Chapter 6–2. 1846–1868 — Martin Brown

In which Martin Brown, the murder of David Baldy, is introduced.

And so we turn to Martin Brown. Though his life was short, it was much more newsworthy than that of the quiet, honest old David Baldy, and thus his story has proven to be a long one. It has enabled us to understand very much more about life in general at this time, so we believe it is an important one to tell.

Buxted village sign
Buxted, family home of Martin Brown’s family before moving to the Brighton slums. Photo by MortimerCat, Creative Commons license: CC BY-SA

1830 — Buxted, the Browns, and Captain Swing

Martin Brown’s story began in the Wealden village of Buxted, in Sussex. It was his birth place, sometime in the first half of April, 1846 (though possibly a little earlier if the registration of his birth was delayed for any reason). Both his parents, Reuben Brown (1818–1884), and Mary Ann Powell (1826– ?) were also from Buxted. It was famous for the forging of the first iron canon, in 1543. The Weald possessed iron, wood to make charcoal for its smelting, and water to drive the great hammer forges. But by the start of the ‘Industrial Revolution’, the iron industry had moved further north. The new steam driven pumping engines and other such developments resulted in coal mining replacing charcoal production, and the profits of this new industry enabled the construction of an extensive canal network for transport. The Sussex Weald quickly changed from being an important industrial centre to becoming an isolated rural backwater.

The land was heavy clay, and hard to cultivate. It was therefore better suited to being used as parkland—a pleasure ground for the rich—rather than as productive farmland. This was bad for employment.

This was certainly true for Buxted. The village was part of the Earl of Liverpool’s Estate (he had been Prime Minister in the early 1800’s). By the 1830’s, in order to improve the view from his big house, he had the entire village of Buxted cleared away, with the exception of the Parish Church. This was an extreme example of an increasing trend which was more than just about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. It was about landowners becoming increasingly divorced from the working of the land, and thus alienated from the labourers they employed. After the French Revolution, this was a dangerous trend, and it is therefore not surprising that the Swing Riots came to Buxted. Starting in Kent, but quickly spreading across the whole of England, they were demands for a minimum wage, full employment, and lower taxes. The riots were mostly peaceful, and though violence to persons was threatened, in practice the violence was limited to the smashing of machinery, and the burning of ricks. In Buxted, however, the riots appear to have been limited to wage demands. Whether the Browns were involved we have not discovered. It is interesting to note that the Earl of Liverpool held land in East Dean, which neighboured that of James Hodson at this time. Swing Rioters were presumed responsible for the burning of his tenant’s barn full of wheat and a threshing machine. A very large reward of £500 (about £75,000 today) was offered for information leading to the ‘capital punishment’ of those involved.

Martin Brown’s father, Reuben, was recorded in the Census records as an agricultural labourer. In 1835 a Reuben Brown appeared before the magistrates on a charge of stealing chickens, and, two years later, he was convicted again for the stealing and killing of two chickens, the punishment for which was 14 years transportation to Australia. However, these crimes were all in the vicinity of Rye; therefore this individual was very unlikely to have been Martin Brown’s father (he would also have been on the other side of the world at the time of Martin Brown’s parent’s marriage, as well as at the time of the birth of his brother and sister).

Nevertheless, the severity of the punishment for such a relatively minor crime is an indication of how desperate poverty must have been at that time.

1841 — Marriage in Buxted

On the 9th of May, 1841, in St. Margaret’s Church, Buxted, Reuben Brown and Mary Ann Powell (also of Buxted, and just 16 years old) were married. However, this does not mean they were necessarily living in Buxted at this time, for sometime in 1843 their first son was born in nearby Hartfield.

1843 — Back in Buxted, and Joseph Brown

Though their first son, Joseph Albert Brown, was born in Hartfield, he was christened on the 27th of December, 1844, in St. Margaret’s Church, Buxted.

1846, April — Martin Brown, and sister Eliza

Martin Brown was also christened in St. Margaret’s Church on the 20th of April, 1846. and had been born earlier that month. His sister, Eliza, was born in 1849 in Buxted, though she was not christened for another 2 years, on the 3rd of August, 1851, in St. Denys Church, Rotherfield, Sussex. A reason for delaying the christening of a child was because such things cost money.

1851 — Rotherfield

So it was, that in the 1851 census, taken on the 30–31st March, they were recorded as living in the nearby parish of Rotherfield. Five year old Martin’s father, Reuben was given as 35 years old (though he was more likely 32 or 33), his mother, Mary, was given as 25 (which was probably correct), Joseph Albert, his oldest brother was 8, and his sister, Eliza was just 2 years old.

1851 or ’52 — Brighton — Life, death and poverty

Their stay in Rotherfield was very short for it was recorded that they had a baby boy, Edward, in Brighton, in about 1852. Interestingly, whilst he appears in subsequent census records, no birth or christening record has been found, and both Martin and Joseph Brown, when questioned about their family, in 1868, made no mention of him. But more about this later.

Brighton—mostly since the coming of the railway—possessed a higher density of housing than anywhere else in the country. The slums of the infamous Carlton Hill area and also those to the east and north of the railway station were especially bad.

Martin Brown and his family, over the next 16 years, seem to have moved several times in Brighton, but always within the poorest of slum districts. Mains services within these districts, such as water or sewerage, was poor to non-existent. A number of health reports were extremely scathing as to their insanitary conditions, and the smell was said to be unbearable. Crime, drink, and prostitution were endemic. It has been remarked that Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’ could easily have been set in Brighton.

In 1868 Martin Brown wrote of the tragic death of his mother; that she “has been dead many year my por mother as about 18 years”. Sadly, for those researching her past, Mary Ann Brown was an extremely popular name; Martin Brown’s father’s mother was a Mary Ann, Martin’s own mother was a Mary Ann, and later, in 1863, his new step mother was yet another Mary Ann. To make matters worse, Brown is a very common surname. It is therefore not clear from the records when his mother may have died, for there are 3 possible death records for “Mary Ann Brown’s in Brighton. The earliest possibility was sometime between July and September, 1851. If so, did she die in child birth having Edward, shortly after moving into the disease ridden slums of Brighton? This would have made their father’s hard life, even harder. There was no such thing as paternity leave, or child benefit, and they had moved away from their extended family, so Reuben may not have had the support of a relative, such as an unmarried or widowed aunt or sister to help. The children may have found themselves, temporarily, in the workhouse. Reuben Brown’s young children would have been just 8, 5, 2, and, of course, the newborn Edward.

More than likely he would have found himself a new wife. However, the next record of a marriage we have been able to find was not till 1863, to a Mary Ann Elliot. Yet the Census for 1861 records Reuben as married, not a widower, to (possibly yet another!) Mary Ann. This suggests that he may have had a common-law wife.

Because it would have cost him money to bury his first wife, and to register her death, and also to pay for the registration of his new born son, he may not have had the money to get (legally) married to a new wife. But, if a new ‘wife’ was of a similar age and had the same Christian name as the first, he may have chosen to ‘reuse’ his old marriage certificate.

Love often had little to do with marriage at that time; a single woman would gain security, and her ‘husband’, would gain a housekeeper. However this may be, Edward was the last of the Brown family’s children.

Moving to Brighton in search of work, just like so many others, may have resulted in a difficult life becoming even more of a hardship. They would certainly miss the rural life which they had left behind, however hard it may have been, and would especially miss their friends and family. Then having to cope with the loss of their mother, and what should have been a joy—the birth of a baby boy—may have made a bad situation worse. Their new life may well have become a terrible burden.

About 1856 — Rural outings — Buxted & Tuppen

It is not surprising, therefore, that sometime around 1856 Martin may have visited his family village of Buxted. Was this perhaps an exciting outing by train from Brighton to visit the place of his birth, perhaps visiting relatives? He was from a large extended family, as was quite common at that time, and several of them still lived in the district. He would have been about 10 years old. Perhaps he was seeking employment away from home?

It was also at this time, or a year or two later, that he appears to have visited Kingston Near Lewes, or at least the sheep grazed hills belonging to that parish. Kingston’s parish boundary stretches out in a long finger across the ridge of Downs which includes the western slopes of Newmarket Hill, less than a mile from the eastern end of Brighton Race Course. Across these hills Kingston’s shepherd, Tuppen, would have driven his sheep. It would have been in his (and his Master’s) interest to keep an eye on the comings and goings of strangers up on the hill. Did he catch an 11 year old Martin Brown attempting to poach rabbits? Or perhaps Brown felt he had been wrongfully accused of such activities. Also, a shepherd was very highly placed in the social hierarchy of rural labourers. He would have demanded respect, and country children were often physically punished for not doffing their caps to those who demanded it. There was also much mistrust and dislike of “furriners” [foreigners] by those who lived in the quiet villages that nestled in the folds of the Downs. The term was especially applied to folk from Brighton. Though it was just an hour or two’s walk away, each of their cultures would have been extremely alien to each other.

However that may be, the encounter between the young Martin Brown and the old shepherd, Tuppen, was still remembered a dozen years later; Tuppen was still able to recall both the face and the name of Martin Brown long after the event.

1861 Census — Elder Street

The first record we have of an address for Martin’s family was 53 Elder Street. At this time it would have been on, or very close to the northern boundary of Brighton, in an area of housing between the London Road and the railway line. Like almost everywhere else that their family lived, it has since been demolished in one of Brighton’s many slum clearance programmes. Their father is given as being 42 years old (which may have been correct), and an agricultural labourer. His (step?) mother was given as being 31 years old, and a dress-maker.

Martin’s oldest brother, 18 year old Joseph, had moved away from home, to the other side of the London Road, in Francis Street, where he is recorded as the nephew of William and Mary Ann [yet another one!] Goringe. His occupation was the very lowest; a day labourer.

Back in Elder Street, Martin, Eliza, and Edward were given as being 15, 12, and 9, and all were listed as scholars. Brighton had the nick-name of ‘school-town’, and there existed several schools for the poor. School was not compulsory till 1872, so their parents may have been concerned that they should be given the opportunity to better themselves. However, further investigation led us to discover that just about all the children in Elder Street at the time of this census were described as being ‘scholars’. In comparison, there were none at all in rural Kingston. It is interesting to note that though Elder Street in Brighton was only two-thirds the length of the ‘The Street’ in rural Kingston, in possessed more than five times its population.

1863, Oct. 11th — New Step-Mother

On the 11th October, 1863 Martin Brown’s father appears to have married a new step mother, Mary Ann Elliott (1825–?).

As was referred to earlier, we found three possible death dates for Martin Brown’s first mother before this time; July–Sept 1851, Apr–June 1860, and July–Sept 1862. It would take a lot of careful research to untangle the knotty problem of which of these records, if any, may relate to our story of Martin Brown, his mother, and also those of one or more of his possible step-mother(s). Rightly or wrongly, we chose to leave this challenging piece of genealogical research for another day, when either we, or someone else, has more time, energy, and money to pursue it. It is hard enough to research a maternal line, but when their names are all Mary Ann, and their husband had the surname Brown, it is far from easy. Until then, we can only speculate.

1863, Nov. 28th — Stealing sweets — 3 months

A little over a month after his gaining a new step-mother, Martin Brown’s name appears, for the first time, in the local newspapers. He was by now seventeen years of age, and was before Mr. M. D. Scott and Dr. J. H. Pickford, Esqrs., of the Hove Bench of Magistrates, under the Criminal Justice Act, for feloniously stealing a tin canister, containing a pound of sweets, at Preston, value one shilling, the property of James Tyler. He was brought up before the Magistrates just the week before, charged with stealing 12s 6d from his master, Henry Peters, of the Half-way House, Dyke road, but was then discharged.

The Brighton Gazette cited the following evidence given by Henry Eastwood:

I am nine years old, and live at 57, Elder Street, Brighton [just two doors down, in the same street as Martin and his family were recorded as staying two years before]. Yesterday, I was going up to the Dyke, with another boy, and the prisoner and another were also going up the Dyke Road. The prisoner opened the half-door of Mr Trusler’s shop, on the Dyke Road, and went in. He came out with some Bull’s-eyes in his hand. He said he had been in to buy them, and went on eating them. I followed him, and he gave me some, and also to his companion. When we got to the Dyke, he took a whitish tin canister from under his jacket, and put it on the ground, and kicked it about. He said he got the canister and the bull’s-eyes in Mr Trusler’s shop.

Other evidence was given to substantiate the charge, and the prisoner having pleaded “not guilty,” the Bench sentenced him to three calendar months’ of imprisonment with hard labour.

1864, April 27th — Out of gaol

According to newspaper reports, his prison term expired at this time. If true, he spent 5 months (including his 18th birthday) in gaol for what was originally a 3 month sentence.

1864, July 5th — Brotherly love? — 6 months

Just over two months passed after his liberation when, on the 5th of July, 1864, we find him, this time, in front of the Brighton Borough Bench. The Magistrates present were: The Mayor (J. L. Brigden, Esq.), A. Bigge, J. Allfree, W. M. Hollis, and W. Alger, Esqrs.

From the evidence presented in the Brighton newspapers, it would seem that the 18 year old Martin Brown was employed as a labourer near Uckfield, but still lived with his father, mother, and sister, who were now living at 6, St. John’s Place, Brighton. His brother had moved back in.

Martin left there on Tuesday, the 28th, but did not return. His brother, Joseph, had locked his clothes up in his box on Sunday as usual, and on Wednesday they were missed. They were his Sunday best clothes; his trousers, waistcoat, and coat, and they matched those produced in the courtroom. The suit was worth about £3. On enquiries being made, it was ascertained that the clothes had been pledged by the prisoner at Mr Lyon’s, New Road.

Frank Barnes, assistant to Mr Lyons, pawnbroker, said the clothes were pledged by the prisoner on the 28th inst., for £1 5s., in the name of Edward Brown, Elder Street.

Detective Starley deposed to taking the prisoner into custody at Hartfield the previous day; he read the warrant to him, and prisoner said, “Yes, it is so, but I have got the money in my pocket, I have not made off with it.” Prisoner also told him that he had pledged his own clothes, that he had left that duplicate on the mantel-piece at home in mistake, and taken the duplicate for his brother’s with him.

Prisoner pleaded guilty to the charge.

In answer to the Bench, the Chief Officer said the prisoner had latterly got into very bad company, having become connected with a lot of poachers. He had been previously convicted of various charges of felony, and appeared to be going on in a very bad way.

Mr Bigge sentenced him to six months’ hard labour, and told him that if brought there again on a charge of felony he would be committed for trial at the Sessions.

The Chief Officer informed the Bench that, as the prisoner had stated, he had not spent the money for which he had pledged these clothes, and the money was found upon him; he proposed that the money should be given up to the pawnbroker, as the prosecutor had got his clothes back again.

Mr Bigge said he was quite willing to allow the money to be given back to the pawnbroker.

Whenever times were hard, which for labouring families was much of the time, pawnbrokers were an extremely well used means for the borrowing of money. They were also an easy way to convert stolen goods into ready cash, though they were also an easy way of getting caught, for they would be the first port of call by police seeking to recover stolen property and the identity of the guilty party. In 1868 he was found to have twenty-six pawnbroker’s duplicates.

1865, March 17th — Stealing from lodgings & beach

He was liberated early in January, 1865, but was soon again in trouble, for, on the 17thMarch, of the same year, he appeared at the Lent General Quarter Sessions for the Borough of Brighton, at the Town Hall, before John Locke, Esq., Q.C., M.P., the Recorder, who was accompanied on the bench by the Worshipful the Mayor (J. L. Brigden, Esq.), Arthur Bigge, Esq. (the Stipendiary Magistrate), J. Allfree, Esq., W. M. Hollis, Esq., T. Warner, Esq., and Lieut.-Colonel Fawcett.

After the precept and the usual proclamation against vice, profaneness, and immorality had been read, the Grand Jury was sworn.

Martin Brown, 19 (nearly?), labourer, pleaded guilty to breaking and entering the dwelling house of Samuel Cook, a labourer’s cottage near the Race Hill, during the absence of inmates, on the 17th February, and stealing a time piece and divers other articles; also to stealing, on the 11th of February, a cape, the property of John MacNamara.

Martin Brown—who, perhaps understandably, was no longer living at home—had yet again robbed his own lodgings. He broke into it after his landlord had left for work in the morning, stealing a time-piece and other articles, the property of his landlord, Samuel Cook, and a scarf and pocket handkerchief, the property of William May (presumably a fellow lodger). John MacNamara’s cape had been stolen from Brighton beach.

Mr Lumley Smith prosecuted. The sentence was: “Six months’ hard labour” upon each charge.

The Quarter Assizes were only for serious crimes, but as serious crime went, this was only small beer and so was found to be hardly worth a mention in the newspapers.

1866, March — Freedom, but death of sister

His liberation from prison was possibly just in time for his twentieth birthday. During this period of little more than 2 years he had spent more than three quarters of it locked up in Lewes Gaol.

Around this time, or shortly before, his sister Eliza died; she was about 3 years younger than her brother, and, judging from what he wrote in 1868, it seems to have hit him hard. Perhaps this was a reason for how the prison Chaplain came to know him so well.

1866, Oct. 4th — Reuben Vinall signs up

During his later trial of 1868 it was stated that, amongst his belongings was a soldier’s manual or book of instruction, which contained a statement of enlistment. It appears from this book that on the 4th October, 1866, Brown enlisted in the Royal Horse Artillery, Woolwich, in the name of Reuben Vinall. He then had stated his age was 20, that he was born at Buxted, near Uckfield, and was a labourer. A soldier’s account book, and an attestation paper of the Royal Sussex Light Infantry Militia was also found in the box.

It is interesting to speculate as to why he chose to change his name. Was it romantic whimsy? Had he seen one or more of the many military reviews involving the thousands of uniformed Cavalry and smart young Infantrymen, charging across the Downs beyond the Brighton Racecourse, and who would have been certain to have attracted the eye of many a young lady. Under the name Reuben Vinall he would have a chance of a fresh start. Or were his reasons more prosaic—was he merely on the run from the police? More than likely, he had several reasons, and perhaps the recent death of his sister, and that of his mother just a few years before, also influenced his decision.

1867, Dec. 10th — Desertion

Needless to say, he did not remain a soldier long, the life was probably too irksome for his temperament, and he deserted from Aldershott after a little over a year. However, it was later noted that his erect manner of walking was almost certainly due to his military training.

1868 — Sailor — America & France

After this he is said to have made a voyage, as a sailor, to America and to have gone over to France and thence to England.

1868, Spring — Carter in Brighton

He was then lost sight of till the spring of 1868, when he was engaged as a carter by Mr Joseph Hall, a builder in Grenville Place, Brighton.

1868, July — Henry Brown on the run

However, he again seems to have reverted to the life of crime he had earlier led at Brighton. His family still resided there, his brother, Joseph, now living in Guildford Place.

He had not long been in Mr Joseph Hall’s service when he absconded. A copper and some metal chimney pots being missed, suspicion fell upon him, and a warrant was issued for his apprehension. To avoid capture he changed his name yet again, this to Henry Brown. When he met his brother, Joseph, at a later occasion at the Brighton Races, he was asked where he was living, and he said he was on the packet service between Newhaven and Dieppe. As we are to find out, this was a lie, though his brother acknowledged—in his opinion—that Martin had good reason for doing so.

Previous: Chapter 6–1. 1868 — David Baldy of Newmarket Farm

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Next: Chapter 6–3. July 1868 — Brighton to Newmarket Hill

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