Henry Froom Beck

Author:
Date published: 28/08/2013
© K.O.Beck, Brian Sylvester. Newbury Weekly News

TOWN CRYING IN NEWBURY

In 1649 an order was passed in Newbury, Berkshire, which said “for the better preserving of the Town from dangers of fire and many other great inconveniences that are likely to happen, and for the apprehension of all pilfering rogues and suspicious persons, there should be a Bellman that walk the streets from 9 o’clock in the evening until 5 in the morning, and from 9 of the clock in the morning till five in the evening (a sixteen-hour day!!), and shout a distinct and audible noise to give notice as well of the present condition of the weather, as of the time of night, which Bellman is to have 5s a week duly and truly paid by the inhabitants...”1

--oOo--

HENRY FROOM BECK died on 9th January, 1872, described on his death certificate as a “Policeman and Town Crier”.  His obituary two days later in the Newbury Weekly News reads:-

“It is not every official whose death is more genuinely regretted than that of Henry Beck, the town crier of Newbury.   He retained the character throughout a long career of being a straightforward, honest man, and a faithful servant to the public;  in his family relations he leaves behind him the testimony of being an affectionate husband and a loving father.

“He was a native of Reading and came to Newbury nearly half a century ago, working as a journeyman baker to Mr. Witherington. For 40 years Beck had been a constable of the borough and for 33 years bill poster and town crier.   It is in his latter capacity that he will be remembered, his stentorian2 voice being as clear and distinct as the bell that he rung.   So much did he excel in this particular that he has often been described as ‘the best town crier in England’.

“He was gifted with an excellent memory for past events, and was always punctual at his post, even if the appointment had been made weeks previously, and the person making it had forgotten the same.

“It was evident to those who knew him that for the past twelve months his constitution was breaking up, and the unexpected death of a son about two months’ since caused him much grief.   The last lot of bills he distributed was for the Christy Minstrels, and he died on Tuesday last, the day of the entertainment, at the age of 70.   An announcement for the coal club was, we believe, his last public act as town crier.

“He will be buried on Saturday at the Cemetery, and the police force will follow his remains.”

--oOo--



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In a much later article on 13th November, 1958 under a heading “An Old Newbury ‘Oyez’ Man”, the NWN reported:-

“This reproduction of a painting presented to Newbury Records Office is of a man whose job died out with the increase of motor traffic, simply because his voice could no longer be heard in the streets.

“It is of Henry Beck, in his official uniform of bellman, a post to which he was appointed in 1838.   The bellman was, in fact, the town crier, though he did not hold that title, his full designation being bellman and beadle tithing man.   His ‘perks’ of office included small fees charged people for tolling his bell and crying out items such as the loss of possessions - a dog or a purse.   He also ‘cried’ official announcements, repeating them every 20 or 30 yards.   He accompanied the Mayor on official engagements, always being present at the opening of the two-day St. Bartholomew Fair.

“The tithing man’s duties were to report any infringements of the current town by-laws.   A trader, for example, might be reported for having a sunblind or display extending on the public footway.   Justice would be done by the imposition of a quit rent.   Then a house-holder in Northbrook-street might need to be brought to book for an offence such as emptying house refuse or ashes into the roadway.   People were permitted to empty their bowls and pans of dirty water into the brook that ran past their front doors and gave the street its name.

“Newbury had several quaintly-styled officials in those days, all appointed by the Court Leet, consisting of the Court Baron and lords of the Manor of Newbury, which met on the same day as the Borough Sessions.

“Records in the Borough Archivist’s Office show, for example, that in 1838, the second year of Queen Victoria’s reign, appointments included two constables;  tithing men for Bartholomew-street, Northbrook-street and Cheap-street;  two bailiffs for the Mayor (they probably acted as mace-bearers as well);  a mug and pot sealer, whose job it was to check the drinking vessels used in public houses, bread and butter weighers, a fish and flesh taster, haywards for the common ground in the Marsh (now Victoria Park) and Northcroft;  and surveyors of the streets.

“The post of bellman was never officially extinguished - it gradually died out with the changing times, the growing noise from mechanical transport in the streets - and the rising importance of newspapers, together with their increasing use as advertising media.”





 

TRIBUTE TO A VICTORIAN TOWN CRIER

Following a long search Newbury’s present Town Crier (Brian Sylvester) has been able to track down the resting place of one of his illustrious predecessors and pay him a special tribute.


During research into Newbury’s past, he found reference to a previous “Constable and Crier” Henry Froom Beck. Subsequent searches turned up a water-colour picture of him in the Museum, and a  copy of his Death Certificate which lead on to an obituary notice in the Newbury Weekly News for 1872.

Reference was made in the article to his being “described as the best town crier in England”, and that “he will be buried on Saturday at the Cemetery, and the police force will follow his remains”.

Why the police? A former Thames Valley Police Chief Inspector (Richard Godfrey) has researched and written a book about the Newbury Constabulary which had been set up in 1836 and, it appears, the post of Town Crier had been absorbed into that Force and an appropriate uniform issued to him.

Which Cemetery?  The one in use at that time was that in Newtown Road.  But , on enquiry, Brian found this burial place has been closed for many a year for safety reasons.

However, quite recently a group of “Friends” of the cemetery has been set up and Brian eagerly joined them to follow up on his research and, hopefully, track down Henry’s grave.  Easier said than done in a graveyard with over 10,000 buried in it but, with the help of a book of tombstone engravings compiled by the late Mrs. Pattison between 1978 and 1982, the position was established and the stone finally located - broken off and laying face down in the mud!

Contact was then made with the Stonemason (Joss Nankoo) often seen working on Saturdays in the market place, which resulted in a lot of digging and heaving before the gravestone could finally be re-erected in its rightful place and duly spruced up.

So, at a recent small commemoration, the refurbished stone was unveiled, some flowers laid, and Henry Beck’s obituary read again.  And, needless to say, this was followed by a libation or two!  A worthy tribute, it is hoped,  to a long-serving officer of the town, Henry Beck.

Present at the brief ceremony were (from left to right in the photo):-

Joss Nankoo, the Master Stonemason who assisted in the restoration.

Brian Sylvester, the present Town Crier who researched, located and re-erected the gravestone.

David Stubbs, a retired police officer who took the part of Henry Beck in a recent re-enactment at the Town Hall of the original Parliamentary Cemetery Hearing in 1847.

Richard Godfrey, another retired officer who wrote the book “Newbury Borough Police 1843-1875” which referenced Henry.



P.S.  Since this event, Brian has become the Chairman of the Friends of the Newtown Road Cemetery whose website is www.fnrcnewbury.org.uk



(497 words)

 

Letter to the Editor
from K.O. Beck, Horsham, West Sussex
Henry Froom BECK
Research into my own family shows that they were established in Devon until early in the nineteenth century when three brothers and a half brother moved to Cardiff. The half brother became a baker at Merthyr Tydfil. It was the discovery of the marriage of Henry Froom Beck at Merthyr that gave rise to one of those occasions where one is encouraged onto a false trail as I later discovered that this Beck had nothing to do with my part of the family. He led me to Reading and Newbury where I found that his grandfather, of exactly the same name, had a rather embarrassing experience on his intended wedding day.
His marriage was due to take place at the church of St. Nicholas, Newbury on March 6, 1825. The banns had been called, all the preparations had been made and you can imagine Henry nervously waiting in the church for the arrival of his young bride, Elizabeth Winter. When the ceremony was completed the couple moved into the vestry to sign the marriage certificate. Henry signed his full name: Henry Froom Beck, but the Rector, James Roe stopped the proceedings and wrote across the document' NB this incomplete through incorrectness of name as published in the Banns'. It seems that Henry had given his name as Henry Beck when asked for details for calling of the banns. Elizabeth forgave her husband-to-be for on May 10 the ceremony was performed again with the same bride and groom at the same church with the same clergyman officiating.
I have many details of various Beck families and would be very happy to communicate with anyone researching this name.


Berks Family Journal 2001

Beck obit

“It is not every official whose death is more genuinely regretted than that of Henry Beck, the town crier of Newbury.  He retained the character throughout a long career of being a straightforward, honest man, and a faithful servant to the public;  in his family relations he leaves behind him the testimony of being an affectionate husband and a loving father.

“He was a native of Reading and came to Newbury nearly half a century ago, working as a journeyman baker to Mr. Witherington.   For 40 years Beck had been a constable of the borough and for 33 years bill poster and town crier.   It is in his latter capacity that he will be remembered, his stentorian
3
voice being as clear and distinct as the bell that he rung.   So much did he excel in this particular that he has often been described as ‘the best town crier in England’.

“He was gifted with an excellent memory for past events, and was always punctual at his post, even if the appointment had been made weeks previously, and the person making it had forgotten the same.

“It was evident to those who knew him that for the past twelve months his constitution was breaking up, and the unexpected death of a son about two months’ since caused him much grief.   The last lot of bills he distributed was for the Christy Minstrels, and he died on Tuesday last, the day of the entertainment, at the age of 70.   An announcement for the coal club was, we believe, his last public act as town crier.

“He will be buried on Saturday at the Cemetery, and the police force will follow his remains.”

 

Sources:Newbury Weekly News 13 November 1958

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