History Snippets Of Kent
We recently gave a talk to a local history society in Kent and revealed lots of Scandals, Skeletons and Surprises from the Olden Days of Kent!
If you’d like a coffee break and a quick read of some of the scandals then see below. Every Quiz Trail is packed with local history stories.
Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth in 1812 to John and Elizabeth Dickens - the family moved to London three years later. From 1817 to 1822 John Dickens was posted to Sheerness then to Chatham Royal Dockyard.
During those years John and his young son Charles would walk many miles around the area. In 1821, when Charles was 9, he walked with his father past the rather grand house of Gad’s Hill at Higham – just outside Rochester. Charles really liked the look of the house and his father said to him that if he “were to be very persevering and work very hard” he might one day live there. And so he did … buying the house in 1856 and moving there permanently in 1860. Today Gad’s Hill is a private school.
In 1824, when Charles was just 12, John Dickens was arrested for his debts and sent to prison. Charles was sent to work in a factory pasting labels on shoe polish containers to provide for the family. The factory was in the area of where Charring Cross Station now stands in London. Following Charles’ grandfather’s
death his father inherited enough money to pay off his debts, left prison and was able to pay for Charles to have his final years of schooling.
In 1833 – when he was 21 - Charles Dickens published his first story ‘A Dinner at Poplar Walk’ in The Monthly Magazine. He married Catherine 3 years later and they went on to have 10 children together.
22 years later the marriage came to an end in 1858. He went on to have a long-standing romance with actress Ellen Ternan - he being 46 years old and she being 19. Ellen has been born in Rochester in 1839 but they met through connections at the Haymarket theatre in London whilst Ellen was performing.
In 1865 the couple were caught out publicly together when they were on a train together which crashed at Staplehurst.
June 9, 1870. Charles Dickens died at the age of 58. He wanted to be buried in Rochester however public opinion, led by The Times newspaper, (and with Queen Victoria’s support) felt he should be buried in London. Following a quiet, private funeral as requested by Mr Dickens in his instructions (with some 12 mourners in attendance) he was buried in Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey. People thereafter came in their thousands to the burial site to pay their respects. Each year a wreath is still laid on his grave on the date of his birth. He left provision for both Catherine and Ellen in his will.
George Joseph Smith was born in Bethnal Green, London on 11th January 1872. He grew up to be a cold, heartless man but one who had a way with women ... time proved that his love of money was greater than his love of any woman.
His criminal activities started at the age of nine when he was sent from London to Gravesend to a reformatory school.
Under the alias of Oliver Love he married domestic servant Caroline Thornhill in Leicester in 1898. He persuaded Caroline to steal from her employers for him and they both ended up with convictions for this. A year after marrying Caroline he bigamously married another woman, took all her savings, and abandoned her. Caroline left him and went to Canada - the couple never divorced, and George Smith remained legally married to her for the rest of his life.
Between 1908 and 1914 he married a further seven women - using false names and deserting with their cash, sometimes only days after the wedding. He would tell them he was just popping out ... and they would never see him again.
Those that survived him were the lucky ones…
In August 1910 George Smith married Bessie Mundy, in Herne Bay, calling himself Henry Williams. Shortly after the wedding he did his usual and disappeared. Eighteen months later Bessie bumped into him in the street, and they rekindled their relationship - they drew up wills leaving everything to each other. Bessie had a trust fund of £2,500. Less than a week later she was dead ... drowned in the bath that Smith had bought for their rented home. Bessie was found at 80 High Street, Herne Bay. Smith returned the bath and got a refund.
He then married Alice Burnham in Blackpool in 1913 ... within a month she had sadly drowned in the bath. He then married Margaret Lofty in 1915 ... within days of their wedding she had sadly drowned in the bath.
Newspaper reports brought about tip offs to the police from previous victims’ families. When George Smith went to trial, it was only for the murder of Bessie - at that time British law didn’t permit anyone to be tried for multiple murders in one go. The jury was only out for twenty-two minutes before it delivered a guilty verdict. George Joseph Smith was executed at Maidstone Gaol on 13th August 1915. The crimes are known as “The Brides in the Bath”.
George Smith defended himself at the trial. He said, “I am no murderer although I may be a bit peculiar”.
Dr Herman Görtz - the infamous Manston Spy - was operating in England and Ireland before and during the Second World War. Prior to the war, in 1935 he arrived in Broadstairs with his 19 year old secretary and they claimed to be uncle and niece. They stayed for six weeks at a house he rented, - called ‘Havelock’ in Stanley Road.
Near to the end of their six-week tenancy, Görtz visited Germany and whilst away he telegraphed his landlady, Mrs Johnson, letting her know that he would be gone for two days and asked her to take care of his belongings in the outhouse, including his "bicycle combination".
Görtz had meant his overalls but Mrs Johnson thought he was referring to his Zündapp motorcycle.
Mrs Johnson checked the outhouse, did not find the motorbike, and reported to police that it had disappeared. When police investigated the apparent theft, they found sketches and documents about Manston airfield.
He was arrested at Harwich in 1936 and convicted of espionage for gathering information about the RAF airbase at Manston, Kent and the court case at The Old Bailey in London made national headlines. Görtz was found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison for espionage and sent to Maidstone Prison. In February 1939, he was released and deported to Germany.