Thursday, 8 June 2017

Walking along Court Yard in the June of 1841, looking for John Martin and Hannah Simmons

Court Yard, 1858-73
“If you take up a position upon the spot where what we now call the Court-yard meets the High street, you will be standing at the centre of village activity and trade in olden times.”*

Now I am not quite sure when our local historian R.R.C. Gregory means by olden times, but I guess it will be sometime from the Middle Ages onwards.

Because it was here that the weekly market and annual fair were held from 1299 when John de Vesci the lord of the manor obtained a charter for a weekly fair on Tuesdays, and an annual  fair on the eve of Holy Trinity and the following two days.

It continued throughout the Middle Ages and even after it was discontinued there were four annual fairs until 1778.

Mr Gregory also records that the parish stocks “are said to have existed on the left hand side of the way, not many yards from the High-street,” along with a number of  pumps one close to the corner of the High Street, another a little further along Court Yard, with a third near the lower gateway leading to the churchyard.

Now in an age before mains water supplied, pumps ponds and water courses were very important, particularly given the concentration of properties along the Court Yard.

The 1843 tithe map shows seventeen properties along the east side of the road with a few more on the opposite side but this is a little deceptive because according the census return for two years earlier there were no less than thirty-two households which comprised 195 people.

I have yet to look at the Rate Books but it rather looks as if some properties were sub let.

Old buildings on Court Yard, Christmas 1980
Either way our picturesque ancient road was a populous place with the church at one end, the Crown in the middle and another publican at the end, serving both the spiritual and temporal needs of the community.

It was a mixed group of people with plenty of agricultural labourers a sprinkling of skilled artisans and a few who described themselves of independent means.

And as ever it is the people themselves who draw you in, like 25 years old Hannah Simmons, living wither her three children and what I take to be her sister in law and two children plus a fifteen year old girl who could be a lodger of sister.

It is easy to be judgemental and I did wonder whether Hannah was a single parent. Not that the period was as harsh on women who had children outside marriage as we have been led to believe..  There is plenty of evidence here in the parish records of single women baptizing their children in front of the congregation.

But in the case of Hannah the records show she stood beside her husband at the baptising of Elizabeth in 1839, Joseph in 1840 and Sarah in 1843.children.  The record also that a Joseph Simmons was staying on the night of the 1841 census at Middle Park House on the night of the 1841 census, and a decade later they have moved to Shooters Hill.**

Equally revealing is the story of the Crown. In 1840 it was being run by John Blundell who was still there the following year, but seems to have retired by 1843 when the place was in the hands of John Martin who seems very much a young man with a dtermination to go places.

At the age of 19 he is there in the 1837 land tax records renting a stable from a James Wright and land from a Mrs Dobson, and by 1843 is in the Crown renting the building and the yard.

Court Yard in 1843, showing the Crown
And as he began his long partnership with the Crown I wonder what its former landlord did with his retirement, which sadly was not long for John Martin died at the age of 51 in 1844.

 Not so John Martin who was to serve pints for another three decades.

So I shall end by leaving him in the Crown in the spring of 1871 with his clientele from Court Road who were still the same mix of agricultural labourers and related trades with a few posh people thrown in.

But with one exception who in his way pointed to the future.

For living in Queen Alley off Court Road was the young Edward Norton who was the son of the postmaster and who at the age of 14 described himself as a telegraph messenger, and that more than anything points to the future for Court Road and Eltham.

*R.R.C.Gregory, The Story of Royal Eltham, 1909

**Enu 21 6 Plumstead Kent 1851

Pictures; Court Yard from detail of OS map 1858-73, old buildings on Court Yard,1908,   from The story of Royal Eltham, R.R.C. Gregory, 1909 and published on
The story of Royal Eltham, by Roy Ayers, detail of Eltham High Street,  1844 from the Tithe map for Eltham courtesy of Kent History and Library Centre, Maidstone,

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