In “Hidden Sussex-The Towns,” Warden Swinfen and David Arscott comment that, “Hailsham was never under the influence of a powerful landowning family, and its growth in Victorian times was controlled by a small group of public spirited men.”
Paul Endersby explains for The Wealden Eye magazine…
In this pre radio and TV era there was emphasis on community development and many societies and organisations, social, educational and sporting were established which paid an important part in the life of the town. Arising through these developments a number of citizens, became leading members of the community in both a voluntary and elected capacity. One such family was the White family who through four generations made substantial contributions to the life of the town.
First to make an impact was Thomas White who in 1816 purchased the grocery shop on the site of Sherriff’s Place in the Market Square (pictured above), currently the premises of The Link. The business had been in operation for 100 years prior to Thomas White’s purchase. The firm, who according to Charles Robertson, “had considerable local fame,” (Hailsham & its Environs 1982), were retail grocers, cheesemongers, tea blenders as well as wine & spirit merchants.
Thomas White became of the towns leading citizens as evidenced by his membership of the Board of Guardians and also the Vestry, the forerunner of the parochial church council which had both parochial and administrative responsibilities later transferred to the Parish Council (1895). Thomas White developed the grocers and drapery business and remained the owner until 1852 when he was succeeded by his son Daniel. Thomas White was married four times. He was one of the founders of Zoar Chapel, Lower Dicker. He died on 3 February 1857 and is buried in the churchyard at Zoar Chapel.
Daniel White was a Miller using two mills at Sidley Green and Ninfield. Additionally he had been Overseer of the Poor for the parish Bexhill, then a small village. Daniel White was described as, “broad and strongly built, about 5ft 9ins in height.” One of his feats was to carry 7cwt (about 890 kilos) of corn on his back on level ground and then up the steps into the mill, so the great hogheads (a large cask) of sugar and molasses and the puncheons (large cask holding from 72 to 120 gallons) and half puncheons of syrup which he handled in the grocery trade presented no real difficulty after his milling experience.
Daniel White developed the Hailsham business further and by 1870 he was described as a “wholesale and retail grocer, tailor draper, hatter, wine and spirit merchant, purveyor of china, glass and earthenware and agent for the Norwich Union Fire & Life.” He was also responsible for issuing government licences for hawkers, guns, male servants, carriages, horses and mules, armorial bearings, horse dealers, dogs, gamekeepers and game.
Daniel White’s suppliers included several London based provisions merchants including Thomas Cooper & Co. of Fenchurch Street, London, EC who supplied “Titlers.” Titler was a trade name for the large cones or pyramids of sugar which the grocer then cut into cubes with a special chopper. Other items purchased included cheese from Merry & Nutter of Whitechapel. Provisions from London came by both sea and carrier. Whites sold many cheeses both local cheeses as well as from other parts or the UK, Somerset, Cheshire, Leicestershire and Scotland, they also sold cheeses shipped in from New Zealand, Holland, Canada, Australia, South Africa and Russia.
In the 1880’s Daniel’s son, Josiah John White was taken into partnership and the words “& Son” were added to the shop front. Josiah was born in Bexhill in 1849. He married Louisa Augusta Alberta Wratten in June 1873 and was another member of the family who played a leading role in the town. In 1881 stood for election to the Hailsham School Board. In his election leaflet Josiah stated that he was, “in favour of unsectarian education, the advantage of which has been proved by the success obtained by the present unsectarian Board School at the late Examination when 93 out of every 100 passed. At that time the amount of the government grant to schools depended on the annual inspection. A high level of performance resulted in a higher level of grant, and vice versa. Josiah White noted this as he continued, “The Examination has been so good, will cause the Grant from Government to be about £180, thereby lowering our Rates for the present year.” No pressure on the teachers then!!
Having then stated that he strongly desired, “Bible teaching, but of an unsectarian character,” he concludes by saying that, “In the event of your electing me as a Member of the Board, it will be in my interest, as a Ratepayer, to keep the expenses as low as possible.”
In addition to the grocery business, Josiah White went into partnership with William Beeny a local coal merchant. The new business, “White & Beeny” had premises in the station yard plus an office next to the grocery business in the Market Square. The firm also had their own freight trucks.
Blending and selling tea and other like products was an integral part of the grocery business certainly up to beginning of the 20th century. At Daniel White & Son they had a malt mill, a tea mill and a pepper mill. The malt mill crushed the malt. The tea mill broke the larger leaves, thus improving the infusion by liberating the juices and increasing the amount of tea in the spoon used to measure the quantity put in the pot.
Besides groceries another important trade was paraffin and candles, especially in the villages where gas was not available. In the early 19th century quantities of old tallow candles were sold. Other goods sold included Epsom salts which were purchased by the grocer by the hundred weight, and gunpowder!!
Josiah White died in 1923 aged 74 at his home, St Wilfrid’s (on the site of the present St Wilfrid’s Green) a large property reflecting the prosperous nature of his business. A lengthy obituary in the Sussex Express outlined Mr White’s contribution to both the town and the county. He was both a Justice of the Peace and a County Councillor. The obituary stated that Mr White, “was best known as a public man, and he devoted a tremendous amount of time to public work……he was associated with practically every body and institution in Hailsham.” The writer then proceeds to list all the organisations with which Mr White was associated either at the time of his death or in previous years, far too many to include in this article, something acknowledged by the writer who stated, “it would be difficult to enumerate all the many offices that Mr White held in Hailsham.” However they total at least twenty four, and in many cases he served as chairman.
To be continued in the next edition of The Wealden Eye magazine.