everyman and everywoman

Month: May 2021

A Life through Five Sovereigns: William Hurr senior

I first came across the stories of the Hurr family through a folk song collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams from one Ben Hurr: the coincidence of his name being a homophone of the chariot-driving hero Ben-Hur drew my attention immediately. Ben was a fisherman in Southwold on the Suffolk coast, and three of his brothers are known to have been singers too. Years of research have gradually revealed some more family stories, including some about their father, William Hurr (1811-1908), who, in his long life, lived through the reigns of five sovereigns of the English throne. William may have sung folksongs as well, though he died before Vaughan Williams arrived, and there’s no sign of anyone collecting folksongs in the area in his lifetime, so we will probably never know. However he did have some stories to tell.

William Hurr was born in Southwold in 1811, the oldest son of Thomas Hurr and Elizabeth Bedingfield. The family were of an independent religion – not specified, but probably Methodist – and pre the 1837 requirements for registration of births deaths and marriages, the records are a bit thin on the ground. William followed in the family occupation of fisherman, and at this time, the small sailing luggers and punts launched off the beach at Southwold, where the fishermen banded into beach companies to work together.


We find out what William looked like! … from a gaol receiving book

William’s first appearance in official documents is not auspicious: in 1839 he was imprisoned for one month for assaulting Sarah Bedingfield. Although this fact appears in the Suffolk Chronicle on 18th May, no further details are given. In a period when there were often many people with the same name, there are not many options for identifying this person, and it looks as if Sarah may well have been his aunt, his mother’s sister. It also seems likely that the same Sarah Bedingfield was admitted to the County Lunatic Asylum in 1849 and again in 1856, dying there in 1861. Whatever the circumstances, this looks like a sad scenario. This wasn’t the only time William expressed his anger or frustration through physical violence, as two years later, he and two younger brothers, John Bedingfield Hurr and Thomas Hurr, were convicted and gaoled for assaulting the newly-appointed Police constable in Southwold, John Parker. Again, no details of the assault are known, but for three brothers to attack him suggests a significant revolt against some action from Parker. In this case, the gaol receiving book (from Ipswich) gives interesting biographical details about William and his brothers. The photocopy of a photocopy in my possession is now very faded, so I have written over the top of it to make it more legible.

The receiving books describe all three brothers as having a dark complexion, brown hair, hazel eyes and a round ‘visage’. William, then aged 30, was 5’5½” tall and had an anchor on the inside of his left wrist. His religion was described as Independent, he had attended school in Southwold for two years and could read and write imperfectly and no occupation is given as mariner. At the time of his arrival in gaol, William had: flannel shirt & drawers, hat, coat, jacket, waistcoat, trousers, stockings, shoes, shirt, two handkerchieves and a knife. Note: not a guernsey or smock; he must have put on his best clothes for his court appearance. The two brothers convicted with him were John, aged 28, height 5’4” and Thomas aged 24, height 5’5”. John was noted as receiving parish relief. I have not traced either of these two in the 1841 census, but John was already married with a young child and Thomas married between October 1841 and January 1842 – more than likely on his release from gaol in November. William also got married shortly after this interlude, to Maria Watson in 1842. She was listed in the Hurr household in the 1841 census as well as at home with her mother in Lowestoft, so maybe they were already courting then.

Thankfully there are no further criminal activities evident in his subsequent life, but it was a life full of hardships.


Hard times

James Maggs 19th century diaries report on 17th April 1851: “Sale of Effects of Wm Hurr mariner- Under distress for Rent. Mrs J.F. Bokenham Landlady”. In the 1851 census carried out less than three weeks previous to this, the Hurrs were ‘near East St’. The landlady was not, as might be imagined, some well-to-do member of the landed gentry, but the wife of another mariner, Joseph Forster Bokenham. Despite apparently owning more than one property, when Bokenham died (drowned at sea in a fishing boat) on Christmas Eve, 1868 and probate was eventually sorted out nearly nine years later, his estate was worth less than £20.

At this point in their lives, William and Maria had three young children, and after moving round the corner to Victoria Street, they went on to have another nine children. Despite describing himself as “retired” in the 1881 census, he went on to be listed variously as a boat owner, fishing smack owner etc in commercial directories until 1892, aged 81.

The boats were also used occasionally in competitions during regattas, and William’s family and boats had some successes: in those days, the fishing boats were at the heart of the event. In 1888 his son Sam was placed 5th in the 20ft punt class, in the Vigilant, and in 1889, the Ipswich Journal of 30th August reported the following result: “Punt race (20 feet and under): 1st prize of 25s. to Hurr’s Susannah; 3rd prize of 20s. to Hurr’s Vigilant – which nearly took second place.” That was to prove the zenith of the Hurrs competitive success – in 1893, the Vigilant came in 5th, still gaining a prize of 15 shillings and after that I cannot find any of William’s family listed: a likely reason is about to be revealed …

1893 was probably the worst year of William Hurr’s life: two sons, Sam, who had skippered the Vigilant in the 1888 regatta, and Tom, both died in a fishing accident, and just a month later his wife Maria died.

“The boat’s name was the Susannah, as fine a craft as ever was floated off the beach, and the crew, two of whom were sons of the owner, William Hurr, and Gabriel Peek, launched about six o’clock in the morning to haul their lines, and in the ordinary course would have returned between eleven and twelve. Not returning as expected, many an anxious eye scanned the deep for some trace of the boat bet saw none, and as the day were on all sorts of conjectures were made as to their whereabouts; some thinking that during the fog they had boarded some craft off the Barnard and had sailed with them; others that they bad boarded some steamer, or had put into Lowestoft. Unfortunately all surmise was futile, and the truth was briefly told in the telegram.”

The Susannah had been run down by a larger Lowestoft boat, and through a tragic set of circumstances, all hands were drowned.

After Maria’s death, William’s two unmarried daughters, Susannah and Annie, lived with him. It seems Susannah, the older, had long-term health problems (the newspaper report above said “at the present time his wife and daughter are confirmed invalids”) and it was Annie who ran the boarding houses they established at Caterer House, 39 Victoria Street and subsequently at 22 Corporation Road, where the three of them moved after Maria and Tom (who had been living home) died and Walter, the youngest son, married.


A grand old man

William outlived several of his children, and in the early 20th century found himself being feted as a grand old man of the community.

In a newspaper report in the Norwich Mercury on 23rd July, 1902, we find William being honoured as one of the oldest inhabitants at a “capital meat tea” held for the aged poor of the town. Ale and pipe tobacco was provided too, so it may indeed have been a festive occasion.

“The Chairman called on the oldest man present (William Hurr, aged 91), who has lived in the reigns of five Sovereigns, beginning with George III, to come and sit on the platform, to which he was escorted by two young ladies amidst loud applause.”

The report also mentions that two photographers were present including Frederick Jenkins (whose son A.B. Jenkins who edited several collections of his work) but so far I have not sighted any photographs taken on the occasion.

Frederick Jenkins not only took photographs, but also took an interest in writing down some of the memories from the older generation, including William at this time too, including the following tales of haunting and smuggling.

The first story is about either William’s father (Thomas Hurr 1787 to 1825) or his grandfather, who served in the Royal Navy and was held as a prisoner-of-war by the French for some time.

“A French lady fell in love with him and wanted him to marry her. He told her that he had a wife in England, but if, when he was set free he found she was dead, he would send word and then if the lady came over he would marry her. When peace was proclaimed and he returned to Southwold his wife was alive. The French lady however did not wait until she hear from him, but started for England shortly after he did. The vessel in which she sailed was lost with all hands. After this occurrence for a long time she used to “trouble” him, or rather, his wife, for the latter was constantly ill-treated, pulled out of bed and sometimes seriously hurt by unseen hands. This got to such a pitch that he was often obliged to go out of the house in the middle of the night to prevent his wife from being ill-used for, it was only when he was with her that things happened. One night after his wife had been annoyed by the “spirit” he went out of the house which was on South Green where he saw a large white cat sitting. He hit at it with a stick saying “Get out cat”. At this it suddenly reared up in the form of a beautiful white horse which Hurr followed as far as the Market Place where it vanished, and he found himself walking behind a funeral procession, coffin, mourners and all. He still followed this and it went slowly down Church Street as far as the Churchyard when it suddenly disappeared and he found himself alone.”

This was told to Fred Jenkins in 1903, as was this tale of smuggling, which William Hurr said happened when he was about 10, in 1821, when he was cabin boy on the Hope, of which Henry Sayers was the master.

“While the vessel was lying at Reydon Quay discharging a cargo, he was left on board alone to look after the ship. In the middle of the night he heard a noise on the quay, looking out of the fo-castle he saw one of the crew of a smuggling boat which had come into the harbour with 300 to 400 tubs hidden on board. The smuggler, John Spence, a Southwold man, told him to go below and he would be paid. Hurr did so and the “crop” was landed. Coming onto the deck the next morning Hurr found a stone “Betty” (bottle) of gin on deck. A similar bottle was left on another vessel ling alongside the quay. Hurr found on the quay a quantity of hoops and slings which he took home but left the bottle of gin on the vessel. The next day Mr Candler, the Custom House officer, came to Hurr’s home and asked him where he had got the slings and hoops. He told him Reydon Quay and was then asked if there were any tubs of liquor on the quay and he said he had not seen any. On the following day the smugglers’ boat was found on Blythburgh Flats. The crew had got clear away and successfully landed their cargo.”

A couple of years later William Hurr also contributed to Jenkins’ store of stories about a “Shrieking Woman”:

“Many people claimed to have heard unearthly shrieks which unfailingly portended wrecks or loss of life by drowning. W. Hurr’s father and mother [Thomas and Elizabeth, née Bedingfield] were coming home one night from the High Street to their house in East Street. When they were near the “Clinkums” (by the entrance to Church Street) his mother saw a figure and said to her husband, “Tom, what a beautiful dress that lady has on.” She had no sooner said this than the figure began shrieking and ran down the lane and vanished. The night before, Waters and two Rogers were drowned by their boat being sunk by a vessel.”

If he’d lived to be a hundred, we might know if William also sang songs, as the folksong collectors Ralph Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth paid a visit to the town in 1910 and noted down songs from three of his sons, William, Robert and Ben. George is also known to have been a singer, so it seems very likely their father was too, and they may even have learned some of their older songs, such as When Jones’ Ale was New from him.


Details about PC John Parker and the distraint of goods in 1851 were found in The Southwold Diary of James Maggs 1818-1876, edited by A.F. Bottomley, published in 1982. Maggs was a schoolmaster in the town and his diaries are a wonderful catalogue of everyday happenings. And to top it all, they are now available online in two volumes and can be downloaded as PDFs.

https://suffolkrecordssociety.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/The-Southwold-Diary-of-James-Maggs-1818-1876-%E2%80%93-Single-volume-paperback.pdf

https://suffolkrecordssociety.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/The-Southwold-Diary-of-James-Maggs-II-1848-1876.pdf

The ghost stories were printed in A Selection of Ghost Stories, Smuggling Stories and Poems connected with Southwold by A.B. Jenkins, published in 1986.

The advertisement for the Southwold Regatta in 1895 was in the Halesworth Times on 13th August.

Please note: Anyone wishing to cite this original research should credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source.

MacKenzie’s Lambs and the Leg of Mutton

After investigating the singing Hurr Brothers (see The Real Ben Hurr) I also found evidence of other singing fishermen from Southwold around the turn of the twentieth century.

And one interesting story shows that in the late nineteenth century there were enough singing fishermen for a fair-sized singing contest to be held outside The Southwold Arms on the High Street.

The Southwold Arms stood at 58, High Street, the next building seawards to the present day Sutherland House, and is no longer a pub. It was known as the Green Man until 1803, then the Joiners Arms, until 1839 when it was renamed The Southwold Arms. From 1869 to 1897, it was run by Robert and Sophia MacKenzie and hosted many congenial events for locals and visitors alike.

It had several letting rooms, as indicated in this auction notice from the Ipswich Journal of 24th February 1866, shortly before MacKenzie bought it.

A.B. Jenkins wrote a colourful description of MacKenzie in his book A Photographic Collection of Bygones & Local Characters:

“Generally known as “Mac”, was for 28 years the landlord of the Southwold Arms during which time the house and himself earned a very considerable reputation.

“Mac always wore a tam-o-shanter thus providing the unmistakable hallmark of Scotland. Mackenzie served for 18 months in the Crimea in the Scots Guards later becoming Colour Sergeant; he also served in Canada with the same Regiment when the Fenian Raids were expected from the United States. He was married in St. Martin’s in the Fields, Trafalgar Square to a Dunwich lady who was as popular as he at the Southwold Arms. Mackenzie gathered together a number of well-to-do visitors who stayed at his house during the holidays, and who became known as Mackenzie’s “lambs” and sometimes as the “madcap visitors”.

“Before leaving for home at the end of the holiday the “lambs” used to arrange a sing-song outside the Southwold Arms at which residents in the town were invited to sing for a leg of mutton. The house was illuminated with Chinese lanterns, and the leg of mutton dangled from the sign above the head of the singer, who stood on a table underneath it. Many of the fishermen would compete for the prize, and some of their songs were very long and the concert usually proved a very lengthy affair. A large crowd would assemble so any traffic would have to go along Victoria Street.

“Notwithstanding this gaiety the house was very strictly conducted and Mackenzie would not serve meals until grace had first been said. He did not take female lodgers as he said if he took married couples it might turn out that they were not properly married, and he did not wish his house to be disgraced. He also strongly objected to any lady dancing with any other than her own husband. Mackenzie died in Southwold in 1915 aged 87 years and was given a military funeral by the soldiers who were then stationed in the town.”

A careful investigation of the official records reveals that MacKenzie was born in Caithness, northern Scotland, in 1828. At the time of the 1851 census he was a patient in the Scots Fusiliers Guards hospital, Lillington St, Westminster and in 1861 – after his service in the Crimea – he was in Aberdeen, a sergeant in the Scots Fusilier Guards.

His future wife, Sophia Watling was born in Westleton, a few miles inland from Southwold, and went to work as a cook in well-to-do households in London. In 1865 the pair married, as Barrett wrote, in St Martin-in-the-Fields and by 1868, when MacKenzie received his army pension, they were resident in Southwold.

With Mac’s military reputation and Sophia’s culinary one, they evidently made a good team.  Newspaper reports throughout the 1870s and 1880s show that they hosted the Suffolk Rifle Volunteers and other such groups on their annual band outings, providing a base for the day, generous meals and convivial musical evenings at the pub. Here is a typical report from the Ipswich Journal from 24th August, 1872.

After retiring from the pub in 1897, Mac and Sophia lived out their last couple of decades just a little bit further out of town from the pub they had run so successfully for nearly thirty years.

 


This pub continued to be a place for singing into the mid twentieth century, when social occasions such as darts matches (see foot of the page for info about the photo below, taken c. 1950) provided a convivial atmosphere for a sing song afterwards.

Some years ago I interviewed Hilda Palmer and Dale Peck about their memories and they told me that in the 1970s after a darts match on a Friday or Saturday evening, Frank Palmer (bottom left in this photo) and others including Graham Lewis and Henry, Jockey and Hettie Hurr (cousins of Frank’s) would sing old favourites such as The Faithful Sailor Boy, The Mermaid, The Miner’s Dream of Home and The Rugged Cross, alongside more recent songs such as The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen, The Happy Wanderer or Red Sails in the Sunset. Comic songs such as Albert & Sadie (a parody of Frankie and Johnny – an old American folksong popularised in 1966 by Elvis Presley) or What a Wonderful Fish the Sole Is were always popular too, with the audience joining in lustily.

The latter song is a curiosity, one of those short pieces that starts out as something innocuous and then turns into an innuendo. Virtually all of the few online references to this song are to do with it being performed in pubs, none before the 1950s:

What a wonderful fish the sole is,
What wonderful fish are soles.
Though I’m glad to relate,
I’m partial to skate,
When served on a plate with rissoles.

What a wonderful fish the sole is,
They swim around in shoals.
But the finest of fish, ever served in a dish
Are soles, are soles, are soles.

This set of words is given on the fascinating website Sound and History together with this little story:

“Just a few days after the BBC visited the Cock and Monkey, the folk song recordist Peter Kennedy turned up to make his own recordings of Burnham and French’s songs. These eventually found their way onto the Folktrax compilation The Londoners.”

Given that Kennedy was working for the BBC in 1954, making recordings of old songs and music, it was probably he who made the first recording of Bill Burnham and Bill French, on 3rd February. The notes to The Londoners gives a recording date of 13th February, and Kennedy commented that The Two Bills were actually barred from singing the Sole song in their regular pub. Kennedy’s collecting notes whilst working from the BBC have been digitised but there are no entries for early to mid February 1954.


Several of the other pubs in the centre of Southwold are known to have hosted singing on a Saturday or Sunday night, but arguably the most significant was the Harbour Inn, which is about a mile out of town, on the Southwold bank of the River Blyth. – See Tales from the Harbour Inn (forthcoming).


The photo of the Southwold Arms darts team c.1950 is from Hilda Palmer’s family collection – Back row: Kimmer Lurkins; Speedy Chapman; Giovanni Lees. Middle row: Sammy Chapman; Pimple Thompson; Don Palmer; Ticker Watson; Jack Jerman; ? Smith; Frank Goodwin. Front row: Frank Palmer; Jerry Nicholls; Lesley Smith; Billy Blowers; Johnny Neller.

The portrait of Robert Mac MacKenzie comes from A.B. Jenkins’ book A Photographic Collection of Bygones & Local Characters.


Other Southwold stories are told elsewhere on this blog- see: Up from the Sea, The Real Ben Hurr and The Battle of Sole Bay: an unsung song.

For information about the folksong collecting trip in 1910 by Ralph Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth, as well as full details of all the songs sung by the Hurrs, and other singers found on that trip, see my other website https://katiehowson.co.uk/southwold-singers-1910 , where there is also more information about other 20th century singers 

Please note: Anyone wishing to cite this original research should credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source.

The Battle of Sole Bay: an Unsung Song

This is a song which has a – literally – unsung history!

Sole Bay is the area of sea just off the coast of Suffolk near to the town of Southwold (locally pronounced something like “Sa-old” – not very different to “Sole”).

For some years I have been investigating the folksongs sung in the town, and various other aspects of that work are featured elsewhere on this blog – including The Real Ben Hurr about several brothers who sang to the folksong collector and composer Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1910.

One of those brothers, Robert Hurr sang a song called The Loss of the Royal George. Folklorist Roy Palmer speculated in Folk Songs Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1983) whether this song might actually relate to the Battle of Sole Bay, which took place at sea just off the coast of Southwold in 1672. Looking further into this, I found that although there was both a Royal James and a St. George in the battle, there was no Royal George, and in fact Robert Hurr’s song relates to another ship entirely, which sank in the Bay of Biscay in 1782.

However, in these investigations, I found that there had been a song about the Battle of Sole Bay, and it does even seem to have originated in Suffolk, but in the intervening centuries it has all but been forgotten.


Most sources agree that the battle took place on 28th May 1672, although the source for our song actually gives it as 20th May.

The English and French were at the time embroiled in recurring wars with the Dutch over shipping and fishing rights, and this engagement was to be the first naval battle in the Third Anglo-Dutch War.

In the small hours, a French frigate brought the news that the Dutch were again on the warpath and only two hours away. At the time, many of the English sailors were on shore leave in Southwold, but within a couple of hours the fleet had put to sea.

For some reason the French steered away from the battle, leaving the English and Dutch to it. The noise of the guns and cannon is said to have brought the inhabitants of the town to the cliffs, although as the battle was ten miles out to sea, their view was probably only of smoke. The flagship of the fleet, the Royal James, was set on fire and orders were given to the townspeople to prepare to repel the Dutch, should they attempt to land. In the late afternoon the weather conditions changed and the Dutch withdrew.

The song is usually titled A Merry Song on the Duke’s Late Glorious Success over the Dutch and was first published in The Suffolk Garland in 1818 and subsequently printed in several collections in the 1840s and occasionally in the twentieth century, including those listed here.

Early English Poetry Ballads: Popular Literature of the Middle Ages – “From a broadside in the possession of Mr Rimbault”, Percy Society (1840); Early Naval Ballads, Percy Society (1841); The Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol 15 (1841); Southwold and its Vicinity, Ancient and Modern, Robert Wake (1842); Metropolitan Magazine, Vol 52 (1848); Naval Songs and Ballads, C.H. Firth (1908); Ballads, Songs and Rhymes of East Anglia, A.S. Harvey (1936) and Boxing the Compass, Roy Palmer (1986).

I have found no evidence of this song in either the oral tradition, or on broadsides or other street literature.

As I can find no trace of it before its 1818 publication in The Suffolk Garland, it seems quite likely that it was written by the antiquarian Reverend James Ford (1779-1851) who compiled that book. Some poems in this collection are credited to other writers, others are not, and we may surmise that these ones were either by un-named writers from broadsides, or from the editor’s own pen. It was common practice to set new songs to old, well-known tunes, and in The Suffolk Garland, the tune Suffolk Stiles is specified for this song but this has not yet been found.

Ford was curate at St Lawrence in Ipswich for 22 years, and it was there he met and married his wife, Letitia, who was the daughter of one bookseller (George Jermyn) and the stepdaughter of another (John Raw), who printed and published The Suffolk Garland. Ford was also friends with John Mitford, who was editor of The Gentleman’s Magazine from 1834 to 1850, when Ford is known to have been a contributor, fitting in neatly with the known publication dates of A Merry Song … in that journal.

The Reverend Ford moved to Navestock in Essex in 1830, and when he died there some twenty years later, another Suffolk antiquarian, William Fitch, bought much of his collection which was eventually deposited in the Suffolk Record Office.


The Suffolk Garland in all its glorious entirety is available online, here as a Google Book, or use this next link if you’d like to go straight to the song itself.

In 1866, The New Suffolk Garland was compiled by antiquarian John Glyde junior, and whilst it is equally fascinating, it is a completely different book!

For accounts of the Battle of Sole Bay, I recommend this localised perspective from the Southwold Museum, or have a look at the Wikipedia entry if you’re interested in the detail of the ships engaged in the battle.

For information on the Reverend James Ford, look at this account from the area of Essex where he lived at the end of his life.

The image of the battle is a tapestry called The Fleets drawn up for Battle by Willem van de Velde de Oude.

For more information about the song The Royal George, see the post on this blog entitled The Real Ben Hurr.

Please note: Anyone wishing to cite this original research should credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source.

The Real Ben Hurr

It’s just possible that this Ben Hurr (from Southwold on the Suffolk coast) knew of the famous film character Ben-Hur, as the 1880 novel was first released as a silent movie in 1925, and Southwold had its very own Electric Picture Palace from 1912. I hope the coincidence would have amused him as much as it did me when I first came across his name as a fisherman from whom folksong collectors Ralph Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth noted down songs in 1910.

It turned out that the real Ben Hurr was from a large family, several of whom were known to be musical, and these initial findings have led me to investigate many aspects of traditional culture in Southwold – see the foot of this page for other related articles, including a link to the digitised manuscripts of the songs he and his brothers sang to Ralph Vaughan Williams.


On Monday 24th October 1910 Butterworth and Vaughan Williams called by a small village in east Suffolk called Shadingfield and visited Martha Keble and her son before carrying on to the small coastal town of Southwold, having probably travelled up from London by train with their bicycles. Here they noted down songs from three brothers, William, Robert and Ben Hurr. They stayed overnight, and the following day they revisited William and Robert and another singer, Charles Newby and then departed to hunt for more songs in the villages of the Norfolk Broads.

The Hurrs were all fishermen, from a large family which can be traced back for many generations in Southwold. Only a dozen or so songs were collected from them, which included several about the sea (although none about fishing) – mostly tales of shipwrecks. These songs would have been close to their hearts as two of their own brothers had been drowned at sea. Another brother, George, is also known to have sung although Vaughan Williams and Butterworth did not meet him.

The two oldest Hurr brothers, William and James, were masters of small fishing boats, including the Nancy Hugh and the Fanny and their father, also William, had owned the Caterer, the Susannah and the Vigilant at various times. Ben had the Happy Thought and later on the next generation had the Daisy and the Boy Billy. The smaller boats were mostly dandy-rigged luggers, under 20ft long, and would operate with a crew of three. Some of the drifters, which operated out of Lowestoft Harbour, had bigger crews of six or seven. It was common for families to work together and the fishermen formed beach companies to help launch and retrieve boats off the beach. These beach companies also worked together as piloting and salvage companies. The picture below of William “Dubber” Hurr shows him outside the Kilcock Cliff lookout, indicating that he belonged to that beach company.

The last Saturday in August was traditionally the day for Southwold Regatta, and in the late 1880s the Hurrs’ fishing punts Susannah and Vigilant were usually well placed.  We know more about the Susannah – that she was a 19ft, 3 ton, 2-masted, lug-rigged punt built in 1869 – from a newspaper report of a far more tragic nature. The Ipswich Journal of 18th November 1893 ran a long article headed:

SOUTHWOLD PUNT SUNK. ALL HANDS DROWNED.  

Two of those young men were Tom and Sam Hurr, brothers of our singers, aged just 28 and 31 respectively at the time.

They had left Southwold at 6am, fishing for cod (having put some lines down the previous night) and would normally have been back by midday. Sometime after 10am the Helois, a 29 ton sailing drifter returning to Lowestoft, through a series of mishaps and in fog, bore down “upon the unfortunate little boat, cut her completely through, and sent her three occupants struggling in the waves.”

The Helois’ crew comprised a master and seven hands. They had left Lowestoft on 13th November on a mackerel fishing voyage, and were heading back for Lowestoft on 15th, as the weather had turned. Their one lifebuoy was below decks. The Susannah, being a small open boat did not carry a lifebuoy. The news report commented “If the crew of the Susannah had oilies on or heavy boots, they could not long remain above the water …”

The enquiry found that the cause of the collision was: “the mizzen-halyard on board the Helois being used as a tiller rope, and flying off the tiller-head when the helm was put up, which caused the ship to come to, and before the ship could pay off again the collision occurred.” They also concluded that the master and crew of the Helois “made their best endeavours to save life, but, in the opinion of the Court it would have been better if the helm of the Helois had been put down immediately after the collision, as she would have been kept close to the scene of the accident.”

So the songs the brothers sang about shipwrecks would have a very real and heartbreaking meaning for them.


Ben Hurr 1860-1934

Benjamin Lowsey Hurr was the seventh child of William and Maria Hurr. Ben married Louisa Stannard in 1881 and they had one son. On the night of the 1891 census, 5th April, Ben was on board the Fanny, berthed in Lowestoft harbour. The master was his older brother William Watson Hurr and there were four other crew members.

In the 1890s, along with brothers William and Robert, Ben was a member of the lifeboat crew – perhaps their involvement came as a direct emotional response to the loss of their two younger brothers in 1893. In the early twentieth century he and his family moved out of the small fishermen’s cottages in Victoria Street into Salisbury Road, one of the newer and more well-appointed terraces in the north end of the town.

His death was reported – rather surprisingly – in the Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail on 13th August 1934:

PEDESTRIAN VICTIMS

“Two fatal accidents occurred on Saturday within five minutes of each other, and at places three miles apart. Southwold and Frostenden, in Suffolk. Each also concerned an elderly pedestrian who received head injuries. Benjamin Hurr, fisherman (74), of Southwold, was struck by a motor-cycle ridden by Abraham Chapman, a neighbour, and died in Southwold Hospital yesterday. Edward Ife, a farm labourer (69), was struck by a bicycle ridden by a nephew.”

These fabulous portraits are probably “our” Ben Hurr, but it’s not possible to be 100% sure as there were other people with this and similar names, and the photos are not dated.

One of Ben’s songs was called The Isle of France, (an early name for Mauritius). It’s a sentimental tale of a convict, finally making his way home after six years in exile, who is shipwrecked, then rescued, and eventually receives a pardon from the Queen. Vaughan Williams often noted just the melody, if he was already familiar with the words, as in this case.


William Hurr 1843-1925

The oldest of the Hurr brothers was William Watson Hurr, known as “Dubber”.

Like his younger brothers, he was both born and buried in Southwold. Census results from 1881 and 1891 of crews on board fishing boats in Lowestoft Harbour show us that he worked alongside his brothers: Ben in 1891 (mentioned above), and in 1881, with older brother George aboard the Nancy Hugh of which their middle brother, James, was master. He lived at home with his parents until he was 52, when in 1895, he married Matilda Adams (née Howard) who was working as a servant to a solicitor in Southwold.  Matilda was a widow with two teenaged children from her first marriage to Joseph Adams, a private in the Royal Marines. She was a local girl, but had lived in barracks at Walmer in Kent until Joseph died after just five years of marriage, when she returned to her Suffolk home.

In the year 1899, Dubber appeared in the newspapers more than once. The first occasion, in the Eastern Evening News of 21st July being a “good news” story:

STURGEON AT SOUTHWOLD

“A large sturgeon was caught by William Watson Hurr in a trawl net and landed at Southwold on Wednesday. It measured upwards of seven feet and a half in length, and weighed some fifteen stone. It was a very fine-fed fish. Hurr being alone in his boat, and it being very dark at the time, had great difficulty getting it into the boat.”

The second reports, from October that year, reveal a much sadder situation –a  family feud between William on the one side, and younger brothers Ben and Walter, supported by sisters Annie and Susannah on the other. Quite what the actual cause of the argument on 6th October was, is not clear, but in one report, William stated that he had been on bad terms with his brothers for four years. In another, Ben said he had helped to keep William for fifteen years. Blows were exchanged and William threatened to shoot Walter and Ben and the latter’s 17 year old son William Albert Benjamin. Susannah, just three years younger than William, may have tried to calm things down a bit but Annie, twenty five years William’s junior is alleged to have punched him in the face. Ben and Walter stated that they went “in bodily fear” of William. Two lady visitors staying in Southwold also gave evidence of the alleged assault, which took place by the fishermen’s sheds on the beach, a space which was shared with holidaymakers as well of course.

By 1901 Dubber and his family were living in what is now the Southwold Museum, which was then divided into two tiny cottages later condemned as unfit for housing. In the photograph here, you can just make out Matilda with two children, Susannah and Sam. They went on to have another daughter, Ellen in 1902, when Matilda was 47, whilst her two children from her first marriage were brought up by her brother and sister along the coast in Easton Bavents. Susannah is reputed to have been a professional singer, but I can find no evidence of this. Susannah’s husband Edgar Stockbridge worked in the brewery business and they moved away, eventually settling in Stevenage.

By 1912, Dubber and his family were living at Caterer House, 39 Victoria Street, where Matilda was the landlady of holiday apartments, which had been in the family previously – this line of business was shared by at least two of her sisters-in-law.

During the First World War, Dubber showed the indomitable Hurr spirit by refusing to follow war-time regulations which banned night fishing, which apparently resulted in him being shot at and sustaining an injury to his arm.

His son William Samuel Thomas (known as Sam) was one of the first who did not follow in the family tradition of fishing, and after William’s death, his boat the Vigilant passed to his nephew, Ben’s son William Albert Benjamin – the very one whom he had threatened to “wring his lugs” a quarter of a century earlier.

Vaughan Williams clearly valued William’s singing and published three of the songs he sang in the 1913 Journal of the Folk Song Society. He noted down just two verses of this song, The Loss of the London. Whether this was all that William sang, or all that Vaughan Williams was interested in, we do not know, but these words are quite different to the versions printed on broadside song sheets. The London sank off the Bay of Biscay in January 1866, so this song was written when William was a young man – it wouldn’t have been an ancient old folk song to him.


Robert Hurr 1855-1934

Robert Watson Hurr, fourth son of William and Maria, married Elizabeth Stannard in 1878 and together they had six children. In 1901 he was living in Young’s Yard, off Victoria Street and was listed in the census as “Boat owner”. There is an additional note, not easy to read – it appears to say “Nav. Shore”. There were Trinity pilots engaged to help coastal trading boats into the harbour on the River Blyth, but these are listed in the town directories of the time, and none of the Hurrs names ever appear. There’s also a blank in the column which should indicate whether the person concerned is self-employed or employed by someone else, and a big circle has been drawn there against Robert’s name, from which I infer that the census enumerator was aware of this omission and perhaps intended to go back and find out. In 1911, his occupation is given as fisherman and his status as “employed”.

In later years Robert worked in partnership with his son Walter (pictured on the left here, with Robert on the right). After the Second World War, Walter co-owned the boat Daisy with Ben’s son: these appear to be the last two of the family to be working fishermen.

After the First World War one of Robert’s five daughters, Annie, kept a pub, the Royal, in Victoria Street with her husband Arthur Brown. This was just across the road from Robert, who was also just round the corner from his eldest brother William, and a couple of minutes’ walk from younger brother Ben and older brother George.

Robert Watson Hurr’s version of The Royal George is just three verses long and focuses on a personal tale of the loss of a sailor at sea. In other, longer versions of the song, it is evident that this was part of a much greater loss of lives in a tragic disaster that took place in the English Channel in 1782.

There has been speculation as to whether this song might relate to the Battle of Sole Bay which took place in 1672, but there’s little in the text to suggest that. Interestingly, there is actually a song about the Battle of Sole Bay – the subject of another post on this blog, The Battle of Sole Bay: an Unsung Song.

As well as being a singer, Robert played the concertina. The only tune noted from him is named The Liverpool Hornpipe in Vaughan Williams’ manuscript, although in fact it is nothing like the usual tune of that name, and is actually a variant of what is probably the most widely-known hornpipe of all, Soldier’s Joy. In Suffolk, hornpipes were, and still are, commonly used for ‘stepping’: an informal, improvised form of tap dancing, so it’s very likely that Robert would have played for such dancing in the pubs of Southwold.


George Hurr 1852-1928

George came between William and Robert in age. In 1875 he married Charlotte Jane Jarvis Pack and they soon started a family and set up in business running boarding house on East Cliff to cater for holiday makers from London in the season, whilst George continued to work as a fisherman.

Proof that the brothers worked together comes from the 1881 census, where George is found on board the Nancy Hugh in Lowestoft Harbour. With him are brothers William and Samuel. William, the eldest, is listed first and has signed the census form. The Nancy Hugh is described as a “dandy” in the business of long-line fishing, and the master is given as James Hurr (the oldest of the brothers), although he wasn’t on board on census night.

By 1901 George and his wife Charlotte were running a boarding house with holiday apartments in Stradbroke Road, which is where they were in 1910 when Vaughan Williams came to town.

We know that George sang from the memoirs of one of those summer visitors from London, Martin Shaw. His father, James Shaw was the organist at Hampstead Parish Church and brought his family here for the first time in the 1870s, when Martin was just a toddler. Martin spent a whole summer in Southwold recuperating from whooping cough when he was thirteen, and maintained a regular association with the town throughout his life, eventually retiring there in the 1940s. His abiding childhood memory of Southwold was of one George Hurr:

“George taught me to swim and to smoke. […] He used to take me out trawling all night. When the nets were down he would while away the time by singing very slowly an interminable ballad with the refrain – which I thought ill-timed – ‘And the salt water was his grave’.”

Neither I nor some of the most experienced song researchers in the country have yet been able to identify this song, but we can certainly identify with Martin Shaw’s sentiments!

Martin Shaw grew up to be a very well-known and respected composer (Morning has Broken for example) and as a student he met Ralph Vaughan Williams. The two became lifelong friends and their correspondence includes some mention of folksong: Vaughan Williams encouraged Shaw to visit William Hurr but there’s no indication of whether he ever did – he certainly did not note down or describe any traditional singing apart from this one mention of George Hurr from his childhood years.

He did however dedicate a song he composed in 1924 “To the Southwold fishermen I knew when a boy”.


Details of the folksong collecting trip in 1910 by Ralph Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth, as well as full details of all the songs sung by the Hurrs, and other singers found on that trip, can be found on my other website https://katiehowson.co.uk/southwold-singers-1910

The Hurrs’ songs, complete with reconstructed sets of words, were also included in a booklet Blyth Voices published in 2003 by the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust. The research in that booklet is now superseded by my later work published online, but if you’re interested in singing the songs, that’s the book you need! https://www.eatmt.org.uk/shop/

To find out more about the song about the Battle of Sole Bay, see The Battle of Sole Bay: an Unsung Song.

William Hurr senior’s story (including some ghost stories!) is told in A Life through Five Sovereigns.

More of the history of some of the artistic visitors is traced in a talk I gave in March 2021 called Up from the Sea – Sea Songs on the Suffolk Coast, which can be watched here – it lasts about 20 minutes.


Martin Shaw’s memoir Up to Now (1929) is the source for the quote about George Hurr, and the Martin Shaw website is the source for the image of his dedication on his song The Dip. The website also has other relevant information and a whole article about his life in Southwold. 

Thanks to the late John “Wiggy” Goldsmith for the Ben Hurr portrait, Gary May for the photo of Robert and his son Walter, and the Southwold Museum for the photos of William Hurr. As with all matters Southwoldian, the Southwold Museum (and its past and present curators) has been of huge help and very much deserves our support.

Song images courtesy of the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at the English Folk Dance & Song Society.

Please note: Anyone wishing to cite this original research should credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source.

 

 

Up from the Sea: Joseph Goodall, J.W. Georges and P.H. Emerson in Southwold

In April 2021 I presented one aspect of my work on the singing traditions from Southwold, in Suffolk for an online talk entitled Up from the Sea: Sea Songs from Southwold on the Suffolk Coast.

In that talk I focused on songs about the sea, and also touched on the role of visiting artists, musicians and writers, who were often inspired by the town’s fishing community, to see if they could reveal further information about vernacular singing.

I chose as my cover image this wonderful painting by Joseph Southall from 1920 – one of two similar studies. I particularly liked this one with the young boy looking on rather wistfully as the fishermen haul their boat up the beach.

In this present article I will elaborate a bit further on some of these little known visiting artists. The singers and songs are the subject of other posts mentioned at the foot of this page, where there is also a link to the afore-mentioned talk.


Joseph Southall (1861-1944)

I first became aware of Southall’s work through Ian Collins’ wonderful book Making Waves, published in 2005. This book is a marvellous survey, beautifully produced, of many artists who have been inspired by Southwold and its inhabitants.

Joseph Southall was brought up by radical Quakers in Edgbaston, Birmingham where he trained as an architect and attended art classes in the evening. He went on to be recognised as “one of the foremost tempera painters in the country and led to his participation in the exhibitions of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society and the exhibition of Modern Tempera at Leighton House, which immediately preceded the foundation of the Tempera Society, of which he became one of the leading members” according to Peyton Skipwith writing on The Victorian Web in 2005. Egg-based tempera is very durable, with a satin sheen finish and generally gives a strong opaque colour.

He fell in love with a first cousin, Anna Elizabeth Baker (known as Bessie), and because of their close kinship they delayed their marriage until they were both in their early 40s. Joe and Bessie  first came to Southwold on their honeymoon in 1903 and spent weeks in the town every summer for most of the ensuing 34 years. He evidently found much inspiration in both the fishing fraternity and the fashionable holiday-makers, but Bessie was also involved, sewing the fabric paintings on to frames and applying numerous coats of gesso and size to finish the work. The Southalls also made their own egg-based paint and carved and gilded picture frames. Colour was of the utmost importance and no varnishing was allowed, although Goodall aimed to suffuse his images with a “golden hue”.

Ian Collins writes about this self-portrait of the Southalls: “This 1911 double portrait of the finely-dressed Southalls searching on Southwold beach for semi-precious stones is called ‘The Agate’. Now on long-term loan to the National Portrait Gallery, it formerly lodged in the ladies’ lavatory of a Birmingham department store – latterly hidden behind a mirror after complaints from customers.”

It is interesting to compare Up from the Sea with a later version of the same scene, entitled Fishermen and Boat (1923). In this later reworking, the little boy has gone, replaced with a basket and wooden barrow. The man in the brown smock has gained a clay pipe and an extra man, sporting a fine moustache and sou’wester has joined in to lend a hand, whilst a couple of fishermen have appeared in the background. Most striking of the additions, perhaps, is the young man on the left of the picture really putting his back into the effort and sporting, like the man in the middle, a fine pair of the long fisherman’s boots that were to prove fatal for some of those engaged in this dangerous industry.

My last two examples of Southall’s Southwold would seem to be the same elderly fisherman: The Old Fisherman leaning on his boat was painted during the Southalls’ honeymoon in 1903 and Fisherman Carrying a Sail dates from 1907. It isn’t known whether these were actual people, or composite creations from a variety of old “characters”, but they very much feel to be based on direct observations.

Southall’s images of holiday makers in Southwold show the changing fashions and habits in sea-bathing, and it is well worth browsing the internet where many more can be viewed.


John Walter Georges (1879-1958)

This singular work by J.W. Georges really captured my attention, as it features someone known to be a singer – Billy Rogers – apparently in full flow, in the Harbour Inn in 1911. It was also published in Making Waves and when the book was published in 2005, very little was known about the artist except that in 1930, when he executed this drawing, he was at St Martin’s School of Art in London, and living in Battersea Rise. Ian Collins noted that “The remembered figures, left to right, are landlord Charles James Prior, fisherman John Cannell of 3 Town Farm Cottages, North Road in Southwold (83 in 1930), ex-basketmaker W.M. Rogers (the blind son of ‘Old Dog’ Rogers), the late fisherman Henry Ladd and the artist himself.”

Billy Rogers was known as a singer around the Southwold pubs and his story is told in Tales from the Harbour Inn (forthcoming).

But what of the artist?

Internet searches revealed no other works by John Walter Georges, so all I know is what I’ve found in a painstaking hunt through the genealogical sources. He was born in Brighton in 1879, the son of Julius Georges, a drawing master. Julius’ parents were born in France and his father was also a drawing master. John Walter moved to Lambeth to take up an apprenticeship in electrical engraving. At the age of 21 he married his boss’s daughter and in 1901 he and his wife Kathleen were living with her parents. After a couple of short-term residences, they settled into a home in Altenburg Gardens in Battersea, and by the 1911 census Georges gave his occupation as artist and art teacher. He retired from teaching in 1934, when the couple moved out to Epsom in Surrey, and he died in Weymouth, Dorset in 1958. This drawing came up for sale in 2004 and is the only known piece by Georges and his only known connection to Southwold. However there are indications of an ongoing family connection in Suffolk. His brother Julius had married a Norfolk woman and in retirement they lived in Clare, in south Suffolk. And, quite tantalisingly, a 16 year-old Dora Georges was living in Walberswick in the summer of 1930 – she is mentioned in Orwell in Southwold: His Life and Writings in a Suffolk Town, by Ronald Binns published in 2018, but I cannot find out any more about her apart from a possible marriage locally in 1937.

It rather looks as if Georges’ 1911 description of himself as “artist and art teacher” was a bit optimistic on the “artist” side. I am grateful for the survival of this one small work of art and it would be nice to think there were some more of his drawings lurking somewhere, unrecognised!


Peter Henry Emerson (1856-1936)

The photographer P.H. Emerson is probably better known than the painters featured above, although he is generally associated with the Norfolk Broads, but his Southwold work from the mid 1880s is also superb.

Emerson published his ground-breaking work in the 1880s in a series of limited edition books and destroyed the plates afterwards. The books, of course, now fetch thousands of pounds, but the photographs have been digitised – details of online holdings are at the foot of the page. His writing is also very interesting, but some of it is hard to access, although a couple of relevant books are available as reproductions or digital books.

Emerson had been born in Cuba, and lived in America until the age of 9. He trained as a surgeon, married and started family whilst still at Cambridge University. He and his wife and baby son first came to Southwold in the summer of 1883, when the Halesworth Times, which listed eminent visitors to the town, tells us they stayed at Mrs Scarll’s on the High Street. They were back as holidaymakers in 1884 and shortly afterwards moved into Wellesley House, from which address he applied for copyright on a photograph called The Hoer on 1st September 1885. The following year he abandoned medicine to pursue a career as an artist-photographer, and it is in this year, 1886, that most of his Southwold photographs were taken. Emerson led a bit of a peripatetic life thereafter, moving his family back to London in late 1886 and living for extended periods on houseboats on the Norfolk Broads, but nearly ten years later he did return to the area – to Oulton Broad – for a few more years, but by that time he was more interested in wildlife writing than photography.

A future article will cover Emerson in more depth, so I shall just include here some of his Southwold photos to which I can add some insights. 

The two photographs above both show fishermen’s huts on the beach at Southwold, and both have names over the doorways. Geoffrey Munn in Southwold: An Earthly Paradise assumed that Rosebud was the name of the men’s boat, but I doubted that, as it looks like a name board off a boat itself. It turns out that no boat called the Rosebud was registered locally, but five years before Emerson took the photo in 1886, the following report appeared in the Diss Express on 25th November 1881, on the wreck of a brig registered in Hartlepool:

So after the crew had been rescued, the Southwold fishermen would have salvaged various remains – including this name board! Evidently this was not an uncommon practice as the following picture and information published in A Photographic Collection of Bygones by Barrett Jenkins indicate.

It is as well that Jenkins wrote the caption “The name board is from the wreck of the Nyl Ghau,” as it is not legible from the photo itself, but is clearly visible in Emerson’s photograph above.

 

 

 

I’ve left the most interesting (for me anyway!) until last – a series of three interiors showing just how staged these never-the-less photos actually were. I loved the one with the fiddle and the boy dancing a Sailor’s Hornpipe or stepdance, and was quite amazed to find these other variations on the same theme.

All of these photographs are held in the Eastman Museum and are numbered 192 (fiddle), 107 (all seated) and 1 (spinning wheel) in their online archive (see below). While these are titled A Cottage Interior and thought to have been taken in Southwold, I have my suspicions that they may have been staged in a room in Emerson’s somewhat larger abode,  where there would have been more room to fit in his large camera apparatus as well.  Whether or not the fisherman on the left did actually play the fiddle, is not known, as we don’t know who he is. Emerson’s daughter Gladys was just a toddler when these photographs were taken, but in later life she became a professional violinist, so it seems likely Emerson’s household could have been musical enough to muster a violin amongst their possessions in 1886 when this photograph was taken.

There is evidence in Emerson’s writing of an interest in folksong, which will be covered in a future post.


Other soon-to-be-published articles about Southwold include Tales from the Harbour Inn, where there is more about Billy Rogers; and The Real Ben Hurr and MacKenzie’s Lambs and the Leg of Mutton which contain more about other singers.


Books

The book Making Waves: Artists in Southwold, by Ian Collins published by Black Dog Books in 2005, cannot be too highly recommended and is what sparked my researches into this particular aspect of traditional life in Southwold.

Southwold: An Earthly Paradise, by Geoffrey C. Munn, published by the Antique Collectors’ Club, 2006 contains beautiful reproductions of fifteen of P.H.Emerson’s Southwold photographs.

I am eagerly anticipating Shorelines: Voices of Southwold Fishermen, by Robert Jellicoe, due to be published in October 2021 by Black Dog Books. Bob is the curator of the Southwold Museum and the archivist for the Sailors’ Reading Room and has been very supportive and helpful with my recent researches.  

Orwell in Southwold: His Life and Writings in a Suffolk Town, by Ronald Binns published by Zoilus Press, 2018

Most of P. H. Emerson’s Southwold photographs were published in ‘Pictures From Life In Field And Fen’ (1887).

Online resources

The Victorian Web website has many gems including this biography of Joseph Southall.

The Suffolk Artists website is also good on Joseph Southall

The Eastman Museum has a wonderful online archive of P.H. Emerson’s photos.

The British Library online archive also has a good selection – this link takes you to a search for “Peter Henry Emerson Southwold

And lastly, here’s that link to my talk about singing traditions in Southwold.

Please note: Anyone wishing to cite this original research should credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source.

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