Church Litten, Newport

This is an extract of Newport’s history from the past and part of a project of all residents and trades from the 14th century.

Church Litten – Prior to 1583, the land which is now the old burial ground was the archer’ ground, where the shooting butts stood.

Church Litten originated as a cemetery dating from 1582 when Newport was hit by the plague. Previously Newport had no burial ground, being part of the parish of Carisbrooke. ‘Litten’ comes from a Saxon word meaning a cemetery. The area has been an open space since the 1950’s. (‘Isle of Wight Curiosities’, Jack Jones 1989, pg80.)
‘St Thomas’s Grave Yard’ is shown on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey of 1862 at 1:2500 scale and also on the much larger scale 1:500 Survey of the same date. The 1:2500 survey shows individual coniferous and deciduous trees in the graveyard, which was bounded on the western side by a row of deciduous trees separating it from the back gardens of properties in Orchard Street. A line of deciduous trees is also shown along ‘Church Litton Lane’ which flanked the eastern edge of the burial ground. The boundary between the parish of Newport (part of Carisbrooke Parish until 1858) and a detached portion of the parish of St Nicholas ran along the western and southern sides of St Thomas’s Graveyard (the parish of St Nicholas consisted of various parcels of land belonging to the medieval Chapel of St Nicholas situated within Carisbrooke Castle).
‘St Nicholas Villa’ is shown on the Ordnance Survey maps of 1862 immediately to the south of the graveyard, surrounded by an ornamental garden and plant nursery. The villa was clearly named after the parish of St Nicholas in which it was situated, although on the 1860 Census the building was called Bradley Lodge and by the time of the 1906-1907 Ordnance Survey this original name for the building was again being used. The Census reveals that in 1881 and 1891 the property was owned by a Benjamin Vibert, one of whose daughters ran a school for young ladies at the premises. It is understood that Bradley Lodge was affected by the bombing of the Gould Hibberd and Randall Lemonade Factory on the east side of Church Litten Lane during the Second World War and was demolished after the war.
On the 1:2500 Ordnance Survey of 1906-1907 ‘St Thomas’s Grave Yard’ is labelled ‘Disused’ but the present public park was not created until the 1950s, when the formal rose garden at the north end of the park was also laid out in an area formerly occupied by housing. The new park included both the former area of St Thomas’s Graveyard and the site of Bradley Lodge/St Nicholas Villa with its surrounding grounds. The inclusion of the grounds of Bradley Lodge in the new public park explains the curious dog leg in the western boundary of the park towards its southern end. Houses in Orchard Street were demolished in the late 1970s and the Lord Louis Library built in this area. The boundary wall with Church Litten Park was rebuilt at this time and gravestones from the former cemetery were placed against it. One surviving funerary monument within the park is a memorial to Valentine Gray, an early nineteenth century boy chimney sweep.
Litten Park is owned and maintained by the Isle of Wight Council. A Children’s Play Area was built within the park in about 2003.
Valentine Gray 1813.
1822 and the Ramoneur Company.
In 1822 a nine year old boy, Valentine Gray, who was one of the many chimney climbing boys.
was found dead in the filthy outhouse where he was forced to sleep. It was at the back of a house, perhaps better described as a hovel, situated in one of the numerous slum alleys radiating off Pyle Street in Newport. Medical examination showed that his body was covered with bruises and the inquest learnt that his death was due to a severe blow or blows to the head. Following the inquest Valentine Gray’s employer and his wife were charged and imprisoned for manslaughter. Both the local and national press reports of the inquest and the subsequent trial were extensive. They aroused much public anger not only in the Island but also across the whole country that children of his age and even younger could be treated so badly. It stimulated the already growing drive for new and effective legislation to protect youngsters in factories and elsewhere. It also led others to embark on philanthropic ventures such as that of the Ramoneur Company recorded below.
Here on the Island compassion, or was it perhaps more a sense of guilt and shame, led to the
erection of a memorial put up by public subscription. It still stands nearly two hundred years
later in Church Litten where it remains a pertinent memorial to him. Another reminder today of Valentine Gray’s short and wretched life is a small shopping complex recently built between Scarrots Lane and Pyle Street, close to where he lived for the last miserable years of his life, for it is called Gray’s Walk and has a suitable plaque to perpetuate his name and the suffering of climbing
To the memory of Valentine Gray
the little sweep
Interred January the 5th A.D. 1822 in the 10th year of his age
In testimony of the general feeling
for suffering innocence
this monument is erected by
public subscription

Church Litten (now often called Litten Park) was the burial ground for the town of Newport. The parish church of St Thomas had no space around it for a burial ground
The trial in 1822 of the Davis the Newport chimney sweep provoked national fury and was the catalyst needed to raise public awareness that was to change the attitude towards the ill treatment of children like Valentine. Above is shown the plaque on the walk in the little courtyard at the centre of Gray’s Walk, reminding passers by that that his short life* of misery was certainly not in vain and the part the Island played in changing the law. (*Valentine was in his tenth year) Like so many others in the same situation he came from a pauper family and taken from care of the poor house by the sweep Davies to work for him. He had been born in the nearby Hampshire village across the Solent of Alverstone. For the authorities it was one less name on their list, a saving of money and for employer a source of cheap labour. It appears that scant regard was taken for the future welfare of him or those like him.Campaigns by such eminent politicians as the then Lord Shaftsbury, pamphlets and books such as the ‘Water Babies’ by Charles Kinsley resulted in laws that ended climbing boys being forced to sweep the chimneys of wealthy householder both here on the Island as well as on the mainland. Locally things started to move and by 1828 the Hampshire Telegraph
Was able to print: “Newport July 26 The Rev P. Geary, the mayor of Newport, with the kind
attention which he has shown to the needs of the Inhabitants since his appointment to the important office of Chief Magistrate, has, in complying with the requisition most numerously and respectably signed, appointed a Public Meeting to be held at the Guildhall, on Tuesday the 29th inst to take into
consideration the proper measures to be adopted for superseding the necessity of Climbing Boys, and substituting the use of Machines in Sweeping Chimneys. A large assemblage of the principal inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood, both of ladies and gentlemen, is expected”
Many will be able to recall Charles Kinsley’s ‘Water Babies’ and no doubt the reforming work
of Lord Shaftsbury, but it is expected that few will have any knowledge of the Ramoneur
Company and its achievements. It was going strong, using its 1842 Patent no 9284, long before the legislation of 1864 “ Act for the Regulation of Chimney Sweepers” and its penalty of £10 for offenders.
The patent of Sir Francis Desanges of Portman Square London and Anguish Durant of Long
Castle, Shropshire was for “Improvements in apparatus for sweeping and cleaning chimneys or flues, and extinguishing fires therein, which we intend to call Ramonuer”. The patent was created around the design of special brushes on rods which had several universal pivots that could get the brush into every nook and cranny thus eliminating the use of climbing boys see the illustration showing the brush. Chimneys built in many of the larger houses of this period were often quite complex in design with many nooks and bends with some even having branches to several fireplaces. They founded a company of the same name, ‘Ramoneur’. The world can still be found in a large dictionary meaning a chimney sweep. (Today there is a modern national cleaning and service organisation which still uses the name of Ramoneur.)
A circular issued from Southampton read:
“Established for the suppression of Climbing boys, and the more effectual Cleansing of Chimneys and Flues by the use of an efficient Patent Machine; and also toprovide the ‘Agricultural Interest’ with a pure and unadulterated article of Soot.”
The Ramoneur Company received great support from many of the nobility, churchmen and gentry in the area. Although itself not an Island company or invention, the death of Valentine Gray contributed much to its founding. Their principal offices were in Southampton at number 5 Above Bar and they had agents at Portsmouth in Britain Street of St George’s Square in Portsea. There was an Isle of Wight section. They recruited men, not boys, who were paid a reasonable wage and wore a smart and distinctive uniform. The men were encouraged to improve their education whilst in employment and what is perhaps of more significance were provided with accommodation for which they paid rent. Some details of the Isle of Wight Association still exist. In the IW Record Office are preserved details of the local association up to around the year 1850. Part of those reported for the year 1848 are set out below:
Accounts “Isle of Wight Patent Ramoneur” for £215-5s-7d
Wages £153-16s-0d
Cash at Ryde £2-16s-9d
Rent paid by men at Newport £2-6s-8d
General Managers Returns for week ending March 24th 1849
No of sweepings
Totals 916
Gross estimated value of work done £4-1s-2d and soot £1-10-6d
Income for the week £5-11s-8d
Joseph Starling General Manager
Isle of Wight Ramoneur Office at Newport.