Chapter 6–3. July 1868 — Brighton to Newmarket Hill

1868, Sat 18th or Sun 19th July? — Brighton to Newmarket Hill

It must be left to speculation as to the frame of mind of Martin Brown when he decided it was time to abscond. A copper, and metal chimney pots, were a completely different class of object to that of the easily disposable items he had previously stolen. If he was a professional thief, he had not proven to be a particularly good one, but perhaps, during the year he had just spent in prison, he had made new criminal contacts, and learnt new ideas. If so, being on the run under an assumed name would have been just an occupational hazard. But it is just as likely that he had had a difference of opinion with his master, and that the robbery may have been committed out of spite. Alternatively it was merely an unplanned crime of opportunity. He could easily have made use of his master’s cart to transport the items to a scrap metal dealer, and with cash in hand, may have absconded before the items were missed. Another factor was that he was engaged to be married with a girl in Brighton. It is possible that further research may throw more light on his deeds at this time, and thus on his motivation. Until then this must remain a mystery.

The month of July was heading towards August, and so it would have been about time for the start of harvest. Therefore it is understandable that Brown headed up onto the Downs beyond Brighton in search of new, agricultural, employment. Kingston was close to both his family and his betrothed in Brighton, and yet remote enough to have a reasonable chance for his new identity not to be uncovered. It was therefore an obvious place to head for.

His route would have been up one of the steep dusty (or muddy!) roads or tracks that led up out of Brighton and onto the Race Hill. From there one can see magnificent views of the Downs and the sea, and on a really clear day, even the hazy outline of the Isle of White. At the top of Elm Grove, whose Elms were planted about the same time as his family’s arrival in Brighton some 16 years before, he would have seen the large and imposing new Brighton Workhouse. It had been moved away from the centre of town, and built to accommodate the increasing numbers of Brighton’s poor. Its nickname, the “Pearly Gates” — its being so close to heaven — was most appropriate, for conditions inside were known to be particularly bad.

By contrast, up here was Brighton’s ‘sheep walk’, the ‘Tenantry Down’. He would have been greeted by the song of skylarks, flittering butterflies, the smell of the thyme in the soft springy turf, and the gentle tickle of sheep bells. Was he able to enjoy such romantic sights, sounds and smells? He was known to be a fast walker—his mind may have been on other things—he may have passed them quickly by. Or, perhaps, with money in his pocket, and a new life ahead of him, he may indeed have gained pleasure from this summer scene.

The next landmark along his route was the Race Hill Mill, at the top of Bear Road, that had been moved up the hill some 6 years previously. His ridge-top route ran parallel to the Racecourse, and shortly before its end, just beyond the Racehill Farm, he would have passed a turn-off down the hill to the right which led to the new Warren Farm Industrial School which had been built for the education of the Brighton Workhouse children.(1) Had he ever been in the Workhouse himself as a child? However that may have been, he would have continued straight on, along the wide grassy old ridge-top Drove Road for about a mile, to the junction with the Rottingdean–Falmer Road. Down to his left was the Upper Bevendean Farm, and on the hillside opposite was the outlying ‘Hill Cottage’, later known as ‘Cambridgeshire Farm’. Away down to the right, past the nearby ‘Wick Farm’—an outlier of the larger ‘Norton Farm’ in Balsdean Valley—the old Parish Lane, which followed the ridge-top boundary separating Ovingdean from Rottingdean, diverged from the Falmer Road which followed the valley down past ‘Woodendean Farm’ to Rottingdean, and the sea beyond. In the opposite direction, the road led on down to the village of Falmer. Across this road the Drove Road forked in two, the right-hand way leading on and down to Balsdean and Norton Farms. But Henry Brown (formerly Martin!) continued on up towards the summit of Newmarket Hill.

1868, Sat 18th or Sun 19th July? — Newmarket Hill

On crossing the Rottingdean–Falmer Road and heading on up the hill, Henry Brown had crossed the Parish Boundary into Kingston near Lewes. This side of the hill had been ploughed since at least the end of the 18th century, though this was still very much an exception. The Guardian Newspaper wrote of the hill:

Newmarket Hill, one of the spurs of the Southdowns, less than two miles north west of the Brighton Race Course, and well known as a favourite meet of the Brookside Harriers. The hill and the land surrounding it has not yet been brought into cultivation, and it is chiefly used as grazing ground for sheep and cattle. Mr Hodson, of Kingstone, near Lewes, the owner, or lessee, of the land, has built, at the northern crest of the hill, a cattle fold, with barn and outbuildings, and a cottage for attend the stock. The cottage is an unusually substantial and comfortable house, built of flint and surrounded by a little patch of garden land… [T]here resided in the cottage a labourer, employed by Mr Hodson, named David Baldy, aged 61, and a native of Falmer. There lived with him in the cottage his wife (a third one, we believe), his two youngest sons, aged 14 and 11, his little daughter aged 5, and a lodger named Joseph Hollands. The eldest son of Baldy also occasionally slept at the house… The cottage stands quite isolated and lonely on the top of the hill. There is probably not another habitation within two miles of it; Bevendean and the Industrial Schools being the nearest on one side; Falmer on the other, and Kingstone in the direction of Lewes. On the south slope and crest of the hill the sward is mixed with tufty heather; but on the top and northward slope of the hill is good furze cover, along which is the path that [David Baldy] and his family used to follow when going to and from their work at Kingstone.

The Lewes based, Sussex Express, also wrote of Kingston’s tenant farmer, Mr. James Hodson (a ‘gentleman’ for his title was given as ‘Mr.’), and the farm labourer he employed, David Baldy, who occupied Newmarket Cottage (or Newmarket House, as his fellow labourers called it), and of the environs of Newmarket Hill:

Mr. Hodson, the well known farmer of Kingston, near Lewes, had in his employment a man of the name of David Baldy, aged about sixty, a native of Falmer,—who, from his long residence in the locality, is generally known to the inhabitants of the Brookside villages. He occupied a cottage on Newmarket Hill, in which he lived with his wife—the fourth, we understand who has joined her lot with his two youngest sons, aged 14 and 11, his little daughter, aged two, and a lodger, named Joseph Hollands. The eldest son of Baldy, also occasionally slept at the house… Newmarket Hill and the cottage in question is very well known to those who have enjoyed the meets of the Brookside Harriers, but for the information of our readers who have not had that pleasure, we may state that it is situate about four miles from Lewes, and is one of the highest of the many hills which rear their heads, as it were, above the bosom of that chain of the Southdowns which extends south of the road from Brighton to Newhaven. The easiest approach to Newmarket Hill, although, not perhaps the nearest from Lewes, is to take the Brighton road as far as the Newmarket Tavern, and, passing under the railway arch on the left, ascend the hill, which gradually slopes to a height of upwards of 700 feet. Most extensive views are obtainable from the summit. On the westward is Brighton racecourse with the Grand Stand; not more than two miles off, and the higher portion of the great fashionable town backed up by the hills above and beyond Worthing. On the south is Rottingdean. And the sea. On the east undulating valleys lead to Pickard’s Hill, beyond the right of which is seen the bold promontory known as Seaford Head. On the north is the village of Falmer, with its picturesque pond almost hidden with trees, the hills above Offham and Plumpton, and the lowlands beyond Lewes. The cottage of Baldy stands on the eastern slope of the hill very near the top; it is an ordinary flint built, small windowed four-roomed habitation, and there is no other within a mile at least of the spot. A few buildings, such as a barn, stable for horses, and hovels(2), surrounding a yard for sheep are at the back of the cottage, and the land is principally virgin sward ayersined here and there with clumps of furze and heather.

Such was the perspective of outsider’s to the hill-top scene, and they may be forgiven if a few details, here and there, are in error.

The young man who would have presented himself as being in want of employment and lodgings, with his new name of Henry Brown, was described as; a good-looking young man, and though 22 years of age, does not look to be more than 18 or 20; he was of fair complexion, with blue eyes and light hair, and a well-formed nose, slightly aquiline; he had a good forehead; he had no beard, whiskers, or moustache, his whiskers coming but slightly; he was strongly but well-built, though short in stature, being only 5 feet 4½ inches in height. There was nothing in his appearance to denote a brutal or vicious disposition, but his lips indicated firmness and determination.

He may have arrived wearing his Sunday best, which was a pilot reefing jacket, and which, judging from newspaper adverts, seems to have been popular at this time.

1868, Sat 18th or Sun 19th July?—Newmarket Cottage

The farm labourers’ cottage, was more or less as has been described above. It was of two stories and had a slate roof. Its gable frontage faced due north, and the farmyard was to its right. The front garden gate led past the outside privy, situated in the corner between the front garden path and the farmyard wall, conveniently close to the front door of the cottage. The front door opened onto a wash-room, or scullery(3), a door led into the kitchen beyond, and a staircase led to the bedrooms upstairs. The family probably slept in the bedroom at the front, overlooking the main entrance of the house and farmyard; it was divided in two, with at least the younger children in the further room. It is possible that one or more of their older boys slept downstairs in the kitchen. The other bedroom, at the south end of the house, was for lodgers. It is probable that the bedrooms had no fireplaces, but there may have been a central chimney in the house which would have given off some warmth. Under the stairs(?) was a small pantry. At the back of the house was the kitchen, and cooking would almost certainly have been directly over the open fire, which we believe to have been against the wall which divided the kitchen from the wash-room. The one central chimney could thus have also given service to a copper which was in those days a standard part of a labourer’s scullery. A side-door from the kitchen probably gave access into the garden, and close by, the Baldy’s dog was tied up. Against that side of the house was a wood shed. Memories differ as to the location of their well but it was most likely under the window of the wash-room, to the front of the house.(4) The house had been occupied by David Baldy and his family for almost three years.

1868, Sat 18th or Sun 19th July? — Baldy’s family and lodgers

We know little of what David Baldy may have looked like. The best we have is from a very colourful and distant story written in a book by the now famous folk singer, Bob Cooper, in “A Song For Every Season”. The story was told to Bob Copper when he was a boy by his father, who heard it when he was just a boy. The Copper family were from Rottingdean, a village just 3 miles away to the south:

‘’Twas like this—leastways this is what my old Daddy told me. When ’e was a boy, about 1850 time, there was an old fellow by the name of Baldy lived up ’ere all alone. Decent little old kiddy5 he was, about fifty-five years old, with bushy white whiskers; but ’is head was as bare as a badger’s backside. ’E used to work at the farm down yonder in the valley.(6)’ He pointed with his stick, ‘You can’t see much of it from ’ere though, because of the trees. ’E was a carter and ’e’d been down there for years. ’E used to keep ’imself pretty much to ’isself, like, and I reckon that’s what got the poor old bugger into trouble, really. Y’see the chaps ’e worked with used to pull ’is leg a bit about ’avin’ a “tidy old stocking”, ’cos ’e was a bit tight-fisted with ’is money. Mind you, they didn’t mean no ’arm y’know—just used to tease ’im a little, that’s all. But look ’ee, there was one fellow there by the name of Jack—’e’d only been taken on as a casual to ’elp out with the ’arvest—’e used to sit and watch Baldy when they were sitting under the shocks of wheat ’avin’ their bit of “bait”—just the same way as a stoat garks at a rabbit; only worse. Old Baldy was a ’appy, soft-natured sort of chap and didn’t seem to notice it, but several of the other men—after it was all over—said they’d seed ’im sitting there sort of brooding, as if he was working something out in ’is ’ead.’

The “Jack” of his story was Henry [Martin] Brown, and the bald headed, bushy white whiskered, little old kiddy, was David Baldy, who, as reported in the newspapers, did not live alone, but lived with his wife and four of his children, with two others living nearby. Nevertheless, there was enough that was true—or at least partially true, in the rest of his story—for our feeling able to state that his whiskers may well have been full and white.

As we have stated earlier Henry Brown took lodgings with the Baldy family. They were the sixty year old David Baldy, and his forty-eight year old wife, Harriet, and five of their seven children; the 14 year old Philip who lodged down in Kingston (in the same lodgings as his older brother David?) where he mostly worked, but who joined his family for his meals; Walter, 11 or 12 years old, who also worked as a lad for Mr. Hodson, but still lived with his parents; and their youngest two children, Mark, who was 9 years old, and their little sister, Sarah, who was just 5 years old. The youngest two children probably mostly helped their Mother with household and other farming and gardening work that might be expected for an agricultural labourer’s wife to do. Though they had not ever been to school, they would have learnt much from their parents about the many and varied tasks and responsibilities of an agricultural labouring family. There were the household chores; fetching water from the well (no mains water!); firelighting—using a flint and tinder; cooking; the brewing of beer or other drinks; traditional first-aid, and the making of medicines and tonics; household cleaning; candles (no electricity, but if rich enough they might have afforded a paraffin lamp); laundry (boiled in the copper); emptying chamber pots and the bucket from the outside toilet—probably in a trench in the vegetable garden. Farm-work would have included learning to plough—it was a young lad’s task to hold the horses, or in those days, oxen; women and children would have been involved in flint-picking—for not only would they damage they plough, they were valuable building material; harrowing; sowing (by hand); weeding—by women and children; tenting rooks—crow scaring was children’s work; harvesting—which involved all the able bodied people on the farm; threshing; muck spreading; carting—lads were trained early to work with both horses and oxen, and soon were able to drive a cart; stock work (sheep, cattle—dairy down in the village, and beef; draught horses and oxen; and possibly pigs and chickens; as well as sheep at busy times); and then there was the learning of the correct use, maintenance and repair of the many tools, equipment, structures, fences and buildings; and a whole variety of other tasks, including foraging for mushrooms, catching wild birds and stealing their eggs, minor poaching of rabbits or hares, and the picking of wild fruits and herbs, in due season, as well as the forecasting of the weather; and not to forget the folklore, and superstitions that they believed would keep them safe from evil spirits, ailments, and bad luck. All these would have been taken for granted as being within the capabilities of ‘Henry’ Brown, and it is very probable that they were—to a greater or lesser degree—for his father had been an agricultural labourer, and it is possible that he had been so employed at some point in his own life. He had certainly worked with horses, for his last job had been as a carter. He was young, strong, fit, intelligent, and it was noted he was eager to make a good impression.

His lodger, Joseph Hollands, had been living with the family nigh on four years, and during his time they had had three or four other lodgers, though never more than two at one time.

David Baldy, at the age of 60 or 61, was considered to be an old man. He was also known as a very sober man, who never had a quarrel with anyone, except occasionally with his wife, about the perennial problem of their noisy children—to quote their long-term lodger;—“the poor old chap used to get rather fidgetty”(7).

2 Weeks and 3 Days later — Bullets and powder

A little over two weeks later, Mrs Baldy was asked by her new lodger, Henry Brown, to buy him some bullets and powder the next time she was in Brighton. He said that he might get half his money from shooting rabbits.

(1) The well for the Warren Farm Industrial School took from 1858–1862 to dig, and since it was dug at the Town’s expense, it was very well known indeed, especially because it ended up being the deepest well in the known world at that time. Martin Brown’s brother, Joseph, had been a well-digger, though he does not appear to have been involved in its construction.

(2) A hovel was a shelter for cattle, usually open at the front.

(3) It should be noted that the use of the downstairs rooms changed sometime between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

(4) The other possibility was also under a window, but to the south of the house, which was where an underground water tank existed.

(5) A kiddy was Sussex dialect for a workmate.

(6) Falmer, where Baldy worked before moving to work for Mr. Hodson.

(7) The use of the word ‘fidgetty’, in this case, suggests he was often in a state of nervous tension, unable to relax, fretful.

Previous: Chapter 6–2. 1846–1868 — Martin Brown

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Next: Chapter 6–4. End August 1868 — Newmarket to Kingston

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