The Story of The Pebbles
Reproduced from an article by Barbara Murphy in 2018
Copied here with the permission from Tenterden & District Museum
Between the White Lion and Webbs Ironmongery stands an elegant Georgian double-fronted building, its symmetry now unfortunately marred by the shopfront of what was until recently the Halifax Estate Agency. This building began life in 1777, replacing a large 15th century house, of which a small part remains, “heavily disguised” to quote Hugh Roberts, as Webbs, on the left of this picture; the extent of the present disguise becomes clear when compared with this 19th century photo from the Museum’s collection and indeed as late as the 1920s Webbs still had that flat roof, plain white walls and first-floor bay window:;
The exterior of the three-storey building is very largely of wood, though given the appearance of stone; it is timber-framed and the ground floor front is faced with wooden panels chamfered to imitate masonry blocks. The upper storeys are tile-hung above a moulded wooden cross frieze, projecting over the ground storey. The quoins and moulded eaves cornice are also of wood. Being of architectural importance, it is Grade II listed as part of the group of buildings that extends from No.53 to No.67 High Street. (Details written by Colin Young for the Town Tour leaflet and taken from the archives on the Museum’s AktivAccess). The bay windows on the ground floor were identical until that of the estate agents’ was extended to make a shop front.
Why is it called ‘The Pebbles’? The space in front of the building was originally paved with large cobbles, supposedly to discourage pedestrians from disturbing the household. The picture below, taken from Tenterden by Aylwin Guilmant and dating from around 1875, shows the cobbled area – and also the building in relation to the tollgate and the tollhouse almost directly opposite. Between the toll barrier and the tall post (flagstaff? It can hardly have been the telegraph pole shown in that position in a 1930s photo) can be seen the milestone dating from the 1762 turnpike, in its original position, which gives distances to Cranbrook, Romney and Rye. Following collision damage, it was removed for repair and eventually reinstated around 2009 a few yards further west. All that’s now left of those cobbles are two tiny triangles either side of the doorway to No.55.
The Twin Properties
Within this uniform façade are two separate residences, now known as Nos.53 and 55 High Street, but they can be described as not so much semi-detached but conjoined, though not identical, twins. Their floors intermesh in a unique way over the central passageway which divides them at ground floor level, the 5ft or so width belonging, on the top floor, entirely to No.53, along with small portions of the cellar and first floor, while the remainder of the first floor and cellars are in No.55. Nor are they similar in size – according to the 1870 auction particulars, No.55 had seven bedrooms, while No.53 had only five (but also two dressing rooms), and smaller reception rooms.
Plan of properties from 1870 auction details: Lot 1 is No.55, Lot 2 is No.53
The garden of No.53 is quite small and narrow, though it did contain a ‘detached wash-house and offices’ (it now contains the old Tenterden Pine showroom). No.55, on the other hand, had a bigger plot, with a ‘detached wash-house with laundry, brick built wood house, with corn and knife rooms and apple room over, two-stall stable with 2 rooms over, pump of good water, together with a most excellent garden in the rear leading to another garden adjoining Bells Lane, which forms a back entrance, and has a brick-built summer house thereon.’ (Auction details, 1870) The ‘other garden’ mentioned went across the back of No.53’s garden and alongside the properties on Bells Lane, where it had a considerable frontage.
As with many twins, their identity is often confused. The name ‘The Pebbles’ originally referred to the whole building, and in many cases it still does. Note this extract from NELSON’S DESCENDANTS AND ST MILDRED’S CHURCH, an account by Hugh Ward, March 2003:
… for about 18 months they lived at ”The Pebbles”, now 53 & 55 High Street and occupied by the library, an estate agent and Kent Messenger offices.
And this from the description of Tenterden on the Cinque Ports website:
The old library building (now White Stuff) occupies part of the Pebbles, a handsome 18th century wood-framed house, next to which is the White Lion Hotel…
Nor does the Tenterden Heritage Trail leaflet distinguish two separate parts of the building:
From the junction look across the High Street to “The Pebbles” with imitation wooden masonry and quoins… Traces of the pebbles are visible on the forecourt. In 1830-1, during repairs to the Vicarage, it was home to the family of Rev. Philip Ward and his wife Horatia, love child of Horatio Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton.
Although by examining the ownership history we can deduce that it was only No.55 that the Wards rented.
No.55 is not referred to specifically as The Pebbles until 1928. Prior to that, legal documents identify the properties either by their owners or occupiers, or variations on ‘between the White Lion and …’ or ‘the easternmost …’ without giving any names or numbers. Any historical mention of ‘The Pebbles’ can refer to either or both of these twin properties. For example, the 1890 auction details for No.53 refer to it as ‘The Pebbles’.
The Mace Family
The story of this house is inseparable from that of its builder and his family. John Mace came to Tenterden in 1755 as an apothecary apprenticed to the physician William Lott. He later set up in practice as a physician and surgeon with his son John, and built The Pebbles in 1777. A vivid picture of Dr Mace is suggested by the tall but narrow doorway to the passage leading from the road to the stables at the back, designed so that he could ride through on horseback wearing his top hat. This photo shows the rear view of that passageway today.
His reasoning was that ‘as he always rode on horseback he didn’t see why his sons should want a carriage’ (Hugh Roberts, Tenterden the first hundred years.) The difference between this and the type of carriage entrance one might expect in such a building can be seen when compared with the White Lion next door:
John Mace the elder had three sons, William, John and Joseph. He himself lived at No.55, and he settled No.53 on his son William on the occasion of William’s marriage to Elizabeth Curteis with the proviso that following the deaths of both the house would revert to his other sons John and Joseph.
Now John the younger and his wife, Sarah Ellis, had a son, John Ellis Mace, b.1794, who married the daughter of John Munn of Rolvenden. It cannot be coincidental that the solicitors acting for the vendors in the 1870 auction were Messrs Munn and Mace, although John Ellis Mace was aged 76 by then so maybe they were the next generation. But back in 1828 John Mace and John Munn bought out Joseph’s share in No.53 and gave the property to John Ellis Mace on his marriage, although no conveyance was executed. Eleven years later, in 1839, John Ellis Mace sold No.53 to Amelia Cole Mace (nee Steers), widow of Joseph Mace. Yes: they bought out the uncle and then sold it back to the aunt.
Amelia died 31st October 1869 and was buried at St. Mildred’s on 6th November. The following year the house was sold to Henry Peach Buckler who was already in occupation as tenant. By 1890 it was owned by Sarah Roberts Buckler, spinster, of Bexhill. She was the daughter of Henry Peach Buckler and his wife, Sarah Roberts. Henry died on 31st May 1889 and his wife had pre-deceased him in 1884, so Sarah Roberts Buckler inherited the house. She clearly did not want to live in it, because on 1 May 1890 she tried to auction it through Hatch & Waterman, but there were no takers. By 1897 it was occupied by Harry Buckler Mace, Sarah’s nephew, the son of her sister Charlotte Search Buckler and William Glover Mace.
By 1901 it was ‘late in the occupation of Mr James Waterman’. James, born 1831, was a farmer at Pigeon Hoo, later acquiring farms at Woodchurch, Udimore and on Romney Marsh before joining the auctioneering partnership. In 1897 he moved to ‘The Pebbles’ (i.e. No.53) and eventually to Albion House. Sarah owned No.53 until sometime before 1928, by which time Mr Arthur Howard Burtenshaw, auctioneer and valuer, was the owner-occupier. Thus after around 150 years No.53 relinquished all connection with the Mace family.
So, back to No.55. Dr Mace died in 1817, leaving this house to his son John. We know that for a time it was rented out, because in 1830 the Reverend Philip Ward and his wife Horatia (daughter of Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton) moved to Tenterden when he was appointed Vicar at St Mildred’s, and finding the vicarage in an unacceptable state of disrepair took up residence at The Pebbles for eighteen months or so while the vicarage was refurbished. They arrived with five children and altogether had ten, of whom eight reached adulthood, so as a typical Victorian family they no doubt appreciated the seven bedrooms.
At some point Amelia Cole Mace moved to No.55, and it was her death in 1869 that triggered the auction of both properties in 1870. No.55 was then bought by Mr Seaman Beale of Ivy Court for £770.
Seaman Beale died on 20 June 1879 and there is a gap in the available records until 1897 when Joseph Sawyer Winser, grocer, bought No.55 from Frederick Herbert Holmes of Henley, brewer, and Francis Robert Howlett of Maidstone, gentleman (who sound like executors, but of whom is not clear).
Mr Winser was the son of Edward Winser, grocer and draper, whose shop had been at 41 High Street (now Nationwide) since 1867, and Mary Walker. (Another old Tenterden name: there had been a Winser family at Ratsbury since 1797, and there is also Winser Farm at Rolvenden Layne, although the connections are not easy to trace.) He was in residence until his death in 1926, his occupation still given as grocer. In 1901 he had plans to build a greenhouse in the garden, partly obscuring the light to No.53. This went off smoothly by means of an agreement he made with Sarah Buckler (still living in Bexhill) that she would let him build the greenhouse, and also forfeit access to the well and pump in the garden of No.55, which had always been used by both houses, on condition that he laid on mains water for her; with the reservation that access would be restored should the Cranbrook District Water Company go into liquidation or the water supply fail.
As previously mentioned, Mr Arthur Howard Burtenshaw, auctioneer and valuer, became the owner-occupier of No. 53 sometime before 1928. Since then it has consistently remained an estate agency, the name changing from A H Burtenshaw via Hogbin & Burtenshaw (c1966) and John Hogbin & Son (c1980) to Halifax Estate Agents by 1990. Now sadly deserted, the removal of the Halifax board reveals the faint impression of the name Arthur H Burtenshaw on the original wooden lintel of the shopfront.
One of the several small, short-lived private schools that flourished in late Victorian and Edwardian Tenterden was at The Pebbles. There is no mention of this one in most recent accounts of education in Tenterden, but a search of the AktivAccess records brought this to light:
1903 The Pebbles, Miss Rumsey. Day and Boarding School, Resident English and Parisian governesses, Religious instruction, English, Advanced Arithmetic, Bookkeeping, French, Drawing, Basic Latin, Physical Drill, Theory of Music, Needlework. Pupils prepared for all Public Examinations.
From an article by Alec Laurence, LHS Newsletter No. 4, March 2004
We know that the house now known as The Pebbles was occupied at that time by a grocer who was busy building a greenhouse. Therefore the school was situated in No.53, rented from Sarah Buckler.
Much of the information that follows, and this delightful picture, come courtesy of Carol Douglas, who has a personal interest as the little girl second from left in the back row is her grandmother, Elsie Gilbert, daughter of Charles Joseph Gilbert, who later married John Collison. The teacher beside her is Miss Hocking. Elsie was born in 1898 and the picture dates from 1905 or 1906. Can you identify anyone else in this photo?
The school existed by the time of the 1901 census, but it can’t have been for long, as in 1897 the house was occupied by James Waterman. The Head was Miss Rumsey (who must have been very relieved to have mains water laid on). Frances Emma Rumsey, born c.1851 in Orsett, Essex, led a peripatetic life as the daughter of a vicar who by 1861 was Vicar of Rolvenden. As she remained single and presumably living at home, her positions as governess in Somerset and Gateshead must have echoed her father’s appointments, until by 1901 she appears as head of a school in Tenterden. However, by 1911 she is listed as a teacher and lodging-keeper in Mortlake, Surrey. Her assistant was Fanny Matilda Hocking, born 1873 in Tenterden and living at 3 Borough Place. In 1901 her occupation is governess in a school, and by 1911 she is unemployed and living with her mother.
Although both Miss Rumsey and Miss Hocking had departed by 1911, the school had not disappeared. The 1911 census lists the occupants of ‘The Pebbles’ as the widowed Matilda Blackman and her daughters, Matilda and Kate Julia, and Gertrude Mary Craddock, general servant. Matilda junior was the proprietor of the school, with her younger sister as assistant. Alec Laurence’s article quoted above also lists:
1910 High Street Misses B & K Blackman (Certified Cambridge and South Kensington) Day and Boarding School for Girls and Preparatory Class for Boys. Assisted by trained teachers and a resident French mistress. Organised games. Private lessons given.
This school, like most others in Tenterden, had disappeared by the start of WW1.
The last 100 years of ‘The Pebbles’
We can now safely apply this name according to current usage. Joseph Sawyer Winser lived at No.55 between 1897 and his death on 26 February 1926. What then follows seems rather strange. Joseph Winser owned a lot of land, houses, shops and businesses all over Tenterden and the surrounding villages, including ‘Ye Olde Cellars’, most of which were auctioned off in June and August 1926. But The Pebbles didn’t come onto the market for another two years. On 10 July 1928, Mr Winser’s executors, Martha Ann Southon of Roslyn, Tenterden, his sister-in-law, and the Public Trustee, vested the property in Miss Southon as tenant for life. But very shortly, on 2 November that year there was an agreement for sale by private treaty (A H Burtenshaw being the estate agent) to Alice Wood, widow, of 3 Beacon Oak Road, and the conveyance was dated 12 December with completion on 1 January 1929. Oh, and by now the price was £1500.
Martha Ann Southon never lived at No. 55, now for the first time referred to in documents as ‘The Pebbles’. (Although, confusingly, a Notice To Creditors in the London Gazette of 25 June 1926 names “Martha Ann Southon, of The Pebbles” as an executor. Martha died in 1944, still at Roslyn.) And nor did Alice Wood.
Alice Wood (nee Chamberlain) was born in 1856, so she was well over 70 when she bought The Pebbles. She was the second wife of Thomas Wood, a draper and Methodist lay preacher 20 years her senior who had died in 1917 aged 81. She had married Thomas following the death of his first wife, her elder sister Clara Lillias Chamberlain, in 1886. Here’s a clue to her motive in buying the property:
The idea of a museum was suggested as long ago as 1928, when the late Mrs Alice Wood offered The Pebbles to Tenterden Borough Council in memory of her husband. Because of the expense involved, the offer had to be declined.
Hugh Roberts, The Story of the Museum Project 1976
But read a bit further in Hugh Roberts’ article and it states that Alice Wood offered the house for use as an art gallery and museum for the Borough of Tenterden on 26 July 1928. On 20 September that year the Council decided the cost would be too great unless land at the rear was sold, and on 12 October it was reported that the cost of adapting and maintaining the building would require the equivalent of a rate of 3d. in the £, so the offer was reluctantly declined. But she still went ahead and completed on the purchase on 1 January 1929.
Even the initial sale agreement is dated after Alice’s offer had been turned down. But had Martha and Alice been planning this during the past two years while the house lay empty? If so, Alice must have been deeply disappointed that her offer wasn’t taken up.
After this rebuff, Alice let the property for the next 17 years. A tenancy agreement from 1940, made between ‘Alice Wood of Prospect House, The Green, Woodchurch, formerly of 3 Beacon Oak Road, and Herbert Sydney Brown, solicitor of Deal, for one year certain at £65 pa.’ was drawn up, needless to say, by A H Burtenshaw.
Finally, just before the end of the war and at the age of nearly 90, on 28 March 1945 she presented The Pebbles to the town. A Deed of Gift is recorded between Alice Wood, formerly of 3 Beacon Oak Road but now of The Green, Woodchurch, and the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the Borough of Tenterden, “to perpetuate the memory of those inhabitants of the Ancient Borough of Tenterden who have fallen in the service of their Country during the present War solely for the benefit of the inhabitants of and visitors to the said Borough.” This time, the Borough Council really couldn’t refuse the offer… and part of the land has indeed been sold off, since the extra bit of garden facing onto Bells Lane is now home to the five bungalows of Bell’s Close.
This is commemorated by a plaque on The Pebbles
In 1960 Leslie Chalk tried to revive the idea of using the building as a museum, but the Council felt it was not suitable, and the ground floor was leased to Kent County Council for the county library, with a lease dated 1961. In 1968 the Borough Finance Department moved to the first floor and since then rooms on the first floor have been variously leased, principally to KCC and for several years between 1997 and 2006 one room to the Kent Messenger Group. The library moved from The Pebbles to Gateway in 2009, and in 2011 the lease was taken over by White Stuff.
In the year 2000, the area behind the house, which now retains no trace of the former stables and outbuildings, was transformed into the Millennium Garden. Although not heavily used, this attractive and tranquil spot perhaps best fulfils Alice Wood’s intention to benefit the people of Tenterden.
The Millennium Garden, June 2017, facing towards and away from The Pebbles
Many thanks to John Weller and Carol Douglas for supplying documents and information, to Colin Young for additional historical details and to the Museum for two of the old photographs.
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The images below are extra to the report above
Plan of The Pebbles
Further photos showing The Pebbles