The problem of Mr Byatt’s house

H.G. Wells had two stints in the wonderful town of Midhurst, in West Sussex.

Wells loved Midhurst:

Midhurst has always been a happy place for me. I suppose it rained there at times but all my memories of Midhurst are in sunshine.

His mother had been from Midhurst, but Wells’ first stay was in 1880, when she apprenticed him to Samuel Cowap, who owned a chemists’ shop in Church Street. While he enjoyed the work, he only stayed one month before joining Midhurst Grammar School as a pupil-teacher (he was 14). In February of 1881, he became pupil #33. But the school was not yet rebuilt, having closed in 1859 due to fire. So Wells stayed with Horace Byatt, the headmaster who was redeveloping the school. Byatt lived “with his wife and three small children in a comfortable old house near the South Pond”.

I have been trying to find out which house. I thought perhaps if I could get the census of 1881, I could find out. When I went online, geneaology sites like would give me a peek:


But they wanted me to pay. The National Archives sent me to a paywall site, also I found an 1891 free page , and the house number was blank. I signed up for a free account at and found:


Totally fun —  there’s H.G.! and a female servant. But no indication of where the house was on South Street.

There aren’t that many choices. Here’s South Street in the Ordnance Survey 6 inch map (1888-1913) from 1895-6, from the National Library of Scotland:


And here’s the same from the Ordnance Survey 25-inch (1892-1905) from 1895:


There’s even an additional, wall map worthy, map from 1893.

And here it is on today’s Google Maps:


The Two Rose Cottages has a Wells Room, but I digress. Drop down in Street view and you see house numbers like this:


Being desperate, I sought a librarian. Within hours, our college’s wonderful librarian, Lauren, found this page, and thus told me he lived at 89 South Street. I was ecstatic! Then I was suspicious. I couldn’t really cite this source, obviously someone’s genealogical research mapped on Google.

So I asked, please, was there anyway to get an image of the census page? Lauren somehow obtained this page from someone at one of our public libraries, who could access such things:


Oh, dear. That’s not 89 South Street, it’s the 89th record (“No. of Schedule”), possibly the 89th house visited by the census taker. I can’t place the house. The numbers now are 6, 7, 8, so obviously 89 could never have been correct.

So the lesson here is really one of primary sources. A typed version of a primary source isn’t really a primary source – you need the real thing to discover that…you still don’t have what you were looking for. Another mystery to solve…


eaglehotelcensusMore clues have arrived thanks to the intrepid Lauren, our librarian. I now have the census page before this, indicating that stop number 86 was the “Eagle Hotel”, which I’m quite sure is the Spread Eagle Hotel, serving tavern-goers at the top of the street since the 15th century. So did the census-taker cross the street?

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