Emily Kent née Bacon was, on the whole, pleased with the way her life had turned out so far.
Her family had been settled in Binley, on the north-eastern fringes of the parish of St Mary Bourne, since her great-grandfather, John Bacon, had come here over a hundred years ago. The men in the family worked as woodmen. They also sold beer as a side-line, with the womenfolk doing most of the brewing and serving the customers. But what exactly was the drink on offer at the Hurdler’s Arms? Zythophile, a modern blogger on beer writes:
Here is an extract from The Engineer’s and Mechanic’s Encyclopædia by Luke Hebert, published in 1836:
“In England two distinct sorts of beer are known, called ale, and porter, or beer, and of each sort there arc numerous varieties. Although the difference in the flavour of ale and of porter is sufficiently marked, it is difficult to say in what way it is produced: that it is not altogether owing to pale malt being used for brewing ale, as some assert, is clear from the fact that in many parts of the country, ale is brewed from brown malt: neither is it owing to a larger quantity of hops being used in making porter, for the pale ale which is exported in large quantities from this country to India contains a larger proportion of hops than the porter exported to the same place; neither will a difference in the proportions of the malt to the water account for it, since some ales are stronger and others weaker than porter.”
The development of a well-hopped light-coloured malt liquor that went by the name pale ale was an important step in the merging of meaning for ale and beer.
Born in 1856, Emily had been sent like her older sister to an adjoining county (in her case Berkshire) to go into service. Her parents’ intention was not for this to be a lifelong career choice, rather that she would absorb some polish from exposure to the gentry at such close quarters. But it had been a little hard to be sent away from home before she was fourteen years old. However, Alexander Davis and his wife had been kind to her. He lived at Highwood Villa, near the auction house in Donnington which had been founded by Thomas Davis in 1759 and which he now owned.
By 1881, she had returned home and was charmingly described (by her father or the census enumerator unprovoked?) as a domestic servant in the family household. Her father died in 1887, but his widow Mary was ‘a licensed victualler’ by the 1891 census, with her daughter living with her. Emily’s eldest brother, John Blanchard Bacon, had moved to live next door with his wife and two children, but his oldest son (Emily’s nephew John Sidney Bacon) was living with Emily and her widowed mother.
Emily at this point decided to take stock of her life. The man of the house, her father, was gone. Her mother was by now in her mid-seventies. Her nephew would not be around for ever, and it would be unreasonable for her to turn to her brother for every little thing. What was to become of her?
The answer was obvious: she must find a husband, and without much delay. She still hoped to have children of her own, after all, although she had been thirty-one years old at the time of her father’s death. She knew that men did not find her alluring, and that waiting for one to fall in love with her might be wishful thinking. She would treat it as a business project, in a matter of fact sort of way. She would look for a good man, but someone who was probably her social inferior. After all, she was to inherit the Hurdler’s Arms and it should not be too difficult to find someone to take her on, together with her property.
Emily did not know it, but as she was thinking these thoughts a man called Harold Brighouse was writing a play called Hobson’s Choice about a man such as she was looking for: Will Mossop was a bit of a chump but he was a malleable chump. Though the setting of the play was an industrial northern town in the 1880s, her situation was very similar to Maggie Hobson’s.
She looked around for a suitable candidate and found one in Henry Kent, who worked on the same Binley farm where his father was a carter. He was six years younger than her, no bad thing, and she decided he would do very well. They were married at St Peter’s Church, St Mary Bourne on 22nd October 1892. She was thirty-five years old and he was thirty-two. He was described in the register as a labourer.
They had three children in quick succession, George Andrew, Edward and Norah. By the 1901 census, Henry Kent was being described as a ‘farmer on his own account’ (ie self-employed), and by 1911 he was down as the licensed victualler as well. However, in the Kelly’s Directory for 1895, 1899, 1911 and 1920 the listing is firmly for ‘Kent, Emily (Mrs), beer ret. Binley’, and there is no mention of Henry at all.
She was also pleased that they had been able to settle her nephew so well. Married to a nice girl, John Sidney Bacon had obtained employment with Colonel Arthur Buck Kitchener and his wife Edith. The Kitcheners had been well-liked in the village when they arrived in 1901 (and it didn’t hurt that he was the brother of Lord Kitchener, the hero of Khartoum). Even so, it had taken a bit of getting used to when he renamed his house Waihemo after his sheep farm in New Zealand. But the sad thing was that he had died in 1907, and his wife not long after. He had been buried in the graveyard at St Peter’s, may he rest in peace. Her nephew had stayed on at the house as gardener, with his wife as caretaker.
She wondered what the future would hold, and hoped that The Hurdler’s Arms would be taken over in the fullness of time by one of the two boys. Or perhaps history would repeat itself, and Norah would be the next proprietress?
See comments – here is the photograph of the brass plaque to commemorate the opening of the reading room: