FIR HILL

1765 – 1850

John Blyth Rogers?

JOHN BLYTH ROGERS     ?1840 – 1841

There are no tenancy agreements or land tax records documenting who lived at Fir Hill between 1838 and 1850. When Charles Hamilton made his will on 27 May 1841 (Public Records Office, Prob.11/2244/220), he gave his home address as Albemarle Street, Piccadilly, but the will mentions that he was then ambassador to Brazil. No members of the Hamilton family feature in the 1841 census for Droxford but it is unlikely that they would have left the property empty after the departure of the Rev. Penny White. They would surely have rented it if they could.

The 1841 census is a frustrating document since the houses on “the Street” tithing in Droxford are neither numbered nor named. However, in both the 1851 and 1861 censuses the entry for Fir Hill appears immediately before that for the home of the Hall family, whose house stood where Eden Lodge now stands. If the 1841 census was recorded in the same order then Fir Hill was occupied by John B Rogers, surgeon, aged 40 and unmarried, and his two house servants, John and Ann Williams.

This seems all the more likely in the light of extensive materials brought to our attention by Ann Hurley, the great-great-great-granddaughter of John Blyth Rogers, who lives in Australia. Ann’s research into her Rogers ancestors can be found at http:/hurleyskidmorehistory.com.au/hurley-and-box-families/a-family-disintegrates-john.html. Most of what follows is taken from her research and from Julian Clarke Rogers’s book “The History of our Family –The Rogers of West Meon” (1902). We also wish to thank Stuart Attrill who provided us with invaluable information about the various Rogers burials in Droxford churchyard and Gordon Hope who shared his extensive knowledge of the Droxford tithings with us.

Ann’s researches show John Blyth Rogers to have been a troubled soul, a man with extravagant tastes who lived beyond his means, with creditors constantly knocking at his door, and who suffered an increasingly serious drink problem as he got older. When we find that he had rented the large and attractive, but expensive, West House on South Hill in Droxford a few years earlier when he was seriously in debt, it seems entirely in character that he would also have rented Fir Hill later from the Hamilton family even though he could not afford it.

The Rogers family was extremely well known in the Meon Valley in the late 18th and most of the 19th Century since it provided the local area with a succession of surgeons from the late 1760’s until the early 1880s. A surgeon in those days performed all the duties of a modern GP, midwife and pharmacist combined, as well as carrying out surgery.

John Blyth Rogers’s grandfather, William Rogers (c1743 – 1820), practised as a local surgeon for over 50 years. He was living in Meonstoke when he married Elizabeth Parry (1738 – 1802) in Portsmouth in 1769 and they had seven children, of whom six survived. Interestingly, they allowed their third child, Mary, to be adopted as a baby by a wealthy and childless widow, Mary Myngs, who lived at Studwell Lodge in Droxford. This presumably was seen as a way of setting their daughter up for life and indeed Mary Myngs left her namesake well off in her will.

Elizabeth Parry was seven years older than William and independently wealthy, having inherited substantial funds from her mother who had died when Elizabeth was ten. Perhaps because of her previous experience of having had to defend her inheritance in court from her father who had tried to seize it, Elizabeth purchased their future married home (described as a cottage set in one acre of arable land and now the Baker’s Arms pub) in Droxford High Street in 1768. She then transferred that property, probably with her other investments, to the trustees of a marriage settlement shortly before her marriage to William. This action was intended to prevent William from claiming ownership of her assets as he was by law entitled to do as her husband.

Although the 1769 document describes William as ‘surgeon and apothecary’, Julian Clarke Rogers, writing in 1902, could not establish with any certainty where William was practising until around 1780 when he was definitely practising in Droxford. As William’s bride-to-be had purchased their future marital home in Droxford in 1768 it seems highly likely that William was already practising, or planning to practice, in Droxford at the time of their marriage in 1769. Perhaps Elizabeth used her money to help him establish or purchase a practice in the village. 

After Elizabeth’s sudden death in 1802, William continued to live on in their marital home on Droxford High Street until his own death in 1820, following which the surviving trustee of Elizabeth’s marriage settlement sold the property to the Misses Wheatley of Petersfield, who then rented it out. William persuaded his children to lend him the money that they had inherited from Elizabeth on her death. This became a major bone of contention when, only 18 months later in 1804, William married again. His second wife was only 40 and the children had to wait another 43 years until her death before they could recover the loan, which had lost much of its purchasing power in the meantime.

William’s second wife was Sarah Page (1762 – 1847), the Droxford church organist and a member of the extensive and long established Page family. Her family home was Manor Cottage on the corner of Park Lane and South Hill. Her parents, Richard and Mary Page, owned and ran a shop in Park Lane, adjacent to Clark’s House, which was later taken over by Sarah’s brother John and his wife, Elizabeth Page. In fact Richard Page had transferred the ownership of Manor Cottage to Sarah shortly before her marriage to William Rogers, but when she left to live with William in his house in Droxford High Street, John and Elizabeth Page moved into Manor Cottage to take care of Richard Page, who lived to be 95, while continuing to run the shop.

Although not wealthy, Sarah was certainly not a pauper. As well as owning Manor Cottage, in 1830 she inherited Millers Cottage and a substantial amount of money from her uncle, Walter Jenkins, the village maltster. She then sold Manor Cottage in 1833, following the death of her brother John and the retirement as shopkeeper of his widow, Elizabeth. She continued to live on in William Rogers’s home as a tenant of Miss Wheatley for two years after his death in 1820 before moving to Clark’s House in Park Row which she rented until around 1839 or 1840, when she moved to Millers Cottage, staying there until her death in 1847. We know that Sarah helped out her step-grandson, John Blyth Rogers, on at least two occasions, perhaps out of a sense of obligation to the Rogers family that she had married into.

William Rogers is buried in Droxford churchyard outside the West door where his grave lies between those of his two wives. His tombstone bears the inscription:

 

“Mr William Rogers, Surgeon, who after more than 50 years spent in the arduous duties of his profession, which he performed with the most scrupulous and conscientious integrity, departed this life June 3rd 1820 aged 74 years.” 

According to his great-grandson, Julian Clarke Rogers, William was “a man of unengaging manners and of severe, not to say irascible, temper”. He was very pious and insisted on taking his family to church twice a day, as well as having family prayers and Bible study at home. He was also rather eccentric. He wore wooden clogs to church on wet Sundays, brewed his own beer in three different strengths by using the same ingredients three times over and was known to walk to London each year to collect in person the dividends from his investments.

The fifth child of William and Elizabeth Rogers was George Vining Rogers (1777 – 1846), the father of John Blyth Rogers. George Vining Rogers followed his father into the medical profession. His first position was as an army surgeon attached to Portchester Castle, near Portsmouth, which was used to house up to 8,000 French, Spanish and Dutch prisoners of war during the Napoleonic Wars from 1794 to 1814. They included more than 2,000 black and dual heritage soldiers, their wives and children, who had been captured in the Caribbean and shipped to the UK in 1796. In 1799 he married the fifteen year old Mary Ann Blyth (1783 – 1873) in St Mary’s Church, Kingston, Portsmouth (from which you could see Portchester Castle). They had 22 children, of whom five died in infancy. John Blyth Rogers and his twin brother, Charles Fletcher Rogers, were the second and third surviving children.

 

By 1802, George Vining Rogers had a practice in Bishop’s Waltham. He moved to West Meon in 1805 where he took over a practice from a deceased relative and lived at the Cedars in Doctor’s Lane.  Several of the children had distinguished careers: seven of their sons were educated in medicine, three went into commerce, one into the navy and two of their daughters became school teachers.

George Vining Rogers was described by his grandson, Julian Clarke Rogers, as stern but kind and affectionate. He was deeply religious and interested in the writings of John Wesley. He took his medical duties very seriously and in his 60s was still riding up to 300 miles a week to visit patients.

His wife, Mary Ann Rogers, who survived him by 27 years, was also a very strong character, highly intelligent, with firmly held but conservative religious beliefs. She was totally devoted to her many children, of whom only five survived her. George Vining and Mary Ann Rogers are buried in West Meon churchyard and are commemorated by the tall stone memorial cross in the centre of the village on the junction of Church Lane and what is now the A32, which was erected by their son, Dr Francis Slaughter Rogers.

With this background it is not surprising that John Blyth Rogers (1801 – 1860) decided to follow his father and grandfather into the medical profession. After qualifying as a surgeon and apothecary, he set up his practice in Droxford, likely inheriting many of the patients of his grandfather who had died in 1820. In 1827 he married Emma Cobden (1800 – 1836) in Farnham. Emma’s parents were tenants of the Rogers in West Meon and her brother, Richard, became a wealthy calico manufacturer, eminent MP and campaigner for free trade. We know from her surviving correspondence that Emma had serious misgivings about marrying John but was persuaded to do so by his father. She and John went on to have five children between 1829 and 1835, the last of whom died in infancy.

Emma’s misgivings soon proved to be well-founded. In December 1826 John had rented West House on South Hill in Droxford for £28 per annum (£2,236 / £33,290 / £131,200 p.a.) from the Rev William Burrows. West House is a substantial and attractive house in a prominent position and was certainly intended to impress as the first home of the newly-weds. However, in a letter to her brother written by Emma shortly after her marriage she complained that John Blyth was living beyond his means and “has debts all over the country”. The following year John Blyth had to borrow £68 (£5,431 / £80,840 / £318,500) at a commercial rate of interest from Elizabeth Page, the sister-in-law of his step-grandmother, Sarah Rogers. His promissory note, personally guaranteed by his father and father-in-law, survives. This loan was likely arranged by Sarah since she and Elizabeth were very close. Even so it was not enough. In April 1830 John Blyth and Emma were evicted from West House, presumably for non-payment of rent, by the Rev William Burrows, John Blyth “having compounded with his creditors”. Once again Sarah Rogers came to their rescue and allowed them to move into Millers Cottage, her recently inherited house at the bottom of Droxford High Street.

It is not clear what caused John Blyth Rogers’s alcoholism or when it started to become a problem but his family life was full of tragedy. First, there were the premature deaths of many of his siblings: three died in the 1820s, two in the 1840s (including his twin brother, Charles Fletcher, in 1849) and two in the 1850s (including his elder brother, also called George Vining, of alcoholism in 1856). His last child, Richard Charles, died aged 5 months in 1835 and was quickly followed to the grave in 1836 by his wife, Emma, aged 35, a victim of tuberculosis. Emma and Richard Charles were buried together in a fine tomb also prominently situated outside the west door of Droxford church. The fact that John Blyth never re-married and that his four surviving children were effectively taken away from him and brought up by family members in Alton and West Meon suggest that he had a serious drinking problem by the late 1830s.

We do not know when John Blyth may have taken a lease of Fir Hill. He may have moved in by late 1840. However, at the time of the July 1841 census, we find John Blyth living at Fir Hill with two house servants, while Sarah Rogers is living in Millers Cottage with one female servant. In any event his tenancy did not last long. A letter from his father to his brother Joseph survives, written in October 1840, in which he complains that John Blyth has become a homeless alcoholic vagrant. A further letter from his father written in 1841 states that John Blyth's personal effects had been seized to pay his debts, and that John Blyth had been to West Meon to try to borrow money from his relations. George Vining considered his son's drunkenness a personal vice, as was commonly thought at the time, rather than an addiction or illness as it would be treated today.  It sounds therefore as if the Hamilton family must have evicted John Blyth from Fir Hill for non-payment of rent sometime between July and October 1841.

The lack of surviving land tax records from the 1840s makes it impossible for us to track John Blyth’s next home, if indeed he stayed in Droxford. The next census of July 1851 finds John Blyth lodging with a family of farm workers in a small cottage outside Swanmore, which suggests that he had continued to go down in the world. His worsening alcoholism appears to have caused the disintegration of his own family. John Blyth's son Willoughby John was reported missing in London by two of his uncles in 1849 and may have slipped away to emigrate. His other sons, Frederick William (born 1829) and a third George Vining (1832 – 1910), emigrated to Australia apparently to escape their father’s alcoholism: first Frederick some time before April 1853, and George in 1855. This only left his daughter, Emma, who had married William Henry Cooper in West Meon in 1853 but had then moved away after her marriage. John Blyth must have been a lonely man in his later years.

Since we know that John Blyth continued to maintain his practising licences he may have tried to continue his medical practice in Droxford in some capacity despite his alcoholism. His brother, Dr Francis Slaughter Rogers, was meanwhile running his own practice in West Meon as successor to their father, which he continued with until shortly before his death in 1886, and he may have also been helping out in Droxford.

John Blyth Rogers was eventually found dead ‘of general decay’, aged 59, at the New Inn (later called the Turnpike Pub), Old Turnpike, Fareham on 1 February 1860 and was buried in an unmarked grave next to his wife and infant son in Droxford churchyard. His will left his remaining personal effects to his daughter Emma. His was certainly a tragic life.

1841 census for Droxford 'Street'

West House, South Hill, Droxford

Photo courtesy of Mrs Pauline Tilt

New Inn, (Turnpike Inn), Fareham. 1st photo c.1920. 2nd photo date unknown

Sources: closedpubs.co.uk/Nigel Froud and 20thcenturyfareham.co.uk

Research, words and web design by Matthew & Georgy.

 

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