Mark Michael Howcutt

 

 Drawn by Eileen Howcutt from a photograph

 

Background and early life

Mark Michael Howcutt was born at Brighton, Sussex. He was baptised from Nelson Street at St Nicholas church on 7 January 1838 [1] and his age is recorded as "3" in the census taken on 6 June 1841. This indicates he was born between 7 June 1837 and 6 January 1838. His birth is not included in the civil registration records for England and Wales, which start on 1 July 1837. However, this does not prove that he was born before that date, as registration was not compulsory at the time and a significant number of births were omitted or incorrectly indexed. 

Mark seems to have discarded his second christian name early in life. It was not mentioned when he married in 1865, nor has it been found in any record written more recently than the 1851 census. 

He was the fourth child in a family of nine children born between 1830 and 1854. His parents, John Howcutt and Sarah Moodey, had been married at St James' Piccadilly, London on 6 June 1830 but by the time their first child was born later that year had already moved to Brighton. John had been born and brought up at Brixworth, Northamptonshire, where he remained at least until 1825. Sarah's birthplace was Barlavington, near Petworth, Sussex. Presumably it was her connection with the area that led John and Sarah to Sussex.

Sarah's mother, Ann Rich, had been baptised at Crawley in 1781, a daughter of William and Mary Rich. It is possible that Sarah had relatives living at Brighton in the 1830s. For instance, the William Rich, aged 78, who was buried at St Nicholas' from Upper Bedford Street on 19 January 1833 may have been her grandfather; he was the only William Rich born before 1770 who was buried in Sussex between 1813 and 1837.

Both of Mark's grandfathers had once been farmers. It seems that their businesses both failed during the agricultural depression of the 1810s; they ended their days as labourers and paupers. In contrast, Brighton was still enjoying its Regency heyday in 1830 and offered work for servants such as John Howcutt.

But not for long. At the time of the 1841 census, John and his family were living at Holman's Yard, Brixworth. This large village some six miles north of Northampton was then well stocked with Howcutts and other relatives amongst whom Mark was to grow up.

John was employed as a groom at the time of the 1851 census and was living with his family on the south side of Silver Street, in the sixth house from the corner with the High Street. [2] A letter that John wrote in December 1850, when he sold the house to William Derry still survives.

An account in the "Leighton Buzzard Observer" written after his death indicates that Mark Howcutt had first worked for a Mr Drage in Northamptonshire. 

Mark was the victim of an assault that took place at Holcot on 1 October 1854. His assailants, Isaac Followell, Frederick Day and John Downing were all labourers of Moulton; the first two appear from the 1851 census to have been of a similar age to Mark. All three culprits were tried at Northampton Division Petty Sessions on 14 October and each sentenced to pay a total of £1.5s including costs (3).

"History of the Pytchley Hunt" by Guy Paget records "Mark Howcot" as a whipper-in in 1859 - at that time, the hunt kennels were in Brixworth between Spratton Road and Kennel Terrace.  

An unidentified newspaper cutting states that Mark had once worked for the West Norfolk Hunt - this was probably at some stage during the period between 1859 and 1863. However, when the census was taken on 7 April 1861, Mark was recorded as one of five grooms who were lodging at the home of Amelia Riddle, a beer seller, at the High Street, Brigstock, Northamptonshire

Marriage, family and career

Sarah Elizabeth Weightman

Mark was described as a servant living at Wyndham Street when he married Sarah Elizabeth Weightman at Trinity Church, Marylebone on 31 March 1865. Sarah had been born at Cheddington, Buckinghamshire on 15 April 1844. She was fourth of the nine children of Thomas and Elizabeth (Blinco) Weightman.

By 1847, when Oliver, the next child in the Weightman family was born, they were living at Mentmore and it was there that they were recorded in the 1851 census. Thomas was working as a groom and Elizabeth as a laundress and although their employer is not identified it is likely that they were already working for the Rothschild family, who were major local landowners. Work started later in the same year on the construction of the mansion known as Mentmore Towers, which was designed by Joseph Paxton on instructions from Mayer de Rothschild.

In 1861, Sarah Elizabeth was a laundry maid, living with her parents and six of her siblings at Berrystead, a farmhouse that was soon to be demolished in the course of landscaping the grounds of the mansion.

An account in "Country Life" written after Mark's death indicates that he had worked for the Rothschild hunt from about 1862 and the account of Mark's death in the "Leighton Buzzard Observer" says that he had come to the district as whip in the year the Prince of Wales married (i.e. 1863).

 

Mark and Sarah's residence in London at the time of their marriage was only temporary and they were described as residents of Mentmore on 6 August 1865 when their first child, John Thomas, was baptised at the parish church there. A clue as to why Mark and Sarah chose to go to London to be married can be found in an account of the proceedings of the Petty Sessions held at Linslade on 17 July 1865. [5] Mark Howcutt was summoned by Leah Willis to show cause why he should not contribute towards the support of her illegitimate child, of whom she alleged him to be the father. Mark denied paternity and stated that Leah was the mother of several illegitimate children. She admitted the fact and the case was dismissed. [6]

 

Mentmore Towers

Sarah’s mother, Elizabeth Weightman, died on 4 September 1869. The 1871 census records Mark and his family as living with Sarah's widowed father at the laundry of the mansion at Mentmore.

Evidence of Mark’s reputation amongst the hunting fraternity can be found in two reports in “Jackson’s Oxford Journal” of meetings held at the George Hotel, Aylesbury, at which presentations were made to him and to Fred Cox, who was huntsman to Baron de Rothschild. The reports are summarised as follows: 

22 June 1867 - On the evening of Saturday 15 June, Fred Cox and Mark Howcutt were presented with a silver tankard each, for their civility and excellent qualities in the hunting field.

24 May 1879 – During the previous week, Fred Cox was presented with a silver hunting horn and a purse of £120, whilst Mark Howcutt received a silver-mounted whip and £30.

Ascott kennels

In 1873, Baron Mayer de Rothschild bought the farmhouse at Ascott, three miles away from Mentmore. In the following year, his nephew Leopold de Rothschild took over Ascott as a hunting box and had the building altered and enlarged. The Rothschild staghounds transferred to Ascott Kennels, which are to the north east of Ascott House itself. The whipper-in's house there has since been demolished. 

The Mentmore parish register indicates that the Howcutt family moved from Mentmore to Ascott at some time between 26 November 1876 (when Harriet Mary was baptised) and 11 April 1878, when she was buried.

Mark and Sarah Elizabeth's children were:

 

Born

Married

Died

John Thomas

1865

Fanny Horwood 1890,         Mary E Clapton 1930

1949

Oliver

1866

 

1938

Maria Ann

1868

William Henry Wheeler 1894, Charles Whitworth 1904

1911

Matilda

1869

Arthur Laughford Husband 1898

1908

Elizabeth Sarah

1871

Edmund Augustus Felix Watts 1891

1947

Charlotte Ellen

1875

Clarence Richard Crispin 1912

1938

Harriet Mary

1876

 

1878

William

1878

Laura Ellen Davis 1905

1936

Mark

1880

Emma Eliza Bott 1903

1965

Frederick Andrew

1884

Blanch Hunter 1917

1962

The children then living, apart from William and Mark, were described as scholars in the 1881 census, including John Thomas (aged 15) and Oliver (14). Presumably, they attended Wing village school, which consisted of three separate departments - boys, girls and infants. An assistant and pupil teachers drawn from the scholars themselves helped the head teacher of each section. Wing was a village with a growing population and an Inspector's report in 1888 noted how crowded the Infants' had become. The buildings were enlarged between 1885 and 1890 and in the next year were catering for a roll of 80 boys, 88 girls and 130 infants.

In 1881, Thomas Weightman was at Mentmore where he occupied the laundry cottage along with an unmarried daughter and, at least on the census night, also his granddaughter Maria Ann Howcutt. She had been admitted a pupil at the Countess Rosebery School at Mentmore in May 1870, when just over two years old and remained on its roll until 1 January 1881. [7]

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The former school at Mentmore

In 1884, the year before he was elevated to the peerage, Nathaniel Mayer "Natty" de Rothschild had his portrait painted by John Charlton. This shows him dressed as a Master of Hounds, mounted on a horse in the setting of Tring Park. [8] Mark Howcutt sat in when the artist was painting the body for this picture. [9]

 

Mark had probably been a cricketer when living at Brixworth, where “Howcutt” was one of the Brixworth team in a match against Haselbech on 25 July 1859. [10] He continued active participation in the game at least until 11 June 1887 when “M Howcutt” was one of the team from the Rothschild Hunt in its annual match against the local farmers. [11]

 

The stag hunting season started around the beginning of November, as described in the following account that appeared in 1888 and captures something of the atmosphere of the occasion and a glimpse of Mark’s personality: [12]

“Lord Rothschild’s Stage Hounds had their opening day here on Thursday [i.e. 1 November], and led the field for a good gallop over the hills, leaving Aldbury to the left, on to Berkhampstead, then back to Ringshall, and then the stag managed to find his way into the park, where the hounds, horses, and there and there a bit of pink, made, amongst the fine old timber and russet-brown bracken, a very pretty picture. After some little backward and forward galloping, the deer was taken just near the mansion stables. The hounds looked fit and well, and, from the pace they went, evidently had not forgotten how to go. There was a good field out, including the noble master and many well-known Vale men. Fred. Cox, the huntsman, looked wonderfully well, and Mark Howcutt, his lieutenant, “as hard as old nails”, both well mounted. Mr Roberts offered all comers a glass of wine and a sandwich. The day was fine and the scent was good. Some ladies graced the scene, and, altogether, it was a very good opening day.”

Sarah Elizabeth Howcutt had suffered from heart disease for some years before she died at Ascott on 13 January 1891. Her grave is close to the tombstone that commemorates her parents. 

Mark was still residing at Ascott, along with his daughters Maria and Charlotte and sons William and Mark, when the census was taken on 5 April 1891. Staying with them at the time was a visitor, Mary Warren, aged 56, who had been born at Brighton and was one of Mark's sisters.

Five of Mark's children were not at home with him in the 1891 census:

·         John Thomas worked as a groom and was living with his wife at her parents' house in London Road, Aston Clinton.

·         Oliver, a plumber, lodged at 5 Terrace Gardens, Watford. 

·         Matilda was working as a housemaid at 8 Devonshire Place, Marylebone, London.

·         Elizabeth Sarah was a kitchen maid living at 83 Harley Street, Marylebone.

·         Frederick Andrew was staying at a cottage on Childwick Hall stud farm, Hertfordshire with his mother's sister Ellen Jane, her husband Fred Fordham and their five year old son Henry.

During the latter part of his life, three of Mark’s children got married:

·         John Thomas married Fanny Horwood towards the end of 1890. Their first two children, Leonard Joseph Mark (1892) and Bertha Mary (1894), were born at Southcourt, Buckinghamshire but by 1896, when their third child William Henry was born, they had moved to Aldershot.

·         Elizabeth Sarah married Augustus Watts at Marylebone in 1891. Their first two children, Edward Augustus (1892) and Arthur Edgar (1894) were born at Paddington but the birth of their daughter Ellen Margaret was registered in the March quarter 1898 at Hendon, Middlesex. 

·         Maria Ann married William Henry Wheeler in the Leighton Buzzard registration district in 1894.

The Vale of Aylesbury and Whaddon country

An account written by "Riverside" and published in December 1895 includes these recollections of hunting in the Vale of Aylesbury:

"What a glorious country! All grass as far as the eye can see, big enclosures, most of them with the well-known ridge and furrow that gives one the impression of riding on the sea. Corking great fences the Vale doubles are, and what a glorious "crowner" the venturesome stranger gets who tries "doing them all in one"!

Well I remember old Fred Cox, who was huntsman to "The Baron", remarking to a "Spring Captain", who came down to "hang us all up to dry", after he had tried to do the Creslow double in a one-act play, "Ah, I knew that t'other ditch would make you wish you hadn't"

Old Fred Cox was a comical sight on a horse, with his little short legs, but he did "shove 'em along" in his best days. A capital whip he had in Mark Howcutt. It was a treat to see him sailing along on some evil-minded devil that was fresh from Newmarket. I often wondered if he had any cross of feline in his composition, for the falls he got were oftener counted by the dozen than by twos and threes." [13]

Further recollections appear in the following letter from "Old Stagger" that was published at an unknown date in a journal that has not been identified:

"Anyone who thinks that valuable horses are not hunted in the Whaddon country should have hunted in those grand days when Lord Rothschild's Staghounds were going on that district and hunted by Fred Cox, Mark Howcutt, Will Gaskin and Frank Walker. They would have seen what horses came out then, and no doubt just as valuable ones are being hunted in that country at the present time. The late Mr Harry Castle and two or three more mounted by him used to think nothing of hacking from the South Oxfordshire country to meets such as Aston Abbotts, Wingrave Cross-roads &c. ..[illegible].. the run to the take (and what gallops some of them were!), and then often have to ride home from such places as Great Brickhill and the other side of Leighton Buzzard, riding the same horse all day. That the horses were good and fit speaks for itself."

“In Scarlett and Silk”

This book of memoirs by Fox Russell was published in 1896, when Mark was approaching his 60th birthday, and includes these remarks about Lord Rothschild's Staghounds:

"The Vale of Aylesbury is as near perfection as possible: it is all grass, practically, with beautiful flying fences, over which no first-rate hunter, until he tires, at least, ought to come to grief. Speaking for myself, I would sooner take and average run and two average falls over the Vale, than the best of runs, minus the tumbles, in an indifferent country. The "fields" are enormous, but, generally speaking, there is plenty of room at the fences. When I was last there, and following this splendid pack, which, by the way, was started in 1839, Fred Cox was still hunting then, and despite the manifold injuries he has sustained in falls innumerable, which have made his seat on a horse cramped and unnatural, was always with his hounds. Mark Howcutt was then first whip, and a bolder cross-country horseman I never want to see. He was going then, and goes now, as hard as we happy youths did at the age of eighteen or twenty, when  we "feared nothin' c'os we knowed nothin'," as old Jem Hills, the huntsman of the Heythrop, used to put it." 

Retirement

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Mark Howcutt's riding crop and horn

In April 1897, Mark retired on pension from the Rothschilds and was presented with a purse of gold amounting to £325 by members of the hunt, where he had been first whipper-in. His retirement and that of Fred Cox, who was huntsman for the same hunt, were reported in the 26 May 1897 issue of "The Sketch", under the heading "Two Veteran Hunt Servants". The account confirms that Mark had worked with Baron Rothschild's staghounds for 35 years and that, since Fred Cox suffered a very severe accident, Mark had been officiating as huntsman. The article includes separate photographs of Fred Cox and of Mark Howcutt as well as a group picture of them both, along with Tom Whitemore, huntsman of the Oakley. Click here to read a full transcript of the account.

Death

After retiring from work, Mark went to live at Hockliffe Road, Leighton Buzzard with his daughter, Maria Ann Wheeler.

Hunting is not the safest of sports and Mark had experienced some of its perils. “The Bucks Herald” reported that on 16 December 1872, when securing the stag towards the end of a two-hour run, Mark received a kick from the animal below the knee and sustained a fracture of the leg. He was speedily attended to by Mr. Wagstaff of Leighton and subsequently progressed favourably under surgical treatment, at the expense of Baron Rothschild. However, the wound was so severe that it was not expected that he would be able to join the hounds again that season. [14] Mark was not injured when his horse fell on 6 November 1882, but the back of the animal was broken and it had to be destroyed. [15] A more serious accident took place during a run from Aston Abbots on 12 April 1889. Mark was taking a double fence when his horse fell on him and kicked him. Some of his lower ribs were broken and, as well as several bruises, it was suspected that his right lung had been injured. Dr Wagstaffe was sent for at Lord Rothschild’s request and, in due course, Mark recuperated. [16]

 

On 24 November 1897, the Whaddon Chase foxhounds met at Ascott and Mark left home at about ten in the morning to follow the hounds. At about half past three in the afternoon he was returning home along the Wing road when, near the top of the hill, the young cob which he was riding became restive. Mark Howcutt was thrown off upon his head and died in about five minutes. The accident was seen by a couple of men who were returning to Wing after working at Ascott. A doctor arrived too late to help. The body was carried on a light van to the police station where it remained until after the inquest at which it was reported that at the time of his death, Mark was carrying £8.10.0d in notes, gold and silver, a silver watch and "gold albert" and some keys.

Mark was buried at Mentmore churchyard during a shocking rainstorm. Between 200 and 300 people attended the ceremony. A tombstone there commemorates him, his wife and Harriet Mary - their only child to die in infancy. Accounts of the fatal accident appear in a number of local newspapers. The most extensive coverage is probably that in the "Leighton Buzzard Observer" (30 November 1897). Some press reports contained errors - one said Mark was survived by a widow. Inaccurate notes of his age at death vary from "55" ("Northampton Mercury", 26 November 1897) to "64" (death certificate). In fact, he was 60.

Estate

After his death, Mark's total effects were valued at £684.16.9d. Among his bequests was a piano. No doubt, he lived quite comfortably in the latter part of his life enjoying large crumbs from the rich man's table and a job that was also a personal pleasure. [17] Click here to read a copy of his will.

On 14 January 1898, the household furniture was auctioned by Hart & Son at Brigginton, Leighton Buzzard. Amongst the items offered were iron bedsteads and bedding, toilet glasses, chairs, tables, mahogany duchesse dressing table, mahogany couch in hair, rosewood cheffolier, pictures and engravings, including “Lord Rothschild’s Hunt”, “The Waddon Chase Hunt”, “Lord Rothschild”, a picture in silk needlework and a sketch of Mr. Murphy QC by Frank Lockwood. [18]

Obituary

Correspondents to the "Leighton Buzzard Observer" wrote:

"The terrible and sudden death of Mark Howcutt has cast quite a gloom and consternation over the entire neighbourhood. Here in Wing Mark Howcutt was perhaps the best-known man in the village. His genial and cheery manner made his presence an ever-popular addition in all circles, and the fact that so soon after retiring from his post of Whip to Lord Rothschild's Staghounds, to enjoy well-earned ease, he has met with so terrible a death, comes as a shock to everyone. The utmost sympathy is felt for the large family Mr. Howcutt has left to mourn his loss. Everyone grieves with them in their sorrow, and themselves feel deeply the loss of a true and sincere friend."

"His intrepid and bold riding stood him in good stead negotiating a sometimes difficult country that was only a pleasure for him to face."

"Slightly built and short in stature, with his cheery round face full of beaming delight, such a figure-head will be greatly missed. No doubt his kennel work was as interesting to him as his field duties, therefore Mark must be chronicled as a good all round man in his unique employment. When a truculent or disobedient hound was perverse, Mark's whip was invariably handy with a bit of real old English thrown in - which the delinquent possibly understood to his sorrow - for he instantly checked any waywardness. In private life, when chatting of any reminiscences of hunting, Mark was particularly entertaining, and his memory and descriptions of notable runs was unmistakable, and agreeable to listen to. It would be difficult to find a man who hunted the Vale of Aylesbury - or any other vale for that matter - gone to his long home "from whence no huntsman returns" with fewer enemies than the late Mark Howcutt."

Descendants

By the time of the census held on 31 March 1901, Mark and Sarah’s nine surviving offspring were quite widely scattered.

·           John Thomas (“Jack”) was working as a coachman and lived with his wife Fanny and their five children at 11 Church Street, Aldershot, Hampshire.

·           Oliver was a navvy, living in one of the Newcastle & Gateshead Water Company’s huts at a site on the south side of the River Rede in the parish of Troughend, Northumberland.

·           Maria Ann (“Cissie”) was a widow, working as a housekeeper to Charles Whitworth, a carpenter who lived at 7 Cliffords Row, Pimlico, London. Charles was already a widower in 1901 and on 5 November 1904, he and Maria got married at Wandsworth Register Office. At that time, Maria was living at 9 Winifred Grove, Battersea. and Charles was still at 7 Cliffords Row. The death of Maria A Whitworth, aged 42, was registered at St George Hanover Square district (the district that included Cliffords Row) in June quarter 1911.

·           Matilda (“Tilly”) was living at 3 Wolesley Road, Wealdstone, Middlesex with her husband Arthur L Husband and their daughter May Howcutt.

·           Elizabeth Sarah (“Lizzie”) was recorded at Laburnum Cottage, Harrow Weald, Middlesex with her husband Edward A P "Augustus" Watts and their children, Edmund A, Arthur E and Ellen M.

·           Charlotte Ellen (“Lottie”) was still single and working as a housemaid living in at 296 Upper Richmond Road, Putney, London.

·           William (“Will”) does not appear in the census, as he was in South Africa at the time.

·           Mark was working as a stableman and living at The Stables, Red House, Effingham, Surrey.

·           Frederick Andrew (“Fred”) was one of the grooms living in two rooms at Ascott House stables, Wing. Amongst his six companions there was 59 year old James Manning, who had been born at Brixworth.

33 grandchildren of Mark and Sarah Elizabeth have been identified, all born between 1892 and 1934. This is probably a complete tally, apart from any children Maria Ann may have produced. For 31 of these grandchildren, their own children have been identified; these amount to 65 people, plus another two who were probably members of this group. If Mark and Sarah Elizabeth's remaining two grandchildren produced offspring at the same rate as their siblings and cousins, the total number of great grandchildren would be around 71. There are also numerous 2x, 3x and 4x great grandchildren and at least three 5x great grandchildren.

Notes

[1]   Nelson Street was a road that now forms part of St John Street. It ran northwards from Carlton Hill to Sussex Street, a short distance to the east of Grand Parade. All the buildings in Nelson Street have been redeveloped since the Howcutts lived there.

[2]   The sequence of households in the 1851 and 1861 censuses indicates that John Howcutt's family lived in what was then the sixth cottage on the south side of Silver Street from the High Street corner. In the 1841 census, John's parents were living at the fourth house from that corner on that side of Silver Street. By comparing the position of neighbours in each direction in 1841 with 1851, it is appears that John had taken over his parents' house and that two extra cottages were built after 1841. The deed when John sold the cottage in 1850 (although he continued to live there afterwards), confirms that the previous occupier was his father Thomas Howcutt.

[3]   This is consistent with information from Ernest Mark Howcutt (1903-1979) that his grandfather had lived at Holcot.

[4]   “Northampton Mercury”, 21 October 1854, page 3, column 6.

[5]   “The Leighton Buzzard Observer”, 18 July 1865, page 4, columns 1 & 2.

[6]   Leah Willis (1834-1916) was the mother of three children baptised at Mentmore – Thomas (1856), Peter (1860) & Julia Ann (18 September 1864). Julia Ann was the only one of them conceived after Mark arrived in the area. Leah married Robert Mercy in 1880 and the couple moved during the next decade to Leighton Buzzard. Julia Ann Willis (1864-1957) married Alfred Beilby in 1881; her death was registered at Harrow. No evidence about the identity of her father has been found other than the statements at the Linslade Petty Sessions.

[7]   Buckinghamshire Record Office: E/AR/146/1 - Mentmore (Countess Rosebery) School admission register, 1867-1963.

[8]   Illustration in "The World's Banker - The History of the House of Rothschild" by Niall Ferguson (London, 1998).

[9]   Information from Ernest Mark Howcutt (1903-1979).

[10] “Northampton Mercury”, 30 July 1859, page 4, column 1.

[11] “The Bucks Herald”, 18 June 1887, page 7, column 5.

[12] “Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade Gazette”, 6 November 1888, page 8, column 2.

[13] "The Cream of the Vale" by "Riverside" in "Outing", volume 27, number 3 (December 1895).

[14] “The Bucks Herald”, 21 December 1872, page 4, column 3 & 28 December 1872, page 4, columns 2&3.

[15] “The Bucks Herald”, 11 November 1882, page 8, column 6.

[16] “The Bucks Herald”, 13 April 1889, page 8, column 6.

[17] “The Bankers’ Magazine”, volume 68, page 328 reported that “Mark Howcutt, who was with the Baron de Rothschild, and met his death in 1897, when quietly cantering along the high road, was also a subscriber [to the Railway Passengers Assurance Company]”. It is not known how much money was received from this policy or whether it was included in the value stated for Mark’s assets.

[18] “Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade Gazette”, 4 January 1898, page 1, column 1.