An exciting find! - a link with Charmouth`s famous Lord of The Manor – Sir John Hawkshaw (1811-1891).
I recently purchased a metal plaque with the inscription " Presented by J. Hawkshaw, Esq. to the Charmouth Cricket Club 1865". The name rang bells to me as that of the famous engineer who had once tried to link Charmouth, Lyme Regis and Bridport with a railway that would have joined the main line at Chard. He was probably the most famous national figure apart from King Charles II to be associated with the village. What made it so exiting was the plaque was given by him to Charmouth so long ago and by a miracle has survived. It was not until I went to The British Newspapers Archives website which has a database of most papers since they were published, that I was able to solve the mystery as to what it was. For the "Bridport News" on the 1st July of that year under Cricket Club reported that:
“We have much pleasure in announcing that Mr. Hawkshaw has presented this Club a large iron roller, for the use of the ground. It has on it the following "Presented by J. Hawkshaw, Esq., to the Charmouth Cricket Club, 1865." Last Wednesday match was played between the Charmouth Cricket Club and an Eleven from Bridport”.
It would seem that the iron plate originally fitted on the front of this roller. It was the only memorial to this great engineer ever being in Charmouth. He ranked with Brunel in his many projects and unlike him lived a long and prosperous life dying in 1891 aged 80, leaving a fortune of over £220,000.
He in some ways unites those other famous Victorians who had such an impact on Charmouth at that time - Charles Fowler (1792-1867) architect of Covent Garden Market and St. Andrews Church and George Frean (1793- 1868) owner of a number of Mills including Charmouth and Lyme Regis Cement Works.
He was already a famous engineer when in 1864 he purchased three substantial estates in this area. The first was the Manor of Charmouth from George Frean which encompassed most of the fields south of The Street. The second was “Poulett House” and its grounds in Lyme Regis. He also bought Lily Farm in Charmouth from the trustees of The Bishop of Llandaff and other houses and fields in both places. His motivation was for a number of reasons including the creation of a country estate with “Poulett House”, now the Alexandra Hotel as its focus. But it was mainly for his ambition of constructing a Railway from Bridport Station (opened in 1857), through Charmouth, Lyme Regis and Axminster (opened in 1860) and linking it to the Main Line at Chard. If successful the value of his properties would have increased substantially as a result. At the time of the purchases he was renting Everleigh Manor, near Andover and had previously in 1863 stood as an unsuccessful Liberal Candidate there. A family friend who often stayed with him was John Gould the famous ornithologist. He was born in Lyme Regis where his father was the gardener at “Poulett House” and it was he who told John about the forthcoming sale of the Estate at that time owned by Colonel William Pinney who was standing down as the M.P. for Lyme Regis after 33 years. It was to give Hawkshaw the opportunity of returning to politics after just two years from his defeat at Andover after purchasing it. He was to offer the voters the promise of a new railway station and line linking it to the rest of Britain. Charmouth would also have a new station and line if successful. He set out to be a benevolent benefactor, especially in Charmouth, which formed part of the constituency. Here he was to design and build a water supply from a Reservoir he had built in a field on his land at Lily Farm. The Bridport News in June 1865 reported:
”Through the kindness and liberality of Mr Hawkshaw, a great boon is about to be conferred on this place, in the shape of a plentiful supply of pure water, in which. Indispensable, requesting Charmooth has hitherto been poorly off. For though nature has placed an abundance within easy reach, as yet no good method of distributing the precious gift had ever been adopted. the state of things is now to be remedied. Messrs Brown of Lyme, have contracted to build a tank, capable of holding 11,500 gallons of water, at the source of the spring known as the Grange, and to lay mains and provide public taps through the whole of the village. Any householder will be able, we understand, at a trifling expense, to have the water bought to his house”.
Taps were placed by the side of the Street for the use of those who did not possess a well and pump. There are still signs of these in the walls of properties in the village today.
He was also a generous landlord, for the Bridport News at the time wrote:
“On Wednesday week last, John Hawkshaw Esq, lord of the manor, and owner of considerable property in Lyme Regis and Charmouth, held his half yearly rent audit at the Coach and Horses Hotel. The business being conducted by R. Hillman, Esq, solicitor, steward. There were present a large number of the principal tenants, both of Charmouth and Lyme Regis, who after the business was concluded, dined together, and afterward spent a very pleasant evening. On the occasion R. Hillman, Esq, occupied the chair, and Mr. Morcom, the vice Chair. The dinner was a most excellent spread, and was served by Mr. and Mrs. Hollys usual good style and gave the greatest satisfaction”.
It was also reported that he gave every poor family a generous supply of coal. The large Iron Roller for The Cricket Club, was clearly another way he made villagers aware of his generosity, by having his name inscribed on the iron plate in its centre. The club had been formed just two years before and proved very popular with its weekly results appearing in the Bridport News. There were matches between neighbouring villages and towns as well as “Men against Women” and “Married against singles”. Two of Johns son`s played in the team which was then captained by Michael Morcom and no doubt he watched them play when in Charmouth.
The original plans for The Bridport, Lyme and Axminster Railway are kept at The Devon Archives in Exeter and are very detailed showing the route and cross sections of the countryside, with a tunnel at Penn Hill. There is a Record book that goes with it of the owners and occupiers of properties and fields it would pass through. John Hawkshaw signs himself as Consultant Engineer and Lord of the Manor of Charmouth. The previous Lord had been George Frean, from Plymouth who had bought the large Estate from John Liddon ten years before and had sold most of it off leaving just a number of fields and an unviable Cement Works near the beach which he then sold at a large profit to Hawkshaw who paid £8000 for it. The Charmouth Station would have been built on a field where the recreation ground at the back of The Street is today, then owned by Henry Compton, with its entrance at Barrs Lane. He was not the first to draw up a plan for a Railway for in 1846 Joseph Locke had submitted detail plans to Parliament for a line with a station behind the Catherston cottages for the Yeovil and Dorchester Railway. In the same year Isambard Kingdom Brunel planned a line linking Charmouth with Yeovil and Bridport for the Great Western. But both of these failed as money ran out after the period of Railway Mania that swept England. The Bridport News reported the new attempt in rather derogatory terms as follows:
“There is again presented to us the bright and alluring vision of a railway for this district, but whether it is to assume actual shape or form, or, like its precursors, amuse us for a while, and then melt into thin air, I will not attempt to predict. The intended line is entitled the Bridport, Lyme, and South Coast Railway, and is to connect the Great Western at Bridport with the South-Western at a point about midway between Axminster and Chard, throwing off a branch at Whitchurch for Lyme. It is this branch which is to pass through this place. The first Charmouth Mead is the spot selected for that station. After passing Charmouth, the proposed line will make a considerable detour; the distance from Lyme, which is about two miles by the road, would be about four by the proposed rail. The only work of any difficulty in the neighbourhood would be a tunnel of 347 yards, between this and Lyme, and through the hill near Pen Inn. Pitcleaves, a field near the cemetery, it to be the terminus at Lyme. The maps and plans of so much as relates to this parish are now at the clerks for inspection, and a bill is to be brought into Parliament during next session. There can be no doubt but that a railway would be a very material benefit to us. and if it should be carried out as we hope it will, the beauties of Charmouth will then no doubt attract a large share of public attention”.
To assist Hawkshaw with his attempt to get support for the railway line in Charmouth he was to call on local business man, Michael Morcom, who ran the Cement Works that he owned, and who had previously rented it from his father in law, George Frean. The Bridport News later reported that:
“Mr Morcom, of Charmouth occupying the chair. Several gentlemen and tradesmen were present, and took great interest in the proceedings. Some very practical speeches were made, and there is every probability of the railway being constructed, as a portion of the intended line has been surveyed, and there is every reason to believe it is a bona fide affair, as the promoters as well as the inhabitants of both Charmouth and Lyme, see the necessity of a railway, and further, there is also a prospect of paying the shareholders a fair if not good dividend”.
This was just one of a number of projects Hawkshaw was involved with at the time and many did not proceed either because parliamentary approval was refused, or because the necessary capital was not forthcoming from investors. In January 1864 the South Eastern Railway extension was opened from London Bridge to Charing Cross Station, including Hungerford Bridge across the River Thames. He was the Engineer for this project which involved the demolition of Hungerford Market, which had been designed by Charles Fowler. Charing Cross Station was built on the site of Fowlers early work. The former bridge that lead to the Market, designed by Brunel was replaced by Hawkshaw with the present Bridge. Material from this was re-used to finish Brunel`s Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol which remained unfinished after his early death. Charles Fowler specialised in Markets and he designed those in Covent Garden, Tavistock, as well as the Lower and Upper ones in Exeter. He also designed a number of Churches including St. Andrews in Charmouth. His family was associated with the village and both his mother and aunt lived here and have memorials in the church.
John Hawkshaw also designed the bridge over Narmada River, India, was engineer of Amsterdam ship canal (1862) and wrote a report on the route chosen for the Suez Canal (1863). He designed a number of docks including the Albert Dock at Hull and the West India Dock in London. He was also the consultant engineer on the Severn Tunnel and was the engineer for the first Channel Tunnel. Another link with Charmouth is that of Edward Hartsinck Day, a resident of Charmouth who assisted him with the geological investigations on each side of the Channel between 1865 and 1867. He later left for America and was Assay Master in the Columbia College School of Mining. During his time in Charmouth he found a complete Plesiosaurus from the Lower Lias at Charmouth, which was purchased by the British Museum.
The election for Lyme Regis and Charmouth was to be on July12th1865, but Hawkshaw was prevented just two weeks before from standing due to his holding a government appointment as the Engineer to the government funded harbour at Holyhead. Undeterred his 24-year-old son John Clarke who had just finished at Cambridge University stood instead. After a campaign lasting just eight days, he lost the contest, but by only nine votes. He actually won by 92 votes to 87 in Lyme Regis, but lost by 15 to 29 in Charmouth, which was decisive. He later wrote of the experience:
“Lyme Regis was a most corrupt borough and was very properly disenfranchised later on. The people had lived for years on smuggling and elections. Charmouth formed part of the borough for voting purposes and I heard after the election that then were only eleven electors there who were not bribed. I lunched at one house where, after lunch they asked £100 for their vote”.
After getting his degree at Cambridge he joined his fathers practice in London and worked with him on many important projects. In the same years he married Cicely Wedgwood daughter of Francis Wedgwood, grandson of Josiah Wedgwood,founder of the famous pottery firm. Francis’s sister Emma Wedgwood married her cousin Charles Darwin. This family connection and the close proximity to the Jurassic Coast must have fostered his love of collecting fossils. His fine collection still exists and is on display in his original cabinet at Haslemere Museum in Surrey and contains a fine Ichthyosaur from Charmouth.
The Hawkshaws had before the year was out to not only lost the election, but failed in their attempt to get parliamentary approval for their railway due to opposition from Great Western Railway and London and South Western Railway companies. Undeterred by the setback the following year John finally bought a country Estate at Hollycombe in Surrey and then attempted to sell his substantial properties in both Lyme Regis and Charmouth. There was to be an Auction in July 1867, but it was postponed until September of that year. The original catalogue for the sale can be seen in the Dorset Archives and is very comprehensive and contains some fine maps of both Charmouth and Lyme Regis.
An extract from the newspaper report afterwards records:
“The Sale of Mr. Hawkshaw's property - this important sale by auction took place at the Assembly Rooms in Lyme Regis on Tuesday 10th September, under the direction of Messrs, Driver and Co., of 4, Whitehall, London. For some of the properties the competition was spirited, but several lots still remain unsold. In Lyme, Lot 1, Paulett House and grounds adjoining, purchased by H.F.Ingram, Esq. for £3000. In Charmouth - Lot 21,Lilly Farm offered £3150, reserve price £4000. Lot 30, The Drang, let to the executors of the late George Payne, sold for £210. Lot 31, Manor of Langmoor, not sold, reserve price, £4000”.
Other lots raised a further £4,430. Many failed to reach reserve price, however, and properties valued at £16,750 including the coastguard buildings, boat-building premises and shipyard went unsold. The Manor of Langmoor referred to above was actually the Cement Works and the fields around. It was not until it was bought by John James Coulton, four years later that they were able to dispose of this lot. It was this gentleman who also bought The Drang and later attempted to build a housing Estate on the land in Higher Sea Lane. Lily Farm was to remain with the Hawkshaws until it was finally sold in 1914 at a much lower price than it was originally offered at.
Their friend and tenant, Michael Morcom gave up the Cement Works in 1872 and returned to Plymouth and the building found new uses as storage for fishing nets, bathing machines and tents by the Hunter family who rented it from Coulton.
There follows a list of just some of the schemes Hawkshaw was involved with during his short time in Charmouth from Martin Beaumont`s recent publication on the life of the eminent engineer.
1864 He purchased properties in Lyme Regis & Charmouth. Lord of the Manor of Charmouth. Mini "Railway Mania': numerous abortive railway schemes proposed including Hawkshaw's Bridport, Lyme &Axminster Railway. John Clarke Hawkshaw (his son) joined firm; sent to Egypt to report on first cataract of the Nile.
January 11th Opening of SER extension from London Bridge Station to Charing Cross Station, including Hungerford Bridge across River Thames.
August 7th To Russia 'where I have large works in progress.' (Dunaburg & Witepsk Railway).
December 8th Opening of Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol.
December Hawkshaw became Trustee of new Institute of Civil Engineers Benevolent Fund with J Fowler & J R McClean.
1864-85 Consulting Engineer to Jamaica Railway.
1865 Investigated geology of sea-bed between Britain and France.
January 21st Lieutenant Colonel, Engineer and Railway Staff Volunteer Corps,(subsequently Colonel Commandant from 1878 until his death in 1891).
July 13th Lyme Regis election - ineligible. Son Clarke stood instead and lost by 9 votes.
October 12th John Clarke Hawkshaw married Cecily Wedgwood, sister of Godfrey Wedgwood and niece of Charles & Emma Darwin.
December 3rd Collapse of Sturges Meek's new stone viaduct at Mytholmbridge, intended to replace Hawkshaw's timber trestle viaduct of 1849.
1865-69 Constructed East London Railway through Marc Brunei's Thames Tunnel from Wapping to New Cross.
1866 Advised on design of roof structure for the Royal Albert Hall.
June Bought Hollycombe, West Sussex.
September 1st Opening of City Terminus Extension of the Charing Cross Railway to Cannon Street.
1866-1870 South Dock of the East & West India Dock Company, London (opened 5 March 1870)
1867 September 10th – His Charmouth and Lyme Regis Estate auctioned.
Looking back at the brief time Hawkshaw was associated with Charmouth one has to reflect on what would have happened if his efforts had succeeded in 1865. John or his son would have been our Member of Parliament with tremendous influence with the many projects they were involved with. Lyme Regis would have had their railway instead of waiting until 1903 for it. We would also have had our station, although we would have lost the Playing Fields as that was where it was to be built. At the same time John Hawkshaw knew that with the railway would come expansion of both places and the qualities that we appreciate today of a village would have been lost.