How it all began – James Wyatt
by Linda Ayres
James Wyatt was eleventh in the lineal descent from Thomas Wyatt, who was the brother of Sir Henry Wyatt, of Arrington. Thomas Wyatt was privy councillor to Henry VII, and great-uncle of Sir Thomas Wyatt, who was a politician and rebel leader during the reign of Queen Mary 1.
James was a well-known figure in the town of Bedford. He was friendly and full of life – a skilled swimmer, angler, rider, and mountaineer. For many years he was Borough Treasurer and had acted as clerk to the Corn Exchange Committee. He was, for a while, Chairman of the Directors of the House of Industry and County Auditor. He became Deputy Coroner for the County. He assisted in the formation of the General Library and at times he would take the chair as president.
He was a fellow of the Geographical Society, a member of the British Association and a Fellow of the Geological Society. He undertook extensive archaeological explorations and contributed some important discoveries to the scientific knowledge of the time. His greatest discovery was of prehistoric flint implements at Biddenham in 1861.
He founded The Bedford Times in 1845 and was its Editor through many stirring years. He was a staunch sanitary reformer who strongly condemned burials in Bedford churchyards.
James Wyatt was born in Hemel Hempstead on May 11th, 1816. He was the eldest of twenty children. His father, also called James Wyatt, was a coach proprietor at Cookham, Berks. His coach the “Dispatch” (known as ‘Wyatt’s Coach’) was the favourite of the road and its timekeeping was such that people were said to have set their clocks by it, although not everyone agreed. William Toovey, writing in the King’s Langley Parish Magazine in 1895 stated that “the driver, Wyatt by name, used to stop very frequently for refreshment, and was known occasionally to stop at the Windmill Inn, Bushey, and join in rubber whist, whilst the coach and his passengers waited outside. Other than that, his affability to his passengers made it quite the thing to go up to Wyatt’s Coach and his habit of blowing kisses to a lady fare was too delicately polite to give offence”
James Wyatt senior drove the Dispatch for 40 years. On his retirement, he was presented with a handsome testimonial by some of his friends and passengers and it was said he was only absent from his seat on one day, when he went to give evidence at the murder trial of the keeper of the Aylesbury tollgate
The income from his coach business was enough for him to allow his son James to be educated at Marlows, Hemel Hempstead, a school run by the well-known Rev. Dr. Hamilton, who first abridged Johnson’s Dictionary for the use of schools. At the age of just 13, James left school to become a pupil in the office of the Clerk of the Peace at Aylesbury. Soon after, he turned to journalism and went to London to join the staff of the Morning Chronicle. At the age of 22 years, he came to Bedford as representative to Mr Steven Austin, the publisher of The Hertford Mercury. At this time he was also contributing articles to many journals such as the Cambridge and Northampton Press, Bell’s Life and the Sunday Times.
James married Augusta Sophia Lavinia Coleman on the 9th October 1843 in St. Paul’s Church. She was the eldest child of Joseph and Mary Coleman. They were the proprietors of a grocery at 71 High Street, Bedford. James and Augusta had four sons, Otho Illesley Wyatt (1845-1855), Rev. Vitruvius Partridge Wyatt (1846-1899), Rev. Paul Williams Wyatt (1856-1935), and Arthur James Hervey Wyatt 1861-1938).
On October 18th, 1845, James became the founder and editor of the Bedford Times. The first issue was printed at the rear of 34-36 High Street and Augusta assisted in printing the first sheet. Following a print run of a few issues, Mr. C. F. Timaeus, who later became co-proprietor for a few years, printed and published the paper at his establishment at the St Peter’s end of the High Street. For the first ten years of issue, the paper consisted of only four pages, and sold for five pennies. During this time, before each sheet was printed, they had to pay to the Government a duty of one penny.
The following quote is from the first issue of The Bedford Times:-
“The object of the proprietor of The Bedford Times is to supply the Inhabitants of Bedfordshire with a good Local Newspaper, and a respectable medium for Advertisements. The Bedford Times will, like the Leviathan Journal from which it is bold enough to borrow its name, give the best and earliest information and the most faithful reports. It will keep its eye upon the whole County and let nothing of public importance escape its watchfulness.”
As editor of The Bedford Times, James Wyatt advocated almost every cause, for the most part to bring about sanitary improvements of the town. At that time, Bedford was one of the dirtiest towns in England, and had one of the highest death rates. From 1839 to 1855, the mortality of children under five years of age in Bedford averaged 42 per cent, but for those living in healthy regions it was 27 per cent. Bedford was rarely without fever, and this was due to bad drainage and polluted wells. Sewage was the main problem in the most crowded parts and many of the poor were living in squalid conditions. Cholera and typhus in Bedford were more than in other towns of a similar population, and were the consequence of the adverse conditions in which a large mass of the poor lived.
In 1855, James Wyatt, representing St. Peter’s parish, took part in an inquiry led by William Lee, Inspector for the General Board of Health into the sewage, drainage, the supply of water and sanitary condition of the inhabitants of the Borough of Bedford.
James Wyatt’s damning report revealed that there were above 3,000 cesspools in the town and that as a natural consequence, a large portion of the soil was saturated, and many of the wells polluted. By his own experience, a servant left in charge of his house was seized by illness; he found that the water was thick and filmy, and on opening the well a cesspool was found to have leaked, and the filth had been passing into the well for some time. He removed the cesspool and had a new well sunk down to the limestone rock. At first, the water was good, but in a few months, it became so bad that a thorough examination was necessary, and it was found that a new well received the soakage from a yard at 120 feet distance, where a person kept pigs, and accumulated large quantities of manure, which he collected from privies.
His report also included the awful state of the churchyards. “St. Mary’s Churchyard, the surface scattered with fragments of human bones, it is so full that two children who had been only interred for two years had to be taken up making room for their mother.” “St. Peter’s Churchyard, in summer, the odour from it is offensive to passers-by.” “The Baptist Chapel, there is a pump in the burial ground that a family uses for drinking and general domestic purposes.” With respect to the burial grounds, he recommended the immediate closing of them all, because of their crowded condition.
In his role as Borough Treasurer James Wyatt purchased Foster Hill Road Cemetery for the town, a short distance from the town, on rising ground, known as Foster’s Hill. On Friday 1st June 1855, all graveyards in the town of Bedford, excepting Trinity Church and the Moravian, closed, and the new cemetery opened on Tuesday 5th June 1855. It occupied about 18 acres of farmland (later increased to 37 acres) laid-out under the superintendence of Thomas Jobson Jackson, architect and surveyor. The stone chapel was initially two chapels built beneath one roof for Anglicans and Dissenters, in the Gothic style of architecture and divided the consecrated from the unconsecrated part of the ground. The entire cost was £5,397.
Sadly, one of the first burials to take place in the cemetery was that of his eldest son Otho, who died on July 31st, 1855, aged 10.
In 1859, the Bedford Times amalgamated with the Bedfordshire Independent and his association with it officially ended in 1872.
James Wyatt died after suffering for some time with tuberculosis in August 1878, at his home in St. Peter’s Green.
His funeral service took place in St. Peter’s Church, where he had been Rector’s warden for many years. While the varnished oak coffin, draped with a violet pall with a cross of white silk, was borne into the church, the organist played “O Rest in the Lord” from Mendelssohn’s “Elijah.” The Rev. W. Hart Smith, M. A., read the service. After the service, as the coffin made its way from the church to the awaiting hearse the organist played “There is a Green Hill Far Away.”
The hearse, open at the sides, with festoon curtains of violet fastened with white bows and rosettes, conveyed his remains on their final journey to the cemetery, and behind the hearse in four coaches drawn by grey horses were the relatives and friends. When they reached the Cemetery gates, the Town Councillors were there to meet the procession and they walked behind the mourners to the graveside.
His grave is situated at the northeast corner, at the top of the hill, with extensive views across and beyond the town below. He had chosen the large plot many years before. The Wyatt Tombs. Grave Ref: G9.84
Augusta survived James by 31 years and died aged 87 years. Her Funeral service took place at St. Peter’s Church, opposite to where she had lived for many years. Her sons the Rev. Vitruvius and Rev Paul Wyatt met the coffin at the west porch. The former reading the opening sentences of the Burial Service, and the Rev. Paul Wyatt read the usual lesson, 1 Corinthians, 15.
The committal was held at the graveside and the plain oak coffin with brass fittings, was lowered into the family vault. The breastplate on the coffin bore the inscription. “Augusta Sophia Lavinia Wyatt 1822-1909.”
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