Windswept Dover, sheltering beneath the beetling crag on which the castle stands, is more like a grey town in the canny north than a southern watering-place. Like Ithaca of old it was framed in its ruggedness to be an excellent nurse to the youthful soul, and the ruggedness lay not so much in the environment of nature as in those sharp problems of everyday life with which he found it to abound. – The Life of Hugh Price Hughes, 1904

Reverend Hugh Price Hughes, Wesleyan minister and religious reformer, was appointed to the Dover Methodist circuit in 1869. Aged twenty-two and fresh from Richmond Theological College, the ‘pale bespectacled’ young man was to become a key figure in the Dover temperance movement.1

On arrival in Dover, Hughes took up lodgings at 1, Buckland Terrace, next door to the Buckland Street Chapel.2 It was a poor area of the town where the townsfolk “surged on the pavement rather than in the narrow confines of their homes”.3 The chapel raised up from the main street, was built in 1839 and had a galleried interior, Romanesque front elevation and doric columns.

Hughes preached his first sermon at the Snargate Street Chapel, which had been opened in 1834. The congregation were so overwhelmed by his earnest and charismatic preaching that 18 people came forward to dedicate their lives to Christ.4

Snargate Street was at the heart of the commercial and dockland centre of the town. A description from Robert Folkestone Williams novel Jack Scudamore's Daughter (1865) gives us a sense of the area: 'from the busy ship-chandlers on the quays to the fashionable drapery establishments in Snargate Street, there flowed along the pavement like a tide a fast-increasing throng of soldiers, sailors, officers of the army and navy, captains and mates of merchantmen, porters, tradesmen, ladies, hawkers, mechanics, and all the other ingredients of a seaport population.'5

The Chapel was next to the Grand Shaft, a triple spiral staircase, which led to the barracks on the Western Heights. Hughes estimates that there were 5 or 6,000 troops at Dover at this time, comprising infantry, engineers and artillery and as a Wesleyan minister he had access to all the barracks.6 The Franco-Prussian War which began in 1870 may have accounted for this, as although Britain remained neutral, a position of "armed neutrality"7 was vital. A new coastal defence battery with three guns was constructed at the Western Heights between 1871-4 and the population of Dover grew by 5,663 between 1861 and 1871.

Recognising the impact that drinking was having on the life of the community (there were over 220 pubs)8, Hughes advocated total abstinence at a lecture at the Young Men’s Christian Association in October 1869. However, transforming the drinking habits of a port, would be a challenge: 'For ordinary men to give up drinking intoxicants for Christ-like or patriotic reasons was, he knew, an innovation. He might as well have expected some of them to give up eating beef.'9

On 4th January 1870 Hughes lectured again on 'Total Abstinence in its social, medical and religious aspects'. His opponents argued that prohibition would deprive publicans of their livelihood. On the 7th February 1870 the Snargate Street Wesleyan Band of Hope, a temperance society, was founded and Hughes name stood first upon the roll. Later that year, Hughes was involved in the founding of a Dover Methodist Band of Hope & Temperance Society, with 50 people signing the pledge at the inaugural meeting. The Society spread the message of teetotalism to both adults and children with lantern lectures, picnics, parades, and concerts.

Touched by the plight of ordinary people, Hughes also campaigned with Rowland Rees an architect, alderman and 'red-hot radical'10 against the Contagious Diseases Act which had been introduced in 1866. The Act which was designed to regulate the 'common prostitute'11 and prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases among soldiers and sailors had been introduced rapidly with little consultation.

As a garrison town, the Act allowed the local police in Dover to organise medical examinations of women who were thought to be prostitutes. These women were expected to sign a register and those found to have venereal diseases were sent to ‘Lock Hospitals’ to be cured. An examination of a woman in Seven Star Street attracted a gathering of 500 people outside the house. 12

A purpose-built lock hospital had been established in Chatham in 1869, but more locally a wooden hut was used at the Military Hospital at Shorncliffe.13 In March 1870 it was reported in the papers that approximately 100 women 'whose presence here would have been a source of a frightful epidemic'14 had been forcibly taken from Dover to lock hospitals in other parts of Kent.

In the Spring of 1870 Hughes and Rees invited speakers from London to a public meeting in Dover to establish a local association to work towards repeal. Josephine Butler, feminist and social reformer arrived in Dover, staying at the home of Rowland Rees. She was the leader of the repeal movement and although originally planning to speak to a large meeting of women, she was also invited to speak to a group of men. On the platform at this meeting was the chair of the Dover Circuit Superintendent Minister the Rev John Knowles, Rowland Rees and the Rev Hugh Price Hughes. Josephine Butler spoke for an hour with her main theme being ‘the poor and outcast women at the hands of immoral men’. The Dover Express, while not being sympathetic with the repeal movement reported that Hughes had become a ‘highly talented speaker’ whilst they branded Butler a “screamer”15 Supporters of the Act argued that the hospitals offered health care and reform, opponents that they were invasive and unfair as only women were subject to checks. Both Sarah Grand and Florence Nightinagle were campaigners for repeal.

At a Dover council meeting in April 1870, Councillor Robinson asked the town surveyor , Mr Hanvey, whether rumours were true that a lock hospital was being built at Dover. Mr Hanvey denied it, saying that a 'convalescent hospital' had been established. Robinson replied that 'he supposed that 'Convalescent' and 'Lock' were synonymous terms'.16 The convalescent home was in the former Ship Hotel, on Custom House Quay which was managed by Mrs Rusher.17 In 1871, the Dover Infectious Diseases Hospital was established.18

Hughes was known for his sharp wit and was not afraid of speaking up. When an older member of the YMCA rebuked him for his opinions, crying: “Young man, I was putting resolutions when you were in swaddling clothes”, he replied “I am aware that there is childhood at both ends of life"19. He viewed the YMCA as “too much given to the singing of hymns and too little to the good of this present world” and when the association banned the publication Punch from its reading room for its increasingly contemptuous regard for religious matters in 1871, he defended the publication and its contributors such as Mark Lemon and W.M. Thackeray arguing that the prophets and even Christ indulged in satire.20 He also campaigned for more varied reading in the reading room, to include Shakespeare and Milton.

In August 1871, Hughes was ordained. A year later, he moved to Brighton to the disappointment of his members and worshippers, who gave him “pincushions and all manner of queer presents”.21 By the time he left Dover, the Circuit roll had increased by 100.22

References


  1. Hughes, Dorothea Price (1904) The life of Hugh Price Hughes London : Hodder and Stoughton, p.73. 

  2. Brooks, A. (1999) 'Hugh Price Hughes and Methodism in Dover', The Dover Society Newsletter no.36 Dec 1999, p28-31 . http://www.dover-kent.com/Dover-Society1/036/036.pdf 

  3. Hughes, Dorothea Price (1904) The life of Hugh Price Hughes London : Hodder and Stoughton, p.73. 

  4. Souvenir Programme of Centenary Celebrations: Snargate Street Methodist Church Dover, 1834-1934. 

  5. Williams Robert Folkestone (1865) Jack Scudamore's Daughter Historica Texts. JISC. 

  6. Hughes, Dorothea Price (1904) The life of Hugh Price Hughes London : Hodder and Stoughton, p.89. 

  7. Disraeli 

  8. Somers Vine, J.R. (ed.), The Municipal Corporations Companion, Diary, Directory, and Year Book of Statistics for 1879 (1879), 130. p. 131. cited in Whyman, John. 'Rise and decline: Dover and Deal in the nineteenth century', Archaeologia Cantiana 084, LXXXIV.; Brooks, A. (1999) 'Hugh Price Hughes and Methodism in Dover', The Dover Society Newsletter no.36 Dec 1999, p28-31 . http://www.dover-kent.com/Dover-Society1/036/036.pdf 

  9. Hughes, Dorothea Price (1904) The life of Hugh Price Hughes London : Hodder and Stoughton, p.76. 

  10. Hughes, Dorothea Price (1904) The life of Hugh Price Hughes London : Hodder and Stoughton, p.78. 

  11. Dover Express - Friday 21 July 1871 

  12. Brooks, A. (1999) 'Hugh Price Hughes and Methodism in Dover', The Dover Society Newsletter no.36 Dec 1999, p28-31 . http://www.dover-kent.com/Dover-Society1/036/036.pdf 

  13. Galloway, J. (1902) Report of a visit to the hospital at Shorncliffe. http://www.scarletfinders.co.uk/176.html 

  14. Dover Chronicle - Saturday 26 March 1870. 

  15. Dover Express - Thursday 21 April 1870. 

  16. Dover Chronicle - Saturday 30 April 1870 

  17. Dover Express - Friday 02 August 1872 

  18. Whyman, John. 'Rise and decline: Dover and Deal in the nineteenth century', Archaeologia Cantiana 084, LXXXIV. 

  19. Hughes, Dorothea Price (1904) The life of Hugh Price Hughes London : Hodder and Stoughton, p.82. 

  20. Hughes, Dorothea Price (1904) The life of Hugh Price Hughes London : Hodder and Stoughton, p.84-5. 

  21. Hughes, Dorothea Price (1904) The life of Hugh Price Hughes London : Hodder and Stoughton, p.86-7. 

  22. Brooks, A. (1999) 'Hugh Price Hughes and Methodism in Dover', The Dover Society Newsletter no.36 Dec 1999, p28-31 . http://www.dover-kent.com/Dover-Society1/036/036.pdf