12 January 2016

The Royal Escape through Sussex

Judy Middleton 1982 (revised 2015)
 
This marvellous fantasy scene was composed from various contemporary portraits of Charles II
and belligerent opponents and leading Parliamentarians such as Harrison, Lilburne and Bradshaw.
Worcester can be seen in the background while the Corn Market
 in the left hand corner was where Charles II lodged
One of the best-known facts about old Brighton is that Charles II spent his last night in England at the George Inn there before escaping to France. This occurred after the defeat of the King’s army at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 and Charles had been a fugitive with a price on his head for around six weeks. It was the force of circumstances rather than design that brought Charles to Sussex where he hoped to find a ship to take him across the Channel.
copyright © J.Middleton
This rare view of West Street shows the King’s Head (formerly the George Inn) on the left. Although it looks suitably ancient, it is in fact a 20th century Tudor-style creation.
But Sussex was not exactly a safe place for a fugitive king because although some of the gentry supported the Royalist cause, the majority of Sussex folk were firmly on the Parliamentarian side. In addition, five of the regicides (men who signed the death warrant allowing Charles I to be executed) were Sussex men and two had local connections. They were William Goffe whose father was once rector of Stanmer, and Anthony Stapley owner of the Wick Estate comprising 250 acres in Preston and Hove. Charles must have passed close to these areas on his way to Brighton.
King Charles II was not wearing his flowing wig when
 he escaped through Sussex but nothing could
disguise his height or dark complexion.
(This 1854 engraving was based on a portrait by
Sir Geoffrey Kneller.)
The popular image of Charles II is of a middle-aged king richly dressed and with flowing locks but he did not look like this as a fugitive. He was then a young man in his early twenties, his hair was cut short and he wore ordinary-looking clothes, passing himself off as Will Jackson, a Puritan. But he could not disguise his height and dark complexion, and this explains the extreme caution of his friends. Their concern was quite justified because at least two people recognised him at Brighton and not long after he left the town, a party of soldiers arrived to search the inn looking for a ‘tall, black man’.

The inn in question, namely the George, has been the subject of some contention between local historians because there were two George inns – one in Middle Street and one in West Street. The weight of evidence and tradition favours the one in West Street, which was subsequently re-named the King’s Head. Anybody interested in going into the argument more deeply should consult Old Brighton, Old Preston and Old Hove by F. Harrison and J.S. North.
copyright © J.Middleton
An old postcard view of Ovingdean Grange. 
While historians have been debating the question of the George Inn, there has been little research into where Charles was prior to his visit to the inn. There is a celebrated work of fiction entitled Ovingdean Grange by Harrison Ainsworth in which the King spends some time at the Grange and perhaps this has tended to discredit the historical possibilities. A careful reading of the interviews conducted by Samuel Pepys, together with a strong local tradition, would suggest that a royal visit was feasible; albeit for a matter of hours rather than days as Ainsworth states.
copyright © J.Middleton
A corner of Ovingdean Grange sketched in the 1980s. 
The Ovingdean tradition was already firmly established before Ainsworth used the idea in his book; in March 1780 Sir William Burrell wrote a letter in which he mentioned it. It seems logical that Charles stayed somewhere hidden until it was deemed safe to go to the George. After all when the royal party, consisting of the King, Lord Wilmot and Colonel Gounter, arrived in the area on 14 October 1651, they had already suffered three scares on the same day.

The first fright occurred just after the party set out for Brighton at daybreak. Close to Arundel Castle they encountered the Governor, Captain William Morley, who was out hunting. To avoid a direct confrontation they dismounted and so escaped notice, which was just as well because Captain Morley was the younger brother of Colonel Herbert Morley of Glynde, one of the most important and influential Puritans in Sussex. Charles remarked afterwards that he did not like Captain Morley’s ‘starched mouchates’ (sic).
A delightful 19th century impression of Bramber, engraved by Jackson. 
The second scare was at Bramber where the street was full of soldiers just returning from their guard duty at Bramber bridge. Lord Wilmot was all for turning back but Gounter and the King thought they would arouse less suspicion if they kept on their way. They passed safely through but just as they thought the danger was over, they heard the clatter of hooves as a party of soldiers rode up behind them. The royal party deliberately slackened their pace and the 30 to 40 soldiers poured past them, the lane being so narrow that the fugitives could scarcely keep to their saddles. 
copyright © D.Sharp
The bridge at Bramber, photograph taken in 2013. 
After this incident Lord Wilmot considered he had experienced more than enough excitement for one day. He refused to allow the King to stay at Beeding although arrangements had been made. According to Gounter’s account ‘for feare of the soldiers … (he) carried the King out of the roade I knowe not whither. Soe we parted; they went where they thought safest.’

The party then split up and it is generally supposed that Gounter took the direct road to Shoreham and thence to Brighton along the coast road while the King and Lord Wilmot took the track over the Downs and they all met up at the George Inn later on.
copyright © D.Sharp
The King’s route took him across the Downs at Thundersbarrow Hill and was photographed in September 2013.
This cannot be the whole story because there would be no point in the Colonel making a reconnaissance if he had no way of warning the King should Brighton prove to be a place of danger. Given the perturbed state of Wilmot’s mind, it seems likely he would wish to convey the King to a place of safety where they could lie low if need be. Note especially Gounter’s words that they went ‘where they thought safest.’ In the emergency Wilmot would only have called on someone he knew he could trust. Such a man was Francis Mansell, a French merchant, who had already been approached by Gounter and had agreed to make arrangements with Captain Tettersell for two gentlemen to sail to France.
copyright © D.Sharp
A view of the King’s route now graced by the two tunnels of the Brighton bypass. 
Mansell lived at Chichester before taking up residence at Ovingdean. MA Lower, writing in 1870, stated Mansell was living at Ovingdean Grange in 1651, and William Lee in his book published in 1795 recorded that after nightfall, Mansell conducted the King from Ovingdean over the hills to Brighton. It is also a fact that Mansell was present at the George Inn that might.
copyright © J.Middleton
St Wulfran’s Church, Ovingdean. 
It has been claimed there were graves belonging to the Mansell family in Ovingdean churchyard but today there are no traces of the Mansell name although of course many inscriptions of venerable tombstones are illegible. The theory cannot be proved one way or the other by consulting parish records either. All that survives from this time relevant to Ovingdean are Bishop’s Transcripts and annoyingly there is a gap from 1639 to 1685. It may be that Mansell lived at Ovingdean too short a time for his name to have been recorded in this way. It is certain that he was soon experiencing difficult circumstances because he was suspected of having assisted in the royal escape and even after the Restoration, he was still financially worse off.
copyright © J.Middleton
St Wulfran’s churchyard, Ovingdean, sketched in the 1980s
Another part of the Ovingdean tradition is connected with the Geere family who certainly lived in the village in the 17th century and perhaps were tenants of Francis Mansell. Thomas was a traditional Geere Christian name and so we find one Thomas Geere who lived there from 1586 to 1650 and another Thomas Geere who died aged 73 in 1695, his wife having died in 1671. A further fascinating fact is that a daughter of Thomas Geere married into the Tettersell family at Brighton in 1674.

The elder Geere’s sister had married Deryck Carver, a descendant of the Protestant martyr of the same name who was burned to death at Lewes in 1555. This unlikely fact comes into the story too because on board the Surprise (the vessel that transported the King to France) was Richard Carver, the mate, also a descendent of the martyr and therefore related to the Geeres. Richard Carver is reported to have carried the King on his back from the Surprise through the shoal waters to dry land at F├ęcamp. In 1669 he reminded King Charles II of his services and was instrumental in having six Quakers released from prison including the celebrated John Bunyan.
copyright © J.Middleton
The Deryck Carver, Black Lion Street, Brighton. 
As has already been mentioned, the earliest reference to the connection between the Geeres and the royal escape is in the Burrell letter of 1780 (Sir William Burrell had married Elizabeth Geere) and ninety years later Lower mentioned that the Geeres possessed some relics always understood to have been presented to the family by the King.

A long account published in the Brighton Gazette (30 August 1879) described the tradition and the relics. There was a snuffbox and a ring, which the King gave to Mr Geere before leaving Ovingdean. Betty Geere, the daughter of the house, was supposed to have sewn some patches onto the King’s coat. Some years later a parcel containing silks suitable for being made into dresses arrived as a gift from the King and a ‘glass tobacco stopper with a silver penny of his own coinage in a small round globe at the end.’ This last item was greatly prized by the Geeres and was kept locked in a small leather box to be handed down from one Thomas Geere to the next. Lastly there was a cup out of which the King had drunk spiced ale.

Of course not everyone agrees with the Ovingdean theory. Samuel Evershed, writing in 1882, was forthright in his views and although he was willing to concede that Harrison Ainsworth was a 'painstaking and accomplished author' he also thought he was 'likely to perpetrate an error in an interesting incident in our local history.' It was Evershed's contention that the King never went anywhere near Ovingdean Grange and in his words the King and Lord Wilmot 'followed the broad track over the hills from Beeding to White Lot and so at last to Portslade, between Shoreham and Brighton, where, on the west side of the village green, still stands the cottage, with high-pitched roof, visible from the Brighton to Portsmouth Railway, at which, in a little chamber cunningly contrived near the chimney in the roof, the King lay till Tettersell had completed his arrangements for the voyage to Normandy. At least so says tradition.'

This wonderful story is even more romantic than the one attaching to Ovingdean Grange but there are flaws. Firstly, the cottage in question was not in Portslade but on the west side of the village green at Southwick. At the date Evershed was writing, Portslade had no village green and although it boasts old cottages similar to the Southwick cottage, they are tucked away north of the Old Shoreham Road and are certainly not visible to a traveller on the railway. Secondly, although hiding at Southwick seems logical with a short distance to go to embark, it must be remembered that for the royal party the journey was a matter of life and death and they felt the need to rely only on people they trusted. At least there is no dispute about the part Nicholas Tettsersell played in the royal escape.

 copyright © J.Middleton
This atmospheric postcard of King Charles’ Cottage has an unusual advertisement in the front garden for 
‘New Milk Sold Here’ whereas today the adjective would probably be ‘Fresh’.
copyright © D.Sharp
Samuel Evershed believed King Charles II hid in this cottage on the west side of Southwick Green.
Nicholas Tettersell was a Brighton man who played a large part in the King’s escape. He was a flamboyant enough character to make sure nobody forgot this feat, once the Restoration was safely accomplished. But he must have held his peace during the Commonwealth because there is no record of him being in trouble with the authorities although both Mansell and Gounter were under suspicion. Tettersell was the Captain of the Surprise a coal brig of 34 tons whose crew consisted of four men and a boy. Her usual route was between Shoreham and Poole. In short she was ordinary trading vessel like many others working up and down the south coast. 
copyright © D.Sharp
Ovingdean Grange, photograph taken in 2013
The final details were worked out at the George Inn with Tettersell and Mansell present, together with the King, Gounter and Wilmot. Unfortunately, Tettersell recognised the mysterious Mr Jackson as the King whom he had seen three years previously. This was the occasion when Tettersell’s ship and ‘other fishing vessels at Bright-Hempson’ had been taken in 1648 by the King and released again. In the King’s words ‘the maister of the vessel looked very much upon me.’ As luck would have it, Gaius Smith, landlord of the George Inn, also recognised the true identity of Mr Jackson because he had once been in the household of Charles I.

Tettersell had a patriotic heart but he also had a clear head for business. While protesting that ‘I think I doe God and my Country good service in preserving (sic) the King’ he made sure he had more money for his trouble. He grumbled that the £60 agreed upon to transport the two gentlemen was not enough and he insisted his ship was insured for £200. He also complained the tide was not right and the ship not ready but he was finally prevailed upon to set sail the next day.
copyright © J.Middleton
The Royal Escape, a detail from the painting by W. van de Velde, the Younger. 
In order to gather his crew together without raising suspicion, Tettersell put it about that the Surprise, at that time only half-laden with her cargo of coal, had broken from her moorings. Tettersell showed similar caution when the Surprise finally set sail because he did not strike out across the Channel but set his course for the west in his usual manner and only altered direction once they were out of sight of land.

Before the Surprise sailed Tettersell went ashore for the important business of collecting a bottle of aqua vitae (alcohol – it could be brandy or whisky). According to J.G. Bishop he also required a clean shirt, which was such an unusual request that the joke was made he must be going to see the King. Lee wrote that Tettersell’s wife soon found out the nature of his hurried expedition but whether or not a clean shirt had anything to do with it is not clear.

A 1906 illustration of Shoreham Harbour
from the Brighton Season Magazine
It seems probable that the Surprise was lying at Southwick although when she was chartered the vessel was moored at Shoreham Harbour. But Shoreham was too busy a port for the King to go aboard unobserved. The party set out from the George Inn in the early hours riding towards Shoreham. In the King’s own words ‘it being low water, and the vessel lying dry, I and my Lord Wilmot got up with a ladder into her, and went and lay down in the little cabin, til the tide came to fetch us off.’ The Surprise set sail at 8 a.m., the trusty Gounter remaining on the beach with the horses until the vessel was out of sight. Not long afterwards, a storm blew up and Tettersell was obliged to cut his cable to save the ship and he lost no time in claiming £8 for the loss of his anchor, a sum he duly received.

After the restoration and with Charles II safely established on the throne, Tettersell sailed the Surprise up the Thames and moored her off Whitehall. This was a publicity stunt to serve as a visible reminder to His Majesty of his lucky escape. It was appropriate that when Tettersell’s ship was taken into the Royal Navy she was renamed the Royal Escape. She was refitted at Deptford Dockyard and was entered as a 5thrate ship. Presumably when she was at Deptford she received the gun emplacements visible in an oil painting of the Royal Escape by W van de Velde the Younger (1633-1707) at the National Maritime Museum. There was a copy that used to hang in the Tettersell Bar at the Old Ship Hotel. A different painting of the Royal Escape but by the same artist is in the collection of our present Queen.

The Royal Escape survived until 1791 when she was broken up at Deptford and most of the wood was used as fuel. But it is possible a beam of the vessel was carried off to Brighton as a lasting souvenir. At the Old Ship Hotel there was an old beam serving as a lintel underneath which horses and carriages passed to the stable yard at the back. The beam was removed in 1910 because it was unsafe. J.G. Bishop was convinced it was from the stern of Tettersell’s ship; it was described as black with age and bearing traces of carved scrolls, a shield, a bird and possibly a cherub. Perhaps it may still be lurking in a storeroom at Brighton Museum.

Strangely enough, Tettersell was not given command of the Surprise until twelve years after the Restoration. Instead in 1660 he was made Captain of the Sorlings, another 5th rate vessel, and in 1661 he became Captain of the frigate Monk. In 1663 he had the satisfaction of receiving a pension of £100 a year, which was to continue to his heirs for a period of 99 years, the last person to receive it being Sir John Bridger. But it seems his heart was still set on a return to his old ship. From the wording on the patent making him Captain of the Royal Escape dated 29 August 1672 it is clear from which quarter the idea came. Thus ‘in consideration of his faithful service performed unto us, we have thought fit to condescend to his request.’ Tettersell had also asked that his son Nicholas might be allowed to take over the vessel after his death, and this too was granted.    

There were other rewards too for Tettersell’s part in the King’s escape as he received six small diamonds and a weighty gold ring containing tiny portraits of the King and Queen. It is not clear whether or not he was given the diamonds at the time of the escape but the ring certainly belonged to the years after the Restoration because Charles II did not marry Catherine of Braganza until 1662. These treasures were passed on to Tettersell’s daughter Susan and eventually through marriage to the Bridgers and Shiffners of Coombe Place, Lewes.

Tettersell also received his own coat of arms, which confirmed his upward social mobility. Of course he had no difficulty in selecting a device for the shield – it had to be a ship in full sail. In addition at the top there was a ‘lion passant guardant Or’. In short this was the lion of England – a signal honour. The same honour was also present in the coat of arms granted to Francis Mansell when the document described him as having provided ‘the Shipp, and with great Loyalty and fidelity assisted in the exportacion (sic) of his Matie (sic) after the unfortunate Battel (sic) at Worcester.’

Tettersell was made Constable of Brighton; an office it is said he performed ‘with the zeal of the bigot and the malign industry of a ministerial spy.’ In 1670 he discovered a house where a few Dissenters met in private and raided it. William Beard, the house owner, was summoned to appear before Sir Thomas Nutt at Lewes where he was fined the sum of £20. This was not the full extent of Beard’s loss either because Tettersell broke open his malt house and removed 65 bushel sacks of malt, which he sold on to a friend for twelve shillings a quarter.

Four years after this unpleasant episode Tettersell died on 26 July 1674. He was buried in the churchyard of St Nicolas, Brighton, near the south wall of the church. His grave was surmounted by an altar tomb on which a lengthy inscription gave details of his life followed by a eulogy in verse of sixteen lines. Tettersell’s story has survived better than the tomb inscription of which not a trace remains, despite being ‘new-lettered’ in around 1790 at Sir John Bridger’s expense. But the words were printed in Sicklemore’s book published in 1824 when the letters were still visible.

Tettersell seems to have come off best from his part in the royal escape. Colonel Gounter died before the Restoration leaving his estate encumbered with a debt of £3,000, the money being mostly expended in the service of the King. His widow later managed to obtain a pension from Charles II who also recommended her son for a scholarship at New College.

In 1661 Francis Mansell petitioned Charles II for relief, reminding him he had been ‘one of the instruments of His Majesty’s happy escape’ and he was awarded a pension of £200 a year. Unfortunately, there was some hitch in the payments being received with the result that by 1664 it was £300 in arrears. To make matters more galling for Mansell, he was obliged to pay tax on this money, which he did not have. He had to present a petition about the arrears on this occasion and again some three years later. Samuel Pepys met him at this time and wrote that he was ‘ready to starve almost,’ which led the diarist to reflect on ‘how mean a thing a king is’.  

Tettersell’s Tombstone Inscription

Within this marble monument doth lie
Approved faith, honour and loyalty:
In this cold clay he hath now ta’en up his station
Who once preserved the church, the crowne, the nation:
When Charles the Greate was nothing but a breath,
This valiant hero stept ‘tween him and death:
Usurper’s threats, nor tyrant rebels’ frowne,
Could not affright his duty to the crowne;
Which glorious act of his for church and state,
Eight princes, in one day, did gratulate –
Professing all to him in debt to bee,
As all the world are to his memory.
Since earth could not reward the worth to him given,
He now receives it from the King in Heaven.
In the same chest one jewel more you have,
The partner of his virtue, bed and grave.


For a full bibliography, please see under The Old Ship Hotel, Brighton

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Copyright © J.Middleton 2013
page layout by D.Sharp