could ask the police to capture and return her and he could imprison her and ‘enforce his conjugal rights’ – i.e., rape her, with the complete blessing of the law. The customary brutality of men towards their wives in former centuries was taboo by the Victorian era. When in 1849 a London man petitioned parliament ‘to restore the ancient and venerable institutions of our ancestors, in the shape of the whipping post and the ducking stool … as a punishment for all undutiful and runaway wives’ no support was forthcoming. By then, violence by husbands was permitted only if his wife ‘deserved’ it, and provided that he used no more force than was necessary to bring about her obedience. Marital breakdown was a source of shame and embarrassment for genteel persons and separation was a last, desperate measure. Among the wealthy, estranged couples often led separate lives in their various homes. Well-brought-up gentlemen and ladies did not enter into public slanging matches, although mental, emotional and physical abuse occurred, it was easier to keep private. Among the poor, however, tempers flared and fists flew, fuelled by alcohol, poverty and frustration. In huddled tenements and cottages, domestic violence was so common that women’s screams were routinely ignored. Although men had the physical advantage women frequently fought back and sometimes applied to magistrates for the man to be bound over in sureties to keep the peace. Divorce was available only to the rich: each one cost about £700 (about 14 years’ wages for a poor man or 21 years’ for his female counterpart) and required an Act of Parliament; indeed, only four British women had ever achieved a divorce by 1857; after that divorce became cheaper and more within the reach of the middle classes. A man simply had to prove his wife’s adultery but a wife had to prove other causes as well, such as cruelty. From 1857 husbands lost their right to the earnings of the wives they had deserted. This greatly benefited women because, previously, a husband who abandoned his wife could later reappear, take all her possessions, earnings and inheritance, and desert again. From 1857 women could apply for a protection order to prevent this. The first local woman to do so was Ann Else of Robertson Terrace, in 1858. Magistrates ‘expressed their pleasure on being enabled to place the property of the applicant under the protection of the law’. When working-class marriage broke down the couple simply lived apart, the wife commonly ‘going home to Mother’. Some fathers objected to this: in 1851, Mrs Veness’s father sued his son-in-law for £13, the cost of feeding and lodging his daughter and her children after she left her husband. He lost the case.


Despite the prevalent belief that living ‘in sin’ is a modern habit, it was widespread in the Victorian era. On the lowest rungs of society, amongst the drunken, the destitute, the prostitutes and beggars, living together was as common as being married. Some otherwise ‘respectable’ people in the poorer classes didn’t share the middle-classes’ belief in the necessity of marriage; to them, wedlock was irrelevant and cohabitation common, the woman sometimes taking the man’s surname. This was especially the case when one or both had separated from their spouse and found a new partner. Because divorce was, prior to 1857, almost impossible and, after 1857, still difficult and expensive, people who would under other circumstances have married simply lived together, although the clergy tried in vain to stop it. The higher up the social scale, the rarer it was, but examples exist in all classes of families being raised out of wedlock. Railway labourer Thomas Smith and his girlfriend had three children. Housekeeper Louisa Barnett, 39, of Tivoli Road House, had four children by her employer William Eldridge, a 52-year-old brewer and farmer. Benjamin Smith MP, JP had five illegitimate children and raised them at Pelham Crescent after their mother’s death.


In 1851 the Census revealed that, nationally, 43% of women over 20 enjoyed the legal status of feme sole — a lone female. Despite the disadvantages of being a wife, the urge to marry was still very strong, and women were deeply indoctrinated to believe that marriage was their God-given and sole purpose in life. Spinsters over 30 were pitied, but the enormous numerical imbalance in the sexes meant that not every woman could marry. Louisa Garrett Anderson wrote about attitudes towards spinsterhood in the 1860s:

To remain single was thought a disgrace and at thirty an unmarried woman was called an old maid. After their parents died, what could they do, where could they go? If they had a brother, as unwanted and permanent guests, they might live in his house. There were few charitable organisations for the spinster, but a few female provident societies were in existence. One advertised in the Sussex press was the ‘Female Provident Assurance Company’. With a capital of £100,000 and the Earl of Harrowley as President, its aim was ‘to secure to women who may be unmarried at the age of 40, or upwards, an independence for the rest of their lives, by payment of a small premium for five following years commencing at any age from birth up to 30.’ Parents could pay premiums for their children, and the policy would pay them either a marriage dowry or a spinster’s pension. Most spinsters were women left ‘on the shelf’ after all the eligible men had chosen wives, but a number, for various reasons, declined to marry. Some were members of religious orders while others ‘suffered’ from what was then called ‘inversion’; that is, they were lesbians. The veil of secrecy over sexual matters in the Victorian era makes identifying them impossible. The waters are further muddied because it was acceptable and common for women to form close friendships, many of which were in fact platonic love affairs, and many women set up home with a female friend. One devoted couple in Hastings were Joanna Thwaites and Mrs Stevens. Joanna was born in 1802, the 11th of 14 children; nonetheless her inheritance was sufficient to support her. She lived alone at 6 Meadow Cottages until she became attached to a widow, Mrs Stevens. They lived together for 30 years, first at Croft Cottages and then at 43 High Street. The devoted pair shared a bedroom until 1891, when Mrs Stevens became ill and the doctor advised Joanna to sleep in another room. Mrs Stevens died and Joanna, heartbroken, followed her less than 30 hours later./


‘Tis the old, old story,
Told so often in vain,
For man all the freedom of passion,
For woman the ruin and pain.

For most women, marriage marked the beginning of a relentless succession of pregnancies. They could not withhold consent to sex, advice on contraception was illegal and its practice considered immoral; therefore, many wives were pregnant or breast feeding from wedding day to menopause. It was quite usual for an average woman to experience ten or more pregnancies. The 1851 Census for Hastings shows that brewer’s wife Harriet Padgen had nine children, as did Isabella Ranking, the wife of a surgeon; most of hers, curiously, were born 17 months apart. Sarah Nabbs, landlady of the Pilot Inn, Stone Street, had at least 16. On the whole, fewer children were born to the upper classes, indicating perhaps that some educated people practised some kind of conception avoidance. Children were the absolute property of the husband, until an Act of 1839 allowed a divorced but ‘innocent’ wife custody of children up to the age of seven (raised to 16 in 1873). Even after 1839 an adulterous wife lost all rights to her children, while the same conduct by a husband did not. Most babies were born at home. Poor women were attended by a local unqualified midwife or nurse; the rich were attended by a doctor. The destitute often gave birth in the workhouse infirmary. Maternal deaths in 1847 were reported as 1 in 140 but were actually much higher and one in six children died before their first birthday — they comprised between 26% and 40% of all deaths. Poor Mrs Emblow of 12 Russell Street lost all four of her offspring in their infancy. Improvements in the conditions of childbirth began around mid-century but it took time for anaesthetics, chloroform and antiseptics to come into common use, and even longer for them to be extended to poor women. Infant deaths were particularly prevalent among the poor and inquests revealed considerable ignorance among impoverished mothers. Babies slept in drawers and boxes in stuffy, damp rooms, and were underfed, often by mothers who were themselves desperately malnourished. In 1851 Maria Wenham’s third illegitimate child died, aged 24 days. The coroner declared that the child was emaciated and had starved to death. Poor Maria, who lived at Halton, could not afford a doctor. Many Hastings mothers — owing to their own ill health — were unable to produce sufficient milk, and some had no idea what to feed their babies as a substitute. Caroline Clifden of Tivoli fed her new-born on boiled bread and sugar. When he died no prosecution ensued; the Hastings coroner simply recorded that the child died as a result of being given ‘injudicious’ food.


Although pre-marital sex was disapproved of, premarital pregnancy was fairly common among the lower working classes, especially in rural areas. The couple usually married, although sometimes the girl was sent away to give birth and the child given up for adoption, or raised by its grandparents. Illegitimate births made up about 7% of all births in England during the mid-century. The figures for illegitimacy in Hastings were given only once: in the quarterly returns for 1875, when the rate was six in 211. Illegitimate births were rare among the upper classes. Girls were more closely watched, chaperoned, and taught to keep their distance until after the wedding. Terminating a pregnancy was illegal but this did not prevent desperate women from trying various methods to induce miscarriage. Hot baths and gin were reputed to work and back-street abortionists existed, although I found no evidence of any in Hastings. Kearsley’s Original Widow Welch’s Pills — ‘a safe and certain remedy in removing those obstructions’ — were advertised on the front page of the Hastings & St Leonards News, though their efficacy must be doubted since infanticide was so common.

Unmarried mothers were in a pitiful social and financial predicament. Outcast from her family, abandoned by her seducer, facing dismissal from work and alienated from all sources of support, a single mother was usually forced to endure childbirth alone and without pain relief. Employment was hard to obtain for single mothers: the child would often be placed with a wet-nurse and kept secret from employers. Maria Ranger, herself the offspring of an unmarried mother, seems to have brazened it out: she ran a lodging house while raising her daughter Elizabeth, who was born in 1832. Even though many single mothers were the victims of ‘seduction’ — a term that meant anything from a promise of marriage to rape — shame and ruin was brought upon her and, in many cases, destitution and the workhouse beckoned. The Poor Law of 1733 stipulated that a father was responsible for the maintenance of his illegitimate child. This was later thought to encourage female immorality and sole responsibility for such children was eventually shifted onto women by the Bastardy Clause in the Poor Law of 1834. A single mother could apply to a magistrate for an affiliation order. She was required to present corroborated evidence of paternity, which the man could dispute. If she was successful the father was ordered to pay up to 2/6d a week ‘child support’. This was supposedly half the cost of raising the child and it did not take into account the fact that unmarried pregnancy led to a woman’s dismissal from work, or the refusal of charitable societies to assisted unwed mothers. She might also claim the expenses of confinement, although this was denied to Cordelia Clarke in 1852 because it was her second illegitimate child. Because children ‘begotten in sin’ were believed to inherit their parents’ moral weakness, orphanages refused to accept bastards, although they constituted the largest number of destitute children. While there was no such thing as a ‘fallen man’ a ‘fallen woman’ had disgraced herself. The editor of a Hastings newspaper commented:

Once fallen, a woman becomes an outcast, — believed by none, cared-for by few, despised by most, and looked-upon as the fair spoil of every fellow, married or unmarried’.

By the 1850s, there was a semblance of sympathy towards single mothers and murmurs of disapproval of the men responsible, signifying a change in social attitudes since the beginning of the century. The first woman committed to the new Hastings Gaol in 1829, Sarah Martin, was serving six months for ‘being delivered of a bastard child’. In contrast a man’s reputation was unharmed. Surgeon and Freeman of Hastings Charles Steven Crouch was summonsed three times between 1801 and 1804 for siring three children by two women, and made to pay towards their maintenance. This did not hinder his political career: he was eight times Mayor of Hastings and was ‘universally respected’. It is worth noting that, as a JP, it later fell to him to judge similar cases brought against fellow men. Affiliation cases were heard in public and frequently attracted crowds with prurient interests. When in 1860 Edward Waters, a ‘tan-frock’ (i.e. a fisherman), disputed fatherhood of a child born to Elizabeth Mann, the court was ‘crowded with members of the fishing interest, who appeared to be highly delighted with the obscene revelations’. Waters left the court ‘at boiling point’ after being ordered to pay 2s a week. In many hearings the court was cleared of all females and the unfortunate woman was left surrounded by men, including the putative father and a public gallery full of men eager to hear all the sordid details for their own entertainment. In other cases women were allowed to stay and sometimes the child was admitted: The child…was brought into court….and, on seeing defendant began to utter a well known word, by which a paternal-parent is made conscious of the presence of his offspring, and ultimately the repetition of ‘Dada! Dada! Dada!’ rang so loudly in the ears, not only of the defendant, but of all present... The magistrate awarded the mother 2s 6d a week, which ‘called forth a burst of applause from the court’. If a man refused to pay maintenance he was harshly dealt with — one in 1864 received a three-month sentence — not to seek justice for women, but because magistrates were fearful of bastard children becoming dependent on the parish. Illegitimate babies were sometimes ‘farmed out’ to a foster-mother. This was a private financial arrangement without state involvement. In 1860, Sarah Peake sued Thomas Ransom for failure to pay her fees — which had mounted to 12s 11d — for fostering his grandchild. Magistrates dismissed the claim since there was no written agreement. Deaths of illegitimate infants under 12 months of age were disproportionately — and suspiciously — high, and were not investigated too vigorously by the coroner. A bastard was likely to become dependent upon the parish and the death of one was regarded by some as a lucky escape for ratepayers. In 1855 the coroner enquired into the death of 9-week-old Mary Jane Tester Akehurst. An affiliation order had been granted just two weeks before, ordering George Tester to pay towards maintaining the child. The mother, Mary Akehurst of Marine Parade, had put her baby out to nurse with her brother’s wife Sarah, who lived at Wellington Mews. Mary said, ‘Either on Wednesday or Thursday last (I forget which) I saw the child and nursed it. It appeared quite well. Yesterday I saw it again and it was then dead’. Sarah explained, ‘Some food and the breast were given to it, and it was then put in its basket by the fire, with a shawl partly over it ... In the morning I found the child dead.’ Surgeon David Gabb said he believed the child died from convulsions. The jury immediately returned a verdict of ‘Death from convulsions.’ It is interesting to note that the baby is referred to throughout as ‘it’ and that she was nursed at the breast by two different women. She was farmed out to Sarah when just one week old and her mother did not visit daily, despite living nearby. In 1864, the illegitimate infant of a servant, born on the floor at her shabby lodgings above Frances Hope’s beer-shop, was found to have died of head injuries. The coroner and the jury accepted the claim that the child had ‘fallen on its head during delivery’ and a verdict of accidental death was returned. In 1870 the coroner merely issued a caution to a Mrs Birt and her young daughter, even though it was obvious that they had suffocated the girl’s unwanted child at birth. In very few cases, women had several illegitimate pregnancies. One suspects, if the children had different fathers, that the women were prostitutes. Spinster Selina Dennard was recorded in 1866 as raising, single-handedly, eight illegitimate children. Although, as we have seen, premarital and extramarital sex went against the prevailing morality, was forbidden by the Christian religion and brought a lot of trouble, shame and, often, ruin to females who indulged in it, one Hastings man experienced no difficulty in persuading a long list of ladies to abet his seven year span of adultery, which was revealed to the Court of Probate and Divorce in 1872. Well-known perfumer and hairdresser Charles Septimus Ravenscroft (b. 1821) was the inventor of hair gel, and his patent rotatory hair-brushing machine was exhibited at the Hastings Industrial Exhibition in 1865. But secretly he pursued ‘a course of … disgusting profligacy’ behind the façade of his respectable hairdresser’s shop at 33 White Rock Place (now Salmon’s bookshop). His life of ‘whoredom, adultery and profligacy’ with clients and staff began soon after his marriage in 1863. An adulterous affair with Annie Stent was followed by another with Miss Cox, described in court as ‘a sufferer of nymphomania’. Shortly after making out her Will in his favour she died, mysteriously in Ravenscroft’s house. (Her generous bequest was later used to attempt to bribe witnesses not to testify against him in his divorce case.) More affairs followed. Shop assistant Miss Blackman and her fiancé would often watch secretly as Ravenscroft engaged in sexual intercourse with Mrs Wood in the kitchen of his salon during 1866. An affair with Miss Noriss was followed by another with ladies’ maid Julia Sharpe, with whom ‘relations’ took place during her brief visits to his shop while on errands for her employer. She later became his house-servant and had a daughter by him in 1867. The court heard that he gave her ‘a certain illness arising from illicit intercourse.’ His next liaison was with Miss Holding, resulting in a child born at Brighton in 1869. His shop assistant Miss S. Mecklereid, a Scotswoman fifteen years his junior, twice became pregnant by him, resulting in one child and one miscarriage. During his years of womanising, Ravenscroft was twice summonsed in 1866 for keeping an unruly pet. The newspaper headline The Playful Dog of White Rock was uncannily apt and, like Ravenscroft himself, the dog was said to have been ‘a great favourite with the ladies’. Having enjoyed at least seven affairs resulting in four pregnancies and three illegitimate children during his seven-year marriage, Ravenscroft divorced his wife in 1870 on the grounds of her adultery with two men (simultaneously). One, a boy of 16, was ordered to pay £100 damages to Ravenscroft, as the ‘injured party’. After his divorce, Ravenscroft, then 50, and Miss Mecklereid, 35, lived together above the shop, but the 1871 Census shows no child living there. It is interesting that, despite the prevailing sexual morality and notions of prudishness amongst Victorian spinsters, Ravenscroft nevertheless managed to persuade several single women to have sexual relations with him, even though he was a married man in his forties. The prosecution’s explanation was that he ‘exercised the most extraordinary, the most sinister influence, on every woman he came across’. It is also interesting that, despite his scandalous behaviour having been made public, Ravenscroft continued to run a successful hairdressing business until about 1885. A serial adulteress would not have fared so well.


In mid-19th-century Hastings, ladies wore gowns and mantles of shimmering silk and taffeta, sumptuous velvet and intricate lace, topped and tailed with lace-trimmed bonnets and delicate slippers. Working women wore hardwearing boots, garments of flannel, heavy cotton and wool, white linen aprons, and plain caps. Girls wearing strong walking boots with excessively bright-coloured dresses and gaudy jewellery were immediately recognisable as prostitutes. In the Victorian era all upper-class and middle-class women — plus those of the lower ranks with pretensions to gentility — were tightly-laced into whalebone corsets known as stays. These were hooked in the front and laces in the back adjusted the tightness. Stays reduced the breathing capacity of the lungs and crowded the internal organs into unnatural and often dangerous positions. Women wore voluminous and heavy, multiple layers of skirts and cumbersome starched underskirts – a minimum of six – which trailed along the ground, picking up all kinds of unsanitary matter from the streets. The outfit weighed 15 to 20 pounds and greatly impeded women’s freedom of movement. It was common for women to feel breathless and faint. Working girls strove to copy, in inexpensive versions, the attire of fashionable ladies in order to appear genteel, elegant and well-bred. The costume attracted admiring glances from men, whose attentions and consequent marriage-proposals women eagerly sought. Men found the multiplicity of underskirts intriguingly mysterious, the accentuation of the waist highly erotic, and the swooning, helpless woman very desirable. The issue of women’s clothes became a battleground upon which feminists and anti-feminists fought. Indeed, the women’s rights movement was referred to as ‘Bloomerism’ because of the Rational Dress publicised by Amelia Bloomer in the 1850s, which became almost a ‘uniform’ of the feminist movement. It consisted of a jacket and a knee-length skirt over Turkish-style trousers, gathered at the ankle. Gone were the corsets; women would be able to breathe, and they would also be able to take part in sport and other activities without fear of exposing their legs. The costume was greeted with horror, disdain and squeals of hilarity.

Abridged from the Hastings & St Leonards News, 12 November, 1851

The denizens of our sober town were startled out of all sense of propriety on Wednesday evening by a lecture on this most awful ‘social-ism,’ at the Swan Assembly Room. A Miss Atkins addressed a crowded meeting on Bloomerism, for about three-quarters of an hour, amid mingled applause and laughter. … Miss Atkins made her appearance, attired in the new costume, and wearing a Bloomer hat jauntily placed on one side of her head, giving her, with her smiling and rather pretty face, what the ladies called a ‘wicked look’. She certainly appeared in no respect at a loss for confidence — joining merrily in the laughter which many points of her lecture readily provoked. …It would scarcely be believed (said the lecturer) by future generations, that the women of the nineteenth century crushed their ribs, destroyed their lungs, and entailed consumption on their offspring, by the custom of tight lacing! [Much applause.] We need not wonder at the absurd ambition of the Chinese ladies to pinch their feet into a baby’s size, when women in England deform themselves as they do by tight-lacing. …The inconveniences of the long dress were next reviewed. In rainy and dusty weather it was equally in the way. It was also extravagant; and therefore was a question for husbands as well as wives — for fathers as well as daughters. It was objected that the short dress and trousers were immodest. ‘Is it so?’ said the lecturer (putting herself into an exhibitory open-armed posture, that the dress might be fully seen by the audience, and eventually getting, by request, on the table, for still further exhibition, amid thundering peals of laughter, and cries of ‘bravo’ & c.) ‘Is it immodest?’ said Miss Atkins again — answering the question herself by shewing the superiority of the costume even in this respect. …And then followed an energetic and woman-like appeal to woman: ‘shall we, or shall we not, be allowed to judge for ourselves? Why should men dictate to us? We never dictate to them — even if they should choose to wear a half-a-chimney-pot on their head, and call it a hat!’ [Loud laughter.] ‘We can tell the men that we mean to do as we please. [Cheers and renewed laughter.] If the men so much admire the long dress, let them wear it a few days, and see how they would like to be enslaved by it. … The ladies were advised next to try the dress indoors at first. After a few days’ trial, she was quite sure they would have no wish to go back to the slavery of the old fashion. … Let women be resolved on a reform — regardless of surrounding scorn and derision. … The prevailing feature of the entertainment was one of comicality, the really intellectual or useful being quite secondary. It was, in fact, rather a performance than a lecture; and the audience departed much refreshed by that natural medicine, which ‘shakes the hypochondria from one’s ribs, and the cobwebs from one’s brains’ — videlicet, good hearty laughter.

After Rational Dress was laughed into obscurity, in 1857 the French crinoline — a lightweight, hooped cage of flexible steel or whalebone — burst onto the fashion scene. Its size reflected social status — the most chic were 7ft in diameter. It replaced the layers of petticoats and, as the wide skirt made the waist appear small, corsets could be loosened. However, the crinoline prevented any sudden movement and was unmanageable and even humiliating. When sitting down, it sprung up wildly at the front; when walking, a gust of wind would reveal all, so in windy weather a cape was necessary to weigh it down. In Hastings, as everywhere, there were dozens of accidents caused by crinolines, some trivial; others tragic. In Waterloo Passage in 1862, ten year old Julia Brazier died from burns after her crinoline skirt touched an open fire and caught alight while she was tying her brother’s bootlaces. By the end of the 1860s, nine million crinolines were in use. Once they spread to the masses they lost prestige, and fashionable women adopted the bustle, a steel cage attached just above the hips and fastened around the waist. By the 1870s this had been extended to just above the back of the knees and at the height of its popularity, it was horizontal. Skirts became longer at the back to form a small train, once again corsets became excessively tight and petticoats multiplied. Women were back where they had started.


Women want work both for the health of their minds and bodies. They want it often because they must eat and because they have children and others dependent on them – for all the reasons that men want work. Barbara Bodichon, 1857

The economical position of women is one of those subjects on which there exists a ‘conspiracy of silence.’ While most people, perhaps, imagine that nearly all women marry and are supported by their husbands, those who know better how women live, or die, have rarely anything to say on the subject. JOSEPHINE BUTLER, 1868

Discovering statistics relating to the occupations of mid-Victorian women is far from straightforward. Prior to the introduction of National Insurance in 1911, little documentary evidence existed in relation to employment and particularly to that of women. Most surviving records are connected with areas of economic activity in which women rarely featured – for example income tax, apprenticeship indentures, pensions and civic appointments. Nor is the Census as useful or reliable as one might wish: it took place only once every ten years, and employment that fell in between went unrecorded. Victorian Censuses miscalculated women’s employment, partly because social factors led people to lie or to withhold information, but also owing to enumerators’ habit of ignoring wives’ paid work. There are other sources; for example, the calculations of Bessie Rayner Parkes, a specialist on female employment. In 1860 she asserted that the number of women over 20 in paid employment in Britain was 3.1 million, or just over 44% of the female population. Of these, 0.4 million were widows, 1.2 million were single and 1.5 million were married. In addition there were hundreds of thousands of employed girls aged under 20. The Census of 1861 recorded that 63% of Sussex women were ‘unwaged or undefined’. This included those living on annuities, pensions, and allowances given by relations; wives supported by husbands; inmates of workhouses, gaols and asylums; and those who received parish relief. Of the 37% who were self-supporting, 32% were employed or self-employed and the rest had income from property ownership. In Hastings, of the 6,675 female inhabitants over 20, 54% were listed as ‘dependent on relatives’ and, of the remainder, just under 8% had private incomes and 38% (3,059) supported themselves. In fact, many more women were earning money than were enumerated as doing so. As well as the large but unknown number of prostitutes, there was an even greater number of wives working in family businesses, or engaged in paid employment elsewhere which they — or, more likely, their husbands — did not admit to the Census enumerators. The enumerators themselves omitted wives who worked in family businesses, about whom more will be said later. The impressive list of occupations below reflects the wide range of small businesses run by individual women, gleaned from Censuses, trades directories, court cases and written reminiscences between 1830 and 1870. It does not give an accurate picture of the employment available to women in Hastings. In 1861 about 80% of working women in Hastings were in just five occupations: domestic service, dressmaking, laundering, lodging house keeping and teaching. There was no occupation in which the numbers of the sexes came even close to being equal. Men comprised 99% of labourers, 98% of the employees of national and local government and the learned professions, and 80% of those working with minerals or vegetables, and possessing or working the land. Women comprised three-quarters of those engaged in entertaining, making clothing, and performing personal offices, and two-thirds of those involved in literature, the fine arts and the sciences. Women were 78% of the gentry, and 90% of the paupers. If a woman could not work, and had no-one to support her, she had few choices. There were friendly or benefit societies that offered a modicum of financial support to employed subscribers over short spells of illness or injury, but these were mainly for men. In the 1850s separate benefit clubs were established for each sex under the auspices of St Mary’s parish. The St Mary’s Female Assurance Society, which in 1858 was managed by Mrs Hart, Campbell Cottage, East Hill, invited ‘females whose time is money, and who, in sickness, can ill afford to lose that time’ to join. But the vast majority were not covered by such insurance and, as parish relief was rarely given, an unemployed woman either begged from relatives, entered the workhouse or went on the streets.


It was taboo for well-educated girls to attempt to make a living because part of a man’s pride came from supporting his family. For example, Sophia Jex-Blake’s father grudgingly allowed her to teach maths, but not to accept a salary. If her family fell upon hard times a middle-class girl found few jobs open to her: generally, governess ‘under despised conditions and a miserable salary’, schoolmistress or dressmaker. Even nursing was ‘disorganised and disreputable’ until Florence Nightingale turned it into a profession in the 1860s. In the early 1840s many middle-class, and even upper class women — known as ‘distressed gentlewomen’ — were put in the position of having to support themselves. Mrs Jameson noted that if one considers the widows or daughters of ‘attorneys and apothecaries, tradesmen and shopkeepers, banker’s clerks & c, in this class more than two-thirds of the women are now obliged to earn their own bread’. Needlework and teaching children were seen as ‘natural’ to women, and appropriate for those from the middle and upper classes. For working-class women — whose skills were mainly domestic — there were plenty of jobs as servants and laundresses, and quite a bit of needlework. Whereas only some women had the education to be a governess, virtually all women could sew. Most of them lived in poverty despite working 10 to 16 hours a day. For example, although Joanna Taylor worked as a laundress in Hastings for 50 years she was unable to put anything aside for her old age and, when she became too old to work, she had to apply for parish relief. While employment prospects for women were poor, they could gain more responsibility and status by inheriting or establishing a small business of their own. Not only could they keep the fruits of their labour but they could work in trades that were closed to them as employees, as shall be illustrated. There is an enduring myth that all adult Victorian women were supported by their husbands but, in 1851, only 57% of women over 20 were married. Thus, 43% of women had no husband. Of these, roughly three-quarters of the spinsters, and one-quarter of the widows, were employed. And just because a woman was married, it is folly to assume her husband always supported her: working mothers were so prevalent in mid-19th century Hastings that churches opened crèches specifically to cater for them.


According to Bessie Rayner Parkes the 1851 Census was incorrect about the percentage of married women in paid work, which it set at 22%. Parkes’ own calculations found 37% to be a more accurate figure. The idea that ‘married women did not work’ is a fiction so far as the poorer classes were concerned. Traditionally, all members of the family were involved in home-based trades, but the Industrial Revolution divided the sexes into ‘breadwinner’ and ‘housewife’. Keeping his wife out of the workplace signified respectability for a man and gave him status. Although (as we shall see) this ideal was never achieved, it led people with pretensions to gentility to conceal wives’ paid employment. The life of a working-class married woman depended on her husband’s income. If he was a skilled worker she could devote herself to raising a family. If a trader, she might join him in business, childbearing permitting. But should she marry a labouring man, or one whose employment was seasonal or insecure or who was unable to work through infirmity or alcoholism, she might need to earn money throughout her married life. The 1851 Census abstracts for Hastings record that, of 6,675 women over twenty, 43% were ‘wives of no occupation’. The true figure was much lower, because Census enumerators were instructed that: ‘The profession of wives … living with their husbands and assisting them … need not be set down.’ Because of this, the occupations of hundreds of wives working in family businesses are hidden from history. Only a woman employed in work distinctly unlike that of her husband was listed as occupied. We cannot know to what extent the Census is misleading, but to give one example from Hastings, Harriet Fisher of 56 High Street advertised and was listed in trade directories as a confectioner, and other sources confirm that she ran the shop; however, according to the Census, her husband was a confectioner and Harriet was ‘unoccupied’. Owing to the coverture law and social customs, other official documents — such as deeds, directories, and licensing records – also fail to record the work of wives in family businesses, yet it was typical for them to work behind the scenes, stocktaking, ordering and bookkeeping. One was even her husband’s chauffeuse. Anna Maria Savery married a busy Hastings surgeon in 1829, and ‘was seen almost daily out driving with the doctor in his professional rounds, and taking command of the horse and carriage’. It was customary for shops with male owners to be run by husband and wife. Records relating to licensed premises are particularly misleading in this respect. A pub or hotel was almost invariably run jointly by husband and wife and in some cases the wife had sole charge while the husband followed his own occupation. The same was true of lodging-houses. In 1864 Mr. Brockwell, summonsed to court in connection with a lodging house registered in his name, explained that he knew nothing about the business, as it belonged to his wife while he worked elsewhere. Nevertheless, the law found him responsible. Unusually, Priscilla Brown of 18 Shepherd Street is listed in the 1871 Census as a partner in her husband’s business. He was a master-bricklayer employing three men. It should not be supposed that married women worked only in dire financial circumstances. In Hastings many wives were employed when their husbands could have supported them. Among dozens of examples were Elizabeth Woodgate, a lodging-house keeper married to a master-builder employing five men, and egg-merchant Elizabeth Collins, whose husband was a shoesmith. Most successfully combined careers with motherhood; indeed, Mrs Collins had seven children. The Census shows that many schoolmistresses were raising families. In 1861 mother-of-two Jane Smith of The Schoolhouse, Egremont Place was married to a ‘painter clerk & sexton’, while her colleague Elizabeth Jones’ spouse was a schoolmaster.


Perhaps the most powerful evidence of wives’ involvement in their husbands’ businesses was the universal practice of them taking over, seemingly automatically, after their husbands’ death, even in industries considered ‘unsuitable’ for women, and in which women would not have been accepted in the open job market, either as employees or as apprentices. By widowhood, Hastings obtained a female butcher, a couple of licensed poulterers, a blacksmith, a cabinet maker, an undertaker, two plumber-glazier-painters and two fly proprietors. The blacksmith was Harriet Ranger (b. 1802). She married a master blacksmith and they had five children. When he died, she took over and employed two smiths, one of whom was her son. This successful firm had branches in West Street, Shepherd Street and Longfield. Widowhood explains how, in other Sussex towns, women are listed in Victorian trade directories as decorators, gas fitters and builders, although one assumes that they did not perform the labour themselves but supervised sons or employees. Caution, however, is urged in this respect. Charlotte Osborne, née Sargent (see page 36) was involved in many retail enterprises in a 40-year career, as well as bearing 13 children by two husbands. She was a furniture seller at 43 George Street, and was a stationer at 27 Castle Street and Caroline Place. At 55 George Street she opened a fruit shop and, later, a Berlin Wool and Fancy Repository in the 1850s. She was evidently interested politics, for she presented Mrs Musgrave Brisco with ‘a most elegant white silk flag fringed with orange’ on the occasion of Mr. Brisco being elected MP for Hastings. Hannah Morton was one of the most successful female shopkeepers of mid-century Hastings. Born in 1806 in Derbyshire, she and her husband opened a china and glass business in Hastings. By 1841 she was a widow with children aged two, five, and 15. She moved from 27 High Street to larger premises at number 43 and opened new branches at 13 Castle Street and at 72 Norman Road, St Leonards, where she installed her widowed daughter Mary Ann as manager. Mrs Morton retired in 1877 and lived above 43 High Street until her death ten years later. Sarah Offen exemplifies the hardworking, respectable, working-class, mid-Victorian woman. She worked before and during her marriage, raised a family, and was widowed. She was born in Hertfordshire in 1810 and was servant to the Bird family at 31 Wellington Square, cook to Lady Lubbock, then cook-housekeeper to Lady Pilkington. She married in the late 1830s and leased 14 Undercliffe, letting it as apartments while raising her children. In 1841 the Offens opened a shop at 3 (now 35) Norman Road West, selling ironmongery, toys, glassware and earthenware. Just three years later, Sarah was widowed, and she ran the shop alone for 15 years. This ‘cheerful and chatty old townswoman’ died in 1887.


Offering accommodation in their own homes is an ancient and traditional occupation of women. During the late-18th century Hastings gained favour among the fashionable and wealthy as a watering-place, and the small handful of hotels and inns was soon unable to cope with the growing number of visitors. Women with a spare room or two – especially on the seafront – saw an opportunity to make money, and the seaside landlady was born. Offering accommodation was an ideal business for women: it was socially-acceptable, it utilised their existing domestic skills and, as an added return, it taught them business skills and book-keeping. As Hastings’ popularity grew women were quick to recognise the enormous business opportunities in this area. Some opened lodging- and boarding-houses; others took employment as lodging-house keepers. By about 1820, published town guides listed over 80 women offering all types of accommodation, from a homely single bedroom to a spacious beach house. Some let rooms in addition to following a trade or business of their own: milliner Mrs Henbury let seven bedrooms in her High Street home; while for others it was their only source of income: Miss Dutton ran a ten-bedroom boarding-house with three reception rooms. In the Priory Valley, Miss Browning rather cannily opened a boarding house at 2, York Buildings, near the new Castle Hotel. Opposite was Clermont Cottage, where Mrs King offered lodgings. On what is now called the America Ground, Mrs Boomer let Trinity Cottage, which had one bedroom and one reception, while Mrs Gallop had a five-bedroomed house with two reception rooms in the Rope Walk. At Beach Cottages, eleven of the 20 houses were lodging houses kept by women. Ebenezer House and its eight cottages, offering between one and five bedrooms, were all lodging houses with female keepers. However, at the Croft, where the houses were much larger, having up to twelve bedrooms, all of the lodging house keepers were male. In 1832, Eliza Savage was one of the first women to open a boarding house in Wellington Square, at no. 43. The establishment of St Leonards in 1828 brought women further opportunities and, as early as 1830, several were offering seafront accommodation; one of the first was Ann Thorp, of 20 Grand Parade. Mrs Thompson’s, at Marina, offered ‘all the comforts of a private residence with the additional advantage of select society and an excellent table’. Miss Woodgate came to St Leonards in 1829 as a lady’s maid. After the death of her employer, she leased 19 and 20 Marina and ran them as lodging houses for 45 years.

A boarding house was like a hotel, with bedrooms and communal reception rooms, whereas in lodging-houses serviced apartments were let. Some house-owners employed women (and sometimes men) to manage the premises, on a commission-basis or for a weekly wage. Others leased and managed a house themselves. By 1851, running a lodging- or boarding-house was the most populous occupational category of businesswomen in Hastings. There were 126 women listed and many more unlisted. Women attained a near-monopoly on the seafront: eight of the ten houses in Battery and eight of the 12 at Parade were lodging-houses run by women. The job required organisational skills; it involved shopping, laundry, cooking and cleaning and also heavy lifting — buckets of coal and jugs of hot water had to be carried up many stairs, and seafront houses were up to six storeys high. In every bedroom, fire-grates had to be cleaned and dirty water removed. Keepers of the larger houses employed servant girls to perform these tasks. Lodging-house keepers were the mainstay of the tourist and visitor trade and their excellence contributed greatly to the commercial success of the town. Those in Hastings were so highly respected that in 1884 R. E. Smith MP argued that they deserved the vote. He must have been referring to the top end of the market because the title ‘lodging-house’ included every class of establishment from the sublime to the squalid. The former included the 13 elegant seaside residences known as Pelham Crescent. Twelve were lodging houses, of which nine were run by women. There must have been a lot of work involved, as the proprietresses always employed extra help. Elizabeth Ellis, landlady at no. 10 in the 1860s, engaged her three daughters to help manage the house. These sumptuously-furnished residences were let by the year, season or month to professional men such as doctors, clergymen, JPs and MPs. While in 1820 demand for lodgings had outstripped supply, by the 1860s the reverse was true. Landladies had to lower their charges, and some even went out of business. Angela Hanson of 88 Marina went bankrupt in 1863, owing £320 to 33 tradesmen. Most were local shops with whom she had accumulated large accounts, in accordance with the custom of the day: she owed £45 to her grocer – about 45 times a working woman’s weekly wage. However, the only debt the court ordered her to settle was the £7. 10s owed to her manservant. She did not own the house, and selling all her furniture raised only £57. Angela’s debts were small compared with those of Ann Ward, who owed over £2,000 when her lodging-house at Robertson Terrace failed in 1866. Yet, for some, business was thriving: Elizabeth Cox was running five seafront lodging houses at Eversfield Place and Robertson Terrace at that time. Hastings also had a number of tramp lodging-houses, which catered for the near-destitute, hawkers and travellers. As fuller descriptions of these premises and their inmates will be included in Down & Out in Victorian Hastings (forthcoming), they are dealt with only briefly here. All were located in the Old Town, and most were tucked away behind public houses or in narrow passages known as twittens. Landladies either rented the house, paid the expenses and kept the income, or they managed the house on behalf of the owner, with whom they shared the income 50/50. Many landladies performed all the cooking and washing for their lodgers. There were several premises in East Hill Passage including Ellen Lester’s, which was above her beer-shop, The Fisherman’s Home and Esther Brooker’s, which accommodated 26 guests on Census night 1851, most of whom were travellers. Sarah Fuller’s, 12 Wellington Court, was a squalid place just behind the King’s Head. Another two were located behind the Crown Inn. One of these, the Merry Christmas, was managed at one time by Catherine Adams and later by Eliza Paris, who employed a man to help her deal with rough customers. She rented the premises for 7s a week, plus taxes, and let 24 beds at 2s a week each. Another, with 12 beds, was run by Mrs Huggett, who paid the landlord half of the income. She charged 2s per week from which she ‘found’ (paid for) all the coals and candles. Fisher’s had 16 beds and the Principal, Mrs Emily Brockwell, paid 7s 6d a week rent for it. She later took premises in Gibbon Square, behind the King’s Head. Ann Holt rented a tramp lodging house behind the Cinque Port Arms in All Saints’ Street. She charged the inmates 2s a week for bed, washing and cooking, and hired a keeper to perform all the work. There were two dormitories, each accommodating eight persons. When full the income was 32s a week, from which Miss Holt paid 12s rent and paid the keeper’s wage of about 10s. Miss Holt was a respectable businesswoman with a thriving stationer’s shop on the seafront but, sometimes, common lodging house keepers were more disreputable than the inmates. Mary Griffin of Waterloo Place was charged with begging in 1860 and was sent to Lewes Gaol for seven days; a year later she was charged with being drunk and disorderly and fined 5s. Mrs Fisher was summonsed for overcrowding her lodging-house in EastBourne Street and the servant, Sarah Hart, was fined 5s for being drunk and incapable. One interesting character was Bridget Flannagan (b. 1816), who married a railway navvy. Both were Irish, and their migration can be tracked from the birthplaces of their three children: Bristol, Tunbridge Wells, and Ore. Bridget was an enterprising woman who saw a profitable opportunity in the slums of the Old Town when her husband’s job brought them to Hastings in 1850 (he was employed in building the railway extension from St Leonards to Hastings). Bridget was no respecter of the law: after being fined for running an unlicensed common lodging house at the Fishmarket, called the Baker’s Arms, she opened a legitimate one in Waterloo Passage but was later fined 1s for allowing more persons to sleep in one room than the law permitted, 1s for permitting persons of opposite sexes to sleep in the same room, and 20s for failing to whitewash the house.


Women were involved in the beer trade for centuries before licensing began in 1610. Documents from the 1820s show that a potential publican needed money, friends and a good social standing. They had to enter into recognizances with sureties of £30 from themselves and £10 each from two other persons, generally trades-people. An aspiring licensee would collect signatures on petitions approving the proposed location of the premises. This was often countered by a petition presented by a nearby publican anxious to block a potential competitor, or by local residents or property-owners worried about the affect on the neighbourhood. For example, Ann Tolhurst of Ore was refused a beer license because of complaints that her apple-shop was an unsuitable premises for the liquor trade. Lastly, the approval of justices was needed. The applicant was required to prove him or herself a fit and proper person to conduct a public house with all its attendant responsibilities. In 1828, three of the 17 pubs and two of the four hotels in Hastings were licensed to women. By 1841 over 10,000 British women held liquor licenses for breweries, victuallers, refreshment rooms, hotels and public houses. A list of some female licensees in 19th century Hastings & St Leonards can be found in the appendix. In 1862 Hastings & St Leonards contained 62 public houses and 44 beer shops. About half of all beer-shops, and about one in 10 public houses, were licensed to women; most of the rest were jointly run by married couples, but licensed in the man’s name.


Licenses were issued to men, spinsters and widows, but not to married women. A wife served behind the bar and was known as the landlady. If accommodation was let, she managed the rooms, meals and laundry. When external catering was provided, it was she who was praised for the excellence of the victuals. If a landlord was charged with breaching licensing laws it was, often as not, his wife who appeared in court and paid the fine. Wife-landladies are very difficult to trace because their names are absent from records, directories and advertisements. But, behind the names of male licensees, various set-ups existed. Ann Yates (née Pearson) was a hotel and pub landlady from 1832 until 1864, at the Hare & Hounds at Ore, where they staged plays and musical entertainments, and later at the Royal Oak, Castle Street. She bore 13 children (of whom six died in infancy) and, when old enough, two of her daughters worked as barmaids. Although three out of the four family members running the pub were female, as William Yates was licensee only his name appears in adverts and directories. It was common for a wife to take sole charge of a beer-shop or pub while her husband followed his own career. For example Sarah Nabbs ran the Pilot Inn, Stone Street while her husband worked as a sailmaker. In 1857 Jane Cox began to support herself, her invalid husband and their four children by running the Dun Horse beer-shop at 29 Albion Street, Halton. Only on her husband’s death in 1860 was the license transferred to her. In 1867 she applied for an upgrade to sell spirits. This was granted and the Dun Horse became a pub. I shall now focus to those single women and widows of Hastings & St Leonards who were licensees of hotels, pubs and beer-shops in their own right. A list of them is included in the appendix.


The 1823 Pigot Directory was the first to list a female hotel keeper in Hastings. It showed that one of the town’s three hotels, the Crown, in Courthouse Street, was licensed to a widow called Sarah Smith. It was a coaching inn with stabling for 28 horses and room for 12 carriages, extending all the way up Crown Lane to Tackleway. She and her husband had run it since 1794. Powell’s Guide of 1811 said that Mrs Smith had ‘fitted it up in the best style of domestic comfort.’ The death of her husband in 1814 left her with seven children to support, and so she applied for the licence and continued as landlady until 1832, a total of 38 years. Powell’s Guide of about 1831 was very complimentary, remarking that: Mrs Smith deserves particular commendation and support, as being the first (with a family of seven children) to add to the accommodation of Visitors by every species of comfort, neatness, and domestic attention’. The Conqueror Hotel, one of the earliest in St Leonards, was managed by Mrs Collins in the 1830s before the license was transferred to Mrs Sarah Johnson. She was held in high regard: Robert Hollond MP chose to stay there on many occasions, and she was contracted to provide the catering for a huge political banquet in 1841, held in a series of marquees on Priory Meadows. T. B. Brett recalled that: After carrying on the hotel for some time with remarkable energy, [she] converted it into a boarding house. Even then, the success of the establishment was perhaps less thorough than its spirited proprietress desired, and, as this was not the only estate in St Leonards over which she had command, the original Conqueror became a Brunswick in other hands and was further reduced to the rank of a private lodging house, and later run by Mrs Gates. Each of the four most prestigious hotels of 19th century Hastings — the Royal Oak, the Swan, the Castle and the Albion — had female proprietors at some point. The first Royal Oak was at Oak Hill, at the southern end of the High Street. After this closed a second Royal Oak opened at Castle Street, with Ann Sargent as licensee from 1825 until 1829; she had been licensee of the Hastings Arms from 1821–2. In 1864 Ann Yates held the license of the Royal Oak but by the end of the year she had retired and moved to London. She retained ownership of the pub, leasing it to subsequent licensees, one of whom was Alice Darke, who appears in the 1871 Census as its licensee at the surprisingly young age of 22. The Swan Hotel had for centuries been Hastings’ foremost coaching inn, public house and hotel, enjoying a prominent position in the High Street. Every important social and civic function was held there, including sumptuous dinners, fascinating lectures and glittering musical entertainments. It had a long history, and among its licensees were at least six women, including Mrs Hay (1642), Mercy Grove (1726–29), Widow Gurr (1751) and Henrietta Collier (c. 1836–1841). The hey-day of the Swan was the mid-19th century. Its finest hour came when it was chosen as the venue for a famous banquet in 1850 in honour of the Lord Mayor of London, a native of Hastings. Incidentally, according to written accounts, no women were present, and a sketch in the Illustrated London News confirms this. Curiously, secondary sources habitually cite William Carswell’s name in connection with the Swan in the 19th century. He was landlord for 17 years, but his wife Elizabeth was landlady for 32 years. After his death in 1858 Carswell’s estate passed to her, and she was granted a transfer of license. Under her management, the Swan maintained and built upon its high reputation and in 1859 it was chosen to provide a magnificent banquet in honour of the Bishop of Chichester and 80 other dignitaries. The Swan Tap, a beer-shop with accommodation that adjoined the Swan, was run in the 1860s by Miss Mary Rosina Willett. It was known to attract undesirables, and the landlady was criticised by magistrates for allowing four people, two of each sex, to share a room for a fortnight. Although Mrs Carswell had no control over the Tap, it operated under the license she held for the Swan, rendering her legally responsible for its conduct, a situation criticised by some as unfair to the licensee. In 1871 Elizabeth Carswell received a special presentation from prominent townspeople on the occasion of her 30th anniversary as landlady. In November 1872, she applied to magistrates for a permit to remain open till midnight for the forthcoming Mayor’s Banquet. The Mayor himself heard the application – and, oddly enough, he declined it. Owing to ill-health Mrs Carswell retired in 1873 and died a year later at her home, 9 High Street, leaving her estate to her sister and nieces. The vacant tenancy, advertised in the local newspaper, was taken by Mrs Collins, a lady with a great liking for strong liquor. When drunk she enjoyed a bout of fisticuffs and in 1875 was summonsed for assaulting her husband. The first serious rival to the Swan opened in 1817 as Emary’s Castle Inn Family Hotel. Situated on the corner of Wellington Place, facing the foot of the West Hill, it was the first major hotel to open in Hastings ‘new town’. It boasted Assembly Rooms for fashionable gatherings and public meetings, a prototype tourist information facility, coach-houses, stables, and a well. Coaches for London and Brighton left from its doorstep. The name of James Emary is always mentioned in connection with the Castle, but from 1854–55 and in 1858 his daughter Frances was listed as the proprietor, at which time it was called The Castle Hotel & Posting House. In March 1871, Maria E. Lock, a widow aged 47, was the hotel’s manager and on Census night she had eight guests and 13 live-in staff in her charge. Hastings’ fourth important hotel, the Albion, was also in the ownership of the Emarys until James Emary ceased all connection with it (and with the Castle) in 1867. The license went first to Harriet Bowles, then to Mr. Ellis, whose constant inebriation rendered him unable to conduct the house and Harriet Bowles was brought back, this time as the manager. In 1869 the license was transferred to Ellis’s mother, as he was no longer a ‘suitable person’. By the 1880s the Albion was back in the hands of the Emarys, with James’ widow Susan as licensee.

Other prominent hotels with female proprietors included:

Priory Family Hotel, 24 Robertson Street, Misses Mary & Ellen Eldridge (1850s)
Railway & Commercial Hotel, 20 Havelock Road, Miss Mary Eldridge (1850s)
Commercial Hotel and Dining Rooms, Havelock Road, Mary Ann Linney (1871)
Provincial Hotel, 18 Havelock Road, Mary Ann Montague (1871)
Belle Vue Hotel, 47 East Parade, Louisa Longhurst (1871)
Duke of York, 5 Union Road, St Leonards, Mrs Mary Fairhall (1871)
Green’s Family Hotel, Mrs Blamire, Mrs Leeks, and Eliza Green (1850s–1870s)

The Duke of York was a low-class hotel in a crowded working-class area. Mary Fairhall’s sister, daughter and two sons also worked on the premises. The only guests when the 1871 Census was taken were 10 musicians – presumably, a visiting band.


Women were licensees of all types of premises, from prominent and respectable houses in fashionable shopping streets, to run-down, rowdy ‘gin palaces’ crowded with the lower classes. Pigot’s 1823 directory shows that women held the licenses for two of the six taverns in Hastings. The Hastings Arms in George Street had at least three female licensees in the 19th century: Ann Thwaites, 1800–04; Ann Sargent, 1821–24 and Mary Ann Ray, 1870–71. Mrs Thwaites went on to open the Anchor at 13 George St, while Mrs Sargent later took the Royal Oak. The Angel, St Mary’s Terrace, was licensed to Miss Barbara Ticehurst in 1852. It was patronised by the artist Whistler, who painted the famous portrait of his mother, who lived at no. 43. The pub was built above St Clement’s Caves, which once housed its cellars. The Bull, an old coaching inn, was licensed in 1827 to Hannah Davis, widow of the previous landlord, in 1833 to Elizabeth Wilkinson and from 1851–2 to Miss Sheather. Some women licensees were also freeholders of the pub or beer-house; others were freeholders who let the premises to a licensee; a document in Hastings Museum lists 20 women deriving income in this way.


At all levels of the liquor trade, women were summonsed to court for infringements of their licenses. In the majority of cases, they were open out of hours. Even respectable hotelier Eliza Green of Green’s Family Hotel, opposite Hastings station, was fined a shilling in 1860 for selling alcohol at 11:30am on a Sunday, during the hours of Divine service. Plain-clothes policemen would sometimes keep watch on premises. One Sunday morning in 1874, three officers were watching Philly Jenkins’ Tiger Inn in Stonefield Street. Two visited her briefly and, when they left, a plain-clothes man on watch saw a woman enter at 10:55am. He followed her and saw a quart of beer in an earthenware jug, and 6d on the counter. Jenkins was summonsed for selling beer 5 minutes early. The women concocted the following unconvincing tale: Mary Ann Snashall, of 15 Stonefield Street, who had worked casually for Jenkins for 14 years, was helping to change the beer barrels. The ale in the jug was dregs from the dwindling barrel. A boy to whom she had earlier given change had left the 6d on the counter. The magistrate didn’t believe them: Jenkins was fined £1 and Snashall, 10s. Licensees were more frequently fined for being open late. Elizabeth Cull, of the Old House at Home Beer-house, 44 All Saints’ Street, was given a token fine in 1872 for being open after 11pm, but when she was unable to produce her license she was fined a hefty £10. An offence that could lose a landlady her license was ‘suffering divers persons of notoriously bad character to assemble’. Such a charge was brought against widow Harriet Perigoe, 51 year-old licensee of the White Lion, 7–8 St Michael’s Terrace, in 1872. A policeman spotted two prostitutes – Miss Carey and Miss Thompsett — entering private rooms with men. When magistrates heard that the house was ‘notorious’ and of a ‘most disorderly character’, and that this summons was not the first, Perigoe was fined £2. 10s plus 15s costs, which she paid at once. Mary Ann Ray, who was granted the license of the Hastings Arms on her husband’s death in 1870, was summonsed on a similar charge. The pub had been well conducted under Mr. Ray but the police had to warn Mary about the type of clientele beginning to congregate there. Soon, the place was full of prostitutes and one had robbed a man. Mary explained that such characters entered the pub while she was out or by the back door while the pub was busy, and she could not see them from behind the bar. The police considered her ‘unable to conduct a house of this description’ and the magistrate fined her £1. Within a year she had ceased to run the pub.


Ale brewing and vending is an ancient female trade. Until the late-19th century, there were few ‘soft’ drinks available and water was mainly unfit to drink, so it was customary for beer to be taken freely at any time of the day, and by both sexes, amongst the labouring classes. Justices gave a limited license, which excluded spirits. Mary Makings was refused one in Hastings in 1796 and three years later was convicted of selling ale and beer unlicensed. The first woman beer-seller recorded in St Leonards was Mrs Towner, who in 1829 sold small-beer — for which no license was required — to the workmen of architect and town founder James Burton. An Act of Parliament in 1830 provided that any male householder or any single female or widow assessed to the poor rate could obtain a license from the Excise for a fee of two guineas, which allowed the sale of beer from houses, for consumption on or off the premises. From 1869, a justices’ approval was again required to obtain a license. By the mid-19th century, about half of all Hastings beer-shop licenses were held by women. Most were low-class places, often located in residential areas. Those near the seafront opened as early as 3.30am to cater for fishermen. Some offered music and dancing, and much drunken quarrelling was conducted inside and out — to the annoyance of neighbours — and many were frequented by prostitutes, who often lodged in rooms above. A local newspaper editor described beer-shops as ‘a greater source of public evil than the public-houses’ and suggested their abolition.


A few women in mid-century Hastings ran non-licensed catering establishments. Mary Church owned a coffee house at 2 London Road, St Leonards while Mrs Stewart and, later, Ann Hyland operated an eating house at 29 George Street. One of Hastings’ foremost licensed victuallers was Miss Ann Lock. She expanded her high-class confectionery shop at 50½ George Street into a refreshment room and obtained an alcohol license in order to serve brandy. Miss Lock’s was ‘frequented by a higher class, and at higher prices’ than other cafés. In 1864 she was commissioned to make a wedding cake for Catherine, daughter of Hastings’ MP Frederick North. The following year she provided the refreshments for the town’s Grand Christmas Society Ball in the Assembly Rooms at St Leonards, and in 1866 she was engaged to supply a sumptuous wedding breakfast for the marriage of Mr. North’s niece. The 1871 Census showed that she employed three men and that her mother, the widow of a tailor, lived with her.


At least three women owned or co-owned commercial breweries in mid-century Hastings. In the 1850s Mrs Ellen Ruth Amoore took over the Eagle Brewery, presumably after her husband’s death, as a W. Amoore Junior was shown as the owner in Diplock’s 1846 guide. The Phoenix Brewery in Courthouse Street, owned by father and son James and Charles Burfield, passed in the late 1860s to their widows, Kate and Frances. Data from 1872 shows that the women also owned eleven public houses and three beer-shops. The rental from these, together with the brewery, must have brought a considerable income. According to the 1871 Census, Kate employed 15 men in the Phoenix Brewery, where her two sons and daughter Harriet were managers. They lived at 1, George Street. An advertisement for their beer is reproduced on page xx. The Phoenix Brewery provides an example of how women in business get omitted from history. In his 2001 publication, Sussex Breweries, Graham Holter states in his entry for the Phoenix:

James Breeds … left the business to his son-in-law and grandson, James and Charles Burfield. It traded under the Burfield name … until 1908.


Records from the early-19th century show many female retailers in Hastings, especially in the food and clothing businesses. Several ran millinery or dressmakers’ shops and, in 1826, women held five of the 24 stalls at the Town Fair. Three quarters of the fishmongers in town in 1826 were female and Miss Abbott of West Street was a tea dealer. Women of Victorian Hastings sold a wide range of goods including coal, tobacco, eggs, milk, toys, second hand clothing, baby linen, earthenware, furniture, shells, wool, fancy goods, poultry and game, fish, fruit, lace, hats, china, stationery and books. Women were cowkeepers, confectioners, butchers, bakers, grocers, pawnbrokers, seed dealers and ironmongers. Mrs Pears was quite a jill-of-all-trades: she was a milliner and dressmaker, and proprietress of a fancy toy shop, a stay and crinoline warehouse and a registry office for servants. Four female tea dealers were operating in Hastings between 1830 and 1860, an occupation described as ‘the most “genteel” of all the provision trades’. By 1861 women were the majority of those serving in shops in Hastings. Almost 40% of shops were listed in the name of a sole proprietress; the rest were listed in men’s names, but most were family businesses in which wives and daughters worked. English property law prevented a married woman from owning a business and in some cases social custom, coupled with what Helen Taylor called women’s ‘timidity and dread of exposing their names to public observation’, dictated that only the husband’s name be used for publicity, for example in advertisements, guides and directories, although a few disregarded this. Evidence (from court cases in which retailers sued shoplifters) verifies that in many cases wives worked in or managed the shop. The more sophisticated women with capital opened high-class shops in fashionable areas, usually selling millinery, mainly to lady clients. Working-class women’s speciality was provision shops, a great many of which were in the Old Town, where many buildings were run-down, and tiny cottages were crowded along narrow roads. These small shops depended heavily on the fishing industry, and a poor catch or a tragedy at sea had a huge knock-on effect upon them. While some female shopkeepers engaged men — for example, Mrs Winifred Stubberfield (b.1810) employed three male assistants in her grocery shop at 11 London Road — most shop assistants were young females, often the daughters, granddaughters or nieces of the proprietress. Thomas Brett, whose chronicles are cited often in this book, employed his daughter Augusta in his bookshop at 28 Norman Road West. Women ran businesses both as sole traders and in various kinds of partnerships. In the 1860s, four sisters — Millicent, Maria, Marian and Matilda — managed (and lived above) a corset and stay shop at 16

Wellington Place, which was owned by their father, Mr. Greenaway. Widows Sarah Daniel and Mary Jeffrey, stay-makers, were partners, as were shopkeeper sisters Eliza and Jane Smith. Stationer Ann Holt was in business with her younger brother from 1838 until the 1870s and straw bonnet manufacturers Louisa and Jane Pollard were mother and daughter. Harriet Waters, a spinster, and Elizabeth Northery, a widow, ran a successful ladies’ outfitters in Robertson Street in the 1860s. The pair resided above the shop with Elizabeth’s two children, a girl shop assistant and a house-servant. Ann Golding ran a fruiterer’s shop at 16 George Street, from where she sold the produce of her husband’s market-garden. Ann, known as ‘Nanny’, died in 1873 leaving the business to her two daughters, who relocated it to 31 White Rock Place. One business was passed from mother to daughter to granddaughter over a period of 70 years: around 1824 Mrs Oliver opened a fancy shell shop at 6 East Beach Street. She was ‘a woman of great size’ who ‘was regarded as a celebrity by the visitors’ and whose first customer was reputed to have been Lady Byron, divorced wife of the poet. Mrs Oliver died in 1854 whereupon her daughter, Mrs Dine, carried on the business. When she died in 1888, she passed on the business to her unmarried daughter.


Commercial firms and private individuals employed women as caretakers in establishments open to the public. There were many female gate-keepers and toll-collectors in Britain. Among the gate-keepers of large houses were Mary Beany at Baldslow House, a widow with three young children, and elderly spinster Elizabeth Whybourne at Bohemia Lodge, who still held the job in 1871 at the age of 96. Brett mentions that, in the early 19th century, ‘There presided in the Tower toll-gate a venerable old dame and doctress of the name of Dabney … much respected by all who knew her’. Tollgate Collectors in the 1860s and 70s included Sarah Dawe of 84 St Andrew’s Road, Julia Missen of St Leonards Green, Eliza Pelling of Tower House and Eliza Graves of 4 Albert Crescent, South Road. The Earl of Chichester employed a woman as Keeper of Old Hastings Castle in the 1850s. Widow Sarah Whyborne, a lady in her sixties, was assisted by her son David, who later succeeded her. She kept a resident house-servant, so presumably the Earl paid a reasonable wage. During the 1850s, fruiterer Ann Golding, mentioned above, was also listed in directories and advertisements as ‘Keeper of St Clement’s Caves and Cosmorama’. The caves had been rediscovered in 1825 and her husband had obtained permission to open them as a tourist attraction in 1827. When Ann died, her daughters took over the caves (and the fruit business). In the 1870s Charlotte Moore was proprietor of both the Central Arcade in Havelock Road and of the Pelham Arcade, both very busy and fashionable shopping areas. Several women were bathing machine proprietors. One of them, Ann Cobby, was one of the great ‘characters’ of Hastings beach. Records of her presence, at her ‘patch’ opposite Breed’s Place, span 17 years around the middle of the century. In 1854 she was paid £5 by Hastings Commissioners for her expenses in ‘breaking the rocks off the Parade to get the machine out’ after town improvements blocked her exit. She and her family were a rough lot, by all accounts, regularly involved in arguments and brawls — usually with each other — which frequently landed them in the magistrates’ court. Following a complaint by a gentleman, Mrs Cobby was summonsed in 1865 for ‘cruelly torturing her horse by causing it to be worked in an unfit state’. She vehemently denied the charge, asserting that she had owned horses for many years and always looked after them well. Fined 2s 6d and 13s costs, Mrs Cobby left the court enraged: ‘It won’t stop there; ‘I don’t see why my character should be taken away by a gentleman like him’. Resentments simmered between rival bathing machines, and sporadic outbreaks of violence were reported in the local press. Several women were proprietors or managers of commercial indoor baths. The earliest was possibly Mrs Neal, manager of the Old Baths in about 1830. Those at Pelham Place opened in 1825 with ‘excellent plunging and shampooing.’ They were located just east of the Crescent, and were intended for the well-to-do visitor. A stone hall led into ‘two handsome saloons, of an octagonal form and decorated with beautiful Chinese scenery.’ The proprietor at mid-century was Mrs Martha Thatcher, succeeded on her death in 1857 by her daughter Ellen. By the 1870s, Pelham Baths were in the hands of Mrs Jane Emary and her daughters, whose family had owned the Castle and Albion hotels. Mr. & Mrs Barnes ran the baths in the basement of the Assembly Rooms (now the Masonic Hall). The Royal Baths, opposite the Royal Victoria Hotel, were managed by Philadelphia Roberts and her husband in the 1830s then by Mr. & Mrs Cozens and, in the 1870s, by widow Mrs Margaret Parker. Women were also employed in bathing establishments as bathers, and in the Turkish Baths as shampooers, to attend only to lady clients. The aforementioned Martha and Ellen Thatcher were also consecutive proprietresses of a Theological Society and Library located on the baths premises. But they were not the first Hastings women to run a library; in 1817, Mrs Austin opened one within the Marine Library and also offered accommodation there. Therapeutic hypnotherapy sounds like a modern-day treatment but it existed in the 19th century, under the name ‘curative mesmerism’. A lady practitioner resided in Hastings in the 1860s, having been trained at the Mesmeric Infirmary in London. She advertised anonymously in the local press, and could only be contacted ‘c/o Homeopathic Chemist, Robertson Street.’ Women were not permitted to train in the medical profession; however, a great many unqualified nurses and midwives operated in Hastings, relying on experience and traditional remedies handed down from mothers and grandmothers.


In the early to mid Victorian era road transport available to the public consisted of horses, sedan chairs, chaises (i.e., chairs) drawn by ponies or goats, small omnibuses, and flys — quick-travelling, one-horse, covered, lightweight carriages — taxi-cabs, in fact. In the days when the genteel did not carry their own shopping, parcels or luggage, and no-one owned a car, commercial goods carriers operated in every town. Proprietors of transport businesses had to be licensed by the Town Commissioners. In 1836, Elizabeth Baker began to operate two sedan chairs. At least four Hastings women owned goods carriers’ businesses at mid-century. One of them, Mrs Bridget Barton (b.1799), owned the Town & Country Carriers, based at 7 East St. Bridget inherited the business on her husband’s death sometime around the mid-century. She was summonsed in 1853 after a driver in her employ overloaded three horses. In 1856 she complained to the Council at being charged 1s per load for the beach she carried out of the borough limits. She described herself as a ‘very old ratepayer’ and suggested that 2d per load would be fairer. The Council decided instead to waive all charges during the summer. Mrs Barton was still operating the business in the 1860s. Among the Hastings fly proprietors were Mrs E Smith, whose business was located near the Albert Shades, and Mary Glyde (b.1821), a widow with three daughters, who seems to have taken over the business from her late husband in the early 1860s. Unfortunately, in 1867 the fly business, based at 18 Hill Street, went bankrupt but the 1871 Census shows that Mrs Glyde managed to retain her beer-shop at 4 Hill Street. Two local women were listed in mid-century trades directories under ‘plumber, glazier and painter’: Mary Hall of 19 East Ascent and Mrs S. E. Neve of 6–7 (later 43) Norman Road West. Prejudice may lead us to assume that the work was not performed by the women but by sons or employees, but neither can we be sure if men listed as proprietors of manual-trades businesses performed the actual labour. Modern-day assumptions about Victorian women may be wrong: for example, a photograph exists of a Sussex woman performing her job as a gravedigger in about 1880.


In the early days of Victoria’s reign clothing manufacture was entirely in the hands of small businesses, all of which were staffed by females. Among them were dressmakers and milliners, hatters, glovers, hosiers, collar-makers, patten-makers, straw bonnet makers, shoe- and boot-makers, and shoe- and boot-binders. Women also made underclothing and shirts and a few were tailors. Unusually, one St Leonards woman described herself as a ‘repairer of men’s clothes’. In many cases a woman was the proprietor of the business and in most she was the sole employee, perhaps engaging casual help from less-skilled women when the occasion demanded. In the 1870s, the sewing machine began to come into use; a small handful of machinists appears in the 1871 Census, working for dressmakers and tailors. Any work connected with the needle was seen as acceptable for women. This is because it has traditionally been performed by women for their families. All girls were taught to sew and this gave them all a grounding upon which to build a trade. The greatest number of females involved in manufacturing were dressmakers and milliners, at least one of whom operated in every town and village throughout the mid-Victorian era. Nationally there were 267,000 women engaged in this trade in 1851 and 300,00 in 1871. In addition, 20,000 women made straw bonnets; there were a particularly large number in seaside towns such as Hastings, catering for the summer visitors. Millinery and dressmaking constituted the higher end of female ‘needle-employment’ and were respectable occupations for women. They often came from prosperous working-class families, who were able to pay for them to be apprenticed. Such an apprenticeship offered a sense of belonging to a trade, and gave women the opportunity to earn a reasonable living and, for a small number, it led to them running their own business, and to employing assistants and apprentices themselves. As all items of clothing were individually hand-made, business was booming as the population rose. Thanks to the large number of well-to-do lady visitors and residents there was plenty of skilled dressmaking work, in Hastings, particularly in the summer. Upper class ladies dressed to impress and kept their dressmakers very busy creating, altering, mending and ornamenting garments. Upper-crust lady milliners took business trips to Paris and on their return they placed newspaper advertisements to advise customers of how au fait they were with French fashions, the dernier cri in elegance. As it was unthinkable to go outside without a hat or bonnet, manufacturers of headgear also did a roaring trade, selling ready-made items as well as designing and making them to order. There were 249 adult female milliners in Hastings in 1851, making it the second most populous female occupation (after domestic service) in the town. As well as hats and bonnets they made caps, cloaks, mantles, gloves, scarves, muffs, tippets, handkerchiefs, petticoats, hoods and capes. They worked with wool, alpaca, cotton, satin, fur, cambric, lawn, lace, silk and velvet. For various reasons, possibly too much competition, lack of funds to invest in the business, or lack of skill, some milliners did not prosper. Magistrates occasionally heard cases in which a milliner or dressmaker had pawned the material given by a client. At the lower end of the needle trades were seamstresses, (or semptresses) and needlewomen. The fact that every girl was taught to sew made this a very overstaffed occupation. While the number of dressmakers and milliners rose by only 33,000 between 1851 and 1871, the number of needlewomen, seamstresses and shirt-makers rose from 67,000 to just under a million. This is because, from the 1840s, there had been a growing demand for cheap, ready-made clothing. Employers gave ready-cut garments (called ‘slop-work’ to needlewomen at very low piece-rates. Slop-workers became a cause célèbre after an 1843 report shocked the public with stories of their exploitation. Their hours were excessively long and the work was unhealthy. They lived, worked and died in miserable conditions, often resorting to prostitution to make ends meet. In 1862 a female journalist warned, ‘all who are wise will avoid this profession … because such numbers crowd into it, that the competition drives the payment down to a point below that at which life can be sustained’. During 1834 there was a tailors’ strike in Hastings and local needle-women quickly turned their hands to this traditional male skill. When the men returned to work, some of the women failed to revert to their former, ill-paid specialities; indeed, some married tailors and worked alongside them. Making stays and upholstery had also been ‘male’ preserves; however, by the 1850s, Hastings contained a number of women in these trades. Other women were engaged in specialist crafts connected with the clothing trade. They were embroiderers, lace-makers and lace-joiners, gaiter-makers, furriers, curriers (leather dressers), and feather-workers. Women have traditionally laboured in family workshops, manufacturing a wide range of domestic items. In mid-Victorian Hastings there were female chair caners, chair-bottomers; tobacco pipe makers, trimmers and turners; lapidaries (jewellery-makers); modellers of wax flowers; manufacturers of various kinds of souvenir nick-nacks made of sea-shells; artificial florists and French paper-flower makers. Food manufacture was also undertaken by female bakers, confectioners and pastrycooks. These were generally one- or two-person businesses, and items for sale would normally be produced in the back rooms of the shop.


Poor women have performed laundering for their own families for centuries, and taking in the dirty linen of others turned this domestic drudgery into a paying trade. In 1851, 236 Hastings women were enumerated as washerwomen, laundresses and mangle-keepers, making this the third most populous female occupation. The work involved heavy and arduous physical labour and fitness and strength were occupational requirements. Some of the newer houses had cold water piped in, but most women had to collect it from a well. Few houses had built-in coal-fired copper boilers, such as were installed in the purpose-built washerwomen’s houses known as Lavatoria — ‘the washing-place’ — in the new town of St Leonards. In the Old Town, linen was boiled in a cauldron hung over a fire and soaping was done in large sinks. There were few labour-saving devices except a wooden ‘dolly’ with which to work the clothes about and a washboard for scrubbing. The only detergents were soap and ‘elbow grease’. The New Town Act made washerwomen’s work a little more troublesome by forbidding laundry to be aired in public places, although items could be spread on certain parts of the beach to dry. Washed items were passed to mangle-keepers, and thence to professional ironers. Irons were, of course, made of iron and heated on the kitchen range. As the towns’ population grew, commercial laundries opened, employing women to wash and iron, and men to cart and carry. One of the first was owned by Mrs Ann Tapp, who was in business for at least 20 years until her death in 1854; another belonged to Mary Aldridge, at 87 High Street. While commercial laundries provided better equipment and running water, the volume of work was much greater than women had been accustomed to in their homes. In the second half of the century there was also an increase in the number of clothes worn, especially underclothing, and more curtains and table linen were used. Laundresses organised the first industrial action by women in Victorian Hastings & St Leonards. In April 1860, there was a brief walkout of commercial washerwomen in one Old Town establishment, possibly Mrs Aldridge’s, over the bad-tempered attitude of a male supervisor. The local paper took a frivolous view of the proceedings:

Strike Among The Washerwomen
[T]he hands engaged in a well-known laundry establishment (which has a place and a name not much over one hundred yards from the town clock) , and the business of which is visibly —so far as folks out-of-doors know anything about — conducted by one of the sterner sex … suddenly ‘struck work’ one day last week. According to ‘our own correspondent’ this ‘nice young laundry-man,’ in addition to being rather ‘gay,’ has also a penchant for John Barleycorn. From one or other cause the ‘good lady’ of our hero, on the day in question, had a dispute with her liege lord, and the poor ‘scrubbers and rubbers’ fell in for a share of the bad humour of ‘my lord’. The women could not appreciate these whims, and so with becoming ‘spirit’ down went soap and soap-suds, soda, blue, and ‘stuff’ and away went the matrons who generally ‘stand at the tub,’ and matters — that means the dirty clothes, — and the semi-clean linen remained in status quo (freely translated ‘dirty water and wash tub’) at the time our informant inspected the ‘scene of the disaster.’ Whether there was a truce, an importation of ‘new hands,’ or a satisfactory settlement between master and washerwomen, we know not; but as the glazed hat and blue ribbon, and the quadruped with its necessary ‘fixings’ were both seen (not the hat, but the owner) doing their usual six miles an hour on Saturday, it is hoped that the clean linen department was attended to with its accustomed regularity. The inflated style of the press reports accentuates the lowly calling of the washerwomen, mocking them and their concerns, and treats the issue as entertainment. Perhaps this ridicule was preferable to admitting that most of the town was dependent on a group of women of the labouring classes. Six months later, prompted by men’s campaigns for shorter hours and early-closing days, forty or fifty laundresses and ironers of St Leonards — ‘the fair dames of frothy waters and the smoothers of crinoline’ — demanded a reduction in hours: their gruelling shifts began at 6am and finished at 9pm. They wanted to finish at 7pm instead, or get 6d a day added to their 2s 6d wage, but their employers, most of whom were women refused. On 9pm. They wanted to finish at 7pm instead, or get 6d a day added to their 2s 6d a day wage, but their employers, most of whom were women, refused. On Monday 3 October the town crier was despatched to let the entire town know that the women would work only till Friday, and if their employers did not agree to the reduction in hours, they would walk out. ‘This caused quite a commotion throughout the town. Bands of resolute females of all ages hurried from house to house, repeating their demand’, recalled Brett, while the Hastings & St Leonards News wrote:
‘Less Hours Or We Won’t Work’
Our township has been the scene of a commotion since the issue of the last impression of the News and it has been a moot point whether clean linen would not be at a premium. The washers and ironers, it appears, have not yet realized any benefit from the laudable movements which have of late years been gaining ground, for early closing, and shortening the hours of labour of the masculine portion of the labouring population. ‘From six in the morning till nine at night’ has been ‘no fiction’ with this hard-worked class. The spirit of disaffection has at length gained the upper hand, and the soap-sudonians, having unsuccessfully demanded ‘less work or more pay’ — to the extent of two hours’ daily abridgment of their toil, or 6d. a day more money — struck work on Friday. Many of the employers were necessitated to yield to the demands of the toilers, whereat great rejoicing took place. The employers conceded, whereupon the women held a celebration and marched triumphantly behind a hired band through the Old Town carrying banners: On Monday evening (having previously primed themselves by potations at the public-houses which they had made their head quarters), they sallied forth through the streets of the district headed by some drums and fifes, and a flag inscribed ‘Less hours or we won’t work — Britons never shall be slaves.’ The scene has been summarized, by those who were on the spot, in the one epithet ‘disgraceful.’ Under the circumstances perhaps they may be forgiven. It is our sincere desire that these useful personages, having ‘won the day,’ may make good and beneficial use of the time placed at their disposal. Brett opined that it was ‘generous sympathy which prompted the employers to yield to the demand so readily and so honourably’. He hoped that the women would put the two hours they gained to good use, and suggested the women do ‘all in their power to prove by increased interest or activity that the loss to employers it less than they imagine’ – in other words, to perform as much work in 13 hours as they had in 15. One correspondent to the Hastings & St Leonards News was disappointed that women worked at all:
The Washerwomen’s Husbands And Public Houses
I was amused to find, from my wife, that considerable embarrassment had arisen from a strike amongst the washerwomen. Now, I dare say that their hours of labour are long and their wages low, but I would ask the question– Where are the husbands? I am told that many of them earn good wages, as bricklayers, carpenters, & c., who spend their wages (which are now very good), with some few and honourable exceptions, in the public-house. If their wages were applied as they should be, most of these women would be found at home, caring for the house and children. Unfortunately he omitted to suggest who would replace the women and take care of the town’s dirty laundry.


Abstracts from the 1851 Census show that 112 Hastings women (compared with only 52 men) were ‘engaged in Literature, the Fine Arts, and the Sciences’. On closer inspection however, all but five were schoolmistresses or governesses. The others were three engaged in literature, one in fine art and one in science, with no further details given. here were also two actresses and a musician, separately enumerated. Although mid-Victorian Hastings boasted many female poets, authors, painters and sketchers, almost without exception these were middle-class accomplishments and not paid occupations. Bessie Rayner Parkes, for example, was a published author whose books were reviewed in Hastings’ local press, yet the 1851 Census shows her as ‘unoccupied’. Twenty years later things had changed to the extent that middle-class ladies such as artist Joanna Samworth of Brooklands Cottage, Mary Howard of 47 Wellington Square, a writer of theology and topography and novelist Mary Pulloyne of Cambridge Terrace were enumerated as professionals in the arts. In 1861, spinster Sarah Parkes was the first Hastings woman to work with the new technology of cameras, as an ‘artist & photographist’ in Robertson Street. Ten years later, Elizabeth Gillard was an ‘assistant photographist & painter’, Florence Parker was an ‘assistant to photographer’, Sarah Welton was a ‘photographic artist’ and Lucy Godbold of 8 Grand Parade was a ‘photographic painter’. Her father was a well-known photographer and she had probably been his apprentice. Throughout the century, many touring performers stayed in Hastings for a season, including actresses and singers, and Mrs Wombwell brought her famous travelling Menagerie more than once. For a season in 1872, Miss Sarah Thorne was granted a theatrical licence for the Market Hall, wherein she played Lady Macbeth. More unusually, Emma Hume was organist at St Mary Magdalen Church from its opening in 1859 until her marriage in 1864. It is likely that she was unpaid; any woman sufficiently educated to play a pipe-organ would come from a middle-class family and the acceptance of a salary would have reflected badly on her father, who was the rector. She trained a choir and gave concerts; one performance attracted an audience of 300. She played at society weddings, including that of an MP’s daughter in 1862. The church had opened with a second-hand organ and, in her honour, a fund was opened on her wedding day to purchase a new one. Two blind girl organists, Ellen (13) and Emily (17) and their brother gave a recital at St Mary-in-the-Castle in 1856. Brett reported that, ‘Their performance, separately, of five pieces each astonished and delighted all the large number of persons present’.


Teaching was highly respectable but poorly paid. Because all other professions were closed to them, for intelligent women teaching was the nearest thing to an academic career available. The term ‘academic’ rather aggrandises what was a lowly qualified job performed mostly by people with a meagre education. The majority of better-educated schoolmistresses in the better Sussex schools and seminaries were not born here; they came from London and beyond. For mid-Victorian feminists, education was the key to women’s emancipation. Educating women fitted them to become teachers, thus providing careers for thousands of spinsters and widows. Educated women would become aware of their subordinate position and join the feminist cause. They would also be living proof that women had the intellect to enter the professions and would confirm that women were fit to have the vote. It was hoped that these independent career women would act as examples to the younger generation. In some areas teaching was a hotbed of feminism and it comes as no surprise that the proprietor of a ladies’ seminary founded the first women’s suffrage society in Hastings in the 1870s. Prior to the advent of a national education system, all schools were private. Women owned and ran many seminaries, both day and boarding. As the years progressed seminaries became numerous and the censuses show that children were sent from all over the world to be educated in Hastings. A list of female school proprietors and private tutors from 1817 to 1854 can be found in the appendix. Philanthropist James Saunders died in 1708, leaving money to support a school for boys and two mixed infants’ schools each taking 30 children. The infants’ were run by ‘school-dames’, who were paid £10 a year – a housemaid’s wage — compared to £40 paid to the boys’ schoolmasters. As there was so little employment for educated middle-class women there was no shortage of applicants, even at such a low salary. An advert in 1811 drew six candidates, a large number considering the town’s tiny population. Later the salary was raised to £25 but from this they had to pay for the rent and coals of the schoolroom. The national education system began when members of the Church of England became concerned that working-class children couldn’t read the Bible. Sunday schools may date back to the 16th century, rising in popularity until, by 1787, about 250,000 pupils attended. The first Sunday school in Hastings was opened by a lady in 1812 and was attached to All Saints’ Church. The first in St Leonards was founded by a group of ladies headed by the founder’s wife Mrs Elizabeth Burton, at 36 Marina, prior to 1830. By 1831 1.25 million children were enrolled in England and by the mid-19th century around two-thirds of all working-class children aged between 5 and 15 were attending Sunday school. The National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church provided weekday schools which, from 1839, were subsidised. British Schools were introduced in 1810 by the British and Foreign Schools Society. These made use of the ‘monitorial’ system where older children taught younger ones under the supervision of paid mistresses. Because of the monitorial system, some very young girls are enumerated in the Census as pupil teachers; the youngest discovered was just 13. In 1833, Parliament voted the first grant — £20,000 — to support education for the poor. This helped the Church provide schooling. By 1870 the cost of state support for education had increased to £800,000. Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools were first appointed in 1839 and the first state-sponsored teacher-training scheme followed in 1846. Elementary education wasn’t compulsory until 1881, but from 1862 the government set standards for pupils in subsidised schools requiring all children to be able to read and write simple paragraphs and to do arithmetic; in addition, girls had to learn needlework. The 1870 Education Act developed local board schools to fill up the gaps left by church provision. The St Leonards Sunday School grew and was moved into a corner of the Assembly Rooms, then to ‘some low buildings’ at St Clement’s Place, East Ascent, with Mr. & Mrs Tebay in charge. It later merged with the St Leonards National and Parochial School that opened in Mercatoria in 1847. The first master and mistress of this school were from the north of England. Mr. Gibson was paid £60 a year while his wife received £45. Their house was rent-free. It is interesting that Mrs Gibson raised a family while she was employed as the school’s mistress. The first day school in Hastings was Cavendish Place Infants’ which was established in 1829 by the Infant School Society and funded chiefly by Countess Waldegrave. Mistresses Martha and Amelia Andrew worked from 8 until 6 in the summer and until 4 in the winter. They collected two-penny fees from each child on Monday mornings. The first church day school in Hastings was the Parochial Boys’, Girls’ and Infants’, founded by the minister of St Mary-in-the-Castle in 1830, and given a proper schoolroom by Mrs Vores, wife of the rector, at Portland Place in 1848.

National Schools, founded and run by the Church of England, and British Schools, owned by the nonconformist churches, followed by the introduction of compulsory universal schooling in 1870, revolutionised women’s employment possibilities. From the 1830s, parishes began to open schools, providing many thousands of careers for women. Many of them stayed in their posts for many years. In these schools, women could teach only infants and girls. This was mainly because women had insufficient qualifications to teach the boys’ curriculum. However, once women became entrenched in the national education system, the need for them to be properly qualified was a very persuasive factor in the campaign to open universities to women. Frequently a teacher taught monitors, who taught the children. This developed into the pupil-teacher system in which children were apprenticed to a teacher, after which they could take an exam for college. Passing gave them a certificate allowing them to teach anywhere. The first British girls’ school in Hastings was opened under the patronage of the Duchess of Kent, at a Wesleyan Chapel in Waterloo Place in 1835. It had places for 100 girls. St Clement’s and All Saints’ National Schools also opened in 1835 with fees of a penny a week per child. The girls’ section, 200-strong, moved to 99–100 All Saints’ Street in 1853. One of the early head monitors of this school, Mary Ann Pickerden, became a fully-qualified and certificated teacher, whereupon she left Hastings to work in Birmingham. In 1863 Maria Caldwell became the seventh mistress from the school to compete for a Scholarship and to be elected a Queen’s Scholar of the First Class. Her prize was one year’s instruction with board, lodging, laundry, medical attendance and £3 spending money. (Male winners of the same prize received £4.) In the 1850s and 60s, National Schools sprung up at St Mary Magdalen, Magdalen Road; Christchurch, Alfred Street (under Miss T. Moon); Hollington (Mrs Mary Harmer); and Halton. Schoolmistresses were also employed in workhouses. In 1847 the incumbent at Hastings Workhouse, Elizabeth Tebay was suspended and later dismissed for being drunk while taking the children out for exercise. The Governor’s daughter, Emily Harman, took charge of the children temporarily and, although the vacancy was advertised in the local paper, she was appointed to the permanent staff. In 1851 she was highly praised by the Government Inspector of Schools and presented with a gift. She must have left by 1853, since the Union re-advertised the position. In 1867, Miss Sarah Pusey was mistress, at a salary of £50 per annum plus board. The Ragged School Union, founded in 1844, opened schools for children whose ragged clothing was not acceptable to the church schools. The first in Hastings was opened in 1855 in Stone Street, and later Miss Margaret Paton opened one in a former church hall at 39a Tackleway. By 1862 the number of children grew too large for the hall and a fundraising bazaar earned £500 for new premises. One of the largest and finest seats of learning for girls was All Souls’ Convent, St Leonards, which had opened in 1834 as a nunnery. In the 1850s orphans were educated there and others boarded and lodged on ‘very moderate terms’. By 1871 it was the most cosmopolitan establishment in the towns. Mother Superior Cornelia Connelly of Philadelphia USA and her two assistants headed an impressive array of 20 female teachers from as far afield as Lancashire, Devon, Ireland, Switzerland and Italy. They were all specialists in their subjects, which included music, singing, painting, literature, Latin, French, German, grammar, drawing and needlework. There were 91 girls boarding at the school in 1871, aged from eight to 25. They hailed from London, York, Warwick, Ireland, the USA, India, Australia, Venezuela and St Lucia. An inspector’s report said It is impossible to witness without admiration the results obtained in this very interesting school in which consummate skill in the art of teaching, unwearied patience and the most persuasive personal influence have combined to accomplish all the rarest fruits of Christian instruction. The school is now probably one of the most perfect institutions of its class in Europe. The establishment had 35 live-in servants, of whom 32 were female, including a doorkeeper, a dairymaid and a baker. The youngest servant was aged eight: she was the ‘second-under-kitchen-maid-in-training’. Educated and enterprising women also offered private tuition in their own homes, in music, singing, dancing, drawing and languages — generally, French. They were usually described as ‘Professors’ but this was merely a courtesy title with no academic substantiation.


Churches, charities, public institutions and services employed women, but rarely was a woman placed in even the lowest ranks of power or influence, and never was she placed in authority over men, except domestic servants. The highest a woman could hope for was to obtain a post as a matron and, to be considered, an applicant had to be respectable, pious and of unblemished reputation. There was such a lack of career or promotional opportunities for women that they tended to retain good situations for as long as possible. Within the church, a woman could be a deaconess, nun or an Anglican sister, The 1851 Census abstracts for Hastings show two women ‘church officers’; these were probably pew-openers, a traditional women’s job in the church, usually given to widows. They spent much of Saturday polishing the pews, and attended the public on all days for services, weddings and funerals. Coins received from the congregation amounted to about 30s per year. Presumably the church gave them free accommodation, since the ‘salary’ was about 1/7th of the average woman’s wage. Despite that, ‘A Cambridge Graduate’ complained in a letter to the local press about having to give a penny to the pew opener at St. Clement’s Church. Other religious workers mentioned in Censuses include Lucy Smith, chapel-keeper at the Congregational Church at Robertson Street in 1861. The 1841 Census shows that 1,598 British women were ‘Keeper, or Head of Public Institution’. This included gaols, lockups, poorhouses, workhouses, houses of correction and county lunatic asylums. Ivy Pinchbeck noted that certain parishes in 18th-century Hertfordshire recognised the right of a widow to succeed her late husband as a gaol-keeper. In Hastings in 1753, Sally Lovekin and her husband were appointed Master and Matron of St Clement’s Poorhouse (known as The Pilchard) in George Street. When he died in 1760 she became Governor pro. tem., assisted by her daughter. A public meeting voted by 34 votes to six that she should continue, and she held the post for five years. Such a job would not, however, be open to new female applicants. One exception was Hannah Goodwin (née Easton). Born in 1798, by the age of 24 was a destitute widow with three children, the youngest just 12 months old. After working as a monthly nurse, in 1828 she took charge of St Mary-in-the-Castle Poorhouse. This was one of nine parish poorhouses in the Hastings area, and was located at what is now 12–16 Wellington Place. In 1837, when she had charge of 16 inmates, a new, larger workhouse was opened in Ore to replace the parish workhouses. A married couple was engaged as Master and Matron and Hannah was left to scrape a living as best she could. In 1848 she became a pew-opener and, with her dressmaker daughter, moved into 2 Church Passage, a cottage adjoining a grave yard, comprising three rooms and a wash-house. Her sight failed and she became unable to work. She died in 1854.

All public institutions that admitted female inmates employed women as matrons. These posts were mostly held by wives of the governor. In workhouses and gaols, Matrons acted as a deputy for the Master in his absence and had specific responsibilities of her own, mostly relating the supervision of female inmates and the workhouse’s domestic arrangements. At the small gaol at The Bourne a Matron superintended the female prisoners and did the housekeeping. (A list of a workhouse matron’s duties is reproduced opposite). As living quarters were shared, she was of necessity the wife of the Master. For this reason, the Hastings Gaol Matron’s post was not advertised; however, an advertisement for a Gaol Matron at Petworth in 1852 required ‘a person not less than 30, nor more than 45 years, at a salary of £50 per annum, with coals and candles in addition, but no rations’. In Hastings magistrates’ reports, several women’s names appear as ‘female searchers’; all were the wives of police officers or gaolers and it seems to have been an unpaid duty of any policeman’s wife. A small gratuity was probably given to them by the Sergeant for this ad-hoc, occasional task. Women were also Superintendents and Matrons at a wide range of charitable institutions including Ladies’ Homes, Servants’ Homes, Convalescent Homes, Industrial Kitchens and Mendicity Houses. The first Matron of White Rock Infirmary, opened in 1841, was Mrs Crouch, whose initial weekly wage of 8s was soon raised to 12s, plus free accommodation, coals and wood. She was succeeded by Miss Griffen, former housekeeper at the Foundling Hospital, London, who was selected from 22 applicants in 1862. Frances Hartley soon replaced her and remained in that post for 20 years, retiring only because of her defective vision. Similar longevity was demonstrated by Maria Marshall, who was Matron of West Hill Industrial School for 22 years until her death. In 1871, Mary Pank, a widow aged 54, was ‘Superintendent of the Insane’ at a private asylum at 76 Marina, where she supervised two male attendants and a housemaid. In her charge were four male ‘lunatics’ two of whom were Lords of the realm.

A Postmaster was a servant of the Crown, and was usually assisted by his wife or daughter. A number of postmistresses existed in England and appear in directories for several Sussex towns. The first woman employee at Hastings Post Office was Mrs West. In 1824 her Postmaster husband George was dismissed and, when a relative took over, Mrs West was retained as assistant. The Post Office was then at 53 High Street, giving Post Office Passage its name. Mr. Bond took over in 1829 and moved it to 55 High Street. He was dismissed in 1831 and his daughter Alicia became Postmaster, receiving the same salary: £62 a year plus emoluments worth £81. She retained the job for two years. In the 1850s, Post Office Receiving Houses were located at Mrs Ann Gallopp’s shop at 6 St Mary’s Terrace and at Mrs Osborne’s at 27 Castle Street. In 1867, Elizabeth Blackman was proprietress of the ‘Post & Money Order Office’ at Ore. The 1851 Census abstracts show three Hastings women ‘employed by Local Government’ but a search of the actual Census has failed to find them.


Hastings’ ancient fishing fleet was still central to the economy of the town in the mid-century, when 500 families were engaged in the fishery. In 1850 there were 88 boats and by 1861 this had increased to 150. Some women, for example Charlotte Clarke, owned a fishing boat. Although the 1841 Census abstracts list 306 ‘fisherwomen’ in Britain, none of them was in Hastings; however, women and girls did work in the industry helping husbands, fathers or sons by mending nets, and by cleaning and gutting fish and preparing them for sale. Census enumerators listed them as ‘fisherman’s wives’ and did not record this work unless the woman herself owned a fishmonger business separately from her husband’s employment. There were several women fishmongers in the town, and when the new fishmarket opened in 1870, the 12 stallholders comprised four women, six men, and two whose gender is not recorded. Women also hawked fish and shrimps from barrows and baskets in streets and public houses. Fishermen’s families lived, as they had for centuries, in circumstances of chronic insolvency but they constituted a cohesive community of many interconnected and extended families. Although it seemed chaotic, life in the fishery was structured by ‘rhythms of poverty’ caused by the weekly and seasonal fluctuations in income. The mid-1800s were, overall, prosperous years for Hastings fisherfolk, but there were many dips in their fortunes and it fell to wives to ensure that their families did not starve. Most had a means of earning money when they needed to, performing laundry, sewing, charring and baby minding. Steve Peak relates how, in 1858, some local gentlemen put forth a plan to set up a local net-making business, to give employment to women, elderly fishermen and boys. However, the plan was abandoned because they would not accept the low wages necessary to make them competitive, and the nets instead continued to be made at Bridport. Peak remarks that Old Town women could make more money charring and taking in washing. The Countess of Waldegrave inadvertently helped fishwives in these money-making activities when she paid £2,000 to build public wash-houses in Bourne Street in 1865, with the intention of improving the level of cleanliness and hygiene of the poor – ‘the great unwashed’. For a small fee, the women used the laundry facilities to carry out their usual work of washing, drying and ironing other people’s clothes. An aspect of life that made fishermen’s wives staunch allies and set them apart from other women was the danger their husbands faced every day. In the 1860s, during an 8½ -year period, 24 Hastings fishermen were lost at sea. One widow was left with seven children to support and one more on the way. For each tragedy a subscription fund was opened, to which the Mayor, the Countess of Waldegrave, Frederick North and other dignitaries contributed. The total collected for the 24 families was £1257. Every September, hundreds of Old Town women took a ‘working holiday’: they earned money for the winter by hop-picking in the fields on the outskirts of Hastings, taking along with them many children.


The overwhelming majority of working-class girls entered domestic service, which was the largest category of occupation for women throughout the 19th century. Fifty-three percent of all employed Hastings women in 1861 were domestic servants. A related job was that of charwoman, a skivvy employed on a daily basis in commercial and industrial premises. This was generally the province of desperate older women, particularly widows, who had only domestic skills to offer to an employer. In the 1860s, newly-widowed Ann Russell of 1, Lavatoria, St Leonards, worked as a charwoman to support five small children (the youngest just month of age), as well as her mother-in-law who lived in as childminder. Domestic service seemed to be the answer to everybody’s needs. People wanted servants, and women needed work. Little training was required and, as an added bonus, the work fitted girls to become wives. The only fly in the ointment was that most girls would have preferred to be doing just about anything else. Eliza Lynn Linton described a housemaid’s life thus: She lives under ground or just below the roof. Damp, drains, want of efficient ventilation, with the constant presence of draughts, surround her in winter; in summer these are supplemented by a furious fire for many hours in the day …Her food is of poorer quality and less appetising than the family’s; for if the bread and meat are the same, other things as important are not In no other trade or profession is there such a want of personal freedom, such continuous command, such arbitrary denial as in this. Take the list of what is denied in an ordinary well-conducted house. No followers, no friends in the kitchen, no laughing to be heard above stairs … no cessation of work save at meal-times, no getting out for half an hour into the bright sunshine, save ‘on the sly,’ or after the not always pleasant process of asking leave; and above all, education for the fancy or the intellect beyond a dull magazine for Sunday reading, which is held quite sufficient recreation for lonely Betty moping in the dreary kitchen on the afternoon of her Sunday in … with the world seen only through the gratings of the area window as the holiday folks flock to and fro — this is English domestic service. …But mistresses say they should be very happy. To be sure they have their friends and associates, their early affections, their treasured memories. They are among strangers, hard worked and horribly dull, without a friend to whom to cling, only employers to please and strange tempers to conciliate. May be they suffer from home-sickness, or from heart-sickness, which is worse; but they are sufficiently fed, they have no taxes to meet, their anxieties are few, and their wages are punctually paid. What more do they want?— nay, are they not the most to be envied of us all? When they have done their work, is it not pleasure enough for these young women in the prime of life, and with the first flush of that desire for experience inherent in human nature knocking at their hearts, to sit down alone, or two together, in the silent kitchen with a basketful of sewing for their evening’s amusement? Hidden away in basements and attic bedrooms, shut away from the public eye, servants were largely mute and forgotten. Signs of protest or discontent were met with stern warnings and, eventually, dismissal. In 1864, 16-year-old Fanny Beaton, made her feelings known rather spectacularly, by twice setting fire to her bed, which was located in the kitchen and was fully-enclosed with wooden shutters. Fanny admitted that her mistress, Mary Akehurst of 12 Marine Parade, was kind to her; she had simply wanted to go home. She was sent to prison for one month.

In a small middle-class or prosperous working-class household, one maid-of-all-work was engaged to carry out the most menial chores, often as an assistant to the housewife. The pay was about 2s a week plus board for a 6½-day week which began about 6am and finished at 10 or 11pm. It was not unusual for servants to share a small attic-room and, in some cases, even the same bed, while others slept in kitchens situated in damp basements. Their few personal possessions were stored in a small trunk known as their ‘box’. As the family’s income rose, so did the number of servants, and this served as an outward sign of prosperity. In a medium-sized house, a parlour-maid and cook would be engaged as well. Only the largest, grandest households employed higher servants such as a lady’s maid, butler or footman. Women were employed as housekeepers, particularly in rural areas. One would often be employed when the housewife was in poor health, or had died, leaving her husband to raise children alone while running a farm or other business. All domestic work in the countryside was extremely heavy and involved long hours. As well as domestic duties there was always some care of livestock. Duties assigned to females included feeding animals, plucking poultry and milking cows. Shop and factory workers had Royal Commissions, parliamentary committees, social activists, and trades unions to take up their cause, leading to reduced working hours and improved health and safety and welfare provisions; servants had no-one to plead their cause. As a result, they worked longer hours than other employees. It was calculated in 1873 that a housemaid’s day extended from 6am to 10pm, less two-and-a-half hours for meals and 90 minutes’ sewing in the afternoon. Her 12-hour day was two hours longer than that of a factory or shop worker. And at weekends, while others had a shorter Saturday and a Sunday free from work, the servant often worked even longer than on weekdays. The austere life of servants was thrown into sharp contrast by their wealthy employers’ array of beautiful clothes and accessories. A servant could never afford to buy such things for herself. Pilfering from employers was common; many girl servants were prosecuted and custodial sentences were the norm. Honest girls, who purchased cheap imitations — paste jewellery, pretty hair-slides, a bit of lace or perhaps a gay straw hat — were roundly criticised for their ‘love of finery’. It was even described as a ‘social evil’ by the editor of the Hastings & St Leonards News, who condemned servant girls for loving ‘tawdry finery’ and blamed their ‘ignorant mothers’ for fostering in them a ‘love of “showing off” beyond their station’. He believed that ‘a lady is perfectly justified in forbidding her domestic to dress in a style which is plainly beyond her honest means’ and advised that she ‘refuse to allow her to appear in public in the guise of a poppet or with the airs of a fool’. He suggested that the reason these ‘silly girls’ dressed up was ‘to get the power of dazzling butcher’s boys’, which meant that they were ‘graduating for a life of sin or a home of misery’. In conclusion, he reminded readers that there was ‘Christian work’ for ‘kindhearted’ women in saving these ‘poor creatures’ from the ‘ruinous consequences of a giddy love of dress which too surely await so many of these victims of bad taste and ignorance’. The fabulously wealthy Countess of Waldegrave echoed these sentiments in 1867 when she gave a stern lecture to schoolgirls on the merits of saving up their surplus pennies to purchase warm clothes for winter, instead of indulging their love of finery. She warned that, when (not if) they became servants, their mistresses would disapprove of their attempts to get above their station in life. God was cited in support: rather conveniently for the rich He, in His wisdom, had allotted to each her correct place in society. To contradict His plan bordered on blasphemy. Servants were traditionally engaged at hiring fairs, but by the 19th century the rise of bureaucracy and in town living led to the introduction of special agencies to connect servants with potential employers. One of the first in Hastings was run by Mr. J. Tanner, who opened a room in his house at 30 All Saints’ Street as a registry office, so that girls who had newly arrived in town could obtain places as servants as soon as possible, ‘that the evils of idleness might be avoided’. He charged nothing but, later, commercial agencies were opened — the forerunners of today’s employment agencies. A woman with refined manners and pleasant conversation might find employment as a personal companion or ‘Company Keeper’. Likewise, a genteel lady fallen on hard times, if she had a little education and refinement, could become a children’s governess, of which there were 44 in Hastings in 1851. They were socially isolated: too high-class to mix with the lower servants; too low-class to be friends with their employers. Bessie Rayner Parkes said in 1859 that ‘no class of men can compete with the governess in wretchedness’ because they were ill paid and ill-used and could never earn enough to put anything aside for their old age. Specialist charities were unable to cope with the sheer number of distressed, even destitute, former governesses.


An indenture was a legally binding document, a contract setting out the terms of a person’s apprenticeship, and agreement to work for another for a specific amount of time in return for instruction in a trade. Below is the wording for an indenture of a 14-year-old Hastings girl apprenticed to a local draper’s firm in 1867.


While the vast majority of female employees in mid-century Sussex were domestic servants, a large number worked as assistants in shops, laundries and catering establishments, and a few were librarians and bathing attendants. Towns in other parts of Britain had large factories and textile mills, but mid-Victorian Hastings had no single large employer of women; only commercial laundries and the major hotels engaged more than a handful of female staff. By 1870 shop work was more sought-after than domestic service among unskilled working-class girls. Shop assistants had plenty of human contact with customers and work-mates, while servants were often terribly lonely. Shop work offered young girls many opportunities to meet young men, and gave them more money and freedom to dress as they pleased, unlike servants, who had to wear a visible sign of their servility, a uniform. Few women were employed as shop assistants outside of their own families prior to the 1850s. From about this time, they began to work in bakery, confectionery, drapery and millinery shops. Some were apparently taken on without wages, at least at first. For example, Miss Frost was ‘in service to’ draper William Bowerman in Robertson Street for seven months in 1872 without pay. Extracts from a diary of a milliner’s shop-girl in Hastings in the 1860s show that her typical working day began at 8 or 9am and ended between 7 and 10pm. Saturday hours were usually the longest. There was early closing on Wednesday, when she finished at 5pm. Early closing in Hastings had its origins in an 1850s campaign for provision shops to close early on Saturdays — at 9pm instead of the customary time of between 10 and midnight. This was born of concern that employees may be too tired for ‘the religious duties of the Sabbath morning.’ Records of female apprentices go back hundreds of years. Those from the 18th century show girls of 12 or 13 apprenticed ‘till the age of 21 or the day of their marriage’. Many of these apprenticeships were in housewifery, but this was less prevalent in the 19th century. Millinery required an apprenticeship of up to seven years and it was a father’s decision whether to pay for his daughter. Most, it seems, would not: a mere three girls’ names appear among a long list of apprentices in Hastings between 1710–52, for example. By the 1850s there were many more, apprenticed to both women and men; for example, Emily and Harriet Barrow took in three millinery apprentices for their business at Havelock Road. Apprentices received no wages. Many public institutions, such as gaols, lockups, houses of correction, poorhouses, workhouses, hospitals, lunatic asylums and charitable establishments employed female nurses, attendants, cooks and housekeepers. Little is known about this type of employment. In hotels, eating houses, coffee shops and pubs, girls and women worked as waitresses, cooks, barmaids and chambermaids. The Census lists barmaids as young as 15. The Royal Victoria Hotel employed and housed 12 female staff in 1871 while at the Queen’s Hotel there were 20. Few women were employed as managers. One of the first was Mrs Raven, cook and manager at the Horse & Groom, Mercatoria, in the 1830s. Miss Bowles was manager of the Albion Hotel in the late 1860s and, in the 1870s, Emma Gribble was shop manager of a cook and confectionery business at 5 Marina Colonnade. The 1871 Census shows that Sarah Ellis, from Cambridge, was assistant manager of the prestigious Seaside Hotel, Stratford Place. Until the late-19th century, all office work was the domain of men. The pioneer female clerks in Hastings were bookkeepers. The 1861 Census shows that Ann Wells worked for James Emary at the Albion Hotel, and Ellen Waghorne worked for her uncle, a butcher, at 14 Castle Street. That of 1871 records that Mary Hunt was the bookkeeper at the Queen’s Hotel. Almost every young working woman was housed by her employer, who could thus keep a watchful eye on her behaviour at all times. Also, domestics could double as shop assistants and vice versa. With no minimum wage and no trades unions, the pay was usually too low to afford lodgings. Furthermore, many working girls were young teenagers, for whom it was not respectable to live independently and ‘unprotected’.


[Women who are] a step from starvation … “must try the streets,” as they will describe it. If they are young and reckless, they become prostitutes; if in more advanced years, or with good principles, they turn street-sellers; but this is only when destitution presses sharply’. Henry Mayhew, 1861.

Mayhew’s observation about London was true of Hastings. The lowest and most desperate occupations in town took place on the streets. Mid-century Hastings was awash with hawkers and harlots.


Hawking was the very lowest form of retailing. It required little capital and no premises. People just wandered the streets or knocked door-to-door, selling cheap items such as wool- bead- crochet- and shell-work, stay-laces, baskets, flowers, cottons, combs, toys, lace, buttons, matches and food. Street-hawkers, also called hucksters, were often brash and colourful characters. As no-one employed them, they did not need to maintain a genteel or humble demeanour but would brazenly call out their wares. During their arduous day they frequented beer shops for much-needed refreshment and were frequently the worse for drink. One, Fanny Dunstall, was prosecuted for ‘being drunk and furiously driving her horse and cart to the danger of foot passengers’ in Robertson Street, Hastings, in 1862. She was fined 10s plus 4s 4d costs. Hawkers often lived with one foot in the workhouse or gaol. Many resided in common lodging-houses, the more fortunate might rent a whole room for a few months. Some slept in damp cellars or even in sheds. Many were Irish, fleeing the potato famine, others were gypsies. Some were as young as ten. The life was extremely hard; one hawker in Burwash, with five children under 12 explained, ‘ours isn’t a living, it’s only a being’. In Hastings, all kinds of food was hawked, but in 1832 the Town Commissioners passed a Local Act that allowed only fish to be hawked in the streets and which levied market tolls on other foodstuffs, ranging from 1s 6d a day for meats down to a 1d for butter. This made it more difficult for women to afford to run a stall. Policemen and magistrates saw hawking merely as a front for begging. They wanted the town ‘tidied up’ of these scruffy, pestilential persons who annoyed genteel visitors, thus threatening the town’s tourism industry. Their solution was to raise the price of a hawker’s license tenfold. This placed it beyond the means of the poorest and those who operated without a license were thus criminalised, prosecuted, fined and even imprisoned. It was a cruel blow against people who had hit rock bottom but were still trying to support themselves. In addition, shop-owning tradesmen campaigned against hawkers. In 1860, 40 of them sent a petition to Hastings council complaining about the increase in street selling. Hawking was made so difficult that perhaps some women were driven to enter the workhouse, or to join the ever-increasing ranks of streetwalkers.


Prostitution was extremely common in Victorian towns but it is still shrouded somewhat by the use of euphemisms: ‘prostitute’ is not normally found in the Census’ occupational column. In 1850 the Westminster Review estimated that there were 50,000 in England and Scotland. The cream of the trade lived like ladies in fine houses and were discreetly ‘kept’ by ‘gentleman friends’, but working-class prostitution took place in dark alleys and yards, or in squalid rented rooms. It was resorted to out of desperation and was often of a temporary nature. It was well-known for example that sometimes needle-women were forced into occasional, clandestine prostitution when business was slow; they later married, or the work picked up and, with luck, no-one found out. Others were not so fortunate. Without the safety-net of a welfare system, a typical scenario was that of a girl who was illiterate, abandoned, alcoholic, orphaned, or too weak for domestic service, who found refuge as the ‘unmarried wife’ of a man prepared, initially, to support her. Before long something usually went awry: the ‘husband’ put her on the streets, or the relationship ended, leaving the woman destitute and with a ‘past’. Other women lost their reputations by having illegitimate children. In all these cases the woman, in the parlance of the day, was ‘ruined’ — that is, no longer a virgin and, having nothing left to lose, became a prostitute. The first prostitutes recorded in 19th-century Hastings were Lucy Ballard in 1820 and Sarah Mitchell in 1826 who were arrested, apparently, simply for ‘wandering in the streets’. By mid-century there were dozens operating in the town and the same women appeared in front of magistrates repeatedly, among them Portsmouth Poll, Dover Lizzy, Mary Ann Wratten, Elizabeth Watts and the notorious Mary Keene, who was reputed to have been cautioned by every policeman in the Hastings force. Streetwalkers would loiter on or near the beach after midnight, meet their clients and either go home with them, take them back to their lodgings, rent a room just for the purpose, or find a secluded spot outdoors. Many of them ended up in a terribly degraded condition, plying a trade of the most sordid description in the dismal back yards and alleyways of the Old Town at 6d a time. A range of euphemisms was used to describe them: ‘members of the frail sisterhood’, ‘frail and fair ones’, ‘girls of the town’, ‘nymphs of the pavé’, ‘our incorrigibles’, ‘ladies of certain lax morals’ or, most commonly, ‘unfortunates’. In 1871 one Hastings magistrate labelled Sarah Eldridge a ‘social pest’. Many prostitutes were former domestic servants who, after being seduced by men from their employers’ family or circle of friends, were sacked without a reference on becoming pregnant. William Acton, a London doctor, remarked in 1857 that ‘seduction of girls is a sport and a habit with vast numbers of men’, a practise described by one professor of history as ‘a mixture of brutality and exploitation on the one side and deference and the temptations that stem from poverty on the other’. Prostitution centred on the numerous disreputable public houses and beer shops; indeed, any flashy single woman swilling alcohol at the bar of such a place was sure to be a ‘fallen one’. At first, alcohol numbed the shame and overcame the inhibitions of girls new to the trade but, all too swiftly, drunkenness became a way of life and many drank themselves into oblivion every day. After being ‘treated’ to a few penny shots of gin, they would totter along the gas-lit streets describing to passing men, in terms of the basest vulgarity, what was on offer. If a policeman heard them, or a man complained, they were charged with ‘being drunk and using obscene language’, to avoid a charge of soliciting, which would require the accosted gentlemen to attend court. Streetwalkers increased publicans’ profits and many a blind eye was turned as they solicited for trade on the premises. However, it was an offence for a publican to ‘allow persons of notorious bad character to assemble’. Such was the oft-repeated charge against many licensees. Richard Wood, landlord of the Privateer Inn in Cross Street, who was reported by Sergeant Brazier for allowing ‘fiddling and dancing’ in his pub after midnight, and for permitting two known prostitutes, ‘Dover Lizzy’ and ‘Sally Bates’, and two other girls to ‘carouse’ with young men. Wood, as a repeat offender, was fined 10s plus 15s 5d costs. John Drayton, landlord of the Hole in the Wall beer-house, behind Bohemia Road, was summoned for ‘unlawfully allowing persons of bad character to assemble’ in 1866. The police stated that on one occasion, six prostitutes were found drinking there and on another, ten. He was fined 5s. William Huggett was summoned for ‘allowing prostitutes and persons of notorious bad character to assemble’ at his pub the Ship, Bourne Street. One night Inspector Battersby found twelve to fourteen men with four prostitutes in a back room. Two days later he found a man in the pub’s backyard ‘in a very indecent position with a drunken prostitute.’ He halted their congress, but later returned to find ‘the same pair engaged in the same act in the same place’. He remarked to magistrates, ‘I consider it to be a worse place than a common brothel’. Mr. Huggett was fined 10s and 19s 6d costs. The landlord of the Queen’s Head (a fishermen’s pub) was luckier. When renewing his licence, magistrates heard that he habitually harboured prostitutes but, as he had never been convicted, the renewal was granted. The landlord of the Duke of York, Union Road, St Leonards, was not so fortunate; he lost his home and his livelihood. At midnight one Monday in August 1864, a policeman’s attention was drawn to the pub by the sound of music and singing. Inside he found 13 men carousing with six women, five of whom he recognised as known prostitutes. He watched the girls leave at dawn. In court, for ‘keeping a disorderly house’ the landlord was fined £1 plus 12s costs. When his licence became due for renewal, it was declined. This led to him being evicted by the pub’s owner. One of the prostitutes involved, 17-year-old Susan Lee, later treated the constable concerned to a torrent of verbal abuse, for which she received 7 days’ imprisonment. Prostitutes frequently cohabited with a man-friend or, more likely, a series of them, for quarrels were often violent and break-ups frequent. Some men lived on their partner’s immoral earnings. Women who lived alone often resided in squalid common lodging-houses or in rooms above beer-shops at 4d a night, some of which were described by police as ‘low brothels’ or ‘dens of infamy’. Such was the label given to 19 Bourne Street and 2 Albion St, Halton. The latter, in its four small rooms, housed ten persons. One of them, Bertha Hewitt, aged 19, was ‘a woman of dissipated and wretched appearance’ who had dumped her unwanted, illegitimate child in Battle Workhouse. The other occupants were the landlady, Mrs Dunk, her son and two daughters, two other suspected prostitutes and three young children. As the population increased, prostitution flourished and by the 1870s Hastings’ newspapers were replete with stories mentioning streetwalkers. The known clientele belonged to the skilled working-class: printers, sailors, plasterers, wheelwrights and boat-builders.

Apple Shop Keeper/Feather Dresser Artist/Fish Carrier Artists’ Repository Keeper/Fish Hawker Author/Fishmonger Baby Linen Dealer/Fish Seller Baker/Flower Seller Bathing Machine Owner/Fruiterer Bather/Furniture Dealer Baths Manager/Furrier Baths Proprietor/Fly Proprietor Beer-Shop Keeper/General Dealer Berlin Wool Dealer/Governess, Private Blacksmith & Shoeing/Governess, Infant School Boarding-House Keeper/Greengrocer Bookseller/Grocer Bootbinder/Hairdresser Broker/Hatter Butcher/Hotel Keeper Cabinet Maker/Hosier Carrier/Ironer Chair Bottomer/Ironmonger Chair Caner/Juvenile Warehouse Owner Chair Maker/Kitchenmaid China & Glass Dealer/Labourer Cloakmaker/Lacemaker Clothier/Lace Runner Maker Coal Merchant/Lady Coffee House Keeper/Lady’s Maid Companion/Laundress Confectioner/Laundry Maid Cook/Laundry Proprietor Corset Maker/Library Proprietor Cow Keeper/Lodging-House Keeper Curative Mesmerist/Manglewoman Currier/Mantlemaker Dairywoman/Marine Store Owner Domestic Servant/Matron, Gaol Drapers/Matron, Industrial School Dressmaker/Matron, Infirmary Earthenware Dealer/Matron, Workhouse Eating House Keeper/Milk Vendor Egg Merchant/Milliner Embroiderer/Needlewoman Fancy Repository Keeper/Newsagent Farmer/Novelist nurse/sempstress nursemaid/servants’ registry office proprietor outfitter/shareholder paper-flower maker/shell artiste/worker/dealer parlourmaid/shoebinder pawnbroker/shirtmaker perfumier/shrimp hawker pew opener/silk worker photographist/silk weaver photographic artist/slop seller plumber/glazier/painter/stationer printer/stay maker professor of singing/straw hat maker professor of music/superintendent professor of languages/tailoress pork butcher/tallow chandler poultry fancier/tea dealer poulterer (licensed)/tobacconist publican/toy dealer pupil teacher/undertaker schoolmistress/upholsterer school proprietor/wardrobe dealer secondhand clothes dealer/washerwoman seamstress/watchmaker/mender sedan chair proprietor/wine merchant


The rich man in his castle;
the poor man at his gate
God made them, high and lowly;
and ordered their estate.

There was in the mid-19th century greater discrepancy between the living standards of the middle-class and those of the working-class than is the case today. Then, it was usual for every middle-class household to employ two or three domestic servants, and they had the space to house them, too. Concurrently, thousands of Hastingers lived on — and sometimes below — the breadline, in conditions of appalling overcrowding.


The well-off began to come to Hastings in the late-18th century and when James Burton founded St Leonards in the late 1820s it, too, became a fashionable watering place for the wealthy, who came for reasons of health or recreation. Some settled permanently but more came for a month, a season, or an open-ended sojourn. There were few titled ladies among the permanent residents, but gentry appeared in almost every list of visitors published weekly by the local press. Visitors might stay with friends, lease a house or apartments, or rent rooms in boarding- or lodging-houses — the most expensive were those along the Marina, Grand Parade and Eversfield Place. Boarding houses were a little like hotels. In 1824, Moss remarked that ‘an individual is enabled, for the moderate sum of £2.12s 6d per week … to live in the most sumptuous manner’. Wealthy visitors generally brought with them their upper servants — such as a lady’s maid and a governess if there were children — while lower servants were engaged locally, generally by the proprietor of the establishment. Those of the wealthy who were permanently resident lived mainly in St Leonards, although some parts of Hastings ‘new town’ were favoured, such as Wellington Square, Pelham Place, Pelham Crescent and Caroline Place. In the Old Town, Old London Road contained a few substantial houses, inhabited by the MP, magistrates and other prominent persons. By 1850, the majority of the well-off were abandoning the Old Town for the more salubrious and modern St Leonards, where many new houses were built with the very latest in luxurious fittings – i.e., piped water and flush WCs. The wealthy lived in spacious opulence: it was common for just two or three persons to occupy a house with three or four large reception-rooms, several bedrooms, and servants’ quarters. Lady Boothby, a former comedy actress, lived at Rosemount, St Leonards, a 17-room villa with very large drawing and dining rooms, gardens, stabling and a private theatre in which she gave performances for selected guests. It was common for servants to outnumber the family. An extreme example is The Mansion, opposite All Saints’ Church, where the Earl and Countess of Waldegrave and the Earl’s two daughters were looked after by 12 live-in servants: a housekeeper, two lady’s maids, two housemaids, a kitchen-maid, butler, coachman, footman, groom, house-lad and stable boy. Among St Leonards’ aristocratic female visitors were Princess Sophia of Gloucester and Edinburgh who, after three months at Bohemia House, moved to (what is now called) Gloucester Lodge, Maze Hill, in 1831. The Queen of the Belgians visited in 1849, as did the Princesses of Crasalvoch and Princess Bolgascio. Princess Victoria spent the winter of 1834 at 57 Marina with her mother, the Duchess of Kent. When Victoria ascended the throne in 1837 the late King’s widow, Dowager Queen Adelaide, stayed for a while at Seymour Place (now known as Adelaide House, Grand Parade).

Throughout the century the town continued to be blessed with the patronage of the gentry and nobility including many foreign royals, such as Queen Christiana of Spain, who leased 88–89 Marina in 1862, and Empress Eugénie, a French Royal refugee who stayed at the Marine Hotel in 1870. Many other aristocratic, eminent, famous or notable women visited or lived in Hastings around the mid-century. Although wealthy ladies did not need to earn a living, they were far from ‘unoccupied’. Their days were filled with overseeing servants, choosing menus, checking household accounts, seeing dressmakers, shopping, taking carriage-rides, correspondence, reading, sketching, playing music, singing, embroidery and needlework as well as doing the round of social visits to other ladies of their class. Ladies were expected to change costumes frequently, at the very least from day-dresses to evening gowns. In the evenings there were talks and lectures, concerts, quadrille parties and soirées dansantes. The Brighton Guardian described St Leonards in 1847 as: The gayest of the gay. Balls, dinner-parties, fancy-fairs, pic-nics, archery-meetings, riding-parties, cricket-matches, shooting-competitions, boating-excursions ... Among the balls and card- assemblies in the Old Town are one at the Swan, one at the King’s Head and two at the Royal Oak, all well-attended’. Mrs Fletcher Norton, Hastings’ most celebrated hostess of the 1850s, held many dances and dinner parties at her large, elegant house at 4 Wellington Square. There was always a live orchestra and the hand-picked guests included the most prominent persons in town. At one party ‘the large drawing room and the ballroom adjoining were filled with beauty and fashionables’. The one hundred affluent guests included the MP Frederick North, his daughter Marianne and a smattering of aristocrats and knights. Several grand country houses were the venues for bachelor’s dances and huge fancy dress balls were held at Beauport by Thomas Brassey, MP and his wife Anna. Their guest list included every top society ‘name’ in Sussex. Pheasant, partridge and exotic fruits from hothouses were laid out during a break in the dancing. The newspaper reports of tables ‘groaning’ with the weight of all the delicacies of the season stand in stark contrast to the adjacent reports about hundreds of starving workers being doled a controlled portion of dry bread and gruel in Hastings’ charity-kitchens.


Among the poor there was terrible overcrowding in the 1850s. In the grid bounded by London Road, Gensing Road, Market Passage and Alfred Street, St Leonards, cottages of five small rooms, kitchen and scullery typically housed ten to 14 persons. Tenants would sub-let part of their homes; in one case a couple and their six sons aged from 18 to five lived in two rooms. Market Passage was home to 84 residents in just 16 small tenements. Hastings Old Town was even worse, and was appallingly unsanitary. The narrow, gas-lit alleyways and steep paths were crammed with tiny, badly constructed homes. Much of the accommodation was over two hundred years old and had no drainage, running water or flush toilets. The Bourne stream was like an open sewer and the stench in summer was nauseating. Privies (earth closets) were shared between many families and they overflowed into yards and, sometimes, even into houses. Homes were gloomy and there was widespread dampness. Most houses were under-ventilated, lit with oil lamps and heated with coal fires, and they were dangerous to live in: many people, some of them children, were burnt or even killed when paraffin lamps exploded or dresses caught fire. Although many wives worked, they still performed the daily household chores, and without any labour-saving devices. Fetching water from a well, emptying chamber pots and beating rugs were everyday chores for a working-class wife. Few of the poor had ovens; they had to subsist on open-fire pan cooking, or take their meat to a bakery to be cooked. Luckily in Hastings there was always a good supply of fresh fish and seafood, because until the 1870s the Victorian working-class diet was unhealthy: a lot of cheap food was adulterated, and hygiene was poor.


Without doubt the most important event in mid-Victorian Hastings & St Leonards was the extension of the railway line into the area. Bulverhythe was reached in 1846, but massive earthworks were needed to bore through a hill to reach St Leonards (to what is now called Warrior Square Station) and through another to reach Hastings. This was achieved by 1851. Two further tunnels were bored to reach Ore and Three Oaks. The two towns could not house the 3,000 railway labourers, known as navvies, who began to arrive in 1849. Once all the lodgings were taken, a large number of men, some with families, were obliged to live in makeshift shanties with addresses such as ‘Hut at top of Mount Pleasant Tunnel’. In these huts, the womenfolk – they were often not married to the navvy with whom they cohabited — struggled to bring up, typically, three or four children, devoid of any household conveniences or even the most basic utilities, such as water or drainage. One couple who had six children under 12 even took in a lodger. The well-to-do ladies of St Leonards were shocked and horrified to witness on their very doorstep people who (in their genteel eyes) were ‘sunk in the most deplorable state of degradation and sin’. Their distress led to ‘rescue’ work, which amounted to the collection and distribution of alms, and a school being provided for the children. The men worked hard, drank hard and fought hard. They caused one hell of a rumpus in town with their drunken, riotous brawling and fist-fights in the streets. Their conduct towards their wives when they staggered back, drunk, to the dismal, cold residence, possibly full of whining, hungry children can only be imagined. Some women and children ended up in the Hastings Workhouse, having been abandoned or left destitute by the navvy’s death or injury, a frequent occurrence. Safety precautions were extremely lax at the railway works and hundreds of men were injured and mutilated in rock falls, tunnel collapses and by runaway wagons. After emergency medical treatment they were cared for by their wives during several months of unpaid convalescence. The works created a number of widows: fourteen fatalities were recorded. Sometimes a son took over his late father’s job on the railway building works. One, an 11 year old, supported his widowed mother and two siblings aged seven and four. Some women even lost their children because of the railway construction. In one case, boy of ten was run over and killed by some wagons as he oiled them from beneath.


Hastings’ major attraction was, of course, the sea, which was believed to have health-giving properties and which was used both for drinking and immersion. Much fuss was also made (by the owners) of the healthful properties of the drinking water from the Chalybeate springs in West Hill Road and St Andrews Gardens. Sea water was supplied at 3d a bucket to lodging-houses and even piped into some residences. Bathing was governed by strict regulations: the 30 bathing machines were allocated by gender, women’s machines were kept 75 yards away from those of men and boats were not allowed to come within 50 yards. Customers were ‘dipped’ by bathing attendants of their own sex. No-one was allowed to bathe in the open sea from ‘Rock-a-Noir’ to St Leonards until 1855, when men only were permitted to do so. There were several indoor bathing establishments and, in 1864, Turkish Baths were opened at 2 West Hill Road, St Leonards. The owners charged ladies double for the use of identical facilities that men used. In keeping with the morality of the day, the sexes were kept apart most effectively by restricting women to two days a week. On the beach, donkeys were hired for rides and shabby hawkers sold small items and refreshments, while ‘gypsies’ offered to tell fortunes. Boat trips were available to Eastbourne, Brighton, London and Boulogne. Yachts and rowing boats could be hired below the Parade and yachting regattas had been held since 1820. In 1843, when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert steamed past Hastings on their way from Brighton, hundreds of people lined the Parade, dressed in all their finery. Any man entitled to a uniform wore it. Banners were waved, royal salutes fired and the Union Flag hoisted at many places. It was reported that ‘Every eye was strained towards the noble vessel’, but whether the royal couple noticed the loyal accolades and festivities is unrecorded.


Jaunts around town on foot, horseback or carriage were popular, to take in Hastings’ curative and restorative air while seeing the sights and hearing the sounds. The sights included the Russian Gun, a symbolic tribute to Crimean casualties, placed near Pelham Crescent in 1857, the Albert Memorial (1863) and the Waldegrave Drinking Fountain (1861). The sounds included an excess of music. The Town Band had been established in 1822 and from 1852 it played three times a week in Warrior Square Gardens. There were multifarious street-musicians, singers, buskers, organ-grinders, banjo-strummers and hurdy-gurdy players. Before long visitors and residents began to complain about the incessant noise. One major pastime for women was browsing the fashionable shops at the Colonnade, at Castle Street and Wellington Place as well as the alcove stalls in Pelham Arcade, which had opened in 1825. In 1859 a second Arcade of ten shops was opened, linking Cambridge Road with Havelock Road. From the 1860s Robertson Street was the smartest place to shop, and was known as the ‘Regent Street’ of Hastings. The biggest tourist attractions were Hastings Castle and St Clements’ Caves, both of which were opened to the public in the 1820s. Horse racing took place at Bulverhythe from 1828 until 1865. Carriage-drives were popular, to see outlying villages and beauty spots including Ecclesbourne Glen, Ore, Hollington, Bodiam, Northiam, Old Roar, Camber Castle, Dripping Well, Battle, Icklesham and Brede. After 1846 railway excursions were available and in 1851 many Hastingers attended the Great Exhibition in London.


English society was still intensely religious at this date and services and other church-related activities were extremely well attended, particularly by middle-class women. The four main churches — All Saints’, St Clement’s, St Mary’s and St Leonards — were overcrowded and the population was still on the increase. It was a frequent complaint that men could hardly get inside a church, female patronage being so overwhelming, and women spilled over onto the men’s side of segregated pews. To counteract this problem in the 1850s and 60s a number of new churches were built, towards which women gave considerable financial support. But as soon as the first — St Mary Magdalen — opened in 1852 the seating was already insufficient. The incumbent purchased at his own expense several benches, each seating 70, but these were soon ‘filled to utmost’. Another new church was desperately needed and it was a woman — Lady St John — who bore the entire cost of building Christ Church, in ‘a part of St Leonards containing the mass of the poor, 3,000 in number’. Lady St John laid the foundation stone in 1859 and her son was the first incumbent. Within ten years this church also proved to be too small and a larger edifice was built next door in 1873. Within one year this, too, was suffering from such severe overcrowding that a visitor complained in the local press that she was so cramped in the ladies’ pews that ‘the movement of either hand or foot became … well-nigh an impossibility’. The power of the Christian religion in mid-19th-century England should not be underestimated. The working classes were told by their social superiors that their lowly position in life was His Will and part of His Great Scheme. Many of the poor rejected religion, but to be considered ‘respectable’ — and thereby obtain financial assistance — even the destitute had to embrace religion, or pretend to. Advertisements for servants’ positions often specified that applicants must be of the established church and servants’ attendance at Sunday services was often compulsory.


The fashionable sport for genteel ladies was archery, and the Society of St Leonards Archers was formed in 1833, to which Queen Victoria gave 20 guineas a year for the purchase of a gold bracelet to be presented to the lady gaining the most points during the season. The women had a uniform consisting of a white dress with a green silk scarf fastened at the left shoulder by a special badge, which was in the shape of a silver-gilt shield bearing an arrow, with Victoria embossed on a raised scroll, and the society’s monogram surmounted by a crown. A white straw hat trimmed with green velvet and white ostrich feathers completed the outfit. The uniform was abandoned in 1863, the badge only being retained. Archery meetings were held from the Queen’s birthday, May 24th, until October and were very popular: one in 1865 attracted 73 contestants and over 500 spectators. Scores, prizes and attendees were reported in the local press, and a brass band played throughout, always finishing with the National Anthem. In the evening, a Grand Archery Ball was often held. The famous actress Fanny Kemble took part in some of the St Leonards tournaments, and the exiled French royal family attended as guests during their stay in the 1860s.


Working-class women often went to pubs to escape the wretched surroundings in which they lived, although the most respectable were accompanied by their husbands, who would usually take them to a slightly better class of pub than their ‘usual’, or into the saloon instead of the public bar. Pubs ranged in size from small rooms accommodating ten to 15 standing people to large taverns offering accommodation; they ranged in style from dingy beer shops with bare wooden benches, filled with sweaty, carousing fishermen to spacious establishments with etched glass windows, velvet seating, French-polished rosewood bars, gleaming brass fittings and immense lamps hanging from lofty ceilings. The sale of drink was considerable and the pubs numerous; indeed trade was so brisk that landlords regularly broke the law by serving out-of-hours. In working-class pubs activities included buying and eating seafood and chestnuts from hawkers; singing, especially ballads, gambling — though this was strictly against the license — and telling yarns. On many a night the Old Town saw drunken revellers singing and fighting in its streets. Many windows were broken, as were more than a few heads.


With no television, cinema or radio, audio-visual information was transmitted via lectures, talks and lantern slide-shows. The Literary & Scientific Institution, founded in 1831, offered a reduced subscription for women: they paid 15s, the same as minors, instead of the £2 paid by men. Two ladies were among the honorary members, and one, Countess Waldegrave, was a life member. The society forbade lectures on politics, and this meant that women’s rights could not be discussed. At the Mechanic’s Institution many women attended presentations, illustrated with lanternslides, on subjects such as the Holy lands, astronomy and the evils of alcoholic liquor or slavery. At one lecture President Alfred Burton expressed pleasure at the large number of ladies present, and remarked with relief that he had no fear of Bloomerism (i.e. feminism) amongst them. Evening schools run by the churches were generally reserved for male youths but one opened for fisher-folk, held during the winter in the Fishermen’s Clubroom, admitted all persons aged 21 and over. Mondays and Wednesdays were reserved for women and girls over 14. A Ladies’ Educational Association was founded in the early 1870s. The Philosophical Society was established in 1858 and accepted female members, although it reported in 1859 that none of ‘the fair sex’ had yet joined. The founders forbade women to address the audience; indeed, as late as 1882 physician Dr. Anna Kingsford was forbidden to read out her paper on anti-vivisection. Luckily, other venues welcomed lady lecturers, readers and performers. Mrs Balfour spoke on Self-Education in 1850 and, at the Mechanics’ Institution, Miss Balfour gave a talk on Charlotte Brontë in 1860. At the Ragged School in 1864, Mrs Wightman lectured on total abstinence. The largest crowd ever assembled in Hastings to hear a woman speak was the estimated 2,500 who crowded into a tent on Priory Meadows in 1874 to hear Catherine Mumford Booth preach the gospel. The multitudes attended mainly to gawp at a woman preacher as though she were a circus sideshow: Men, women, children, — from the fisher-boy and flower girl up to members of the School Board and Town Council, publicans and Good Templars, young sparks whose god is a cigar and a fresh-looking cravat, milliner-girls radiant in ribbons and cheap finery, shop-boys, tradesmen saints and sinners - all were gathered…Who was this woman who possesses such power as to attract to a single meeting at least one-tenth of our borough? Was it to hear a woman preach — because some of us believe that ladies have no right to be our theological teachers - that we went? Booth was an evangelist, the co-founder (with her husband) of the Salvation Army, and the century’s most passionate advocate of female preachers. She saw her vocation from a feminist perspective: There seems to be a great deal of unnecessary fear of women occupying any position which involves publicity, lest she should be rendered unfeminine by the indulgence of ambition or vanity; but why should woman any more than man be charged with ambition when impelled to use her talents for the good of her race.


Many female entertainers came to Hastings as circus acts, singers, actresses and musicians. A travelling menagerie, owned by Mrs Wombwell, and the American Female Serenaders were among the popular shows. Fanny Kemble gave readings from Shakespeare to huge audiences at the Swan, at George Street Hall, and at the St Leonards Assembly Rooms. In 1856 Miss P. Horton, a gifted impressionist, performed in Hastings, caricaturing everyone ‘from servant girl to Savoyard musician’. The subscription fees of libraries, reading rooms, societies and gardens and the ticket prices for theatre performances placed many out of the reach of working people. Cheaper, lowbrow entertainment included Ginette’s French Circus, which visited in 1853 and 1864. Its attractions, which included ceiling walking, ensured that Priory Meadows was crowded to overflowing. There were two Town Fairs a year, held at Whitsun and October, and a Rock Fair, held in July. The latter was held in the vicinity of Cuckoo Hill; lots of women and men got drunk, gambled and engaged in brawls. Thieves found it the ideal place to pick pockets. Described as a ‘grievous moral pest’ it was ceased by order of the authorities in 1861. Informal dances, fêtes and carnivals were held and Ann Page (née Noakes, pictured), known as ‘Old Nanny’, whose date of birth is given variously as 1766 or 1788, was said to attend them all. She was the widow of a revenue officer who had died in 1825. The day after Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1838 Mrs Page, ‘a sprightly widow of 72’ (or 50), was ‘crowned’ Queen of All Saints in a frolicsome ceremony at which prominent local dignitaries, including Frederick North MP, joined in the fun by playing Lords-in-Waiting. Mr C. J. Jeudwine, as the Archbishop of Canterbury, crowned Old Nanny on a platform erected across the road on the high pavement between 39 and 117 High Street. Shortly afterwards Nanny was drenched with water and her dress was ruined. She lived in All Saints’ Street and was buried in All Saints’ Churchyard.


I have often heard it regretted that ladies have no stated employment, no profession. It is a mistake: charity is the calling of a lady; the care of the poor is her profession ... Women of fortune have abundant leisure which can no way be so properly or pleasantly filled up. Hannah More.

Hastings & St Leonards attracted a large number of women of private means. The 1851 Census for Hastings & St Leonards, for example, showed that women comprised 79% of those enumerated as ‘Persons of Rank or property’ and 11.6% of females (compared with just 5.8% of males) enjoyed an unearned income derived from investments. Many more were supported by wealthy fathers and husbands. They had a superior education, time and resources, and a desire for a fulfilling occupation; however, they could not seek careers. Not only would it bring shame and disgrace upon the family, but all professions were closed to them and humble jobs beneath them. In the 19th century the only state welfare was through a poor-rate, which supported the workhouses and gave a small number of the impoverished an allowance known as outdoor relief. All other assistance to the poor was through the voluntary donations of the better-off. The collection and dispersal of these donations became rich women’s business. The management of the poor was a thoroughly respectable public channel for ladies’ energy and ingenuity and the only way for their organisational and financial skills to receive public recognition. Only by performing charity work could respectable ladies play an active and prominent role in public life, hold offices such as organiser, treasurer and secretary, and have their names and addresses listed in directories and other documents. Working for charitable organisations also afforded them a great deal of social kudos and gave them the opportunity to rub shoulders with local dignitaries and titled personages. The atmosphere of these charitable activities was one of morality entangled with religious evangelicalism. To the middle classes, the poor lived irregular, irreligious lives. They wasted money on drink, tobacco and gambling while their children were dirty and undisciplined. The poor had to be taught to be thrifty and hygienic, and to forsake their bad ways. Charity workers saw themselves as missionaries to another culture, fighting the evils of poverty, disease, immorality, and ‘the demon drink’. Their moral superiority was often resented by the poor, who might welcome the financial assistance but found the attached strings rather harder to accept. The poor were labelled either ‘deserving’ or ‘undeserving’ of charity. The allocation of persons to each category was informed by the charity workers’ middle-class beliefs. For example, they provided aid to mothers and infants in the name of improving their mortality rates, while barring the most needy — unmarried mothers and illegitimate children — from their benevolence. With great determination ladies founded, organised and managed a large number of institutions and societies. Among them were sanitary societies, shoe clubs, coal clubs, and a wide range of maternity and lying-in institutions, temperance, missionary and Sunday School societies, female benevolent institutions, and organisations for the care of widows, orphans, the sick and the infirm. The numbers involved, although undocumented, were huge. For some, it amounted to a career: for example, Charlotte Menella Lutwidge of 2 Wellington Square, spent her whole life devoted to charity work. Her death in 1857 was said to be ‘deeply regretted by both the pick and the poor’.

In 1839 some ladies of Hastings held a three-day bazaar in the Pelham Arcade in aid of an Infirmary. They had secured the patronage of the Dowager Queen Adelaide and the stalls were manned by girls of the best families, including the MP’s daughter, Marianne North. They raised £538. When the Ragged School in the Old Town became overcrowded, and £500 was needed to build new premises, another group of ladies raised £390 in just three days by holding a bazaar, at which 175 well-heeled customers spent an average of 5s each – half a week’s wages for a labouring woman. Among Hastings ladies’ other successes were a Home for Invalid Gentlewomen, opened in 1855, and a Young Women’s Christian Association, opened in Norman Road East in 1866, with bible classes given by the Countess of Aberdeen. There was gender division in charity work. Causes connected with maternity, children, religion, health and education were seen as the province of ladies; but when fishermen were lost at sea it was gentlemen who launched relief funds for the widows and children. However, they still left the donkey work such as the day-to-day fundraising, and the door-to-door collecting, to the ladies. The larger Sussex towns contained many institutions for turning impoverished and uneducated young women into servants. Among those in Hastings was a School of Industry, at Albion House, which had been established by an heiress, Miss Sayer, in 1847. Seventeen poor girls were admitted, fed, clothed and instructed in ‘the duties and employment of domestic servants’. Women were also involved in Temperance Societies, prompted by the desire to relieve the suffering of poor wives and children at the hands of drunken men. One, the St Mary Magdalen Improvement & Recreation Society, was based at Alfred Street, St Leonards. The society tried to show the working man that fun could be had without alcohol and the middle-classes often provided the amusements themselves. In 1861 at St Mary Magdalen National School, a musical treat was presented to 350 of the working class by a concert-party of a dozen ladies and gentlemen. When the performance was repeated for a middle-class audience, it was held at a more prestigious venue — the St Leonards Assembly rooms. There were also charitable organisations that gave sewing and mending work to poor women. Philanthropic females ventured out to those in need. They often treated the slum areas as a foreign country, and used the same language employed in connection with missions to darkest Africa. Entering slum areas to inspect the homes and neighbourhoods of the poor provided excitement – even a little danger — to women who had till then been enveloped in a cosy and safe domestic environment. Among them was Ann McCarthur, of 2 Pelham Street, who gave her occupation to the Census enumerator as ‘Missionary for Hastings’. An excellent way of reaching the poorest families was by employing a working-class Bible-woman to visit slum homes. She was more likely be welcomed inside, as a woman of their own class, than someone whose clothing and demeanour clearly showed her superior status. The 1871 Census lists Elizabeth Mackie, of 15 Stone Street, as a ‘biblewoman’. It should be mentioned that a considerable number of women gave money to charitable ventures without taking part in the work. It was customary for women to donate to those causes related to less fortunate women and children, and to missions and campaigns promoting temperance and health. Rich women’s mission to the poor was an extension of the female role of service and self-sacrifice but, by the late-Victorian era, female philanthropists began to realise that they had little power to change society because women were excluded from government and all higher positions of authority and decision. Many of the ‘shakers and movers’ of the women’s rights movement had a background of charity work.


Among the reasons for denying women the parliamentary vote was that they took no interest in politics; another was that political campaigns were too rough for women, because they were all delicate and sensitive. In reality, in Hastings as everywhere women attended the hustings and some took as much or more interest as men, both by way of partisanship and by rowdiness. At the riotous 1852 election fishwives jostled and punched the candidates as they visited the Old Town. Jane Smith, a baker of 56 High Street, was accused of supplying flour for hooligans to hurl at candidates — a slander she strongly denied in a letter to the local paper. She had innocently sold bread to a woman, unaware of its intended use as a missile to be directed at candidates. Although women were excluded from local government, in 1861 a group of ladies sent a memorial (petition) to the Borough Council protesting against a proposed commercial harbour. The main part read: The opinions, feelings and wishes of the Ladies of Hastings and St Leonards on this question having been unrepresented, the Persons whose names and residences are appended being owners of property or the wives of owners of Property, residents and unmarried Ladies residing with their families, visitors, Lodging house keepers, wives of Tradesmen and Householders interested in the trade and prosperity of the place, wish to record their formal protest against the adoption of the proposed scheme. The Memorialists … feel imperatively called upon the express their conviction that a Port and Packet Station are not only unnecessary and uncalled for but would be highly detrimental to the moral and social condition as well as the material interests of these towns. Their establishment will altogether alter and deteriorate the character of the place, depreciate the Value of first class House property and injure the present trade by keeping away the better class of Residents and Visitors as has been proved in the case of Southampton and Weymouth and other places; and that the Privacy and Liberty so greatly prized by the female portion and which have been hitherto among the chief recommendations of the place, will be entirely destroyed. But the all-important consideration that the Memorialists have most at heart, and without which they would not have ventured to put themselves forward on the present occasions is the well-known fact of the tendency of the Sea Port and Packet Stations to demoralize the neighbouring Population in various ways and by the increase of Sunday trains, Sunday work and Sunday trading to aggravate and extend the desecration of the Sabbath. In certain localities Sea Ports and Packet Stations with their objectionable but unavoidable accompaniments are a necessary evil which must be borne with and counterracted as best it may, but to introduce the evil gratuitously and without necessity instead of being thankful for the exemption, is to cast away a precious privilege and to deal a heavy blow to the religious, moral and social interests of these towns. The first signatories were the Countess of Waldegrave and her step daughter Elizabeth, and the vast majority of the rest gave addresses in Grand Parade, Eversfield Place and Warrior Square. The harbour was never built.


When mid-19th century women engaged with the law it was only ever as plaintiffs or defendants: no woman played any official role in the judicial system. They were treated differently under civil and criminal law. If a woman was found guilty of criminal activity she was processed, fined or imprisoned regardless of her marital status. Under civil law however, only widows or spinsters were sued and could be sued in the county courts. Most civil cases were of a financial nature, mostly unpaid bills for the supply of various goods and services. The laws relating to coverture meant that a wife could not sue or be sued. A husband was liable for his wife’s debts and contracts and a business owned by a married woman belonged in law to her husband. It led to some ludicrous situations. In Hastings in 1864, Mr Brockwell was fined £1 plus 13s costs because his wife had failed to register her business. . In 1870, Mrs Croft, landlady of the Bohemia Arms, Hastings, wished to sue Henry Towner for slander. He had boasted loudly in the Plasterer’s Arms that he had slept with her. But only Mr. Croft could sue — which he did, winning £25 damages. It was customary for households to run up debts with shopkeepers and then pay them upon invoice at the end of a quarter. In this way, a wife could order all the items she needed for the household and the husband settled the account. However, a husband could place an advert in the local press warning traders that he would no longer be responsible for his wife’s debts. In 1866 Jane Eaton, a small shop-keeper at Guestling, attempted to sue Spencer Willard for £4. 9s 8d for groceries and flour supplied to Mrs Willard. The husband challenged the shopkeeper to sue him, for he would not pay. The judge opined that she had been ‘very imprudent’ to supply goods to a wife after her husband had placed a disclaimer in the local press, and found for the defendant. Jane Easton asked who was to pay her, and the judge replied, ‘she could not sue the wife, for she had a husband, nor the husband, because he had forewarned her not to supply his wife.’ A judge could overrule coverture if he felt so inclined and had good cause, even if the husband had not published a disclaimer. Shopkeeper Mrs Jane Foster of 104 All Saints’ Street was sued by her greengrocery supplier in 1864 for a debt of £8. She pleaded coverture; however, after being subjected to a ‘searching cross-examination’ by the plaintiff’s counsel she admitted to having a sexual relationship for eight years with her lodger. The Judge stopped the case because a woman living in adultery could not claim coverture.


Mid-Victorian Hastings women committed a wide range of offences under criminal law including theft, robbery, assault, drunkenness, using obscene language, sleeping out, being an idle person, keeping an illicit still, uttering counterfeit coins, wilful damage, receiving stolen goods, keeping a brothel, arson, infanticide and murder. Some of the charges sound very trumped-up: two sisters in Brighton were summonsed for ‘sitting on a step in a state of destitution’ and were discharged once they promised to leave town. In 1850 women comprised 15% of the inmates of Hastings Gaol. The latter was a five-storey brick building with a small triangular yard in front, surrounded on all sides by streets. Its site, in the Bourne, is now covered by the tarmac of the A259 adjacent to the King’s Head. There were separate day rooms for each sex, seven cells for men with three beds in each, and one cell for women, measuring 14ft x 7ft and containing three beds. The table opposite shows the types of crime and the punishments meted out. Of the eighteen female inmates, half could neither read nor write. The list includes only local residents and omits the 19 travellers also incarcerated that year. In Hastings a quarter of persons summonsed for being drunk were female but nearly two-thirds of women were discharged compared with just one-third of men. For all other offences, 40% of women were acquitted compared with just 26% of men. This may indicate that the police were overzealously arresting women without good cause, or that Hastings magistrates were more lenient towards the ‘fairer’ sex than towards their own. Petty offences for which women were summonsed included failing to whitewash walls, neglecting to sweep in front of their premises and various offences against liquor licenses. Nursemaids were charged with breaching Hastings’ bylaws by ‘driving’ perambulators on the pavement. The shilling fine was customarily paid by the employer. Another common offence was shopkeepers having light weights. Few women committed bigamy; one was Ann Green, 36, who married Henry Loft at St Mary Magdalen Church, St Leonards, in 1858 although her first husband, whom she had married in 1850, was still alive. She received six months’ imprisonment. In the 1860s about one in five persons arrested was female but this rose to one in four of those charged with assault. These assaults were against men as well as against other women and were most frequently the result of neighbourhood squabbles or drunkenness, though occasionally one occurred in which the parties were involved sexually or matrimonially. Most of these cases were dismissed by the magistrates, who seem to have found them sometimes amusing but, more often, simply tiresome.


At all levels of the liquor trade, women were summonsed to court for infringements of their licenses. In the majority of cases, simply for being open out of hours. Even respectable hotelier Eliza Green of Green’s Family Hotel, opposite Hastings station, was fined a shilling in 1860 for selling alcohol at 11:30am on a Sunday. Plain-clothes policemen would sometimes keep watch on premises. One Sunday morning in 1874, three officers were watching Philly Jenkins’ Tiger Inn in Hastings. Two visited her briefly and, when they left, a plain-clothes man on watch saw a woman enter at 10:55am. He followed her and saw a quart of beer in an earthenware jug, and 6d on the counter. Jenkins was summonsed for selling beer 5 minutes early. The women concocted the following unconvincing tale: Mary Ann Snashall, who had worked casually for Jenkins for 14 years, was helping to change the beer barrels. The ale in the jug was dregs from the dwindling barrel. The 6d on the counter had been left by a boy to whom she had earlier given change. The magistrate didn’t believe them: Jenkins was fined £1 and Snashall, 10s. Licensees were more frequently fined for being open late. Elizabeth Cull, of the Old House at Home Beer-house, 44 All Saints’ Street, was given a token fine in 1872 for being open after 11pm, but when she was unable to produce her license she was fined a hefty £10. An offence that could lose a landlady her license was ‘suffering divers persons of notoriously bad character to assemble’. Such a charge was brought against widow Harriet Perigoe, 51 year-old licensee of the White Lion, Hastings, in 1872. A policeman spotted two prostitutes – Miss Carey and Miss Thompsett — entering private rooms with men. When magistrates heard that the house was ‘notorious’ and of a ‘most disorderly character’, and that this summons was not the first, Perigoe was fined £2. 10s, plus 15s costs, which she paid at once. Mary Ann Ray, who was granted the license of the Hastings Arms on her husband’s death in 1870, was summonsed on a similar charge. The pub had been well-conducted under Mr. Ray but the police had to warn Mary about the type of clientele beginning to congregate there. Soon, the place was full of prostitutes and one had robbed a man. Mary explained that such characters entered the pub while she was out, or by the back door while the pub was busy, and she could not see them from behind the bar. The police considered her ‘unable to conduct a house of this description’ and the magistrate fined her £1. Within a year she had ceased to run the pub.


For simple larceny (stealing) the sexes were convicted in roughly equal numbers. Servants had endless opportunities to steal from employers, customers from shops, lodgers from landladies and laundresses from clients. Hardly and issue of any Sussex newspaper throughout the period fails to carry a report of a woman stealing something from a shop, employer, or landlady. Many women would pawn stolen goods, making detection remarkably easy since the pawnbroker could identify the thief. Common items stolen included stockings, shifts, petticoats, material, towels, pieces of meat, turnips and coal. These crimes are strongly associated with poverty rather than greed. Robberies from employers or clients were very common. In 1840 Elizabeth Cramp of Hastings was deserted by her husband and having children to support, and being considered trustworthy and honest by some ladies of her acquaintance, she was encouraged and assisted by them to gain a livelihood by opening a laundry business. Thanks to her benevolent friends, she secured the contracts to wash the linen of many notables of the town including its most eminent surgeon, Mr. Ticehurst, and its MP, Mr. North. She repaid this trust by stealing a large quantity of linen, shirts, stockings and handkerchiefs. Burglary by women was fairly common. Some women worked alone, others in pairs, and sometimes even in gangs. In 1837 Harriett Lepper aged 19, Rachael Breeds, 14 joined with youths of 16 and 17 to burgle a house in Westfield, and two women were members of gang of five who carried out a most audacious robbery at Halton, Hastings, in 1840. Ann Cogger worked at St Leonards and her house was left unoccupied all day. One morning Jane Crowhurst called at Miss Cogger’s local baker, saying she was her sister come to stay, and asking where she was. The assistant offered the information that Miss Cogger worked at St Leonards and wouldn’t be home until 6pm. Crowhurst returned with four friends and a horse-drawn waggon, into which they proceeded to load every item of Miss Cogger’s furniture and clothing — even her coals! At 5pm they left on the road towards Rye. Miss Cogger was arrested a week later for being drunk in the street, but was let off. Traders and others in business 150 years ago were much more trusting – or gullible – than they are today. There were quite a number of women charged with uttering (i.e. trying to pass) counterfeit coins and notes. Shopkeepers routinely allowed goods to be taken by servants on behalf of their employers. These items were ‘on approval’ and were later added the items to the householder’s account. It was a simple and commonplace fraud for a working-class woman to take goods in this way, pretending to be the servant of ‘lady so-and-so’. Punishments were extraordinarily severe by today’s standards but were much lighter than those meted out in the 18th century when, for example, for stealing handkerchiefs worth 10d Ann Colbran was ordered to be ‘stript from the Waist upwards’ and ‘whipt till her back be bloody’ at the public whipping post in the Bourne. Fifty years later, transportation to the colonies for five or seven years was a common punishment for thieves. Until its abolition in 1867 a number of Sussex women were so sentenced. Convicts were normally sent on their way with a set of new clothes. For example, in 1827 the ratepayers of Hastings paid £2.12s 6d to buy the following items for a thief called Eliza Dean, who was transported for seven years. It comprised:

1 new cotton jacket or gown
1 new cotton petticoat
2 new flannel petticoats
3 new shifts
2 new neckerchiefs coloured
2 pairs of shoes
3 pairs stockings of which 2 worsted

Some convict ships (‘hulks’) were used as prisons and did not, in fact, leave for the colonies. Conditions on board were harsh, primitive and rat-infested. Boys up to six and girls up to ten were allowed to accompany transported mothers but no woman could be transported if she had a child at her breast.

From the early 1860s, long custodial sentences began to replace transportation. A typical sentence was the eight months’ hard labour dealt out to a woman who tried to pawn two stolen tablecloths and a pair of drawers, and the six weeks hard labour with ten days in solitary confinement meted out to a 56-year-old for stealing a shift worth a shilling.


Physical and verbal aggression was common in working-class neighbourhoods and was often a public affair. In backyards, streets, courts, beershops and kitchens, women assaulted – and were assaulted by – their family, their children, their neighbours and their husbands. There was a fair amount of face slapping, plenty of black eyes and throwing pails of water over people. Many cases heard by magistrates were simply thrown out as there was often fault or provocation on both sides. A number of Sussex women appeared in court charged with assaulting their husbands. One of them, Frances Gearing of Hastings, was habitually beaten by her husband James, a fish-dealer, but when she hit back she was summonsed for assault. James called her ‘a disgrace to her sex’ because she failed to look after their five children, preferring to stay out to all hours in the company of men and prostitutes. One night she became drunk and used ‘expressions such as are not fit for any woman to utter’, threw a piece of broken plate and a tea-tin at him and threatened to burn down the rope-shop in which he sought refuge, and to kill him. She received a month’s imprisonment.


While many of the activities of prostitutes led them habitually into conflict with the law, for reasons unknown, the charge of soliciting for prostitution was rare. The remainder of offences related to activities on the periphery of prostitution. About half were drink-related; sleeping out, brawling and robbery made up the rest. They would have a few gins or beers (drunk and disorderly); accost men in the street (obstruction); tell them in graphic terms what was on offer (using obscene language); sometimes collapse in the street (drunk and incapable). And if they failed to earn enough to pay for a bed for the night, they sought refuge in a shed or boat (sleeping out). Although in the mid-19th century Brighton was the undoubted prostitution capital of Sussex, Hastings came second: in 1872, about one sixth of all women arrested were known prostitutes. Many were brazen ladies who defended themselves, their associates and their ‘patch’ passionately and, occasionally, with violence. Some women viewed it simply as a trade. Jane Manser, of 59 All Saints’ Street when charged with being drunk and using obscene language in Robertson Street, said that she wished ‘to get an honest living as far as her calling would allow.’ If prostitution was a trade then Harriet Clapson acted as a shop steward. One night Clapson saw Ellen Stanley — ‘a showily-dressed woman’ — on her ‘patch’, the Anchor Inn, George Street. She marched up to her and accused her of being a rival from London, intent on stealing trade from the locals, and announced ‘in language unfit for ears polite’ that she did not intend to tolerate her and others plying their vocation in Hastings. Harriet ‘proclaimed herself, with a considerable amount of pride, to have been a prostitute in Hastings for ten years and invited Ellen to step outside for a fight, following this up with a violent blow with her fist to Ellen’s head’. The latter sued and Harriet was fined 10s.

Violent fights between streetwalkers were common. Mrs Ann Colvin, a 45-year-old Madam with seven children, kept a shop in Albion Street Halton, above which she ran a brothel. In 1866 she sued (in her husband’s name, because of coverture) Caroline Cornelius, a prostitute living with her, for £1. 3s rent and money lent. Caroline told the County Court ‘in a bold manner and in loud tones’ that Mrs Colvin took ‘three parts of what she got whilst she was there’ – meaning, presumably, that Colvin took three quarters of her immoral earnings. She also openly admitted in court: ‘I get my living by walking the streets’. Indeed, she had been prosecuted in 1861 for robbing a punter during a street ‘transaction’. The Judge found in favour of Colvin and, when Cornelius refused to pay, he said that she would make ‘a valuable adjunct’ to Lewes prison. The following year, Colvin assaulted an ‘unfortunate’ attached to another establishment: Mrs Colvin went to complainant’s house, and after passing the compliments usual on such occasions, challenged Miss Atkins out to fight. The invitation being declined, Mrs Colvin pushed complainant and her friend across the room, and ‘knocked our heads together’, tore complainant’s dress, and finished her off by administering a bucket of water shower-bath fashion. One of the witnesses, Ann Chapman, ‘boldly stated herself to be a prostitute’. Colvin was fined £1 plus costs.

There were also a number of attacks upon prostitutes by their customer’ wives. Magistrates, ideologically supporting the family, usually took the wives’ side. At the Queen’s Head Inn, Fishmarket, in 1864 prostitute Ann Taster was viciously attacked by Ann Casey, sustaining two black eyes and a swollen face. When magistrates heard that the victim had spent the afternoon consorting with the defendant’s husband, he fined the latter just 5s, because she had suffered such ‘great provocation’. While no evidence emerged of any prosecutions for brothel keeping in Hastings, the law enforcement agencies knew that they existed. In 1833, the Poor Law Commissioners for Sussex described beer-shops as ‘receiving houses for stolen goods, and frequently brothels’. In 1856 Sarah Huggett’s beer-shop, The Mackerel, Hastings, was described by Inspector Battersby as ‘a brothel of the worst description’. Sarah collaborated with Elizabeth Midgley, — ‘a prostitute of the worst class’, — to rob working men in seek of lodgings. They would get a man drunk, undress him and put him into bed with Midgley. During these proceedings anything of value was found and filched. They were caught when a soldier complained of being divested of £3. 5s and a silver watch. In court, Midgley admitted taking the money and she received four months hard labour at Lewes, while Huggett received only a caution about the bad conduct of The Mackerel. In 1861 police Superintendent Glenister called the attention of magistrates to what he called ‘a notorious house of ill-fame’ in one of the back-alleys of the Bourne. He described frequent disturbances of the peace and felt sure that the owner of the house, Mr. Cox of Halton, knew the character of his tenants. Glenister said that, as at least five prostitutes lived there, it was ‘to all intents and purposes a brothel’. Cox told a sergeant that letting the house in this way gained him the most profit, and he intended to continue with it. Glenister said he would appeal to the parish officers of St Clement to do something, and he felt sure that one of the Acts of Parliament would apply to the situation.

Magistrates, too, tried to clean up the town. In Hastings in 1861 the bench decided to make an example of Caroline Hennesey, ‘a girl of loose character and dashing appearance’ by jailing her for seven days with hard labour for the minor offence of being drunk and using obscene language in Hastings. He stated that there had lately been ‘many complaints respecting the disorderly conduct of persons of her class’ and declared, ambiguously, that magistrates ‘were determined to put a stop to the evil’. Whether he meant the evil of drunk and disorderly conduct, or of prostitution, is unclear.

Although operating on the wrong side of the law, prostitutes nevertheless sought its protection. One who was smacked in the face and verbally abused by a man she solicited in Robertson Street, Hastings, went straight to the police. The man, having previous convictions, was sentenced to two months hard labour.

Theft and prostitution went together perfectly. Men, stupefied with alcohol and distracted by lust, were often mugged. Among the many culprits were Ann Watson, who stole £5 from a sailor with whom she was doing ‘business’ and Ann Chainey, who robbed a punter of 5s. Both served six months with hard labour. More seriously, Julia Davis teamed up with her live-in lover — a seaman — to assault and rob a tipsy young carpenter of £7.10s in John Street, for which they each received a year’s penal servitude. One night in 1867, Harry Cotton, a Hastings printer, collected a parcel of meat and suet he had earlier left with a pub landlady for safe keeping, and began to make his way home at about midnight. In George Street he met prostitute Mary Roberts and, after treating her to some gin and ale, she took him to her upstairs front room at Henry Terrace, All Saints’ Street. At about 2am Harry got up to leave, and found his parcel missing. Mary tried to persuade him that he’d left it in the pub, but he fetched a policemen and together they found it in an adjoining room. Mary claimed that he had given it to her, for them to share the next day; however, magistrates did not believe her and she was sentenced to six weeks’ hard labour. Three years later Mary was again prosecuted, this time for being drunk and obstructing the pavement.


Although attempting suicide was a crime, it was resorted to by the desperate. In 1872 prostitute Mary Elliott was sent to prison for seven days after being dragged out of the sea at the west end of George Street. Some suicides were very young. In Hastings, Charlotte Nickerson tried to kill herself in 1860 after being seduced, made pregnant and abandoned by James Douglas. She was just 15. While suicide was much more prevalent among men, women greatly outnumbered them as killers. In the mid-19th century a number of Sussex women killed their husbands and a very large but unknown number killed their children. Mary Ann Geering, née Plumb, was born at Westfield around 1800, the daughter of her agricultural labourers. She went into domestic service at Coghurst Farm and became pregnant by a farmhand while still a teenager. After a forced marriage at Westfield Church, the couple set up home at Harmer’s Cottages, Guestling. They had eight children during their 30-year marriage. Both were volatile people and they were always arguing. Mary found it difficult to submit to a husband’s authority and once asserted ‘no man will rule me!’ After many years of poverty, frustration, violence and unhappiness Mary subjected her husband Richard to repeated arsenical poisoning until she had killed him. Thought to be a victim of heart disease, he was buried without a post-mortem. Mary applied for the appropriate sickness and death benefits from the Guestling Friendly Society, and proceeded to carry out the same procedure on her 21-year-old son, then on his 26-year-old brother. After their deaths, she turned her attention to her 18-year-old son. Soon, surgeon Frederic Ticehurst became suspicious and had the boy removed from his mother’s care, whereupon he recovered. The police and coroner were notified, the three bodies were exhumed, and Mary was arrested. A ‘quiet looking country woman’, she claimed to be ‘as innocent as my Almighty Creator’ when indicted on three counts of murder and one of attempted murder. She was, however, found guilty and she confessed her crimes before being executed at Lewes in 1849 before a crowd of 4,000 people. Geering was the penultimate Sussex woman to be hanged. In 1853 Sarah Smith (née Taught) stabbed her husband with a broken cheese knife during a drunken quarrel in their squalid room in Harold Mews behind the Horse and Groom in St Leonards. She was sentenced to 10 years’ transportation; however, due to her ill-health the Secretary of State allowed her to stay at Lewes Gaol infirmary until she was well enough to make the journey. She died there in 1854. While most serious assaults by women were upon the men with whom they lived, there was an occasional example of violence towards other women, usually relations, neighbours, and between prostitutes. The most common serious crime of women was the murder of unwanted babies. Infanticide was capital crime until 1938; nevertheless, parish registers all over England have, for many centuries, recorded many baptisms of illegitimate children followed shortly afterwards by burials. The authorities turned a blind eye. Deaths of illegitimate infants under 12 months of age were disproportionately — and suspiciously — high, and were not investigated too vigorously by the coroner. A bastard was likely to become dependent upon the parish and the death of one was regarded by some as a lucky escape for rate-payers. In 1864, the illegitimate infant of a servant, born on the floor at her shabby lodgings above Frances Hope’s beer-shop in Hastings, died of head injuries. The coroner and the jury accepted the claim that the child had ‘fallen on its head during delivery’ and a verdict of accidental death was returned. In 1870 the Hastings coroner merely issued a caution to a Mrs Birt and her young daughter, even though it was obvious that they had suffocated the girl’s unwanted child at birth. Having an illegitimate child so devastated the lives of unmarried women that many thousands committed horrific acts out of sheer desperation. Some of them tried to bring about abortion by the administration of various substances, and some women died from this. Some gave their babies to a baby farmer, who killed it for them at a fee of about ten pounds, customarily paid by the father of the unwanted infant. Some women, often domestic servants, would hide the pregnancy and the birth, and then abandon, expose or kill with their own hands the newborn child. The sufferings of these women, many of whom were just teenagers, can scarcely be imagined. Filled with shame, anguish and anxiety, and in an era in which women were kept in complete ignorance of the functions of their bodies, they gave birth, alone and terrified, in their employers’ kitchens, basements, attics, lavatories and outside privies, unattended by doctor or midwife, trying not to make a sound despite the pain, having to deal with and hide the mess, to detach the placenta, and then to do ‘something’ with the unwanted infant. The press proliferated with sickening stories of dead babies being found in woods, ponds on the beach and in privies all over Hastings throughout the mid-Victorian era —a practice known as ‘child-dropping’. Sometimes, bodies were hidden within a house, for example under floor boards. A survey of the Hastings & St Leonards newspapers between 1850 and 1870 found that an average of two infants a year were found ‘dropped’ — a shocking statistic for such small towns. There were surely many more that remained undiscovered. The reports were relentless: in 1858 one was found in a well in St Leonards; in 1859 two were left on the beach within a few weeks of each other, a third was discovered in Eft Pond on the West Hill; a fourth — a well-dressed and well-nourished three-month-old boy — was found 40ft down a well at the rear of 7 Cross Street. At this point the coroner announced with considerable concern that this was the sixth such case in just 18 months — then another was washed up on the beach opposite Pelham Place. Yet another was discovered in a basket in a hedge in Deudney’s field and, as it was clearly murder, a £50 reward was offered — with no result. During the winter of 1860, one was found frozen on the path from Tackleway to the East Hill. In 1863 one newborn was found hidden behind a toilet seat in Hastings station while another was found drowned in a stream at the bottom of Newgate Wood, sewn neatly and tightly into a dress-lining. A third was found by a gate leading to the rear of 11 Magdalen Road. The marks on its neck and ‘other indications of unnatural treatment’ led the coroner’s jury to return a verdict of ‘wilful murder’ but in most cases the child was said to have been ‘found dead’ even when it was likely that it did not die from natural causes. At an 1864 inquest into the death of an infant found by a beach scavenger in a WC near the Fishermen’s Church, the surgeon could not say whether or not the child had breathed. The coroner advised the jury that if they decided the child was still-born the case could be closed. The jury swiftly obliged with the desired verdict. In 1866 one baby girl was found strangled on the Castle rocks while another was found in a hedge in Stonefield Road wrapped in a copy of the Daily Telegraph. Unmarried housemaid Hannah Moore became pregnant in February 1851 while in the service of the Duchess of St Albans at 5 Grand Parade. Subsequently she was housemaid to the Reverend Abercrombie Gordon, of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, West Hill Road. Hannah lived in the minister’s house, which adjoined the west end of the church, on 15th November and, on 28th, a coroner’s jury of 18 men viewed its tiny, lifeless body at Mercatoria Police Station. Later, at the South Saxon Hotel, 13 Grand Parade (now the Lotus Chinese Restaurant), the jury heard from 16-year-old Catherine Pulford, of 6 North Street. She lived with her grandparents, who let apartments in the house. One dark evening Catherine, taking a candle for safety as the yard was full of rats, visited the outside privy. The yard gate opened into Victoria Passage, which led to Shepherd Street. There were two tiny houses, called Levett’s Cottages, in the back yard of the house and all three dwellings shared the privy. It was full of soil but Catherine saw what looked like a bundle of clothing stuffed inside it and called her grandparents. After trying to lift the bundle with laundry-tongs, her grandfather called extra-constable Barnes, of 9 Lavatoria, who tucked up his shirt sleeves and pulled out the body of a baby, sewn in a cloth, wrapped in a lilac apron, with a glass cloth twisted tightly round its neck. From information received, the police began enquiries which led them to the Presbytery and to Hannah Moore, who denied any knowledge of the child. A placenta was later found in the water-closet. As news of the discovery emerged a local doctor, Roger Gardiner of 51 Marina, recalled a consultation with Hannah Moore in May when she was three months pregnant and had wanted to terminate the pregnancy. He said, ‘She asked me to give her some stronger medicine. I refused this.’ Jane Lamb of 2 Levett’s Cottages, the chapel cleaner and pew-opener, saw Hannah in bed on 15th with blood on the floor. Anne Ashdown of 3 Levett’s Cottages, told how she had met a woman of Hannah’s description in Victoria Passage on the 19th, wearing a red plaid cloak and appearing very stout. Hannah asked to use a privy and Anna had shown her to the one belonging to 6 North Street. After denying everything Hannah submitted to a doctor’s examination in the presence of the cook. She eventually admitted everything. Labour had begun at 3am, and she had worked until 1pm, then gave birth in her room at 1.30, cut the placenta with scissors, bound a cloth around the child’s mouth, strangled it with thread and a glass cloth, wrapped it in her apron and hid it in a box under the bed. She placed the placenta in the water-closet and returned to her duties. No-one noticed any change in Hannah’s behaviour or demeanour. Over the weekend the cook, Sarah Dowker, even shared Hannah’s bedroom but suspected nothing. Four days later Hannah took the infant’s body to Victoria Passage and hid it inside the Pulford’s privy. The jury only consulted for five minutes before returning a verdict of ‘wilful murder’. While awaiting trial at Lewes Assizes Hannah told her nurse — Mary Ann Miller of 8 Shepherd Street — that she had not intended to kill the baby ‘but by some irresistible impulse she couldn’t help it’. Hannah was so ill that she was held in the gaol infirmary until March 1852. At the trial she pleaded not guilty. Her age, given as 30 in the April 1851 Census, and 28 in the November 1851 newspaper, dropped to 24 at the start of the trial and to 23 by the end of it. Presumably her counsel believed youth to be an advantage. The jury found her guilty of murder but the judge ordered them to reconsider. The men debated for a further 50 minutes before returning a verdict of ‘guilty of concealment of birth’ but ‘not guilty of wilful murder’ since they were ‘not certain of the prisoner being in complete possession of her faculties at the time.’ She was sentenced to two years’ hard labour. This sentence was incredibly lenient. In a similar case in Surrey in 1859 a 19-year-old who was made pregnant through rape was sentenced to death. Many other domestic servants were known to have killed their illegitimate babies. Looking just at the newspapers from 1852 to 1865 there were at least eight cases in the Hastings area. Sarah Judge, 17, servant to the tenant of the White Rock Brewery, killed her baby in 1852 by cutting its throat with scissors. Emma Sutton, a 15-year-old fisherman’s daughter, was kitchen maid at an eating house at 8 Robertson Street. In 1858 she gave birth alone in the water closet while dining with the rest of the staff. She admitted to strangling the child with a piece of string she was using as a garter. Elizabeth Ball, 47-year-old housekeeper at 3 East Ascent, gave birth to a child on the floor of the kitchen in the basement, probably killed it, then died of haemorrhage while trying to remove what she thought was the placenta but which was, in fact, the child’s twin. In 1860 Caroline Martin did ‘feloniously kill and slay her infant female bastard child’ at 4 Carlisle Parade. After secretly giving birth in her employer’s house she pushed part of a steel crinoline hoop into the baby’s throat then placed the child in her wooden servant’s box at the foot of her bed. Another servant heard gurgling and although found alive the child later died. Caroline was found guilty of wilful murder and sent to prison for four years. While juries did not condone infanticide, many sympathised with the women’s desperation and were reluctant to return verdicts of murder, because of the extreme sentences judges would be compelled to give. In 1860 Mary Ann Looker, cook at 79 Marina, St Leonards, gave birth in secret. She wrapped the baby in muslin, placed it in a small wicker basket and put that into her carpet-bag in the servant’s hall. It lay undiscovered for a fortnight. Journalist Thomas Brett had the misfortune to be foreman of the jury that viewed the corpse, which was in ‘a most unpleasant state’. But Looker was found guilty only of concealment of birth, because the coroner accepted her claim that the baby was still-born. She died while awaiting trial. In 1858 members of the public submitted a petition pleading for a lenient sentence for Emma Sutton on the grounds of her extreme youth, her lack of a mother and because she had been too overcome to offer any defence. The jury showed leniency: she was found not guilty of murder and only guilty of concealment of birth. At Lewes Assizes she received 6 months’ hard labour. In 1861 servant Eliza Thomas of 6 Castledown Avenue, Hastings, killed her baby and hid it in her servants’ box, nailing down the lid. She then left her employer and returned to her family home. By the time the body was found it was impossible for the coroner’s jury to return any verdict other than ‘found dead.’ Eliza escaped with just one month in prison for concealment of birth. The following year a laundress at Cliff Cottage, West Hill Road, St Leonards, exposed her baby and let it die but, again, the coroner had insufficient evidence to prove it was born alive and no charges were brought. In 1865 servant Ellen Cornford, of 58 George Street, Hastings, killed her newborn child, wrapped it in the sleeve of a black alpaca dress and dumped it in West Street. The surgeon deposed that the child had breathed, and an alpaca dress with a sleeve missing was found in Ellen’s possession, but she was charged only with concealment of birth and unlawfully disposing of an illegitimate child, and was sentenced to just one week in prison. The discovery of dead infants was so common all over Britain that an Act was passed in 1867 ordering that they must be conveyed to the nearest public house and the Secretary of State offered a £50 reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible. If she was found out, the woman would be delivered into the hands of men as jurors, magistrates, surgeons, counsel and judges, who asked no questions about the father of the child. This state of affairs incensed an anonymous correspondent to a local paper to put forth a point of view rarely heard – that of sympathy for the women and undisguised rage at the men who made them pregnant. The letter also harshly criticised the double standard that welcomed male fornicators into respectable society while ostracising and condemning women for acting in exactly the same way. The usual punishment for infanticide was four years’ imprisonment. Many felt this was not enough. In 1860 Hastings Police Superintendent Glenister opined: If this most serious crime were more severely punished it would be of less frequent occurrence and I do not think that the sympathy of some (perhaps well-meaning) persons towards offenders of this class has a good effect upon those who are likely to commit such a crime. His advice was not heeded; on the contrary, punishments seem to have become lighter, judging by two cases from 1874. In the first Jane Furner, a 19-year-old cook at 14 Markwick Terrace, Hastings, killed her newborn boy and locked his body in her servant’s box in her attic bedroom. Local magistrates, having heard the surgeon’s evidence that ‘he had not the slightest doubt’ that the child was born alive and had been strangled, found her guilty of wilful murder. The second case was almost identical: Keturah Holter, aged 35, a domestic servant at 2 Warrior Square, St Leonards, admitted strangling her newborn child with an apron string and hiding the body in a drawer. She too was found guilty of murder. Both women were sent for trial at Lewes Assizes where, amazingly, both were cleared of the murders they had admitted and were instead found guilty of the lesser offence of concealment of birth, for which they each served sentences of a few months. After serving a sentence, such women were left with a ruined reputation, which severely limited employment prospects. This drove many into a life of crime and, frequently, prostitution.


Of crimes that came to court, the commonest committed against well-off women seems to have been theft, either by burglary or, more often, by their domestic servants. The most common against poor women was, undoubtedly, assault by their husbands. Violence was common in Victorian marriages, particularly among the working classes, where drunkenness played its part and social niceties were lacking. Within some working-class communities it was to a degree tolerated. Violence in higher-class marriages was probably less common, and any incidents were, in any case, kept hidden, because publicising such behaviour would have been regarded as bringing a family into disrepute. Wife-assault was a frequent feature of the magistrates’ court reports in the local papers all over Sussex. In just one issue of the Hastings & St Leonards Chronicle (2 October 1858) there are three such stories. In one, Mr Sinden had been unemployed for two years during which time Mrs Sinden had, ‘by her own industry, supported him, herself and their three children and, in return, had received the greatest abuse and ill-treatment from his hands’. It was his custom to spend all the family money upon drink, and then to go home and abuse her. During the incident that led to the court appearance, he had ‘taken her by the hair and continued to beat her until some neighbours rendered her assistance’. He even threatened his wife in court when given six months’ imprisonment. In the case of the Maplestons the husband, in ‘mad fits of intoxication’, would ‘hurl at her head anything he could get hold of’. He was bound over in sureties to keep the peace. In the third case a man called Selves struck his girlfriend Emily Baker so hard across the head that she was left insensible and ‘suffering from hysterical convulsions’. The Mayor declared that this was ‘a most unjustifiable and cruel assault upon a weak young woman … we feel it our duty to protect females’. Fining Selves 20s he remarked that this was ‘lenient’. The domestic violence seen by the courts was the tip of the iceberg. Physical attacks on wives by husbands were not treated as straightforward criminal assaults. Complex emotional, social and financial reasons muddied the waters. For financial reasons, poor wives did not want their husbands sent to prison, as they needed his wages to keep the family. And they certainly did not want them fined, for the burden would fall upon the wife to find the money out of her housekeeping, which was often already stretched to the limit. Wives therefore had little remedy. It seems that most cases were brought in order to publicly shame the man into abstaining from excessive marital violence, and magistrates would simply bind the man in sureties of about £20 for six months. If he re-offended in that period he could be sent to gaol. One cause of marital strife was the use of prostitutes. Many wives became jealous and angry about the time and money husbands spent on ‘street-girls’ while neglecting their families. In 1859 George Money, a travelling harp-player living at the Derby Arms, Union St, was arrested for assaulting his wife Elizabeth. George had brought a prostitute home and ordered his wife to pretend he was a single man. When she refused he struck her in the face leaving her with a black eye and covered in blood from her nose and mouth. Walking out, he left his wife without money or food. The couple lived in abject poverty but, when arrested, George was treating two prostitutes to a meal out. The two girls waited outside during George’s court hearing but he received two months’ hard labour. The Mayor, calling the assault ‘disgraceful and unprovoked’, took pity on Elizabeth and gave her 2/6d out of the Poor Box, remarking that she was ‘a deserving object’. Maria Taught refused to cohabit with her fisherman husband because he used prostitutes. She slept with the children. One night he rolled in at midnight, drunk, and ordered her to go to bed with him. When she declined he threw her bedclothes on the floor and threatened to throw her and the children out of doors ‘as he had before’. Seizing Maria by the hair he dragged her out of bed, smashing her head against a wooden box, and dragged her round the room by the arm and hair, striking her several times while she screamed and struggled. He smothered her screams with a pillow, tore off her night-dress, spat in her face and raped her. She sued for assault. The magistrate was shown a night-dress torn to shreds, and a great clump of hair that Taught had wrenched from his wife’s head. He expressed disbelief that three hours of screaming brought no assistance but a neighbour gave evidence that he had heard ‘scuffling’ for a considerable time. Taught claimed that Maria had ‘drunken and idle habits’. The magistrate remarked that there were ‘faults on both sides’ and fined Taught just 5 shillings plus costs. The laws relating to coverture meant that if a crime was committed against a married woman only her husband could prosecute. Hastings lodging house keeper Esther Nash had some hair combs and stockings stolen by her young servant in 1851, but her husband was named in court as the victim even though only Mrs Nash and the accused woman attended the hearing . No matter how serious the crime, a married woman could not sue. In 1849 railwayman John Storey of Pevensey raped ‘the wife of Mr. Frederick Whyborn’ in a railway carriage. According to the law it was Mr. Whyborn’s ‘property’ that had sustained the damage and the decision to prosecute was his alone. Storey was fined £1 with 17s 6d costs. Some of the mid-century punishments and fines seem bizarre today. In 1855 a Hastings man seen by two witnesses to indecently assault a four-year-old girl was fined 20 shillings or one month hard labour in default. In comparison, in 1852 Sarah Ann Burden, aged 18, served six weeks hard labour — the final week in solitary confinement — for stealing two pairs of boots. In 1851 Martha Veness was fined 10s for shouting at her husband that he was a ‘whoremonger and a villain’ while Joseph Lee paid an identical fine for viciously beating up his ex-girlfriend. The magistrates had to hear a considerable number of sexual crimes. Details of such crimes were usually kept hidden from women: they, along with children, were told to leave the court before the evidence became graphic. The local press substituted two overworked sentences – ‘the details are unfit for publication’, and ‘the evidence was too revolting to publish’. This makes it very difficult sometimes to elicit what the cases were actually about: ‘assault’ has such a wide range of meanings. Sex cases often resulted in light sentences or acquittals, provoking the editor of the Hastings & St Leonards News to declare: Magistrates and juries have a wonderful sympathy with many male …offenders and pass some strange sentences at times … when the evidence is strong enough to prove a criminal charge (of rape for instance) the jury prefer convicting on a lighter charge to avoid apparently the infliction of a heavier penalty. This is a false mercy to society as well as a gross injustice to the woman. The consequence is that beasts in the shape of men take less trouble to control their passions and violent assaults on women in defenceless circumstances are numerous enough to disgrace a country pretending to be civilised and religious. It would be well sometimes for jurymen to remember that they have wives daughters sisters and friends of their own Rape posed a problem for the courts. Not only was there the ever-present problem of the lack of witnesses, but in the mid-Victorian era women were expected to put up what was termed ‘coy resistance’ to sex, both physically and verbally. The ambiguity sometimes made it very difficult to establish whether consent was given or not. The outcome of a case involving anything sexual depended on the perceived moral status of the victim. One St Leonards man was acquitted of rape the instant the court heard that the unmarried victim had not been a virgin at the time of the attack. In another case, a man who was ‘annoying females by approaching them and uttering obscenities’ was fined 15s. The magistrate remarked that ‘it was bad enough to annoy unfortunate girls [i.e., prostitutes] in this manner but respectable women must be protected from such conduct.’ There were many cases of sexual assault upon young girls. The age of consent was 12 during the period covered by this book and was only raised to 13 in 1875. In 1862 the minister of the Croft Chapel, Hastings, was charged with several counts of rape; his victim was his 13-year-old servant. The court was crammed with what the local paper described as the ‘Cream of the East End’— i.e., the working folk of the Old Town. It was a very important case with much local interest but the distressed child had to give evidence without a single member of her sex present, the magistrates having ejected all women. Owing to the lack of witnesses (which, in a rape case, is not surprising) the charge was reduced to ‘aggravated assault’ and eventually the minister was cleared. Women were banned from attending the trial of a servant at the Anchor Inn, Hastings, who was charged in 1858 with repeatedly raping his employers’ nine-year-old daughter over several months. The details of the ‘revolting offence’ were too disgusting for publication. He received six months hard labour. Women were however permitted to hear the trial of William Wood, arrested for molesting three little girls in just one week in 1860. As the girls were too young to identify Wood he was discharged. However, when he left the Court he was followed by ‘a crowd of the élite of the Fishmarket (feminine gender) who give him the credit of having previously occupied himself in an equally disgusting manner’. Wood’s fate at the hands of this mob of furious fishwives was, unfortunately, not recorded. Roger Kennet, a St Leonards butcher, sexually assaulted a seven- year-old and exposed himself to her nine-year-old sister. The girls in this instance, being older, were able to make a positive identification and he received six months hard labour — the maximum sentence. No cases of wife-murder were discovered during the period covered by this book, but Thomas T. B. Brett alluded briefly to the murder of a prostitute about 1834 in the news at the rear of the Albion Hotel in Hastings. This was memorialised in a verse:

In a timber-yard of Ball’s — now Albion Mews
One “Mud-Jack’s” wife some brute did badly use
Whose lifeless form as seen by morning light
Had undergone ill treatment in the night
A fallen creature was that “Mud Jack’s” wife
Yet God alone should take away life.


This short chapter features some interesting, and some eccentric, women of mid-19th-century Hastings.


Sarah, Countess Waldegrave wielded more influence upon mid-century Hastings than any other woman. Although she owned a London residence at 4 Harley Street, she was dedicated to Hastings and lived for 55 years in The Mansion, Old London Road (now Old Hastings House). She was born in 1787, the daughter of the Reverend Whitear, rector of St Clement’s Church, at Hastings Old Town Rectory, 106 High Street. At the age of 30, she was married at All Soul’s Church, Langham Place, London, to Edward Milward Junior, twenty times Mayor of Hastings. Such was their social standing that the Bishop of Chichester conducted the service. On Milward’s death in 1833 she inherited a life interest in his great wealth, which included the West and East hills, Fishponds Farm, which extended beyond Fairlight Glen and the Lovers’ Seat, as well as much property including some at Westfield, Guestling and Pett. Sarah had no children but after 13 years of widowhood she married William, the 8th Earl Waldegrave, who had seven children from a previous marriage. He died in 1859 and Sarah remained a widow for the remainder of her days. The Countess is best remembered for laying the foundation stones of at least ten churches, which she also endowed. The first was at Halton in 1838, for which she donated the church and parsonage, the site, and even the building stone. She founded schools for St Clement’s and All Saints’ parishes and gave both land and funds to build Halton School, and donated £500 for an infants’ school and a house for the mistress. She financed numerous Sunday schools, poor-schools and institutions, and provided wash houses and public baths in Bourne Street for the impoverished inhabitants of the Old Town. She paid for a Fisherman’s Institute in All Saints’ Street and was involved in the Hastings Literary and Scientific Institution. She bought uniforms and a rifle range at Ecclesbourne for the Volunteer Rifle Corps, and built a Mission House in All Saints’ School yard. She helped negotiate for, and donated £100 to secure, a Public Recreation Ground at Priory Meadow. She was a major donor to every appeal for funds for the victims of accidents, and for widows of fishermen lost at sea; indeed, her name is almost always found among the top five contributors. Organisers knew that once her patronage was secured, that of others would follow. Her name also headed a Memorial (i.e. petition) signed only by ladies and submitted to the Commissioners in 1861, opposing the building of an international harbour. Among the signatories’ fears were that an influx of sailors would increase prostitution and that the streets would no longer be safe for ladies. The Countess was a great benefactor, but she enjoyed using her money to manipulate and control people. (She was far from unique in this; recent historians have associated the charitable act with ‘ambition, egotism, a desire for deference, and power-seeking [in] an attempt to create obligations to oneself which will enable one to exercise control over people.’) She compelled people to do things her way by attaching strict conditions to her gifts. When she endowed All Saints’ School on the East Hill with £100 in 1835, it was on condition that there were separate girls’ and boys’ entrances. She allowed public access to Ecclesbourne Glen and the Lovers’ Seat only if no alcoholic beverage was sold there, because ‘numbers of ladies stroll about these heights and frequently without an escort, and it would not do for these gentle creatures to be liable on their return home to the rudeness and swilled insolence of late wassailers on the lonely downs or in the blind mazes of the tangled woods.’ She was conservative to the point of being a killjoy and used her privileged position to halt or prevent many kinds of revelry, including cricket and dancing parties on the East Hill. She once gave orders to close a well-used footpath, though to her annoyance she was forced to reopen it. T. B. Brett wrote:

In Eighteen-Thirty sev’n a path was stopped
Which present writer frequently had hopped,
And which said stoppage he — the right to try —
Did all the printed notices defy.
T’was Mrs Milward’s arbitrary act,
Which soon she found it prudent to retract.
If thou wouldst know where this pathway was found
It led from West-hill mills to Barrack-ground.

The Countess disapproved of anything that strayed from her rigid, ultra-conservative point of view: nonconformists, dissenters, radicals, and reformers all received short shrift. She was against the women’s rights movement and strongly opposed votes for women. However, she was deeply interested in educating native Indian women in domesticity and health, and allowed an Easter ‘tabletop sale’ to take place in her drawing room to raise funds for them. At the consecration of St John’s Church, Hollington, she gave an impromptu speech against the ‘ritualistic’ – that is, Roman Catholic — practices that were taking place at Christ Church, one of the few churches not endowed by her. Whilst visiting a girls’ school in Cumberland in 1867 she lectured them on the evils of ‘loving finery’ and dressing up, warning that their future employers would not like it. The speech was conveyed to Hastings girls by way of the local newspaper. The Countess’ fabulous wealth could have bought vast amounts of finery yet she chose to present ‘a pattern of neatness and simplicity in her attire’. Countess Waldegrave was a woman sometimes disliked and feared, but always respected, by local clergymen, councillors and other officials with whom she dealt. They seem to have cowered in deference during their dealings with her; her title, wealth and their obligation to show immense gratitude on behalf of the poor and the Church of England made it impossible for them to show their true feelings. Nor did her family nurse any great affection for her: the MP’s daughter Catherine North considered it a close escape that the Countess did not give her away at her wedding, having threatened to do so. She still gave the first speech at the wedding breakfast. One gets the impression of an overbearing woman who habitually muscled in where she was not wanted. As a businesswoman, she was shrewd. During the planning of St Andrew’s Square and Queen’s Road in 1862, the Countess donated to the Council a strip of unused land near the gas works, retaining the strips each side of it. In return she exacted from the officials a seemingly strange condition – that they must continue to build Queen’s Road in a straight line. The Council agreed, and gave its heartfelt thanks for her generosity. Once the Council had financed the road construction, using her strip of ground, the Countess sold her plots of land on each side of the newly made-up road for £6,250 — a very tidy sum in those days. Over a 40-year period the Countess assisted in treats and outings for thousands of children at All Saints’ and St Clement’s schools. In 1856, 118 pupils, ‘being anxious to testify their gratitude’, spent many weeks collecting subscriptions amongst themselves to present her with a gift: a cottage tea urn. Four years later, £200 was collected from the townspeople, including pennies from children educated at the various schools she had endowed, to erect a drinking fountain in her honour. It is an eighteen-foot high Gothic confection of Portland stone with a groyned canopy supported by four marble columns. In the middle is Jesus with the Woman of Samaria, with an Evangelist at each of the four corners. Above are richly carved, crocketted finials. This was built in 1861 and erected outside Holy Trinity Church, Hastings; wealthy philanthropist Miss Sayer laid the first stone. At the unveiling ceremony the 74-year-old Countess was invited formally to open the fountain. She read out a prepared speech and took the first drink of water — via a glass — from one of the three jets. Just four years later, the fountain was no longer operative. John Bazalgette called it ‘one of the prettiest drinking fountains in England’ and opined that he knew ‘nothing to compare to it for architectural beauty and good taste’; however, he continued:
Its condition, as I have seen it, is disgraceful. It is dirty, and, unfortunately, in its state of dirt, IT IS DRY... devoid of that source of health it was intended to convey, in order to relieve the poor man from the compulsion to visit the public-house and its consequent drunkenness.

In 1873, the Countess died at The Mansion and was interred at Fairlight, where the Earl had been laid to rest in 1859. St Clement’s Church contains a memorial to them in its east window in the south aisle, and several tablets commemorate the births and deaths of the Milwards and Waldegraves. A booklet has been published about the fountain, but not about the Countess.


The Mackays were typical of the upper-class St Leonards residents of the mid-19th century. Lucy Mackay, a widow, of Bagthorpe Hall, Norfolk, and her three spinster daughters visited St Leonards from around 1832, staying in lodgings at Marina, and at West Hill Road, until they settled permanently in about 1840. The girls — Eliza, Emma and Charlotte — were 40, 45 and 48 in the 1841 Census. Their brother, Captain Henry Fowler Mackay, was the first Chief Constable of the East Sussex Constabulary. His appointment in 1840 probably influenced their decision to settle in Sussex. The Mackays were friends of James Burton, founder of St Leonards. During the town’s infancy they helped set up many of its institutions and societies and contributed to collections for all kinds of enterprises, from new churches to soup kitchens; they also donated £3 towards extending West Hill Road westwards to the railway station. As befitted ladies of their station, the Mackays’ were involved in charity work. In the 1840s they contributed generously to St Leonards’ schools, the Infirmary and the Mendicity Society, and helped set up and run several charitable organisations, including clothing and coal clubs, which Eliza ran for almost 50 years. She was also treasurer of the Lying-In Society for Poor Married Women. When a public appeal was opened for a new church their names were almost at the top of the list. They each gave a cash donation plus a promise (trust fund) to pay a yearly sum. The church was to be dedicated to St Mary Magdalen and it would have 850 seats, of which 450 were to be forever free of charge and for the exclusive use of the poor. It opened in 1852. The sisters were also associated with the new Church of St Matthew, at Tivoli, and Eliza attended the ceremony of laying the foundation stone. All four siblings engaged in archery. They became acquainted with Princess Victoria when she visited the town in 1834 and were probably responsible for persuading her to be patron of the Society of St Leonards Archers, which they had co-founded in 1833. Perhaps they were the instigators of a request, which Victoria granted, to change the name to The Queen’s St Leonards Archers. Eliza and Charlotte were particularly enthusiastic toxophilites and were fiercely competitive. In a glittering career spanning three decades, between them the sisters won an enormous number of prizes and would have won more had they not been given a handicap. In 1849, a local paper recorded that ‘the shooting of the Misses Mackay is subject to … deduction, or they would almost certainly bear away all the prizes’. Emma enjoyed attending the rifle fêtes that started in 1852 at Halton, although no lady was permitted to compete. Keen horticulturists, the Mackays also planned, ornamented, improved and maintained the archery grounds, which Burton had donated for the purpose, making them among the best in Britain. They also won several prizes at local horticulture shows. The eldest, Eliza, was a lady of great social standing. Her name appears on the guest lists of all the society balls and other fashionable events. At one of the Brasseys’ fancy dress balls she dressed as Countess Abergavenny. Such was her social eminence that she was invited to lay the first three bricks of the Priory Meadow railway tunnel on 24th July 1849. This tunnel made it possible for the much needed and long-awaited railway to come into Hastings. Mrs Mackay died in 1849. She was 83, blind, and described as ‘a pattern of piety.’ Following a period of mourning, in 1854 her three daughters took a trip to the continent to do the Grand Tour and on their return they rented no. 1 Upland Views, the first of six double-villas built on an elevated site overlooking the subscription gardens and the sea. A further five houses were being built and when the sixth and last, a nine-roomed villa, became ready in 1856 they bought it and engaged three residential domestic servants – a modest household compared with others. They enjoyed furnishing the house and laying out the gardens, and commissioned an extension to accommodate a billiard room, a very unusual feature in an all-female household. They hosted fancy-fairs in their beautiful garden to raise money for charity, and held society dinner-parties. The youngest sister, Charlotte, died in 1862, aged 61, followed by Emma in 1869, aged 76, but Eliza stayed on in the large house until her death in 1885, aged 89. She retained two servants to the end, one of whom had lived and worked in her service for 31 years.


Details of the lifestyle of Elizabeth Breeds were known only to her close neighbours and kin, and are omitted from the written history of the Breeds family. Her father, Mark Breeds, was a prominent townsman; her brother, Robert Boykett Breeds, was an auctioneer and a highly respected figure in Hastings. He invited Elizabeth many times to live with him or with his daughter, who set up in business herself in 1856. Elizabeth always declined, preferring to live alone in the former family home in Guestling Village. Robert did everything he could for his sister: he purchased the house, paid the rates and sent her 10s a week. Elizabeth lived in the scullery and slept in the kitchen, although there were four feather beds upstairs. She would not use the other rooms of the house. She refused to wear clothes; neighbours said she covered herself only with newspapers – some around her shoulders and others made up into an apron. When her two nieces visited they were shocked at her semi-nudity and had clothes sent to her immediately, which she promised to wear but never did. Elizabeth discharged her servant and became a recluse. She rarely if ever left the house; local people shopped for her, though she did not let them in. Robert became so worried about his dear sister that called a doctor to assess her. He pronounced her of sound mind, but merely eccentric. One bitterly-cold day, in November 1859 a child, carrying out her daily duty by fetching Elizabeth a pail of water from the well, failed to obtain a reply despite repeatedly calling and knocking at the door. The alarm was raised and some local men broke in. They found Elizabeth lying on some cinders, dead. To their intense embarrassment, she was completely naked. Officials described the kitchen as ‘a heterogeneous mass of rubbish and disorder as it is almost impossible to conceive, — the things being mixed together and broken to pieces’. The coroner decided Elizabeth had died of debility owing to being cold. In a tragic sequel to Elizabeth’s story, just two years later her brother Robert committed suicide by walking into the sea. Mrs Ellen Berry ran into the water, caught hold of his hand and made a desperate attempt to haul him out. Hampered by her long skirts and the strong movement of the waves, this proved impossible but somehow she managed to catch his legs and lift them up onto the groyne to prevent him being washed away. It took five men to drag his body out. Mrs Berry’s heroic achievement led to her being recommended for an award from the Humane Society.



Caroline Carey was born in 1817 of a wealthy father, but he made bad investments and lost his money, so Caroline became a governess in London. She later gained her independence through a legacy left by her grandmother, and purchased a lodging house in Hastings, despite having little talent for business. She appears to have been seized with enthusiasm for buying and letting houses and at one time had forty under her control, a fact which the casual reader of the 1862 street directory would not suspect from the entry: Caroline Carey, 12 Magdalen Road, lodging house keeper. The houses were all in good situations and doing well but Caroline’s talents were literary and artistic and not financial, so she found the bookkeeping and accounts too much for her. The husband of a friend was entrusted with Caroline’s business affairs and it appears that he proceeded systematically to rob the rather naïve Caroline while she devoted herself to writing poetry and reminiscences. At some point her suspicions were aroused because she recorded that she had seen nothing of the proceeds of the sale of 29 Eversfield Place, which amounted to £1250. One by one all forty houses were sold, ‘for which’, she wrote, ‘I never received a penny’. Eventually her financial affairs were manipulated to such a degree that she was rendered bankrupt, to her complete bewilderment. When she began to ask too many questions her ‘friends’ had her committed to lunatic asylums, twice at Haywards Heath and once in Camberwell, London. Details of her life after her release are at present unavailable, but it is know that she entered Hastings Union workhouse three times and eventually died there in 1889. Historian Thomas Brett opined that she ‘became demented and involved in pecuniary difficulties in consequence of her mania for hiring and letting of houses for which she was not adapted’; however, it seems likely that she was in fact cruelly swindled by those she trusted with her financial affairs.


Verbatim, from the Hastings & St Leonards Observer 16 March 1849.

“Ejection Extraordinary
During yesterday, the inhabitants in the neighbourhood lying between Castle-street and Wellington-square were rendered spectators of a singular and somewhat unpleasant transaction connected with the attempted evictment of an aged female named Terry, who occupies an old house or rather cottage, near the corner of Castle-street.

Mrs Terry’s son, to whom the house belongs, is desirous of pulling down the old building and erecting a better, and accordingly has requested his mother to quit her ancient domicile and betake herself to another which he has prepared for her. Adopting the theory of the phrenologists, it appears that Mrs Terry’s organ of inhabitiveness is so largely developed, as to make her stoutly resist all entreaties or attempts made for her removal. Yesterday morning, the son proceeded to dismantle the maternal dwelling, which has lately been bolted and barred against all intruders by the jealous occupant.

The next step was to take the door off its hinges, and the next to turn out the furniture, while the sashes were taken out. Mrs Terry made a desperate resistance to these proceedings., and although the house was stripped, resolutely maintained her post. At six o’clock last evening, she still remained in her dilapidated abode and the police were obliged to be on the spot to prevent the collection of a mob.”


The research which led to this book uncovered some data that I found surprising. The huge imbalance of the sexes in the western parishes was unexpected: some were two-thirds female. Equally surprising was the large number and the wide range of small businesses run by women. In an era when many areas of employment were closed to women, those in Hastings seem to have infiltrated every possible alternative. Ironically, while they could not obtain work as accounts clerks, managers or book-keepers, women fulfilled such roles in their own businesses or for their husbands. Women who would not have been employed managing, for example, a decorating company or a brewery, ran them with great success when as widows they took over their late husbands’ affairs. Professionally, Hastings women had many similarities with women in other parts of England; the main difference was the lack of any major industry, such as textile mills for example, which employed large numbers of women. This impacted on women’s involvement with the rudimentary trade union movement. However, Hastings washerwomen went on strike and won their case, despite working for a variety of employers. Looking at businesses run by women in mid-century Thanet, a comparable seaside area in Kent, reveals that Hastings had far more women in business, especially as food retailers and beer-shop keepers. It is likely that Hastings’ fishing industry is partly responsible: the fluctuations in fishermen’s earnings perhaps led wives to seek a reliable income of their own. The number of milliners and dressmakers is related to the number of wealthy residents, so it comes as no surprise that Hastings had many more than Thanet. Mid-Victorian businesswomen in Thanet with no counterpart in Hastings included an estate/insurance agent, a livery stable keeper, a photographer, a jeweller, an optician, a stonemason and two oyster dealers. In Brighton, a much larger town, women ran much the same type of businesses as in Hastings, with the addition (in 1839) of five estate agents, a dentist, a lime burner, a dealer in French shoes, a patent medicine retailer, two chiropodists, a plate & linen hirer, a cutler, two coachmakers, a coal merchant, three furriers, a French polisher and a “Lace Cleaner and Mender and French Clear-Starcher by Appointment to Her Majesty”. In 1852 Brighton boasted a female carver, a tin plate worker, a brushmaker, a brass founder, a pewterer, a lapidary, and a truss and bandage maker, none of which were found in Hastings. Worthing, a town half the size of Hastings, had in 1828 a female fire-insurance agent and, along with Eastbourne and Winchelsea, a Postmistress at the main Post Office. The large number of prostitutes is, perhaps, not something one would expect in so small a town, particularly one without an international port, and where the female sex predominated. It is undoubtedly a result of the terrible poverty in the Old Town. Another surprise was the sheer brazenness of these women, some of whom even seemed proud of their occupation. They proved ready and able to defend themselves and their associates — verbally and physically — at a moment’s notice, and were highly visible and audible around the town, soliciting in the streets, drinking in pubs and beer-shops, and fighting and arguing amongst themselves. A look at Brighton’s newspapers revealed a higher level of public prostitution and evidence that women were charged with brothel-keeping. Although modern-day secondary sources have to some extent exploded the myth of passive and docile Victorian womanhood, my research revealed an unexpectedly large amount of drunkenness and violence by, and among, working-class women. The most surprising finding of this research was the number of homicides committed by women: two murdered their husbands, one of whom also killed two of her sons, and dozens committed infanticide. Over the same research period (1848–1870) I failed to find a single newspaper report of a local man killing his wife or child, although a large number of women seem to have lived with their spouses’ habitual violence or the constant threat of it. Domestic violence cases also kept magistrates busy in Thanet and Brighton. In the early to mid-Victorian era, women were supposedly confined to the domestic sphere, but women in Hastings were very much in the public eye. When visitors arrived they were often greeted by a female lodging house keeper and everywhere they went they saw women working as shopkeepers, shop assistants, milliners and dressmakers. Hastings’ most popular tourist-attractions — the Caves, the Castle, the bathing machines and the warm baths — all had female proprietors and staff, and religious establishments employed women pew-openers and chapel-keepers. Women street-beggars and street-sellers abounded, female fish-hawkers pushed their barrows along the roads of the Old Town. Female servants ran errands, swept paths, scrubbed front steps and polished windows. In hotels, women were waitresses, chambermaids, barmaids and proprietors and they served in pubs and beer-shops, while others visited, as customers and as vendors of sea food and chestnuts. Laundresses were seen spreading out linen to dry on the beaches and hillsides. In the gaol, workhouse and infirmary, women were matrons and nurses. Local newspapers advertised women tutors of singing, dancing and music and female-run seminaries and schools. In the theatres, women acted, sung and danced, and they were among the circus-performers. Women rode around town on horseback and in open carriages, and thronged the shopping streets and arcades. And women filled the churches to such an extent that male worshippers could hardly find pew-space anywhere in either town. It is unfortunate that more could not have been included about domestic life. However, research is reliant on surviving documentation, and the only matters documented were either official or out-of-the-ordinary. Information on women’s work is, therefore, far easier to come by than data on domestic life. There is, however, no reason to suppose that home life in Hastings was any different to that in other parts of England, and information on domestic life is widely available from a range of other social history sources and works of Victorian fiction.



Licensees of public houses 1800–72

Businesses 1817–1872
All trades,1821–1839
Manufacturers, 1839–61
Shops 1839–61, non-provision
Shops 1839–61, provision
Service industries, 1839–61
Educational establishments and private tutors, 1817–54
Women employed by workhouses, charities, etc 1828–1870

Note: the bracketed dates in these appendices have the following meanings: Single dates refer to one source, dates separated by a dash denote the length of tenure.
Mrs J Smith, 11 Colonnade (1839)
Jemima Bailey, 6 The Bourne (1856–57)

Data from three sources of different dates are separated by semi-colons:
Ann Jones, 55 Marina (1839; 1851; 1852)
We cannot tell when Ann arrived, nor when she left, only that she was recorded there at these dates. It is only an assumption that she was there continuously.


This list is incomplete because there is no central record of licensees. It was gleaned from many sources including license applications, trade directories, court reports, Censuses and secondary sources. 1800 – 1840

The Swan, High Street. Henrietta Collier (on death of her father John).
The Bull, Bulverhythe. Mrs Hannah Davis (license granted April 1826).
The Bull, Bulverhythe, Elizabeth Wilkinson (1833–34).
The Hastings Arms, 2 George Street. Ann Sargent (1821–1824).
Royal Oak, Castle Street. Ann Sargent (1825–29).
The Cinque Port Arms, All Saints’ Street. Judith Wood (1828–30).
The Anchor, 13 George Street. Ann Thwaites. (1800–1804).
The Cutter, 12 East Parade, Mrs Elizabeth Bell (1823–1836).
Jolly Fisherman, East Street. Mrs James Mann.
The Crown, Courthouse Street. Sarah Smith. (1815–1832).
The George, 120 All Saints’ Street. Rebecca Furby (1833–35). 1840S – 1860S
Conquerer Hotel Marina. Sarah Johnson (1841).
Warrior’s Gate Inn, Norman Road West Catherine Pilcher. (1841).
The Norman Hotel, Norman Road East. Elizabeth Benton Young (1853).
The Bull, Bulverhythe. Miss Sheather (Aug1851–1852).
The Swan, High Street. Elizabeth Carswell (1858–1873).
Castle Hotel & Posting House, Wellington Sq. Frances Emary (1854–55, 1858, 1862).
Priory Family Hotel, 24 Robertson Street. Mary Ann & Ellen Eldridge (1851 & 54).
Marina Inn, 3 Sussex Road. Mrs Helen Bennett (1862).
The George, 120 All Saints’ Street. Mrs Rebecca Wood (1852 & 1854; until 1861).
Railway & Commercial Hotel, 20 Havelock Road. Mary Ann Eldridge (1854 & 55).
The Bricklayer’s Arms, Bohemia Terrace. Miss Young (1853).
The Albert, 17–18 Undercliffe. Mrs Ann Hutchings.
The Anchor, 13 George Street, Ann Thwaites (1800–1804)
Wheatsheaf Inn, Spittleman Down (Bohemia Terr) Mrs Sarah Gorring (1848–52).
The Angel, St Mary’s Terrace. Miss Barbara Ticehurst (1852).
Halton Tavern. Elizabeth Goodwin (1863).
The Angel, St Mary’s Terrace. Mrs Lucy Scott (1864 – died 1866).
Jolly Fisherman, East Street. Mrs Swaine (1864).
Prince Albert, Rock-a-Nore Road. Mrs Rachel Pomphrey (1862; until 1865).
The Jenny Lind, High Street. Mary Robinson (1866)(until 1870).
The Royal Oak, Castle St. Mrs Ann Yates (June to September 1864).
The Lion Inn, Stone Street. Ann Bean (1865 – 1866).
The Britannia, Bourne Street. Harriett Vinall (1866).
The George, 120 All Saints’ Street. Sarah C. Gorley (1867& 169).
Duke of York, 5 Union Road, St Leonards. Mrs Hill (1867).
The Albion Hotel, Marine Parade. Harriet Bowles (1866).
The Albion Hotel, Marine Parade. Mrs Ellis (1869).
The Cutter, 12 East Parade. Mrs Harriet Dunk.
Provincial Hotel, 18 Havelock Road. Mrs Montague (1869).
York Hotel, (?) 17 York Buildings. Mrs Osborne (until 1870).
The Dun Cow, 29 Albion Street, Halton. Jane Cox (1867–before 1871).
Hope Inn, Halton Place. Mrs Mary Rummons (or Rumens). (1861)
Green’s Family and Commercial Hotel, Havelock Rd, Mrs Leeks.
Green’s Family and Commercial Hotel, Havelock Rd, Mrs Blamire.


Provincial Hotel, 18 Havelock Road. Miss Mary Ann Montague (1871).
Commercial Hotel and Dining Rooms. Mrs Linney (1871).

Duke of York, 5 Union Road, St Leonards. Mrs Mary Fairhall (1871).
The Albion Hotel, Marine Parade. Susan Emary.
The Hare and Hounds Inn, Ore. Frances Tritton.
The Crown Inn, Courthouse Street. Mrs Catherine Stride (1872).
Green’s Family and Commercial Hotel, Havelock Rd. Mrs Eliza Green,
The Hastings Arms, 2 George Street. Mary Ann Ray, (1870–1871).
The Cricketers Arms, Waldegrave Street. Mary Ann Mitchell (until 1870).
The Norman Hotel, Norman Road East. Mrs Elizabeth Palmer.
The Stag Inn, 15 All Saints’ Street. Mrs P. Jenkins (1871).
The Stag Inn, 15 All Saints’ Street. Mrs Mary Heathfield (1872) (freeholder).
St Leonards Arms, 6 London Road/Shepherd Street. Miss Mary Semark (1872).
Prince of Wales, 9 Melbourne Terrace, Bohemia. Harriet Hayden (1872).
Harrow Inn, Hollington. Mary Robertson.

Bo-peep Inn, Elizabeth Payne. (1871) (Also the freeholder).
Duke of Cornwall, Post Office Passage. Charlotte Wenham (with husband).
White Lion, 7 St Michael’s Terrace. Mrs Harriet Perigoe.
The New Ship, West Street. Frances Hope (lost license 1874).
The Globe, Meadow Road. Harriet Turner (1872).
Plasterers Arms, South Street. Mary Ann Ranger (1872).
Coach & Horses, East Ascent. Jane Taylor (1872). (Also the freeholder.)
Lord Nelson, Bourne Street. Charlotte Clarke (1872).
The Tiger, 13 Stonefield Road. Mrs Philly Jenkins.


The Castle Brewery Tap. Mrs Paine.
The Castle Brewery Tap, 11 Wellington Terrace. Harriet Cheale (1869) & 1872).
The Swan Tap, High St. Miss Mary Rosina Willett (1861).
The Sussex Tap. Mrs Jemima French.
Fisher’s Refreshment Bar, High Street. Mrs Fisher (1871).
Refreshment bar, 50 George Street. Miss Lock (1864).
Diamond Inn Beer Shop, Bourne Walk. Elizabeth Pomphrey Sargeant (1864).
The Black Horse Beer Shop, Shepherd Street. Harriet Stephenson (1864).
The Dun Cow (or Horse), Albion Terrace, Halton. Mrs Jane Cox. (1863–1867).
New Inn Beerhouse, Market Place. Miss Frances Burton.
The Privateer, Wellington Mews. Mrs Helen Brazier (Sept1851–1852).
Alma Beer Shop, All Saints’ Street. Mrs Ann Tyril (Tyrell?) (with husband).
Albert Inn Beer-shop, 33 North Street. Elizabeth Cull (1861).
The Forester’s Arms Beer-house, 6 East Parade. Frances Hope.
Fisherman’s Home, 6 East Hill Passage. Ellen Lester (1872).
The Railway, Gensing Station Road. Mary Campbell (1872).
The Old House at Home Beer-house, 44 All Saints Street. Elizabeth Cull.
Talbot House beer-shop, 16 Lennox St, Halton. Ann Friend, licensed victualler.
The Mackerel beer-shop. Mrs Huggett (1856).
The Bricklayer’s Arms, Bohemia Terrace. Fanny Jenks (Jinks?) (1865).
Beer-shop, West Beach Street. Mrs Jane Piper.
Beer-shop, 25 Bourne Street. Mrs Maria Elphick
Beer-shop, 4 Hill Street. Mary Glyde.
Beer-shop, East Beach Street. Ann Tassell.
Beer-shop, 2 Stonefield Road. Charlotte Bourne.
Beer-seller, 1 Waterloo Place. Lucy Scott (1851).
Licensed victualler, 3 Sussex Place. Helen Bennett (1865 & 1867).
Beer retailer, 32 West Street. Frances Hope (1861).
Beer retailer, 30 West Street. Mrs Frances Burton.
Beer retailer, West Beach Street. Mrs Jane Piper.
Beer-shop keeper, 9 Lavatoria. Caroline Barnes.
Beer-house, 6 St Mary’s Terrace. Jane Pilcher (1872).
Beer-shop, 1–2 Dorset Place. Elizabeth Collins (1871) (Also the freeholder).
Beer-shop, 8 Dorset Place. Mrs Jane Rose.
Beer-shop, Wellington Court. Martha Card. (1873).
Beer-shop, Pelham Street. Mrs Ebenezer Cobby.



Kate and Frances Burfield (11 owned).
Elizabeth Ridley.
Mary Heathfield.
Harriet Fisher.
Mary Creasy Vickery.
Ann Yates (lived in London, owned the Royal Oak).
Charlotte Mann.
Mary Reeves.
Mary Ann Adgo.

Mrs Jane Harvey — Eagle, Bourne St.
Mary Dowsett — Market Tavern.
Mary Heathfield.
Kate & Frances Burfield (owned 3, including the British Queen, North Street).
Harriet Cheale (also licensee).
Frances Kingsnorth — 8 Castle Terrace.
Eliza Lord — 32 West Street.
Mary Ann Dowsett — 14 Hill Street.
Eliza Collins (also licensee).
Ann How — Prince of Wales, 9 Melbourne Place.

BUSINESSES 1817–1862

This list includes only women who were listed as proprietors in their own right. It is not exhaustive. Records are missing that would have provided a good many more names. Please note that lodging-house and boarding-house keepers, laundresses and dressmakers have been omitted, as there were far too many of them to include. The sources are Brett’s manuscript history, Censuses 1841, 1851 and 1861; Powell’s Directory 1817; Pigot’s Directory 1839; Kelly’s Directory 1845 and 1852; Home Counties Directory 1851; Osborne’s Directory 1852, 1857 and 1858 and Sussex Directory 1855 and 1859.

ALL TRADES 1821–1839

Confectioner, Mrs Stone, 45 High Street (1828).
Cooper & Turner, Jane Cox. Bourne Street (1828).
Dressmaker, Miss Evershed (1821).
Fancy repository, Eliza Gardner, 28 George St.
Fancy repository, by ‘new Warm Baths’, Mrs Roe. (1824) Later 1 East Parade.
Fishmongers – three out of four were female.
Fruiterer, Charlotte Osborne, Mrs 55 George Street (1826–28).
Fruiterer, Elizabeth Ball, George Street.
Greengrocer, Mrs J. Phillips (also let lodgings) (1817).
Laundress, Fanny Gower, Back Street (1831).
Laundry proprietor, Mrs Ann Tapp. (c1834–54).


Catherine Fox, 34 High Street (1832–4;1840). Charlotte Greatrex (1832–34). Sarah Poile (1832–4). Mary Ross, Pelham Place (1832–4; 1840). Frances Tooth, 1 Castle Street (1832–4). Elizabeth Whitfield 46 George Street (1832–4). Keziah Allen, Hill Street (1824) 12 High St (1828) 110 All Saints’ St (1840). Elizabeth Ellis, High Street (1824). Ann Evershed, West Street (1832–4). Susannah Hambrey, High Street (1824). Ann Reynolds, 12 High Street (1832–4). May Ellis, 6 George Street (1826–28). Mrs Fisher, 84 High Street (1826–28). Sarah Soane, 6 Castle Street (1831). Mrs Bailey, 5 Dorset Place. Mrs Barker, Lower Trinity Terrace. Mrs Broadhurst, 12 Norman Rd West. Miss Gibbons, 26 London Rd.

Poulterer, Ann Adams 66 High Street (1824–32).
Repository, Mrs Elizabeth Cohen, 2 Pelham Place (1826–28).
Seedsman & florist, Sarah Walker, 6 Gensing Road.
Shopkeeper, Mary Brazier, Bourne Street (1824).
Stationer, Sarah Smith, 22 George Street.
Straw hat makers (1824–32):
Jane Carr, Mrs, 45 George Street.
/Eliza Fox, 34 High Street.
Hannah Hull, East Street.
Susannah Hambrey, High Street (1824).
Rachel Sargeant, 3 Castle Street (1824–28).
Garlick, All Saints’ Street (1824).
Hannah Ives, John Street (1824).
Tea dealer, Miss Eaton (1831).
Wine & Spirit Merchant, Mrs Brown, 74 High Street (1828).


Miscellaneous non-provision shops 1839–1861 Baby linen dealer and child’s dressmaker, Emma Palmer, 25 Castle Street. Baby linen dealer, Janet Miller, 25 Castle Street (1845;1859). Berlin wool repositories: /Mrs Charlotte Osborne, 55 George Street. /Louisa Soane. 10 Bedford place (1859). Later 119 All Saints’ Street. /Amelia Burt, Central Arcade. /Mrs Day, 36 Robertson St. /MrsPhoebe Ellis, 2 Church St. Books and stationery, etc: Bookseller, Sarah Austin, Marine Parade (1824). Bookseller, Eleanor Slade, 16½ High Street (1839 & 1840). Bookseller, Mary Tilley, High Street (1841). Fancy stationer, Victoria Weston, 60 High Street (1859). Library & stationer, Ann Holt, 24 White Rock (1838–1872). Brokers: /Jane Hadden, 93 All Saints’ Street. /Elizabeth Boulter, 21 John Street. /Elizabeth Baker, Winding Lane (1841). China & glass dealers: /Mrs Groves, 36 Norman Road West. /Mrs Hastelow, 25 Norman Road West (1867). Mrs Hannah Morton,. 26–7 (later 43) High Street, 13 Castle St, 72 Norman Rd. Clothes dealers (secondhand): /Mrs Elizabeth Snashall, 2 Bourne St (later 1 Union St). Clothier, Mrs Bell, 57 All Saints’ Street. Clothes dealer, Sophia Penney, All Saints’ Street (1866). Coal merchant, Eliza Ann Deudney, 43 (later 104) Marina. Corn chandler, Mary Crippen, High Street (1841). Earthenware dealer, Hannah Green, cottage near the Hare & Hounds, Ore. Fancy shops: /Miss Sandy, 37 Marina. /MrsJ Smith, 13 Colonnade (1839). /Miss Standen, 25 East Ascent. /Elizabeth Cohen, 10 Castle Street. /Mrs Wood, 37 George Street. /Ann Reynolds, 37 Marina (1839; 1841; 1851;1852). /Charlotte Weston, 60 High Street (1861). /Mrs Day, 26 Robertson Street. Furniture broker, Elizabeth Baker, Mrs 26 High Street. Ironmongers: /Sarah Offen, Mrs, 3 Norman Road West. /Charlotte Mann, 7 East Ascent. Ladies’ outfitters: /Mrs Hall, 32 London Road. /& milliner, Mary Hardcastle, 33 Robertson Street (1867). /Elizabeth Northey, 30 Robertson Street (1862). /& milliner, Emily Hunter, 23 Robertson Street (1862 & 1867). /Mrs Phillips, 6 Central Arcade (1861). Linen drapers: /Mrs Hampton, 25 George Street. /Mrs Harriet Bell, 36 (later 57) All Saints’ Street. /Mrs Philpott, 38 Marina. /Miss Miller, 25 Castle Street (from 1852). & child bed linen w/house, Charlotte Green, 28 George St (1839;1840). Perfumier, Miss Bollin, Wellington Place (1857). Second hand clothes dealers: /Mrs Stone, North Street. /Ann Pomphrey, 7 Bourne Passage (1861). /Miss Walder, 60 All Saints’ Street (died 1860). /Mrs Hall, 7 Gensing Station Road (1867). Shell Artiste, Sarah Ranger, 5 Wellington Terrace. Shell worker, Mary Ann Hide, Pleasant Row. Shell dealer, (British & Foreign) Elizabeth Oliver, Marine Pde, later 34 West St. Shell dealer, Susan Philcox, 7 Denmark Place. Shell dealer, Sarah Hide, 3 Pleasant Row. Stationer, Sarah Bryant, 84 High Street (1839). Stationer, Charlotte Osborne, Mrs 27 Castle Street. Stationer & straw bonnet maker, Mrs Smith, 13 South Colonnade (Marina). Stationer & tea dealer, Mrs Mary Cope, 115 Marina (1851). Tea and fancy dealer, Mrs Elizabeth Pitter, 7 George Street. Tallow Chandler, Alice Guedella, 6 Castle Hill. (1861). Tobacconists: /Harriet Bate, 26 Castle Street. /Mrs Anna Barker, 47 Robertson Street. Toy dealers: /Mrs Charlotte Wood, 37 George Street. /MrsJ.B. Funnell, Central Arcade. /Mary Roe, Marine Parade (1824–28 & 1839), Fishmarket (1832). /Charlotte Playden, 130 All Saints’ Street. Watch-mender & maker, Charlotte Weston, Mrs 60 High Street (1859). MISCELLANEOUS PROVISION SHOPS 1839–1861 Apple shop keeper, Elizabeth Phillips, 14 John Street (1861). Bakers: /Mrs Felstead, 5 Castle Road. /Mrs Shackleford, bread and biscuit dealer, 5 Castle Road. Mrs Harriot Beck, 4 London Road (1851& 1861). Also corn merchant. /Mrs Rosina Vine, Mercatoria (1861). /Mrs Harriet Ranger, 16 Stone Street (1854). /Mrs Jane Smith, 56 High Street (1854). /Sarah Betts, 26 Bourne Street. /Maria Pitt, 5 Bank Buildings. /Mrs Elizabeth Elphick, 43 Norman Road West. Confectioners: /Elizabeth Ball, 2 Castle Terrace. /Eliza Newberry, 7 George Street (1861). /Mrs G. Wheeler, 17–18 High Street. /Sarah Ballard, 17 Castle Street (1871). Confectioner & fruiterer, Mrs Charlotte Wheeler, 17 High Street. Confectioner & fruiterer, Sarah & John Wheeler, 17 High Street. Cowkeepers: /MrsFrances Whiteman, 6 Courthouse Street. /Mrs Mary Maria Standen, 15 Stone Street. Dairywoman, Elizabeth Stevens, Bohemia Farm. Egg merchant & Poulterer, Madame Sophia Flouré, 61½ George Street. Farmer, Mrs Elizabeth Foster, Priory Farm. Fish sellers and fishmongers: /Ann Baldock, Fishmarket. /Ann Pryor, Fishmarket. /Margaret Tassell, East Street /Mary Ann Foster, Tamarisk Steps. /Kitty White, Waterloo Passage. /Sarah Marten, 64 All Saints’ Street. /Sarah Mause, 64 All Saints’ Street (1851). /Sarah Taught, Hoppers Passage. /Harriot Craig, 2 Creek. /Ann Mann, 3 Creek. (1861). /Sarah Mann, Williams Row (1851). /Naomi Master, 3 Creek. (1861). /Emma Willis, Bourne Street (1861). /Ann Noakes. Fruiterers: /Ann Guy, 60 George Street (1839). /Mrs Harriet Hyder, 46 Norman Road West.(1851) /MrsHarriet Marsh, (1861). Fruiterer/grocer, Mrs Burt, Market Passage. Fruiterer and greengrocer, Mrs Mary Ann Taylor, 61 George Street. Fruiterer & greengrocer, Mrs Mahala Standen, 6 Castle Road. Fruiterer & greengrocer, Mrs Ann Walter, 6 South Colonnade (1851). Fruiterer & seed dealer & greengrocer, Mrs Ann Golding, 20 Hill Street, later 16 George Street, 18 & 19 George St, 42½ High Street. Greengrocers: /Mrs Triphena Phillips, 119 All Saints’ Street. (1858) /Mrs Harriet Hyder, Norman Road West (1859). /Sarah Richardson, 47 All Saints’ Street. /Ann Mills, 10 Prospect Place. /Mary Kennard, 135 All Saints’ Street. /Charlotte Hinkley, 124 All Saints’ Street. /Eliza Paris, 103 All Saints’ Street. /Elizabeth Fulmer, 22 Shepherd Street. /Harriot Cramp 128 All Saints’ Street (‘pauper-greengrocer’). (1851) /Mary Ann Ranger, Mrs 37 London Road. /Maria Baker, High Street (1841). /Mary Philpot, Market Passage. /Mary Kent, East Bourne Street (1861). /Sarah Pomphrey, 21 High Street. /Winifred Burt, 10 West Street. /Mary Hadden, 118 All Saints’ Street. /Mary Harris, 31 High Street. (Married to a butcher) (1861). /Mary Bailey, Market. (1867). Greengrocer & Beerseller, Lucy Scott, 1 Waterloo Place. Grocers: /Mary Stewart, Courthouse Street (1841). /Mrs May (no address). /Ann Reeves, Courthouse Street (1841). /Mrs Oaks, East Parade. (1854). /Elizabeth Blackman, Halton Fields (1839). /Mary Monday, 6 Stone Street (1839). /Sarah Jones, Barrack Ground (1839;1840). /Ann Poole, 103 All Saints’ Street (1840). /Mary Ann Stewart, 50 High Street. /Ann Palk, Wellington Court (1839). /MrsBaker, 4 St Andrew’s Terrace. /MrsBlayden, 129 All Saints’ Street. /MrsFilmer, Shepherd Street. /Jane Smith, 104 All Saints’ Street (1861). /Charlotte Blayden, 129 All Saints’ Street. /Eliza Guess, 2 Hill Street. /Mrs Margaret White, Bourne Street; later 1, Pleasant Row. /Elizabeth White, Bourne Street (1861). /Mrs Mary Ann Ranger, 3 Mercatoria. /Sarah Jones, 33 Bohemia Terrace. /Mary Ann Stewart, 50 All Saints Street. /Miss Hannah White, 75 All Saints’ Street (1858) /Sarah White, 75 All Saints’ Street. /Susannah Betts, 103 All Saints’ Street. /Theodosia Baker, 4 High Street. /Mary Ann Welfare, 137 All Saints’ Street (1861). /Elizabeth Bray, Sussex Road. (1867). /Ann Maria Lock, 50 (later 51) George Street(1867). Grocer, newsagent, tobacconist, Eliza and Jane Smith, 31 High Street. Milk Vendor, Elizabeth Smale, 1 Providence Row. Pork butcher, Mrs Whiteman, Courthouse Street.(1854). Poulterers (licensed): /Mrs Ann Stace, 2 Castle Street (1867– died 1872). /Mrs Polhill, 4 Robertson Street (1857). /Mrs Ann Roberts, Market Place (1862). Shopkeepers: /Mrs Susannah Barker, 1 St Michael’s Terrace. /Mrs Ann Bishop, Gensing Road. /MrsAnn Cousins, Hill Street. /Mrs Ann Mills, 5 Claremont. /Ann News, 8 All Saints’ Street (1861). /Mary Larkin, 22 All Saints’ Street (1861). /Mrs Elizabeth Stoakes, 64 All Saints’ Street. /Mrs Mary White, 102 All Saints’ Street. /Ann Bailey, 29 Bourne Street. (1861) (stallholder, Hastings Market). /Elizabeth Jones, 131 All Saints’ Street (1867). /Mrs Theodosia Baker, St Andrews Terrace. /Mrs Jane Knott, Cuckoo Hill. /Mrs Ann New, 8 All Saints’ Street. /Mrs Matilda Catt, Bohemia Terrace (jointly with husband). /Mrs Harriet Ranger, 67 St Mary’s Terrace. /Eliza Kent. 58 All Saints’ Street. /Mrs Ann Gallopp, 6 St Mary’s Terrace. /Mary Boreham, 10 Hill Street (1861). /Jane Brazier, South Eastern Cottage, next to 9 Wellington Mews. /Jane Connor, 20 High Street (1867). /Mrs A. Button, West Street. (1867). Street sellers: /Shrimp hawker, Sarah Martin, 112 All Saints’ St. Huckster (hawker), Elizabeth, Isabella & Matilda Prior, 3 Fountain Rd. /Flowergirl. Sarah Offon, hut behind 94 All Saints’ Street, age 12. /Hawker, Lucy Lewer, Ore Down. /Licensed hawker, Mary Curteiss, 3 West Street. /Tea dealer, Sophia Abbott, 33 West Street (1839). /Wine merchant, (retired) Mary Ann Wells, 12 High Street (1861). FEMALE MANUFACTURERS 1839–1861 Boot and shoe maker, Mrs Mary Sadler, 25 Norman Road West. Boot closer, Mahala Kingham, behind Bourne Street. Boot and shoe binders: /Lois Jarrett, 4 Zion Cottages. /Harriet Martin, London Road. /Mary Ann Godden, 143 All Saints’ Street. /Frances Elphick, 4 Mount Pleasant. /Ann Robertson, 112 All Saints’ Street. /Ellen Barker, 24 Stonefield Road. /Martha Gallop, 23 Stonefield Road. /Jemima Woodgate, 5 Russell Street. /Frances Boreham, 5 Waterloo Place (1861). /Elizabeth Carey, 5 Waterloo Place (1861). /Frances Carey, 5 East Hill Passage (1851). /Sarah Sherwood, 5 Waterloo Place (1861). /Elizabeth Brazier, 11 West Hill Cottages. /Elizabeth Hanson, 5 Caves Road. /Eliza Williams, behind 24 Bourne Street (1861). /Sarah Searwood, 5 East Hill Passage. /Catherine Goodwin, 1 Strong Passage. /Emma Haines, 64 All Saints’ Street. /Ellen Turner, 44 All Saints’ Street. /Sarah Wood, 18 All Saints’ Street. Bonnetmaker, Ellen Wheeler, 17 George Street. (1861). Dressmakers — omitted, as they were far too numerous to list. Dressmaker — milliners: /Emily Bourner, North Terrace, Halton. /Catherine Griffin, Mrs 54 (later 55) All Saints’ Street. /Emily and Harriet Barrow, 6 Castle Terrace. /Mme. Victorine Winsor, 4 Stratford Place. Embroiderer, Ann Graves, 2 Castle Hill (1861). Furrier and feather dresser, Mrs Clarissa Hargrave, 6 Waterloo Place (1851). Furrier & leather dresser, Mrs Jemima Johnson, 72½ High Street (1839). French paper flower maker, Jane Gill, 9 High Street. Hatters: /Mrs Ann Lott, 58 George Street (1852 & 1855). /Harriet Breeds, 58 George Street (1859). Hosier, (also glovier, shirtmaker). Mrs Undine Pegge, 31 Robertson Street. Lace manufacturer, Martha Healey, 20 Castle Street (1851). Lacemakers: /Elizabeth Hope, Wyatt’s Cottages, Ore. /Sarah Rottedge, Wyatt’s Cottages, Ore. Lace runner, Rebecca Stead, 7 St Thomas’ Cottages. Mantlemakers: /Elizabeth Patching, 27 High Street. /Beney & Mallyon, Misses, 2 Castle Place. /Mrs Elizabeth Branch, 2 Isabella Cottages, Croft Road. Milliners: /Ann Heath, 13 Castle Street(1840). /Ann Lulham, 25 All Saints’ Street (1840). /Sarah Lock, 80 All Saints’ Street (1840). /Ann Bridges, Wellington Mews (1841). /Naomi Cowper, St Andrews Terrace (1841). /Caroline Shaw, Norman Road West (1841). /Mrs Skinner, 46 George Street. (opened April 1859). Drapery, hosiery, lace and millinery. Eliza Bailey, Mrs, Cuckoo Hill. /Elizabeth Day, Mrs 31 (later 89) High Street. (1840). /Caroline & Emily Fermor, 22 George Street (1840). /Mrs E. Fisher, 101 All Saints’ Street. /Mrs Esther Baily, 18 Robertson Street (Also mantle maker). /Mary Vine, 2 Mercatoria. /Sarah Pomphrey, 3 West Street. /Emily Pierce, 35 High Street. /Louisa Smith, 17 Stone Street. /Mary Ann Smith, Mrs 20 Castle Street (1855). /Louisa Smith, 31 St Andrew’s Terrace (1851). /Mary Watson, 8 Russell Street. /Mrs Leak, 1 West Street (1867). /Mrs Hutchinson, 7 Western Road (1867). /Mrs Chandler, 5 Stone Street (1867). /Mrs H Hughes, 5 Mercatoria (1867). /Mrs Johnson, 15 George Street (1867). /Mrs Barker, Lower Trinity Terrace (1867). /Mrs Brett, 7 Mercatoria (1867). /Mrs Bailey, 5 Dorset Place (1867). /Miss Palmer, 25 Castle Street (to 1852). /Mrs Ann Peckham, 2 High Street (1859). Milliner-dressmakers: /Mrs Caroline Harris, 39½ High Street. /Mrs Louisa Honiss, 5 York Place. /Mrs Frances Tooth, 4 Castle Street. /Mrs Anne Edwards, Cavendish Cottage. /Mrs Catherine Tapp, 3 Burdett Place, George Street. /Mrs Mary Ann Taylor, Pleasant Row. /Mrs Elizabeth Row, 3 South Terrace, Halton. Milliner & Juvenile warehouse, Mrs Charlotte McArthur, 1 Sea View Cottage. Milliner & Berlin wool warehouse, Mrs Louisa Soane, 59 High Street (1851). Milliner, Juvenile warehouse & ladies’ outfitter, Mrs Mary Ann Lye, 25 George Street. Milliner & Cloak maker, Mrs Esther Bailey, 18 Robertson Street. Milliner, stay & crinoline warehouse, dressmaker and fancy toy shop. Mrs Pears, 45 Robertson Street (1864). Needlewomen, seamstresses and sempstresses: /Mary Taylor, North Street (1841). /Sarah Deeprose, London Road (1841). /Mary Tulley, Mercatoria. /Lucy Beddoes, Wingfield Cottage. /Harriet Foster, 28 All Saints’ Street. /Charlotte Breach, 69 All Saints’ Street. /Ann Seagrave, 6 Stone Street./ /Ann Harman, 114 All Saints’ Street. /The Misses Philpot, 37 Marina (since 1830s). /Stay and corsetmakers: /Sarah Daniell, 89 High Street (1839;1840). /Sarah Poile, 45 (later 61½) George Street (1839;1840). /Ann Russell, 6 Pelham Arcade (1839). /Mary Ann Fullager, 33 Robertson Street (1839). /Sophia and Ann Goldsmith, 7 Waterloo Place (1850s). /Sophia Goldsmith, 3 Waterloo Place (1861). /Mrs Pace, Brook Estate. Later 65 George Street. /Sarah Daniels, Mrs & Mary Jeffrey, Mrs 36 High Street (1850s). /Jane Wallis, 109 All Saints’ Street. /Mary Ann Fullager, 33 Robertson Street. /Mrs Elizabeth Pollard, 65 St Mary’s Terrace. /Mrs A Honiss, 5 York Place (Stay Warehouse). /Hannah Phillips, 7 Barley Lane. /(& trimming seller) Mrs Louisa Bolingbroke, 48 Robertson Street. /Misses MA and ME Greenaway, 16 Wellington Place (1867). Tailoresses: /Eliza Parkes, 71 High Street. /Ann Broadbridge, 1 Coborg Place (1861). /Hannah French, North Row, Ore Upholsteresses: /Charlotte Morley, 5 Market Terrace. /Emmeline Morley. 5 Market Terrace (daughter of the above). /Ann & Elizabeth Grady, Tackleway (1851). /Ann & Elizabeth Grady, 6 Vine’s Row (1861). /MrsWalker, 1 Meadow Cottage. /Elizabeth Marrell, 2 Wood’s Row. /Eliza Hemmings, 9 St Michael’s Cottages, Stonefield Street. Straw bonnet and hat manufacturers: /Elizabeth Smith, Norman Road East (1841). /Mary Smith, Norman Road East (1841). /Elizabeth Hough, Norman Road West (1841). /Miss Pearce, 35 High Street. /Charlotte Harmer, 2 St Michael’s Terrace. /Mrs Payne, George Street (1839). /Mrs Louisa Pollard, Courthouse Street (1839;1851). /Mrs Louisa and Miss Jane Pollard, 102 High Street (1859). /Louisa Pollard, 104 High Street (1861). /Mrs Ann Lansdell, 3 Bentinck Cottage. /Harriet Walker, 1 Meadow Cottage (1851). /Harriet and Mary Ann Walker, 1 Meadow Cottage (1859). /Ann Walker, 3 Waterloo Place. /Sophia Goldsmith, 3 Waterloo Place (1861). /Miss Walker, 122 All Saints’ Street. /Mrs Judith Carpenter, 104 High Street (also let lodgings). /Mrs Jane Carr, 45½ George Street (also let lodgings) (1817). /Mrs Hide, All Saints’ Street. /Mrs Elizabeth Foord, 22 Bourne Street, later 61 George Street. /Miss Pierce, 35 High Street. /Emily Pierce, 67 High Street (also milliner). /Mrs Hannah Ives, 18 (later 44) George Street. /Jane Phillips, Parade. /Mary Ann Glazier, Amphion Place, later 69 All Saints’ Street. /Emily Hill, 2 Waterloo Place. /Sarah Slough, Norman Road West, later 17 East Ascent (1840). /Ellen Trotter, 1 Gensing Road. /Ann Humphreys, Hastings Cottage. /Mrs Holder, 89 High Street (1867). /Sarah Reed, 115 Marina (1840). Silk worker, Eliza Foster, Derby Arms, 1 Union Rd. Silk weavers: /(formerly) Elizabeth Hope, Wyatt’s Cottages. /Elizabeth Turner, London Road, Ore. /Harriet Pritchard, 7 Pleasant Row (1861). WOMEN IN SERVICE INDUSTRIES 1817–1861 Bathing machine proprietors: /Mrs Cobby, Parade (1848). /Mrs Lois Picknell. Victoria Cottage, Kentish Place. /Mrs White. /Maria Robinson, 32 St Andrew’s Terrace. Bathing establishments: Manager, Pelham Baths (1851): Mrs Martha Thatcher (1792–1857). /Proprietor, Pelham Baths (1857): Miss Ellen Thatcher. /Managers of St Leonards Baths: Mr. & Mrs Barnes. /Manager, Hastings Old Baths: Mrs Neal. /Attendant of Royal Baths, Marina: Mrs Roberts. /Proprietresses of Pelham Baths: Mrs and the Misses Emary (1870). Proprietress, Royal Baths (opposite Victoria Hotel). Mrs Parker (1870). Blacksmith & Shoeing, Mrs M. Ranger. West Street & 14 Shepherd St. Cabinetmaker, upholsterer, and undertaker, Sarah Eldridge, Mrs 34½ High Street. (1851) Carriers of luggage and goods: /Mrs B Quaife, 4 Alfred Street (1871). /Carrier to Ore: Mrs Crump, Breed’s Yard (1867). /Carrier to Bexhill: Elizabeth Gander (1850s). /Carrier to Rye: Catherine Hoad (1850s). Carrier, Town & Country Carriers: Bridget Barton, 7 East St. (1853, 1861). Chair maker, Maria Shoesmith. 13 All Saints’ Street. Chair bottomer, Ann Quinnal, 96 All Saints’ Street (1861). Eating- and coffee-house keepers: /Mrs Ann Hyland, 29 George Street (1839, 1845). /Mrs Eliza Stewart, 29 George Street (1859). /Mrs Reed, Fishmarket. /Mrs Ramsay, Russell Street. /Mary Monk, 20 Havelock Road. /Coffee house, Mary Church, 2 London Road St Leonards. /Coffee house, Sarah Bollinbroke, Russell Street (1841). Fly Proprietor, Mrs Mary Glyde, 4 Hill Street (bankrupt 1866). Hairdresser, Frances Shirley, 40 George Street (1841). Hairdresser, wigmaker, and perfumer Mrs Russell (1864). Ironers: /Jane Cramp, 143 All Saints’ Street. /Elizabeth Heayott, Shepherd Street (1841). /Elizabeth Jackson, 5 Stonefield Road. /Margaret Philcox, 4 Russell Street. /Elizabeth Tapp, 1 North Street. /Sarah Bloom, 11½ Bourne Street. (1861). Laundresses — omitted, as they were far too numerous to list. Library & Reading Room, Sarah Austin, Marine Parade 1824. Mangle-women: /Elizabeth Reed, 9 West Street. /Caroline Swaine, rear of 111 All Saints’ Street (1861). /Elizabeth Page, 1 Bourne Road. /Sarah White, 12 John Street. Nurses: Nurse, East Sussex Infirmary, White Rock. Mrs Lucy Squires (1850s). /Hannah Bennett, Wellington Mews (1841). /Martha Mitchell, London Road (monthly nurse) (1841). /Mary Farcey, Shepherd Street (1841). /Martha Fernor, London Road, (1841). /Ann Davis, 96 All Saints’ Street. /Ann Stone, 14 Stone Street. /Sarah Jennings, 114 All Saints’ Street. /Susannah Scott, Gensing Road. /Amelia Roff, 16 Stone Street. /Catherine Gallop & Rhoda Blanchard, 2 Cambridge Terrace. /Eliza Peters, 6 Wellington Terrace. /Anna Walker, 115 High Street. /Mary Waters, 138 All Saints’ Street. /Mary Fuller, 110 All Saints’ Street. /Jane Padgham, Long House. /Ann Phillips, Adams Cottage. /Ellen Phillips, Heath Cottage. /Matilda Standen, 39, All Saints’ Street. /Janet Weeks, London Road, Ore. Pawnbroker, Sarah Betts, 36 Bourne Street. (1849). Plumber, glazier & painter, Mrs Mary Hall, 19 East Ascent. Plumber, painter, gasfitter, Mrs S.E. Neve, 6–7 Norman Road West. (1861) Printer, Mrs Charlotte Osborne, 55 George Street. Repairer of Men’s Clothes, Mrs Sarah Jarrett (1851). Sub Post-Office, Mrs Ann Gallopp, 6 St Mary’s Terrace (1851). PRIVATE SCHOOL PROPRIETORS AND PRIVATE TUTORS, 1817–1870 Private schools, academies and seminaries 1817–1841 Boarding school, 2 Burdett Place, Mary Todhunter (1832). Boarding School. Mrs Mary Kelly, High Street (1824). Boarding school, Mrs Goddard, High Street (1826–28). Ladies’ Seminary. Mrs Charlotte Richards, All Saints’ Street (1824–28). Boarding School, 1 Blucher Buildings, Sarah Bray (1824–32). Mrs Ann Edgar, 53 Marina (1833). Mrs Ranger, Double-West Villa (1833). Mrs Wood, East Ascent (1833). Sophia Gidds (1840). Private School at 115–6 High Street, Misses Clarke (1839). Private School at 81 High Street, Miss Jackson & Miss Dunk (1840). Private School at 55 Marina, Ann Edgar. Children’s Day School, Mrs Sarah Stanbridge, All Saints’ Street.

Seminaries 1817–1854

Misses Eliza, Margaret & Jane Twiddy, 81 High Street. Mrs And Miss Blogg, 115 High Street. Miss Dunk, Castle Hill. Miss Whistler, High Street. Mrs Winter, 10 West Hill Cottages. West Hill Preparatory, Laura Phillips. Boarding School, 2 Wellington Sq, Sarah Bray. Fairlight Downs Boarding & Day School, Sophia Adds (or Apps). Fairlight Downs Day School, Rebecca White. Preparatory School for Gents, Miss Lydia Borrow, 117 High Street.

Private Schools, 1841–1870

Ladies’ Boarding School, 4 High Street, Matilda Hodder. Boarding School, 118 Marina, Eliza Kempson. Boarding & Day School, 5 Coburg Place, Caroline Matilda Hatton. Day School, 20 St Andrews Terrace, Catherine Ann Foster. Seminary, Coburg Place, Mrs Joseph Samson. Seminary, Holloway House, Maria Rich. Seminary, West Hill Cottage, Mrs Charlotte Vidler. Seminary, 6 Havelock Road, Mrs Ellen Champion. Seminary, 78 High Street, Jane & Eleanor Pink. Ladies’ School, 4 Wellington Terrace, Ellen Rosina Russell. School proprietresses, Prospect House, Ore. Sarah & Sophia Ades. London Road. Preparatory School mistress, Emma Davis. Boarding Seminary 53 Marina., Misses A., E., and F. Edgar. Preparatory School mistress, 22 East Ascent, Miss Mary Reed. Ladies’ Seminary, 1 Albion Cottages, Miss Mary Ann Lancaster. Ladies’ School, 2 Albion Cotts, Lucy Clarke, teacher of French, Music and Drawing. Ladies’ School, 41 All Saints’ Street, Mrs Ginner. Ladies’ School, Waterloo Place, Mrs Elizabeth Wise. Ladies’ School, Waterloo Place, Miss Ann. F. Wise, Music Teacher. Ladies’ School, Hill Street, The Misses Wise. Ladies’ School, 12 London Road, Frances Wise. Ladies’ School, 1 Trinity Street Miss Jordan (1867). Ladies’ Seminary, Sarah Elizabeth Gates, Portland Cottage. Boarding School, 1 Castledown Terrace, Miss Caroline Nichols, (Head). Boarding School, 6 Castledown Terrace, Catherine Freer. Boarding School, 35 Wellington Sq, Miss Fanny and Miss Magdaline Clifton. Boarding School, 27 Wellington Sq, Mrs Emily D’ Oyly. Ladies’ Boarding School, Halloway Place, Misses Chapman and Bonnick. Ladies’ School, 1 Croft Place, Miss Peach. Ladies’ school, 18 St. Mary’s Terrace. Mrs J Jennings (1864). Day School, Russell Cottage, East Hill, Charlotte Smith. Day School, Wood’s Passage, Charlotte Smith. (1862). Girls’ Private Boarding School. 8 East Parade, Miss J.N. Thompson, Teacher of Music & Languages. In partnership with Ellen Kidd. Boy’s School, 64 St Mary’s Terrace. Matron, Ann Hubert (1861). Boy’s School, 62 St Mary’s Terrace. Proprietor, Elizabeth Cullum(1861). Boy’s School, 62 St Mary’s Terrace. Music teacher, Sarah Norwood (1861). Boys’ prep. school, 4 Priory Garden Villas, Bohemia Rd, Miss Moor, Mrs Lamb. Boys’ School, 6 Archery Villas, Miss Henrietta Pennington. Boys’ prep. School, 5 Maze Hill, Elizabeth & Matilda Austin. Boys’ prep. School, 7 Cavendish Terrace, Mrs Caroline Simes. Ladies College, 7 Castledown Terrace. Principal, Catherine Farr. Boarding School, Miss Andrews, 3 High Street (1867).

Private Tutors

Frau Winkelman, Professor of German, 23 London Road. Miss Bacon, Professor of Singing and Music, 9 Claremont. Mrs Hannah Begbie, Professor of Singing and Music, 14 Russell Street. Miss Pinter, Professor of Music 102 Marina. Mrs Sophia Alvey, Teacher of Music, 62 St Mary’s Terrace. Miss Mary Hough, Drawing Teacher, 2 Paragon Bldgs. Mrs Louisa Rising, Professor of Music, South Lodge West. Mariana Fisher, drawing teacher, 4 Prospect Place. Julia Charpentier, Teacher of French, 2 Trinity Street. Maria Murray, Linguist and Professor of Music, 4 Trinity Street. Caroline Hugeman, Professor of Languages, 10 High Street (1861). Martha Poster, Professor of Music. 7 Wellington Place. Mademoiselle Tonge, teacher of French and German. (1864).


Chapel Keeper, Lucy Smith, Congregational Chapel, Robertson Street (1861). Lady Superintendent, Ladies’ Home, Catherine House, Church Rd, St Leonards. Miss Cooper (1870). Manager, Albert House Ladies’ Home & Soup Kitchen, Cross St, St Leonards: Mrs Emma Baker (1861;1870). Manager, St Mary’s Convalescent Home for Women, 80 High St. Lydia Clark (1870). Manageress, St Mary’s soup-kitchen, Wellington Terrace: Louisa Goodwin (1870). Matron of Servants’ Home, 5 Western Road, St. L: Mrs Ann Callan (1870). Matron, Children’s Convalescent Home, Stanhope Place, St Leonards. Mrs Hulbert (1870). Matron, East Sussex Infirmary, White Rock. Frances Cable Hartley. Matron, Infirmary, White Rock. Mary Ann Griffin (1861). Matron, St Clement’s Workhouse: Miss Judith White (1835) (later married, became Mrs Harman). Matron, Hastings Union Workhouse: Mrs Judith Harman (1850s). Matron, Hastings Union Workhouse: Mrs Monk (1870). Matron, Bourne Street Gaol. Mary Wellerd (died 1846). Matron, Bourne Street Gaol. Ann Wellerd (1848;1851). Matron, Bourne Street Gaol. Amelia Wellerd (1846–8). Matron, St Mary’s Poorhouse, Hannah Goodwin (1828–37). Matron, Mendicity House, Bourne Passage: Mrs Elizabeth Bentley (1859). Matron, West Hill Industrial School: Mrs Maria Marshall (1850s). Mistress, School of Industry, Albion Place: Miss Marshall. (1870). Pew openers, All Saints’ Church, 1850s. Jane Bafford, 1 Burdett Place. All Saints’ Ch, 1850s. Mrs Bailey, 2 Church Yard (until 1848). All Saints’ Ch, 1850s. Hannah Goodwin, 2 Church Yard (1848–1854). Oare (sic) Church Mrs Giles. (1835). Croft Chapel. Frances Boreham. (1862). St Andrew’s Presbyterian. Chapel, Jane Lamb, Levett’s Cottages, North Street. (1851) Principal, Children’s Convalescent Home, Stanhope Place. Miss Giesler (1870). Superintendent, Industrial Kitchen & Ladies’ Home, Mrs Eccardt.


d = pennies. s = shillings. 12d = 1s. 20s = £1.


Beef pound / 8d Cheese, pound/ 7d Butter, pound/ 1s 1d Eggs (12) summer/ 1s 10d Eggs, (12) winter/ 11d Rent of room in house, weekly / 3s 0d Rent of cottage, weekly/ 5s 0d Bed & board & laundry, weekly/ 8s 6d Rent of small house, weekly/ 6s 0d Rent of 12-bed house, Marina, weekly/ 65s 0d Rent, 20–1 High St. (21 rooms) weekly/ 19s 0d Excursion train fare to London, return, (1859) /3rd class covered carriage/ 3s 6d /2nd class/ 5s 6d /1st Class/ 7s 6d Usual return fare to London /3rd class./ 9s 9d 16 year lease for shop and five rooms in Norman Rd/ £680.00 Weekly rent of same/ 9s 0d Guinness, pint/ 3s 6d Photo taken in Pelham Arcade/ 1s 0d Childminder, weekly/ 5s 0d AVERAGE WEEKLY WAGES 1850S Pew opener, female/ 7d Schoolmistress/ 7s 6d Domestic servant/ 4s 0d Cook / 5s 0d Skilled tradeswoman/ 20s 0d Skilled tradesman/ 30s 0d National Schoolmistress/ 7s 0d National Schoolmaster/ 23s 0d Borough Treasurer, male/ 27s 0d Superintendent of Police/ 61s 0d

NB: Domestic servants also received bed and board, and schoolmasters and mistresses a rent-free house, as part of their remuneration.


1829/First child born in St Leonards, on 6 April — Emma Martha Mawle. 1829/The Philpot sisters open the first business in Marina Colonnade. 1830/Gas works established on site of Old Priory Mill – now Morrison’s. 1830/Marianne North born at Hastings Lodge. 1830/Town gas-lit for the first time. 1832/First Reform Bill extended the vote to men who owned or rented property worth an annual rate of £10 or more (about 18% of the adult male population). It introduced the word ‘male’ into suffrage legislation for the first time. 1831/Public water first supplied to both towns. 1834/Visit of Princess Victoria and her mother the Duchess of Kent. 1836/First Police officers in Hastings. 1837/Visit of the Dowager Queen Adelaide. 1839/Infants and Child Custody Act allowed women who were divorced or separated but had not been proved adulterous to ask for custody of children under seven. Custody of those over seven always went automatically to the father. 1840/Sophia Jex-Blake born at Croft Road. 1841/First hospital, in High Street. Board of Health finds one-third of Old Town homes unsanitary. 1852/First female passenger to be killed while travelling by rail from St Leonards. Schoolmistress Mrs Edwards, aged 67, from Norman Road, fell out of an open carriage and was found lying by the side of the track west of Bexhill. She later died of her injuries. 1857/Hastings Cottage Improvement Society founded. Matrimonial Causes Act/Divorce Act established secular divorce in England. Prior to this divorce required an act of Parliament and cost hundreds of pounds, and only four women had ever achieved a divorce this way. The 1857 law provided that (1) a court could order maintenance payment to a divorced or estranged wife; (2) a divorced wife could inherit or bequeath property, enter contracts, sue or be sued, and protect her earnings from a deserter; (3) a man could secure a divorce on the grounds of his wife’s adultery. For women, a husband’s adultery alone was insufficient grounds. 1861/Volunteer Fire Brigade founded. 1863/Queen’s Hotel opened. 1864/Cricket ground opened on site of Priory Meadow. 1867/Second Reform Bill doubled the electorate by extending the vote to almost all working men except agricultural day-labourers. An amendment by John Stuart Mill to include women was overwhelmingly defeated. Amendment to the Municipal Franchise Act* enabled women ratepayers to vote for local municipal councils (see 1872). Women form up to a fifth of the municipal electorate. 1869/Women allowed to stand for Poor Law Boards, and thus become Poor Law Guardians. 1870/Education Act. Compulsory, free education for all children. 1870/Elementary Education Act allowed all qualified rate paying women to vote for members of School Boards, and any woman to stand. Married Women’s Property Act mandated that women could keep their earnings and inherit personal property and small amounts of money; everything else (whether acquired before or after marriage) belonged to their husbands. 1872/Municipal Franchise Act (see * above) Married women now excluded from voting in local municipal elections. New Custody Act: divorcing women could be awarded custody of children under the age of 16.

FURTHER READING: WOMEN’S HISTORY Adams, C., Ordinary lives a hundred years ago. Virago, 1982. Alexander, S., Women workers in Victorian London, in: Mitchell, J. and Oakley, A. Rights and Wrongs of Women. Penguin, 1976. Burman, Sandra, Fit work for women Croom Helm, 1979. Clark, A., Working life of women in the 17th century. Routledge & Kegan Paul 1982 Hiley, M., Victorian working women: portraits from life. Gordon Fraser Gallery, 1979. Pennington, Shelley and Westover, Belinda, A hidden workforce: home workers in England 1850–1985. Macmillan, 1989. Pinchbeck, I., Women workers and the industrial revolution. Virago, 1981 Purvis, J., Women’s History; Britain, 1850–1945. Roberts, Elizabeth, Women’s work 1840–1940. Macmillan, 1988. Taylor, B., ‘The men are as bad as their masters..’:socialism, feminism, and sexual antagonism in the London tailoring trade in the early 1830s. (Feminist Studies; v.6 no.1, 1979) Tilly, L., and Scott, J.W., Women, work and family. Methuen, 1987. Vicinus, M., (Ed.) Suffer and be Still: Women in the Victorian Age. Methuen, 1980. Walkley, C., The ghost in the looking glass: The Victorian seamstress. Peter Owen, 1981

HASTINGS HISTORY: Brett, T. B., Histories and Historico–Biographies, unpublished, held at Hastings Library. Elleray, Robert, Hastings: A pictorial history. Phillimore, 1979. Haines, Gavin, Britain in old photographs: Hastings & St Leonards, Alan Sutton 1997. Haines, Pamela, Hastings in old photographs. Alan Sutton, 1989. Hastings Local History Group, Hastings Bygones Volumes 1, 2, 3, & 4. Hastings Modern History Workshop, Priory Meadow & the Town Centre. 1997. Manwaring Baines, J., Historic Hastings. Parsons, 1955. Marchant, R., Hastings Past. Phillimore, 1997. Meredith, James, Old Town Hastings, Meredith Press 1986. Scott, A., Hastings in old picture postcards. European Library, Netherlands, 1993. Thornton, D., Hastings: A living history. David Thornton, 1987. Wales, T., The Archive Photographs Series: Hastings. Chalford, 1998.

Victorian women

Social class

Notable women

Hastings maps and photos

Suffragettes in Hastings

Elsie Bowerman

Marianne North

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