In March 1848, Archibald Campbell Tait, the headmaster of Rugby School, visited Broadstairs on the advice of his doctor. Tait who had been chosen to succeed Dr Thomas Arnold as headmaster at Rugby six years earlier, was severely exhausted. On his appointment to the post, his friends ‘scarcely knew whether to congratulate him or not upon the perilous inheritance’1 as the school was overcrowded, and underfunded. 2
Although Tait described his time at the school as ‘a very happy and a very bright life’3 (it was during this time that he met and married his wife, Catharine), it was also one of anxiety, which took its toll on his health. When he fell ill in the spring of ‘48, the school feared for his life: ‘expecting that any moment the chapel bell might toll.’ 4 It was seen as imperative that he should be removed from the stresses of Rugby. Dr Hodson, who predicated a ‘rapid decline’ suggested the soft air of Beaumaris, whilst Dr Babington, who had treated Tait before, recommended the bracing air of Broadstairs.5
Broadstairs at this period was gaining a reputation as a health resort among those seeking a more restful experience than could be had at the busy sea-bathing towns of Margate and Ramsgate. It was described as a place where ‘a thoroughly respectable family can, without the risk of being styled vulgar, retire for a month’s genteel repose.’6 However, attitudes to mixed bathing in the town had raised the eyebrows of some visitors who complained about the ‘scanty coverings’7 of the female bathers and the scandalous proximity of the men’s and women’s bathing machines.[^ref8] Tait took Babington’s advice and ‘the remaining weeks of the holidays were spent there with the two little ones, in a small but not very comfortable lodging. But what were inconveniences in comparison with the glad feeling of returning health’.[^ref9]
Almost twenty years later, Tait, now Bishop of London, and in his mid-fifties was ‘so knocked up’ after attending the Pan-Anglican Conference at Lambeth that ‘he was obliged to take another month of entire rest’.[^ref10] The conference, which was the first of the Lambeth Conferences, was held over 4 days and was attended by 76 bishops.[^ref11] After the Conference, Tait left his Fulham home and took lodgings at the North Foreland Lodge near Broadstairs to enjoy once again the sea breezes that had restored him earlier.[^ref12] It was during this visit, that a neighbouring house called Stonehouse, came on the market and Tait decided to buy it. It was a sizable property which would have required a large staff of servants and would have been suitable for entertaining eminent guests. It was to become a favourite retreat of the Tait family who usually stayed here for around 6-8 weeks a year. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Charles Longley visited the Taits as they were settling into their new home in the Easter of 1868[^ref13] and the former prime minster, Earl Russell and his family enjoyed a two month stay in 1877.[^ref14]
It was during the autumn of 1868, when the Taits were staying at Stonehouse, that they received news of the death of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Shortly afterwards a message from the Queen arrived offering Tait the archbishopric. Tait’s sister, Lady Wake recalls: “A week passed without another word to Stonehouse ; then one morning the sound of wheels was heard, and in another moment Mr Fisher, the Bishop’s chaplain, appeared, bringing a letter from the Prime Minister containing the expected appointment.”[^ref15] Tait accepted with “a deep feeling of responsibility.”[^ref16]
What followed was an exhausting round of engagements as Tait’s diary testifies:
‘Confirmation at Smeeth. Visited the new schools. Got on to Tonbridge Wells, in a snowy night, in time for a large dinner-party of clergy at Mr. Hoare’s. Great Confirmation on 11th at Tonbridge Wells, and a second equally large at Tonbridge. Drove to Tonbridge after a huge luncheon party, and in the dark drove fifteen miles from Tonbridge to Mr. Talbot’s at Falconhurst, where most kindly received. Met many people at dinner. Confirmed next day at Penshurst. Great luncheon of clergy and others. Returned in dark. Another dinner-party.On Saturday 13th confirmed at Edenbridge. Great luncheon of many, clergy and others. Confirmed in afternoon at Westerham. Drove to Colonel Ward’s lovely place, Squerries. After tea started for a drive in the dark over the hills. Got to Addington at 9.15. Very thankful to have got through a heavy week so well, notwithstanding the perpetual singing in my ears.’[^ref17]
Although Tait was enthusiastically committed to the role of Archbishop, his health remained fragile and he was prone to bouts of exhaustion. Lady Wake wrote: ‘The interest of his new duties as Archbishop carried him on far beyond his strength’[^ref18] and Tait admitted: ‘the change to Canterbury had certainly brought no relaxation of work. The Confirmations were pressing. All seemed to go on prosperously, and my strength to be equal to my duties. But the bow, it would seem, had been overstrung.’[^ref19]
Just over a year after his appointment to the Archbishopric, Tait suffered another health scare.
‘[On Monday, November 15th] I had been to a diocesan meeting at Ashford, and in the evening spoke for one of the Missionary Societies. Next morning I had to hurry to London for the Ecclesiastical Commission, and I think for a meeting of the Charterhouse, then down to the Isle of Thanet by the evening train. Next day was spent quietly at home [at Stonehouse], but correspondence was accumulating, and I believe ninety letters had to be superintended and despatched by that post I was very tired in the evening, but next morning [November 18] I rose fresh as usual. I remember going into my wife’s room and finding her reading the Bible with the children. I warned them not to work their mother too hard. I remember also looking out of the window on the bright frosty morning, and anticipating a day of comparative rest I returned to my dressing-room, but I had not finished dressing when I fell prostrate and senseless on the floor.’[^ref20] He suffered a series of convulsive strokes.
This time the nation was on tenterhooks as the Archbishop lay unwell at Stonehouse. Doctors came and went, reporting the progress of his illness to the press, with little hope of recovery. The Lancet pessimistically advised that ‘the bulletins which have been issued daily respecting the health of the Archbishop of Canterbury have given rise to apprehensions which we regret it is not in our power to allay’.[^ref21] However Tait defied medical opinion: ‘About a month after my attack came round my birthday, the 21st of December. With a thankful heart for the progress I had made, [Catharine] determined to mark the day by laying the foundation-stone of the new building for the Orphanage, the site having been chosen some time before. It was a snowy gusty day, but the neighbours kindly assembled to cheer her, and express their sympathy. It was a great pleasure to her that I was able to appear at the window of the drawing-room, and watch them as they formed a little procession on their way to the selected spot.’[^ref22]
Eight weeks after his collapse, the directors of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway supplied a saloon carriage to transport the Archbishop from Broadstairs station to Beckenham, from whence he journeyed on to Addington Palace, his official residence.[^ref23] Doctors recommended a year’s rest and recuperation. On the 21st Dec. 1871, Tait wrote in his diary: ‘My birthday. This day I am 60. This certainly at last is the entrance on old age, and my weakness of body makes it most truly so to me. Many have been God’s mercies since that snowy St. Thomas’ Day two years ago, when I was just able to crawl to the window at Stonehouse.’[^ref24]
Over the next few years, the Archbishop now enjoying better health renewed his annual trips to Stonehouse and became involved in church life in the area. On 30 May 1874 he consecrated the new church of St Paul, Kingstreet, Ramsgate which was crowded by ‘seafaring and other poor persons’. [^ref25] His wife Catherine also took an interest in the affairs of the parish, raising much needed funds for the orphanage and convalescent home which had been built on their estate at Stonehouse. The home which had been opened in 1871 was capable of holding 80 girls and 24 patients. Catherine enjoyed the ‘solitude of the sweet garden and shrubbery … where she would tempt a tired Sister for a refreshing stroll with her.’[^ref26] The Taits also visited Saltwood where their son Crauford was curate for fourteen months. Tait recalls: ‘From time to time we had heard him preach, and were struck both with the simplicity and quiet earnestness of his sermons.’[^ref27]
In June 1878, The Taits, who were worried about the declining health of their son Crauford, took him to Stonehouse where he lay in his carriage ‘among the ilex trees on the lawn, enjoying the sea view and the fresh air’.[^ref28] However, over the next few days events worsened: ‘He bore the journey well, and seemed bright and cheerful for the following two days, being sufficiently strong on Monday to drive over to Ramsgate. On Tuesday, however, he was not quite well, and a change for the worse having evidently set in on Wednesday morning, the Archbishop was obliged at the last moment to put off an intended visit to Maidstone, where his Grace had promised to preside at the annual meeting of the Hop Pickers’ Missionary Society. In the afternoon, being then fast sinking, he received the Holy Communion from the Bishop of Ripon, and a few hours later he died, retaining full consciousness to the last, and bidding all around him an affectionate farewell.’[^ref29] The Taits mourned the death of their only son severely, spending a month ‘quietly in that home, now hallowed as the place of his departure’.[^ref30] Over the next few months Catharine’s health deteriorated and she lay in her room at Addington pining for ‘the quiet and fresh air of Stonehouse’.[^ref31] She joined her son ‘in the Paradise of God at the end of six months’.[^ref32]
Tait continued to visit his marine residence until the end of his life and took consolation from the landscape. On the death of his dear friend Dean Johnson he wrote: ‘As the sad hour of the funeral came, I went down to our cliff, which commands a view of the limitless sea, and read the service which has filled so many eyes with tears to-day in Wells. Looking out on the sea, and marking the boats on its surface, some labouring in the waves, others briskly borne on their course — all destined for a haven, all exposed to a thousand unforeseen perils.’[^ref33]
Tait died on the 3 December 1882 at Addington. He left Stonehouse to his eldest daughter, Edith Murdoch Tait who was married to Randall Davidson, who later became Archbishop of Canterbury (1903-1928); however, the estate was sold by auction in 1884, along with its contents, including a capital full-sized billiard table.[^ref34] The house was later converted into a school.
This article was published: 22 November 2022.
Davidson, Randall Thomas; Benham, William (1891) Life of Archibald Campbell Tait. Vol. 1. London: Macmillan & Co.
Davidson, Randall Thomas; Benham, William (1891) Life of Archibald Campbell Tait. Vol. 2. London: Macmillan & Co.
Tait, Archibald Campbell; Benham, William (1879) Catharine and Craufurd Tait. London: Macmillan & Co.
Wake, Charlotte Murdoch Tait, Lady (1909) The reminiscences of Charlotte, Lady Wake Edinburgh ; London : W. Blackwood.
GDCS&xid=9bc4bb19. Accessed 19 Nov. 2022. [^ref8]: “Cockney bathing at Broadstairs.” Dundee Courier, 25 Aug. 1868. British Library Newspapers, link.gale.com/apps/doc/R3209229606/GDCS?u=ccc_uni&sid=bookmark-GDCS&xid=2087bea3. Accessed 19 Nov. 2022. [^ref9]: Wake, 1909, p.211 [^ref10]: Wake, 1909, p.291. [^ref11]: ‘Lambeth Conference, 1867’ Project Canterbury http://anglicanhistory.org/lambeth/conference_bishops1867.html [^ref12]: [^ref13]: Tait, 1879, p.52. [^ref14]: Thanet Advertiser - Saturday 13 October 1877. [^ref15]: Wake, 1909, 292. [^ref16]: Davidson, 1891, vol. 1, p.535. [^ref17]: Davidson, 1891, vol. 2, p.48. [^ref18]: Wake, 1909 [^ref19]: Davidson, 1891, vol. 1, p.48. [^ref20]: Davidson, 1891, vol. 1, p.48-49. [^ref21]: Davidson, 1891, vol. 1, p.49. [^ref22]: Tait, 1879, p.108. [^ref23]: Chatham News - Saturday 22 January 1870. [^ref24]: Davidson, 1891, p. 119. [^ref25]: Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald - Saturday 30 May 1874, [^ref25]: Davidson, 1891, p.471. [^ref26]: Tait, 1879, p.476. [^ref27]: Tait, 1879, p.148. [^ref28]: Tait, 1879, p.170. [^ref29]: Kent Times - Saturday 08 June 1878. [^ref30]: Tait, 1879, p.176. [^ref31]: Tait, 1879, p.193. [^ref32]: Tait, 1879, p.22. [^ref33]: Tait, 1879, vol.2, p.582. [^ref34]: Canterbury Journal, Kentish Times and Farmers’ Gazette - Saturday 10 May 1884.
Davidson, 1891, vol. 1, p.111. ↩
Davidson, 1891, vol. 1, p.116. ↩
Tait, Archibald Campbell, Catharine and Craufurd Tait, wife and son of Archibald Cambpell, archbishop of Canterbury : a memoir ↩
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Wake, 1909, p.210-211. ↩
All about Ramsgate and Broadstairs; including Pegwell Bay, Cliffend, and Ebbsfleet, … with coloured frontispiece, map of the Isle of Thanet, and forty engravings. 1870. ↩
“Bathing at Broadstairs.” Standard, 29 Aug. 1867, p. 3. British Library Newspapers, link.gale.com/apps/doc/R3213680504/GDCS?u=ccc_uni&sid=bookmark- ↩