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16 January 2017

Brighton & Hove Characters

Judy Middleton 2017


David George Fenwick & Son of 10 Western Road, Hove, and later of 128 Western Road, Hove, printed and published a series of postcards entitled Brighton Celebrities (Past and Present), which they began to sell in 1904. It is as well they used the term ‘Past and Present’ because one of their subjects Brandy Balls had been dead for over twenty years.

There were six in the series:

Blind Harry
Brandy Balls, Dizzy
Old Charlie. Ally Soper
The Beach Orator. W.H. Shoosmith
The Brighton Jester. Charles Andrews
The Wheeler Band

There were other popular portrait postcards produced by different publishers and some of them are included in this article.

Blind Harry – Harry Vowles (1861-1919)

copyright © J.Middleton
Harry was not blind when he was born in Lambeth but lost his sight before he was even one month old. Unhappily, this was not an uncommon occurrence in those days; infants faced blindness from a variety of causes, perhaps an infection or a common childhood disease such as scarlet fever could trigger a loss of sight. Even in the 1930s a report stated 30% of blindness in children was the result of ‘inattention at birth’.

Whatever the reason the situation had to be faced and young Harry was placed in a Home for the Blind. This was not so harsh as it might sound because at least he received an education appropriate to his circumstances. Although he was blind he must have been born with some musical ability because he learned to play a variety of musical instruments; but he will always be associated with the piano accordion he is playing in the famous postcard portrait. However, according to his grandson Chris Vowles, his chief asset was a very fine tenor voice. It was the era of popular entertainment in Music Halls and he could always earn some money by appearing in them.

In 1882 Harry decided to move to Brighton and three years later he married Alice Vaughan. The couple lived in Upper Russell Street and there were nine children of the marriage.

Blind Harry had a regular pitch on the Brighton and Hove boundary where he played his accordion. In the background of his postcard portrait you can see Brunswick Lawns plus the familiar design of Hove seafront railings just behind him.

 When Harry needed a rest from playing his accordion he would go to Preston Street where he entertained customers in the New Pier Tavern playing the piano. During the Great War he enjoyed employing his talents to entertain the troops and most probably the many convalescent soldiers nursed at Brighton and Hove. Harry died in 1919.

No doubt Harry would be amazed to find that a pub in Church Road, Hove, has been named The Blind Busker in his honour and the sign hanging outside used to feature the famous postcard. Harry would have been even more surprised in recent times to see the Brighton & Hove number 1 bus trundling past The Blind Busker with the name ‘Harry Vowles’ emblazoned on the front.

Brandy Balls

copyright © J.Middleton

Maynards was a well-known and popular local confectioner that was established at Brighton in 1843. By the 1920s Maynards had retail outlets dotted around Brighton at East Street, Castle Square, West Street, North Street, King’s Road, Queen’s Road, Western Road, Trafalgar Road, and there were two in Western Road, Hove. From 1927 until 1962 Maynards occupied a factory in Stoneham Road, Hove, that had formerly done duty as a mineral water factory run by the Abbott brothers. Local architect Samuel Denman was responsible for the design of the factory, which had such an attractive exterior that it was saved from demolition in recent times and today has been converted into up-market apartments.

 copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
By 1914 Brighton's 'Maynards' had expanded its operations to
160 branches and five factories in various parts of England

Maynards printed a fragile leaflet about local character Old Brandy Balls, which is reproduced here:

Old Brandy Balls
copyright © J.Middleton

A Brighton Celebrity of the Last Century

A reminiscence of Brighton some 50 odd years ago
The eccentric character depicted on this leaflet ‘Old Brandy Balls’ with his long curly hair and picturesque headgear, coupled with his cry ‘Who’ll buy my sweet Brandy Balls?’ was for many years a well-known celebrity along the South Coast, soon after the middle of the last century, and was thus more or less contemporary with the late G. Maynard, who founded his Confectionery Business at 41 and 42 West Street, Brighton.

The curiously named sweetmeat ‘Brandy Balls’ (really Peppermint Cushions) was first manufactured by Maynard, and the term ‘Brandy Balls, undoubtedly derived from the call of the above mentioned celebrity. In spite, therefore, of the vast change and development in the Confectionary Trade, it may be interesting to note that this old-fashioned sweetmeat is still being made by Maynards Ltd at their South Coast Factory from the original recipe, and is obtainable from the old established West Street Branch, and if included in any assortment of our well-known Boiled Sugar Goods is distinguishable by its angular shape, light brown colour and red stripe.

That Brandy Balls were popular over 50 years ago, and are still so, can be proved by hundreds of letters from well-known people from all parts of the United Kingdom. In fact, one recent letter from a London L.R.C.P., M.R.C.S., among other flattering testimony states,

I have for a long time known that your celebrated Brandy Balls were extremely delectable, but have recently discovered by personal experience that they have a distinct medicinal value – and a real effect in allaying the chronic cough of Winter Bronchitis, and I should not hesitate to recommend them to any of my patients who suffer to a minor degree in the same way, and more particularly for children.

One of the principle ingredients in this old-fashioned and curiously named sweetmeat, is genuine matured |Oil of Peppermint, the beneficial properties of which are unquestionable. Not only has it carminative properties to a high degree, it is likewise a germicide, and acts also beneficially on the Respiratory Organs, and in Digestive and Stomachic troubles is often employed as a useful and comfortable ingredient.

In Maynards’ old-fashioned Boiled Sugar Goods which include Brandy Balls (pink striped cushion) Humbugs (white striped cushion) and Peppermint Balls, etc., etc., the public have Sweetmeats of high standard, quality, and proved value. Refuse therefore, all imitations, none are genuine unless under our name and registered label :

copyright © J.Middleton

It is interesting to note the postcard records the nickname of Dizzy. Was that because of his demeanour? Or was it because his curly dark hair bore some resemblance to English statesman Benjamin Disraeli’s locks and who was also nicknamed Dizzy? As for his actual name, that has so far not been established.

Brandy Balls must have become destitute in his old age because he died in 1883 at Brighton Workhouse situated at the top of Elm Grove.

Old Charlie (Ally Sloper)

copyright © J.Middleton
His real name was Giuseppe Rivera; an Italian by birth he arrived in England when he was twelve years old. He became a well-known character on Brighton seafront, particularly in the Madeira Drive area, which was not too far from where he lived at 17 John Street. To this pitch he would push his barrel-organ, which as well as providing lively music, also possessed the added attraction of little dancing dolls on top of the organ. This was a great delight to local children.

Perhaps the barrel-organ became too strenuous when he grew older. But whatever the reason, he made a complete change of site and occupation. His new pitch was on Dyke Road near Three Cornered Copse in Hove, well away from the sea but on the route to the popular tourist attraction of Devil’s Dyke. Here he would greet passing wagonettes full of trippers and perhaps if it were a hot day his wickerwork basket full of oranges was a welcome sight to them. He also sold matches and sweets.

The sight of Old Charlie probably raised a laugh or two because he was dressed in the style of popular comic character Ally Sloper. His peculiar looking headgear was a dead ringer for Ally’s hat in the cartoon strip where Ally also sported a red nose and got himself into various scrapes. The ‘Sloper’ part of his name came from his habit of slinking away or sloping off to escape the attention of people to whom he might owe money. The cartoon Ally Sloper created by Charles H. Ross made his first appearance in 1867 in a humorous rival to Punch called Judy. But Ally struck a cord with the public that he was later elevated to his very own magazine entitled Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday published from 1884 to 1916.

As can be seen from the postcard, the words on the back of Old Charlie’s coat read Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday just in case there was any doubt about the character he was impersonating. It would be interesting to know whether Old Charlie came up with the idea of becoming Ally Soper, or perhaps he earned money by turning himself into a walking advertisement for the magazine

Old Charlie was obviously an ingenuous character and so it is a great shame that when he died in 1915 at the age of 75 he had no money to his name. It is ironic that the comic character Ally Sloper only survived another year.

The Beach Orator. W.H. Shoosmith

copyright © J.Middleton
Fame is ephemeral and it is remarkable that William Henry Shoosmith, who must have been so popular and famous in his time, is today practically unknown. Despite his unusual surname, there is scant information to be discovered about him. His wife was called Maria Elizabeth and they had a daughter Mabel Alice who was baptised at St Peter’s Church, Brighton, on 9 February 1881. There was also a William Henry Shoosmith who was a Private in the Royal Sussex Regiment at the time of the Great War – perhaps a son or relative.

Shoosmith was blessed with the gift of the gab and could expound at length on any subject suggested to him. It sounds like a precursor to the popular radio programme Just a Minute. Although he wears what appears to be a preaching gown or university-style robes, it seems he did not specialize in preaching the Bible.

Perhaps a cue might be taken from the two walking sticks on the ground at his feet that indicate difficulty in walking. If so he was not alone in seeking out the seafront to earn some cash because there was a blind man who played a musical instrument and a man in a wheelchair who created pictures holding a paintbrush in his teeth.  
The Brighton Jester (Charles Andrews)

copyright © J.Middleton
Like the Beach Orator, the Brighton Jester’s fame has not survived his death. He is not even mentioned in the exhaustive book on Brighton Music Halls. It therefore seems probable that like the other Brighton Characters, his activities took place in the open air and he was more likely to have been known to visitors.

All the same, his appearance is not at all conducive to the popular notion of what a comedian looks like. With his fierce eyes, angled eyebrows, jug-like ears and luxuriant moustache, he appears to be ideal casting for a villain in a melodrama.

The word ‘jester’ is also curiously old fashioned. But it is worth mentioning that in days past the court jester enjoyed considerable licence to make jokes about people and objects that ordinary courtiers would not dare mention.

Also worthy of note is Charles’s headgear known as a fez or tarboosh. In our own times the inimitable magician and comedian Tommy Cooper was famous for wearing a red tarboosh adorned with a black tassel. Perhaps Charles’s tarboosh was also red, which was the traditional colour of this hat.

The Wheeler Band

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
(Brighton Season Magazine 1919)
The Wheeler Band

This is a charming postcard with a lovely background of the Royal Pavilion gardens. But again the question arises – what is known about these people? It is usually assumed that they were a married couple, presumably Mr and Mrs Wheeler. But ‘Band’ seems somewhat inaccurate for just two people, only one of whom is playing an instrument. The woman is holding an open book – was it music for her husband or was it a songbook from which she sang? The postcard poses endless questions but like other characters in this series, their lives and times seem to have passed by unrecorded.


Captain Fredrick Collins (1831-1912)

copyright © J.Middleton
The name of Captain Collins will always be associated with his pleasure boat the Skylark and indeed his call ‘Any more for the Skylark ‘ has entered the national lexicon. He became so famous that a gentleman in China once posted a letter addressed simply to Captain Collins, Brighton, and it reached him safely.

Captain Collins was associated with the Skylark for over fifty years although of course this was not a single vessel but rather a succession of them, all bearing the same name.

The first Skylark made her appearance in 1852 when it was recorded that ‘a new pleasure yacht the Skylark arrived off Regency Square’. George Tutt of Hastings built the yacht and the ‘skill and workmanship reflect great credit on the builder’. Mr Nabbs, also of Hastings, furnished the sails, and the rigging was said to be similar to the America clipper schooner, except for the foretopmast.

During the 1860s Captain Collins served as 2nd coxswain to John Wright in the RNLI lifeboat. But an abrupt note states he was discharged for not doing his duty.

This did not deter him for long and in 1877 he commanded the town lifeboat that came to the rescue of the crew from the barque Ida, stranded on the beach opposite the Grand Hotel. The town lifeboat reached the Ida before the RNLI lifeboat Robert Raikes arrived. The Ida had a crew of fourteen hands and ten of them managed to clamber into the town boat and were taken safely to shore. But it was a close call for one man who did not leap far enough and was nearly dragged under the vessel.

 copyright © J.Middleton
The Skylark with Captain Collins wearing his distinctive white jacket and black hat standing up.

When not engaged in pleasure trips, the crew of the Skylark were more than willing to help out in local emergencies. In March 1889 the barque Vandalia was sailing up the English Channel when she was in a collision with a vessel thought to be the Duke of Buccleuch that vanished around this time. The Vandalia’s crew abandoned ship, which continued to drift eastwards until it fetched up near West Street Gap. She was carrying a cargo of petroleum in stout wooden barrels. Some were still intact when the tide washed them out of the ship and onto the beach where a large crowd gathered. Fishermen and boys set to gathering the barrels into groups of twenty or thirty from Middle Street to Hove Sea Wall. It would have been quite a festive scene but unfortunately Mr Cook, a Skylark crewman died suddenly whilst hauling up the barrels.

In 1895 the Skylark’s crew were also to the fore when the barque Brockley Castle was observed stranded on a sand bar around a mile and a quarter from the shore and midway between the piers. The two lifeboats and the coastguard’s galley went out to investigate the situation. The watchers on the shore formed the opinion that the unfortunate crew had been overcome with the cold. But the truth was more prosaic; the entire crew, including the captain, were drunk, having been knocked about by severe easterly winds. Around midday the tide lifted the Brockley Castle off the sand bar and she continued with her voyage.

Captain Collins also kept a beer house on the beach called Welcome Brothers. On 25 July 1877 an incident took place that had serious consequences for him. His son, Frederick Poste Collins, was behind the bar, and the Captain was upstairs, when George Winder, a boat builder, came in to buy a drink. He put down half a crown (2/6d) on the counter, received his drink, and then there was a dispute about the amount of change due to him. Winder came around the side of the counter and there was a scuffle. At that precise moment the captain came downstairs. When he saw what was going on he probably concluded that Winder was after the money in the till. He picked the unfortunate Winder up and threw him over the counter. There was a brief fight in which all three men were involved. Four days later, George Winder was dead and the two Collins, father and son, found themselves charged with manslaughter. 

The case was heard in Number 1 Court at Lewes Assizes in 1885 and held before Lord Chief Justice Cockburn. He was an eminent judge, who four years earlier, had presided over the celebrated Tichbourne Case at Westminster Hall.

At Lewes the prosecution produced witnesses who had seen Winder’s dreadful injuries. But these injuries were not borne out by the post mortem conducted by H. Neale Smith, house surgeon at the Sussex County Hospital. However, the surgeon did admit that death was due to inflammation of the brain and that in his opinion this was the direct result of the violence suffered. He did concede that Winder had a thin skull and that inflammation could have arisen spontaneously.

For the defence Mr Grantham said it was a very serious matter ‘for the present and future position of Captain Collins. Probably many knew him as the owner of pleasure yachts in Brighton for a great many years, and until this arose there had not been a breath of suspicion against his character, and his kindness was well known.’

Lord Chief Justice Collins summed up the case for the jury by saying there were two questions they must answer – was Collins guilty of excessive violence and if he were guilty of this did Winder’s death arise from it? They must be able to connect the cause of death with the action of Collins, bearing in mind that the fight occurred on Saturday night, whereas Winder did not die until the following Wednesday.

The jury did not find it necessary even to leave the box and returned a ‘not guilty’ verdict at once. His lordship had a few parting words to say to Collins and he hoped the case would be a warning to him. He had no doubt that he had been very much provoked but in future he must take care and not let his passions get the better of him.

It would be interesting to know whether or not this publicity had an adverse effect on trade at the Welcome Brothers or indeed trips aboard the Skylark.

 copyright © J.Middleton
This Skylark operated from a crowded and busy Brighton beach

The 1885 Directory carried an advertisement for Captain Collins’ fast sailing yachts with the advice that the Skylark sailed daily from opposite the Coastguard Station, King’s Road at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. weather permitting. The fare was 1/- per person but some years later the charge had dropped to nine pence.

In October Captain Collins was in the habit of making an annual trip for the benefit of some local charity such as the Sussex County Hospital. In 1890 the Brighton Herald informed readers that here was an opportunity of helping the funds of the hospital while at the same time enjoying a sail in the Channel. It was because of these annual benefactions that Collins was made a governor of the hospital and he was proud of this distinction. He carried his interest through to the end by taking a modern stand and requesting that money, which might have been spent on wreaths for his funeral, should instead be donated to the hospital.

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
Drawing of Fred Collins, from the Brightonian newspaper. 
Dated 28th July 1883.
In his later years Captain Collins was an impressive figure in the old style of dress he affected. The following description sums it up:

‘No one else wore a hat like that – a black hard-glazed straw, not broad in the brim, perched on the head at a slight angle. No one else, since our grandfathers, wore that stout dark stock tied round the neck. The white coat was not so unusual. But this, combined with the stock and the hat, and worn by a face and figure of such generous proportions, so florid, so full of character, made up a personality as picturesque as it was unique.’

It must be said that he had a rather stern expression. He also sported long, bushy sideboards that with advancing years became white, although his hair still appeared to be dark.

Although Collins passed some sixty years around Brighton beach, he lived latterly at Barcombe and travelled to and fro daily. The house was notable on account of its flagstaff. It was at this house that he died in August 1912 just short of his eightieth birthday. There is an old superstition that death comes easier with the ebb tide and the French have a saying’ s’en aller avec la maree’. It was fitting, therefore, that Captain Collins, who was often compared to the character Peggotty in David Copperfield, should have died, like him, when the tide was on the ebb.

His funeral was a splendid occasion. The coffin travelled by train from Barcombe to Brighton but on arrival old-fashioned funereal pomp took over. The coffin was placed in a carriage ‘canopied heavily by flowers’ and covered in the Blue Peter, the flag hoisted when a ship puts out to sea. Four black horses with black plumes on their heads drew the carriage. The cortège proceeded to the seafront and a newspaper described the scene thus:

‘Poor Skylark. Her flags were at half-mast, and though the sun was shining and the sea was calling, there was no trip for her today. The Captain was being brought to her; but he must go away again. The stately, sad procession halted on the Front and came to attention. The Captain was saying farewell to his ship. The bereaved Skylark fluttered her flags, half-masted, in farewell. The crew, seafaring men in blue jerseys, removed their caps.’

The Skylark in question was a youngster, the Mayor of Brighton having been at the launching in December 1911. The funeral service at St Peter’s Church was well attended and funeral directors Attree & Kent ordered 300 service sheets to be printed. Perhaps because of the extra work involved, the verger received 4/6d in addition to his usual fee. The fee for the organist and choir came to £2-12-6d. After the service the crew of the Skylark carried the coffin to the graveside. The crew were:

John Rolf
Thomas Gunn
Thomas Harman
Richard Salvage
Adam Taylor
Richard Kennard
John Rudwick
George Priest
J. Redman
George Collings, engineer

 copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
The above article from the Brighton, Hove & South Sussex Graphic
 Newspaper of the 12 December 1914 heralded the end of the
Skylark's fund raising events for the Sussex County Hospital.

February 1965 was a particularly stormy month but unexpectedly the gales removed great swathes of shingle revealing a part of Brighton beach that would have been familiar to Captain Collins and his crew. They were the stone steps used by his customers and the iron chains covered with rust that once secured the Skylark.
Guild of the Brave Poor Things

copyright © J.Middleton
Although this title sounds insufferably patronising to us, the Guild was in fact a great boon to disabled people in the days before the Welfare State. Dame Grace Kimmins (1871-1954) who was by all accounts a formidable lady and one not to be trifled with founded the Guild in 1894. She was inspired to do so after reading a book by popular Victorian author Mrs Juliana Horatia Ewing (1841-1885) entitled The Story of a Short Life published in the same year Mrs Ewing died.

At first Grace Kimmins based her efforts at the Bermondsey Settlement in London where she gathered together a few disabled boys with the intention of educating them so that they would be able to take up a productive life within society. 

There is a Sussex connection too because Mrs Kimmins thought the fresh air of the Sussex countryside would be infinitely better for her charges than the polluted air of London and thus in 1903 she moved to Chailey. Girls were later admitted as well and there was a hospital attached too. Branches of the Guild were established in other cities such as Bristol. But it is interesting to note that today resources are based at Chailey, which has become known internationally as Chailey Heritage. It is remarkable that it has survived, despite being threatened with closure in the 1970s.

It is also interesting to realise that producing a painting by holding a paintbrush in your mouth has such a long history. Today there is a society called Mouth and Foot Painting Artists with headquarters in London that produces Christmas cards and Greeting cards for sale to the public. 
Mademoiselle Florence – Lady Globe Walker

copyright © J.Middleton
In June 1903 Mademoiselle Florence caused a sensation when she performed the remarkable feat of walking on top of a globe weighing 75lbs all the way from London to Brighton. Of course she did not do it all in one go and in fact it took her almost four days to reach her destination. She was allowed three hours of rest a day and dismounted from her ball at every milestone. All the same she is said to have worn out seven pairs of boots on the trip. No doubt the two male minders who accompanied her on her journey carried her extra footwear.

Mademoiselle Florence had gained plenty of experience balancing on her ball during her regular appearances at Music Halls and at the Empire Theatre. She also appeared at the Hippodrome, Brighton in August 1903. Her routine included dancing on top of the ball and also the tricky feat of descending a flight of steps while maintaining her balance on the ball.

Hove film pioneer George Albert Smith hastened to record this fascinating event before she reached Brighton. This was just as well because Mademoiselle Florence’s eventual arrival at Brighton seafront was in the hours of darkness – 2.45 a.m. to be precise. But because of all the publicity there was still a crowd of interested spectators to greet her arrival.

Daisy and Violet Hilton, Brighton’s United Twins

copyright © J.Middleton
Daisy and Violet Hilton 
were Brighton’s United Twins.
The twins were born at Brighton on 5 February 1908 – one source claims the event took place in Riley Road, another states it was Harrington Road. Their unmarried mother Kate Skinner earned her living as a barmaid. The birth must have been very traumatic because the babies were joined at the hip and it is no wonder that the poor mother felt unable to cope. It was perhaps fortunate for her that Dr Rooth was on hand to deliver the babies with the assistance of a midwife. Dr James Augustus Rooth (1868-1962) was a colonel of the Royal Army Medical Corps. The twins did not share any organs although their blood circulation was shared. It was thought that an operation to separate them was too risky to perform and would cause the death of one baby, if not both. Dr Rooth wrote an article about their birth for a medical journal. In fact they became something of a medical marvel being the only conjoined twins in Britain to survive into adulthood.

Mary Hilton was the landlady of the pub where Kate worked and she was also a midwife. The twins were only two weeks old when Mary adopted them. Her action may have been altruistic at first but certainly it soon became clear they could be a financial investment. She even sold postcards of the twins for two pence at the Queen’s Arms, George Street, Brighton. In 1911 at the tender age of three the twins embarked on their first tour of Britain.

Eventually, the twins became talented vaudeville performers; they could tap-dance, Daisy played the violin while Violet was a saxophonist, and they also did a comic routine. They were pretty girls and pleasant to be around. But their guardians fiercely protected them; when Mary Hilton died the twins became the responsibility of Mary’s daughter Edith Mayers and her husband. The Hilton sisters should have made a comfortable living from their many appearances but they did not see much of the money and indeed in 1931 they felt strongly enough about the situation to sue their managers.

By this time Daisy and Violet were based in the United States. They lived in San Antonio, Texas. But they still toured abroad; for example in 1933 they appeared at the Brighton Hippodrome and were billed at the top.

In 1932 Daisy and Violet acted in an extraordinary film Freaks. It was only an hour or so long and was banned for many years because it was considered in such bad taste. Particularly memorable was the caterpillar man with just a torso. In 1951 there was a further film in which the Hiltons starred called Chained For Life.

The title was unfortunate but true. They never amassed enough money with which to enjoy a comfortable retirement and were reduced to living in a trailer in North Carolina while packing up groceries in a supermarket to earn their keep. In January 1969 Daisy caught Hong Kong flu and died while Violet lay next to her ‘chained’ to her sister. It seems nobody was aware of their desperate plight until the supermarket manager realised they had not turned up for work and found them both dead. The post-mortem found that Daisy had died first while poor Violet took between two and four days to die too. The sisters were buried in a single coffin in a cemetery plot provided by sympathisers.    

Louis Victor Lacroix – Fire Superintendent

copyright © J.Middleton
Louis Lacroix was born in Jersey but he seems to have been an adventurous character. In his younger days he worked as an engine driver on the Canadian railways and survived some hair-raising incidents. At length he settled in Brighton.

Louis Lacroix was Superintendent of Brighton Fire Brigade from 1888 to 1921. Although he was busy re-organising the service, that did not prevent him from attending the scene in person when a serious fire broke out.

For example, in March 1893 a fierce blaze occurred in a house in St James’s Street. A young girl was trapped upstairs and Lacroix had to grope about in thick smoke to try and locate her. At last he found her unconscious form and she was taken outside.  But despite desperate attempts at resuscitation she could not be revived.  

On 1 January 1901 Superintendent Lacroix had a narrow escape. Fire broke out in Jay’s Furnishing Stores at 127 Queen’s Road, Brighton and he was inside the building directing operations but somehow he became trapped. His colleagues came to the rescue by lowering him a life-line that saved him from falling through charred timbers into the basement; two floors were burned through.

In 1904 Lacroix had the novel idea of sending out this portrait postcard as a Christmas and New Year Greeting. The photograph was taken, appropriately enough in front of a fire engine, at the Fire Station, Preston Circus, which had only been established in 1901.

It is rare indeed to see a uniform so heavily decorated with medals and it seems at least some of them were appropriate to his fire-fighting career. For example, he was awarded a gold medal for his skill in the one-man drill. He also accumulated medals from the Belgian Federation of Fire Brigades, the French Federation of Fire Brigades and the Italian Federation of Fire Brigades. It is especially interesting to note the Belgian connection; it appears he spent enough time in that country to learn the language because it was recorded that at Brighton during the Great War he acted as an interpreter for Belgian refugees. Perhaps, some of the other medals were due to his heroic rescue attempts at various incidents.

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
(Brighton, Hove & South Sussex Graphic 1915) 
The 'Midget' Fire Engine (Fire Superintendent Lacroix Invention) which won a gold medal at Turin

Lacroix was also something of an inventor because he designed a midget fire engine. He might have been thinking of some of Brighton’s old and narrow streets where it would be very difficult to manoeuvre a standard fire engine and a smaller version would be the answer.  

George Edward Larner (1875-1949) Olympic Champion

copyright © J.Middleton
You cannot say that in this photograph George Larner looks every inch an Olympic champion. But his shirt carries the official logo of the Olympic Games 1908, which was held in London. His feat is even more remarkable when you consider he only took up amateur athletics in 1903. But it was not all plain sailing because his day job was being a Brighton policeman and he found training interfered with his police duties. Fortunately, he had a sympathetic chief constable who allowed him time off and in 1906 he began to train for the Olympics in earnest.

The chief constable must have felt a sense of gratification when his protégée went on to win not one but two gold medals. On 14 July 1908 George Larner won the 3500-metre walk by twelve seconds ahead of Ernest Webb, his fellow British competitor. He also won the gold for the 10-mile walk. It is interesting to note that when Larner died aged 73 at Brighton on 4 March 1949, many of his British records still stood.  

Police Constable H40 John Turner

 copyright © J.Middleton
Police Constable John Turner 
in around 1908
John Turner joined Hove Police in 1890 and by 1907 he had become a local celebrity to the extent that a souvenir postcard portrait of him was issued for purchase by admiring fans. He is shown wearing the regulation uniform (buttoned up to the chin) but not every policeman could sport two medals on the chest. Turner’s medals were the Egypt Medal and Khedive’s Star commemorating his military service in the Egyptian Campaign of 1882. An interesting detail is the Prussian knot clearly visible on the right sleeve; the three bands on his left sleeve denote the official duty band that Hove Police wore when on duty.

PC Turner must have had a regular beat along Hove seafront because his fame rests on his extraordinary ability to be present at the scene when some unfortunate soul needed to be rescued from drowning in the sea.

On 25 May 1905 he rescued two men from drowning.

On 18 September 1905 two ladies were bathing off Medina Lawn when they found themselves in difficulties and our gallant policeman raced to the rescue.

Hove Council was duly impressed with Turner’d bravery and for each of these occasions he was awarded a guinea (21/-) for ‘meritorious conduct’.

On 16 August 1906 a soldier was bathing his horse when a sudden wave washed him out to sea. Fortunately, Turner was on hand to come to his rescue. It was quite a common sight to see horses being treated to some sea-water therapy.

On 25 September 1907 PC Turner rescued another three people from the sea. He was still awarded a guinea but this time he was also promoted to Merit Class, which meant he received slightly more in his pay packet.

On 13 August 1913 he came to the aid of a ten-year old child from drowning just as she was sinking beneath the waves for the third time. At the time he was on duty at the Free Bathing Station opposite Langdale Gardens, Hove. He was obliged to swim out to the rescue at once ‘without divesting himself of his uniform’. The young girl was Miss Ramsden of 106 The Drive.

By 1917 PC Turner was getting a little long in the tooth and he had completed 26 years of service in Hove Police. But such a valuable man could not be allowed to retire when so many young constables had joined the armed forces. He finally retired in May 1918.   


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Funeral Account Books, Attree & Kent, Brighton
Gray, James S. Victorian and Edwardian Sussex (1973)
Hove Council Minute Books 1881-1903
Internet Searches
Middleton, J. Brighton & Hove in Old Photographs: A Second Selection (1994)
Middleton, J. Lifeboats and Shipwrecks of Victorian Brighton (1982)
Poulson, N. Rumble, M. & Smith, K. Sussex Police Forces 1836-1936 (1987)

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