08 January 2018

Execution at Goldstone Bottom

Judy Middleton 2002 (revised 2018)

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museum, Brighton & Hove
This early 1900s photograph of the Goldstone in Hove Park shows the path leading down towards Goldstone Bottom and the hills in the background where 2,000 cavalry occupied the high ground in 1795

Hard Times and Revolution

The French Revolution broke out in 1792 and by the following year Britain and France were at war. This placed the Sussex coast in the front line and military manoeuvres were held at Brighton and Goldstone Bottom in preparation for a possible invasion.

There had been a poor harvest in 1794, which was followed by a long and hard winter. For the soldiers of the Oxford Militia stationed at East Blatchington Barracks, Sussex, conditions were grim. A soldier earned just over one shilling a day but he was obliged to provide most of his own food. In normal circumstances, this would not have been a problem but war and profiteering had sent food prices soaring. For instance, a quarter of a loaf of bread cost a soldier more than he earned in a day.

The Mutiny of the Oxford Militia

On 17 April 1795, the patience of the Oxford Militia gave way, and they mutinied; in a belligerent mood, they marched to Seaford and seized bread, flour and meat, but knowing all about hardship, they sold off some of the stolen goods cheaply to local people. Then they marched to the Tide-mills at Bishopstone, where they raided a loaded sloop all ready to export scarce flour, and removed 300 full sacks.

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museum, Brighton & Hove
The Old Ship Hotel Brighton in the 1800s

The authorities acted quickly and the mutiny was swiftly put down with the leaders, Edward Cooke of Witney, a former blanket-weaver, and Henry Parish from Chipping Norton, placed under arrest; their courts-martial began on 4 May 1795 before Colonel Sloane and was held at the Old Ship, Brighton. There was a tremendous amount of sympathy for the mutineers locally – petitions were got up and food was pushed through the bars of their exercise yard at Brighton. The trial lasted for eight days – Cooke and Parish received a death sentence, and a few men were to be flogged.

The authorities were greatly alarmed at the mutiny, national security was at stake and it was resolved that as many military personnel as possible would be made to witness the execution to curb any ideas of future unrest.

Goldstone Bottom

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museum, Brighton & Hove
The Environs of Brighthemstone by Thomas Yeakell c1800

Goldstone Bottom was already in use as a military encampment and training ground and there was plenty of space for more regiments to attend the execution. On 12 June 1795 the soldiers already present at Goldstone Bottom were kept on high alert from 4 a.m. to 5 p.m. but when nothing happened the optimists thought there might have been a reprieve. Instead, the authorities were awaiting the arrival of more troops in the shape of the Prince of Wales Light Dragoons (afterwards the 10th Hussars).

The scene was now set for the execution to take place on 13 June 1795. There were no less than thirteen regiments present and a force of 2,000 cavalry occupied the high ground, while the Royal Artillery kept their 12-pounder guns trained on the backs of the Oxford Militia with gunners standing at the ready with lighted tapers.

The men sentenced to be flogged were taken from their wagon, marched through the entire line, brought back to the whipping post, and stripped. Drummers from their own regiment were used to administer the 300 lashes. It is not certain whether or not they had to endure the full amount because the surgeon in attendance stepped forward and stated the men had endured enough. Three other soldiers, who were due to be flogged, received a pardon instead.

The Execution

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museum, Brighton & Hove
The print above is entitled The Awful Scene of the two Soldiers who were Shot at Hove. 
 The artist drew a firing squad of 24 soldiers, instead of the twelve who fired, but perhaps this was back-up in case anything went wrong. The print shows Cooke and Parish kneeling on their coffins, their hands clasped in prayer.

Then Cooke and Parish were led forward. All men present remarked on their calm demeanour and courage. Cooke had written a letter to his brother that morning stating, ‘I am going to die for what the Redgment (sic) done; I am not afraid to meet Death, for I have done no harm to no person, and that is a great comfort to me.’

Cooke and Parish were made to kneel on their own coffins while twelve of their comrades stood at a distance of six paces. Cooke and Parish each received four musket balls, but some say one man appeared to be still alive and was finished off by an officer’s pistol. All the regiments were then ordered to file past the bodies.

The Oxford Militia as a whole also suffered a humiliation by having the ‘Royal’ removed from their title, while the facings on their dress uniform was changed from blue to yellow.

A Devastated Clergyman

Revd M. Dring accompanied Cooke and Parish to their execution. It was obviously not a part of his ministry that he relished, but he had a solemn duty to offer prayers and spiritual comfort to the condemned men. So distressing did Revd Dring find the occasion, he particularly requested that the fatal volley should not take place until after he had left the scene. But unfortunately, the muskets were fired while he was still within earshot; he collapsed on the ground, and never made a full recovery.

Burial

copyright © J.Middleton
St Andrew's Old Church Hove

Sergeant-Major Masters was in charge of the burial party. He stated later the coffins were so badly constructed that despite Cooke and Parish wearing their full regimental attire, blood oozed from the coffins and ran down the backs of their comrades.

Cooke and Parish were purposely buried in un-consecrated ground; the burial place being outside the confines of the churchyard belonging to St Andrew’s Old Church, Hove, near the centre of the old north boundary wall.

When the church was being restored in 1834, a saw-pit happened to be constructed at the unmarked spot and a few bones were discovered.

It is ironic that later on in his life, Sergeant-Major Masters became a publican at Whitby – Cooke’s native place.

Public Interest

The day after the execution, some anonymous verses deploring the deaths were posted up in Lewes.

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museum, Brighton & Hove
This Victorian reproduction is a copy of the document by Edward Cooke describing mutiny and execution of 
two soldiers at Goldstone Bottom, Hove, June 1795

At Goldstone Bottom an enterprising shepherd cut the turf to show the exact positions of the coffins and the firing squad and this remained visible for fifty years. But during the 1840s the site was supposed to have been ploughed over.

John Haines wrote a letter in 1900 stating, ‘I well recollect Goldstone Bottom … and I may mention that, for many years, two elderly gentlemen, named Reynolds, kept intact the interesting foot and other marks in the grass at Goldstone Bottom, and also of the soldiers’ burial place.’

Peter Longstaff-Tyrrell wrote a letter to the Argus (4 June 2001) stating a neighbour had told him that from the 1920s there was some kind of plaque commemorating Cooke and Parish that was situated near the Goldstone in the newly established Hove Park.

A New Discovery

In the Argus (2 January 2018) there was a fascinating two-page article about a recent discovery concerning the execution. Christopher Whittick, archivist, was the fortunate man to make the find. He is a veteran at various auctions, checking to see if there is anything of historic value to East Sussex worthy of preservation at The Keep. On this particular occasion, he was at Gorringe’s Auction Rooms at Lewes, looking through a pile of documents from a family archive when he came across a notebook that he described as being of ‘unprepossessing appearance’. It turned out to be a diary written by Quarter-Master Thomas Harison who had been present on that day in 1795 and witnessed the executions. Not only had he written about his experience, but he had also drawn a map showing the exact disposition of the various regiments at the time. He stated that Cooke and Parish were killed instantly. Mr Whittick said it was a chance find and a wonderful discovery and only cost £80.

Another fact to emerge was that the High Sheriff of Sussex was present to witness the event. A further witness was Henry Austen, who had left his studies at St John’s College, Oxford, in order to join the Oxford Militia; his sister was the celebrated author Jane Austen.

Sources

Argus 4 June 2001 / 2 January 2018
Middleton J Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Royal Pavilion & Museum, Brighton & Hove

Copyright © J.Middleton 2018
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