Chosen by Keith Lawson, volunteer
I have volunteered at West Sussex Record Office for a number of years now. A couple of years ago, I was asked to catalogue a collection of 116 valuation books compiled by Wyatt and Son, who were Agricultural Valuers and Auctioneers. Established in 1826, Wyatt and Son moved to Baffins Hall, Chichester, in 1913, and their auction house is today used by Henry Adams Auctioneers, who deposited the valuation books at WSRO. The books date from 1892-1920 and mainly concern the valuation of live and dead farming stock and tillages from farms around the county, although a number include valuations of the household furniture and effects of non-agricultural properties, including a number of pubs; these valuations were usually made for probate purposes, after the death of the owner, so that the amount of death duty that was payable could be calculated.
The valuation books are incredibly detailed, listing everything from individual items of jewellery and clothing, bed linen, garden furniture and ornaments (including flower pots), to the number of cushions on a sofa and even the carpets and linoleum on the floors! Although only pocket-sized, these little valuation books are a fascinating source of social history and reveal much about how our ancestors lived a hundred or so years ago, as well as a great deal of local history.
For example, two of the valuation books list dilapidations to properties rented out during Goodwood week, which appear to have been an invitation for raucous house parties, judging by the lists of damages! At Sennicotts House, Chichester, the damage after the 1894 meeting included grease marks to the seat of the gent’s easy chair, the corner of the elbow of which was also torn; various items of glassware and china were cracked or broken; numerous items simply disappeared – including a 20.5 inch breakfast tray, an old white plate, a tennis ball and a tin can (the mind boggles!); there were pencil marks to the wall near the door in the breakfast room; and both a wicker arm chair (in the conservatory) and the American folding chair (in the housekeeper’s room) were destroyed!
However, it was the valuation of the household furniture and effects belonging to the late Reverend Philip John Thomas Blakeway, the parish priest at Walberton, dated 25th July 1915, which really caught my eye. Nowadays we tend to think of parish priests as being rather poorly paid and this was also true a hundred years ago, but then there were also parish priests who were obviously very well off – and the Revd Blakeway certainly seems to have fallen into this latter category. After his death, his effects were totalled at £15,359 8s 9d; according to the National Archives’ currency convertor, this would have been worth around £670,000 in 2005.
The furniture was obviously that of a large comfortable house – the list of contents of the entrance hall alone covers more than two pages, with the effects including a suit of armour – but it was his wine cellar which amazed me. In addition to a huge range of wines, with many bottles of each type, he also had in his cellar: 3 bottles of whiskey, 57 bottles of sherry, 87 bottles of claret, 124 bottles of port and 129 bottles of Champagne – many being the large Jeroboam bottles. It seems fair to say that he was not a ‘sackcloth and ashes’ enthusiast!
But although we may be amazed by his wealth and apparent enthusiasm for the good life, Revd Blakeway had in fact made the ultimate sacrifice for his country. Born in 1865, Blakeway joined the 8th Hussars and served in India for six years before returning to England, to study at Magdalen College, Oxford; he then took Holy Orders, eventually being ordained priest in 1893. At the outbreak of World War I, Revd Blakeway applied to join the front line and was appointed 1st Class Chaplain with the rank of Colonel. He was duly sent to Egypt with one of the first drafts of troops and died there of heart failure, on active service, on 16th June 1915; he was buried
where he died, in Ismailia. In 1917, a memorial tablet for the Revd Blakeway – drawn out by the renowned engraver Eric Gill, and cut out by his assistant, Ralph Beedham – was erected at Walberton church; and he would also be honoured on the parish war memorial lych gate and tablet, both dedicated at a special service in December 1920, alongside his fellow fallen parishioners.
You can find out more about the artist Eric Gill by reading one of our previous blogs: https://westsussexrecordoffice.wordpress.com/2016/08/17/eric-gills-london-box-c1940-eric-gill-353/