Students help with Midhurst mystery

When my friend and colleague Jenny Mackness added a comment on my recent post detailing my difficulties finding Mr Byatt’s house in Midhurst, saying it would be useful to students, it occurred to me that my students could help. And as I mentioned in my last post, I did have them help me*. So here I’m sharing the results of their work.

It’s a small group, my class – changing the name of the course from Western Civilization to Western Culture helped not a jot. We will now be changing it again to European History and Culture, but the fact of the matter is that various courses in Italian, French, and Chinese Culture have been approved by the curriculum committee. These courses, taught by my wonderful colleagues in the foreign language department, are much less rigorous (and thus more fun) than a real History class. But, the students who show up for class want to be there, and there were seven present the day I brought in my work.

I had run off copies of the Census pages, not only the one with Horace Byatt’s house (record #89) showing H.G. Wells was there, but also the pages before and after (more gifts from the mysterious public librarian). I told them I needed those documents back, as they are officially records and I’m technically not supposed to reproduce them (this may have added an aura of importance, now that I think about it). I had also brought photocopies of the maps, especially the one that showed the house buildings:

southstreetOS25in1892-1905

Our first issue was to determine which way the census taker was walking. Since the last house before South Street was one on West Street, we decided s/he turned right. #86 was the Spread Eagle Hotel, but that’s several buildings, and it’s changed over time. I had discovered that the building on the island, now part of the Hotel, was the Market Hall then, so it wouldn’t count. Then the students compared the map with the census rows, and we came up with some possibilities, the most likely being this:

AnnotatedMap.png

There are, of course, some problems. The house fronting the street is small, seemingly too small for that many people (though other families are crowded too). But the big problem is the buildings off the street. Might this have been an extension of Byatt’s house? or are they different houses entirely? Storehouses?

MidhurstCourtyard

Old photos aren’t much help. The tiny building above the courtyard appears to be a storefront of some kind, as does the one on the other side of the courtyard, which we agreed was most likely for Byatt’s house. The best photo we have is of the visit of King Edward in 1906, when the Sanitarium was opened:

Jpeg

There is a shop sign over the courtyard entrance, and it’s unlikely that the house showing behind the boy sitting on the chimney pots is a house large enough for the whole Byatt family. If one assumes, then, that the Byatts were in one of the houses on the courtyard, that’s unfortunate, because here’s that area now:

courtyardnow

You’ll notice there’s nothing there now. Just backyard garden, maybe a patio. Which means the hunt is on for Byatt’s lease or property documents, likely to be found at the West Sussex Record Office. But without my students, I’d know far less than that!

 

* Students, and my family (who were a huge help), and anyone else who would stand still long enough for me to show them!

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 Ancestry.com would give me a peek:

Ancestrycom

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

FindmypastCensus

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:

southstreetOS6in1888-1913.png

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

southstreetOS25in1892-1905

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

And here it is on today’s Google Maps:

southstreetGoogleMaps

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

6southstreetGoogle.png

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:

1881censusMidhurstByattsection.png

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…

UPDATE:

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?

Midhurst Mystery

I received a mystery yesterday, in the package with a copy of Wells’ text-books (second edition, and beautiful). My correspondent, Simon Wheeler of Wheeler’s Bookshop in Midhurst, kindly shared with me a page from a book called Midhurst Town: Then and Now by V. and B. Mitchell, 1983.

It contained this caption on a photo of Church Street, Midhurst in the 1900s.


A Mrs. Allin arranged the post for Wells at the Grammar School?
This is the first I’ve heard of her. Well’s autobiography says he came up with the idea of contacting Byatt for an “usher” job when he was miserable in his indenture at Hyde’s Drapers in Southsea:

Finally I had the brilliant idea of writing to Mr. Horace Byatt at Midhurst.

Although Wells notes that, “I do not remember now the exact order of events in my liberation nor when it was I wrote to Byatt”, he was two years into the indenture so it was some time in summer 1883. He would be on his way to Midhurst in August.

There is no mention in Wells’ autobiography of Mrs. Allin, nor the ironmonger’s shop. So I did a quick check around the web.

The West Sussex Records office, where I had spent some time looking at the Grammar School prospectus, seems to have the records of the Allin Brothers’ business from 1879, but I doubt they would contain anything useful.

I also found the Allins’ son George, on a memorial web page  of those who had fallen in the Great War – his name is inscribed on the memorial in the town centre. George was born near the end of 1883, just after Wells returned to Midhurst to take up the position with Byatt. But Wells must have known Mrs. Allin (who would have been hugely pregnant with George when Wells arrived at Midhurst to teach) before this, if she helped him get the post.

midhurst-ironmongersallin
Courtesy of Simon Wheeler, Wheeler’s Bookshop, Midhurst

So this is the mystery. If Mrs. Allin (her given name was Elizabeth) had something to do with obtaining the teaching post for Wells, how did that occur? Did she know Horace Byatt and suggest to him that he hire Wells? How did she know Wells wanted out of his indenture? Did Wells write to her (there is no evidence of this) or did Byatt show her Wells’ letter or tell her about it? Or had H.G. confided in her somehow before he left Midhurst the first time, when he was 14, in spring of 1881?

Wells suggests that his mother, who was from Midhurst but was working and living at Uppark, knew nothing of his plans when he confronted her, pleading that she end his indenture and allow him to return to Midhurst, so it’s unlikely that either Byatt or Elizabeth Allin had contact with his Sarah Wells.

What might have been the connection?