Watchbell Street c 1875

This photograph of Watchbell street was taken by Edwin Thomas Gasson of 21, King Street (Landgate); his most active period as a photographer seems to have been 1870 – 1881 but earlier photographs are known. I would date this photograph as, early to mid 1870’s.

The first house on the left of the street is now number 10, which at the time of the photograph was a day school for young ladies, it was run by Mrs. Harriet Kennett.

Mrs. Kennett, governess and schoolmistress, was born in Bermondsey about 1808, she was a widow, having been married to Basil Kennett a butcher. The Kennetts seem to have been butchers and cattle dealers. There were four children spread over a period of seven years. The youngest was born in Winchelsea the others in Rye.

We find Winchelsea running a school in Winchelsea in the late 1830’s and early 1840’s: Then by 1851 she was living in Winchelsea, Rye with husband Basil. It would appear that he died later in the 1850’s for by Winchelsea is running the school in Watchbell Street.

On the extreme right can be seen a small part of what was ‘Bellmount House School’ run by Mr. Robert Pretty. I have a school prize, a book given to Mas. Bourner (an old Sussex form of address for master) by Mr. Pretty in 1873; so this boys’ school was operating at the time of our photograph.

Other schools in Watchbell Street in the late 1850’s include Miss Mary Jane Clark’s ladies day school, and Jane & Eleanor Pink’s ladies boarding and day school. Later the Misses Pink moved to East Street. Earlier, in 1839, Charlotte Allen had a boarding and day school.

Harriet Kennett was still running her school in 1885 when, by then, she would be 77 years old: No old age pension or state aid, you worked until you dropped.

Could our photograph show Mrs. Kennetts girl pupils and Mr. Pretty’s boys? Was it a special occasion? We may never know why this interesting photograph was taken unless ……………

Compiled mostly from directories and census returns.

“Rye’s Own” February  2004

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