Edward Knocker – The Town Clerk who Reformed

Dover Harbour c 1800

Dover Harbour c 1800

There are no records as to when a Town Clerk, or Common Clerk – as the post was originally called – was first appointed for Dover; but the role was referred to in 1356. At that time the function of the Town Clerk was both secretarial and legal but over time position became steadily more important due to the strong legal element. Therefore, in Dover up until 2005, it was only members of the legal profession who were appointed. Much of the individual Town Clerk’s personal histories have been lost in the mists of time although many of their written records remain. The data available from the last couple of century’s assessments can be made and from what I have collected and collated two Town Clerks stand out as particularly inspiring. They are father and son – Edward and Wollaston Knocker.

William Knocker (1761-1847), like Edward and Wollaston, was a solicitor and was one of the founders Bradleys. This firm has, up until recently, their offices on Castle Street. In 1792, William had a thriving practice and lived in a fine house on the Esplanade, socially solicitors were treated educated tradesmen in the lower middle class of Dover’s society. This was just before the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars (1793 to 1815) and the smuggling industry in Dover was lucrative, highly organised and mostly run by these ‘educated tradesmen’! The ‘Godfather‘ of the east Kent smuggling industry was banker John Minet Fector and the domains of each of the lesser smuggling fraternities around the East Kent coast, were neatly mapped out. It is believed that William’s smuggling area was around Seasalter, seven miles east of Faversham and at Heron, near Reculver, both on the north Kent coast.

Paving Commission Act 1777 - Front Cover. Responsible for street lighting - or in the case of Dover - the lack of street lighting. Dover Library

Paving Commission Act 1777 – Front Cover. Responsible for street lighting – or in the case of Dover – the lack of street lighting. Dover Library

Although the government was making efforts to combat organised smuggling, they relied heavily on local administrators. In 1778 Dover’s Paving Commission was set up by Act of Parliament, the principal function was town management and this included street lighting. As those who organised smuggling were members of the Paving Commission, lighting was kept deliberately poor. Indeed, Charles Dickens (1812-1870), in ‘Tale of Two Cities’, commented on this, writing: ‘A little fishing was done in the port and a quantity of strolling about by night, and looking seaward, particularly at those times when the tide made and was near flood. Small tradesmen who did no business whatever, sometimes unaccountably realised large fortunes, and it was remarkable that nobody in the neighbourhood could endure a lamplighter!’

William was the Mayor of Dover four times between 1792-1817 and again in 1832. He had hoped to be appointed Mayor a fifth time in 1807, but the battle that year was one of the fiercest seen in the town. There were four candidates, William, Thomas Mantell – anti-smuggling, George Stringer – owner of Castle Hill House and William King – shipbuilders both for the Passage and for Horatio Nelson’s fleet. William King won but it was Thomas Mantell’s stance on smuggling that roused the most interest as it threatened the future of the smuggling industry. Mantell had been elected Mayor in 1795, was subsequently elected five more times and was knighted for his campaigns against smuggling. Following this election the local ‘educated tradesmen,’ including ‘Godfather’ Fector, William and the others started to distance themselves from the industry.

On 25 September 1771, William had married Ann West King, daughter of shipbuilder, Thomas King and a close relative of William King who had won the 1807 election. Edward, the Town Clerk of this story, was William’s 11th child was born on 10 September 1804 and on qualifying as a solicitor joined his father’s law practice. During the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815), William was actively involved in the local Militia becoming the Captain of Archcliffe Fort, the guns of which were particularly used to repel French privateers.

Following the Napoleonic Wars the Coastal Blockade was introduced to combat smuggling. William had sold his house on the Esplanade to John Minet Fector and bought Bushy Ruff paper mill and adjoining lands in the Alkham valley. There William built two adjoining mills and the colonial style mansion. By the time William was elected Mayor again in 1832 Ann had died and he had married a bride much younger than himself. They had subsequently moved away.

Castle Street north side. Alan Sencicle 2009

Castle Street north side. Alan Sencicle 2009

Some ten years before Edward, William’s son, had been appointed to the elite Paving Commission and had quickly risen through the ranks becoming the Clerk, a position he was retain. The land between Market Square and Castle Hill House, at that time, was low and marshy but in 1797, the military had built road across. Edward, along with three other businessmen – William Prescott, John Finnis, and Henry Elve, purchased the land alongside the military road for £2,000. Using his excellent position as the Clerk of the Paving Commission, Edward moved on to the next part of the consortium’s scheme, to build two facing rows of high-class houses along what became Castle Street.

To aid the project’s success, the military road was raised eight feet and the River Dour was arched – both of which was paid for by the Paving Commission out of money collected from the then equivalent of council tax. The first buildings were erected in 1830 but as the stables of the Antwerp Hotel blocked the opening into Market Square, there was a problem. Edward, acting on behalf of the consortium, offered to buy the stables but the owner sold them to a William Huntley for £2,900. As Clerk of the Paving Commission and acting on their behalf, offered Huntley £1,500 but Huntley held out for more.

Market Place looking towards Castle Street after the demolition of the Antwerp stables. Dover Museum

Market Place looking towards Castle Street after the demolition of the Antwerp stables. Dover Museum

At the time, the Paving Commissioners had applied to Parliament for permission to widen Bench Street and King Street and the canny Edward inserted a paragraph appertaining to the compulsory purchase of the Antwerp stables! The Bill became law in 1836 and the stables were demolished, but Huntley still owned the land on which they had stood and for this he asked £3,026 11s 6d! This, for Edward proved a major learning curve.

Like most other solicitors of that time, Edward was involved in real estate. Among the properties he was involved in the selling was a nine bed-roomed newly built villa on Marine Parade, the Priory Gate Road Brewery, the Plume and Feathers Inn – Snargate Street, the Manor of West Farleigh and Crabble House, River. The latter had belonged to the late Nathaniel Walker of Dover’s major brewing family. John Jeken, Mayor of Dover in 1822, had bought Castle Hill House and estate from the Stringer family and in 1829, he placed it on the market – not through Edward. Charles Lamb bought the whole package but three years later, in 1832, the estate was put up for auction and Edward bought it for £7,000.

Castle Hill House. Alan Sencicle 2009

Castle Hill House. Alan Sencicle 2009

By 17 March 1837, when Castle Street was formerly opened, it had become Dover’s professional quarter with fine town houses, offices and high-class shops. Although Edward’s consortium had made a tidy profit, the Paving Commissioners had run up a bill of £4,149 and were not so happy. At the time the main road out of Dover going east to Deal and Sandwich was St James Street. This was also the southern boundary of the Castle Hill House estate and Maison Dieu Road did not exist. Instead, there was a crooked, unlit, track called Back O’ Charlton that went to Charlton Green cutting through the grounds of Castle Hill House.

Castle Street crossed this lane and, as to day, finished at Ashen Tree Lane. On the west side of Back O’ Charlton, part of the Castle Hill House estate was sold and developed into Eastbrook Place and again Edward made a nice profit. On the sea side of St James Street, approximately where the swimming pool is today, was the Trevanion estate. This had long since been reduced in size by a maze of cottages and hovels that had been thrown up by fisher folk, woolcombers and weavers – more that once Edward cast a covetous eye on what had become a slum.

Although solicitors were starting to be seen as respectable professions, they were still viewed as tradesmen for social purposes by the ‘respectable‘ society. For Edward to achieve higher social status it was necessary for him  to marry the right woman. She was Elisabeth Sarah Martha Bartlett, daughter of the Rector of Kingston and the married on 10 September 1832. They couple had two children, but the second only survived two days and Elisabeth died shortly afterwards of typhus.

Oil Mills, Limekiln Street that were owned by Elizabeth's father. Dover Museum

Oil Mills, Limekiln Street that were owned by Elizabeth’s father. Dover Museum

Edward’s second marriage to Elizabeth Mary Moser Walker was on 15 June 1837 and took place at Eastry. She was the daughter of Robert Walker, Mayor in 1804 and 1818 and proprietor of the Dover Oil Mills in Limekiln Street. Superficially, not of a sufficiently high status, Elizabeth’s father was from the prestigious Walker brewing family and had many of the ‘right’ connections. They had seven children the eldest of which was Edward Wollaston Knocker, born in 1838.

The decade beginning with 1840 was one of severe economic depression with much turmoil across the Channel on the Continent. Both hardly touched Edward and his family, indeed his financial coffers continued to expand and he had opened a second practice in Hythe. This was in conjunction with his cousin, Edward Newman Knocker, who ran the Hythe office. If successful, they planned to open other offices in East Kent towns. In Dover in 1842, one of Edward’s relatives – Captain John Bedingfield Knocker – was the manager of the joint stock London & County bank in Snargate Street (the present Masonic Lodge).

Born in Dover in 1793, John joined the Royal Navy and rose to rank of captain. In 1822 he married Elizabeth Cox the daughter of banker in Harwich, taking this over when his father-in-law died. Eventually the bank was amalgamated with others to form the London & County bank and John undertook the management of the Dover branch. At the time there were two other banks in Dover – Fectors owned by John Minet Fector junior and Dover Union Bank owned by the Latham and Rice families.

 £5 note issued by Latham's Dover Union Bank c 1830. Courtesy of David Ryeland

£5 note issued by Latham’s Dover Union Bank c 1830. Courtesy of David Ryeland

In the past Lathams had leant heavily to the local industries especially the corn and paper mills but the economic depression was hitting the local economy hard. Some of the mill owners defaulted on repayments and this had put Lathams in a vulnerable position. Edward, along with his relative John Knocker and fellow solicitor, Edwin Elwin, hatched up a scheme to take the Lathams out and make a nice profit for themselves.

John Knocker, on behalf of the London County bank, made Henshaw Latham a token offer, which the banker refused. Then just before Christmas 1844, the three conspirators distributed a libellous pamphlet about the Lathams, which the local paper, the Dover Telegraph accepted as having some truth. This was followed, over the next two years by a strategy of death by short cuts and on 19 April 1846, Edwin Elwin issued a fiat causing the bank to collapse. The three conspirators did do financially well but the effect on Dover’s corn and paper mills and their workers was devastating.

South Eastern Railway line on trestles along Shakespeare Beach. Dover Library

South Eastern Railway line on trestles along Shakespeare Beach. Dover Library

As Clerk to the Paving Commission Edward, like many of his colleagues, cared little about the plight of the starving poor and the sick. Their attitude was that ‘they should have saved and there was always the workhouse.’ As a businessman, he actively supported the South Eastern Railway Company‘s proposal to connect Dover with London that was realised in 1843. For the people in the Pier district, whose homes were demolished to make way for the railway line, Edward cared little. That is, until Mayor William Clarke, (1845-6) set up the Dover Investment and Mutual Building Society – a Terminating Society and seeing it as another lucrative business scheme, Edward became the Secretary. It was not successful.

In 1842, Edwin Chadwick (1800-1890) produced a report on ‘The Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population,’ that led to the formation of the Health of Towns Association and ultimately the 1848 Public Health Act. The aim of the Act was to improve the sanitary conditions by placing the supply of water, sewerage, drainage, cleansing, paving and environmental health regulation under a single local body. In Dover, this was already the work of the Paving Commission and to bring about any change the Act required either a petition of one-tenth of the population who paid rates or a death rate in excess of 23 persons in one thousand. In either event an Inspector was appointed to conduct a local inquiry.

The death rate in Dover was below that which would have instigated a compulsory inquiry. Therefore, the question of adopting the Act was put to the males who paid rates in a show of hands. The proposal was overwhelmingly rejected and as one observer wrote, ‘the town took pride in the variety of smells which were generated in cesspools under the control of the Paving Commission.’ Albeit, two of Dover’s citizens, Alexander Bottle – a chemist, and Rowland Rees – a surveyor, continued to voice their concerns. This resulted in the resignation of the Paving Commission’s surveyor, John Hall and Rowland Rees, along with three other candidates applied for the job. Edward Gotto (1822-1897) was appointed.

Gotto immediately set to work and drafted a plan for a town drainage scheme but the Paving Commissioners put it aside as too expensive. This resulted in Bottle and Rees calling more public meetings and to quieten them a second referendum was called. This was held on 1 December 1848 and before voting both Bottle and Rees gave powerful speeches. So powerful were the speeches that the show of hands totally supported them. Prior to the referendum both men had instigated a Public Inquiry on the assumption they would win.  Four days later the Inquiry opened and was chaired by Robert Rawlinson (1810-1898), the great sanitary reformer.

Edward Knocker was one of the first to give evidence and made it clear that the Paving Commission were doing an excellent job and then went on to use the Inquiry as a way of having the cottages and hovels demolished near Castle Hill House. He said, ‘I have to order all the windows in my house to be closed on the side towards which the wind is blowing. I believe that I have myself been made very ill by the smell.’ On inspection, Rawlinson agreed, noting that the cottages were crowded together and relied on shared crude privies that did not have underground drains. The channels running down the narrow streets served as drains and were partially blocked with rotting food, animal and human faeces.

Dover Corporation Scavanger c1890. Dover Library

Dover Corporation Scavanger c1890. Dover Library

Rawlinson had read Gotto’s proposal and invited Edward to accompany him to inspect the area he complained about and other areas of the town in the light of Gotto’s draft report. One of the areas they went to was Worthington Lane (now Street). Again, there were no underground sewers but some houses did have crude privies but these were close to the dwellings. The contents of the privies were collected at night by the town scavengers employed by the Paving Commission. They collected the sewerage in large, lidless tubs and carried them in a cart to the harbour into which the tubs were emptied. Chamber pots were emptied by the householder into gutters and those householders who declined to pay the scavenger, also emptied their privies into the central gutters.

Larger and more affluent residences, including Castle Hill House and those in Castle Street, St James’ Street and Eastbrook Place, had cesspools. These were very close to the houses and if not emptied frequently overflowed into basements where the kitchens were. Again, there were those, mainly tenants living in these houses, who instead of paying for the scavengers to pump out the cess pools and dispose of the contents, did so themselves and deposited the contents in the gutters that ran down the centre of the streets!

Rawlinson was a persuasive teacher and during these perambulations around the town, changed Edward’s attitude totally – it was said by some that for Edward it was a ‘Road to Damascus’ experience.

During this time, Gotto had sort and acquired the post of Assistant Engineer to the Metropolitan Commissioners of Sewers and before the Rawlinson Report was published, had left Dover. The Paving Commission reconvened and particularly Councillor Steriker Finnis noted the change in Edward’s attitude. However, the Paving Commission voted not to adopt Rawlinson’s recommendations as too expensive. The post of Surveyor was advertised for which four candidates applied, one of which was Roland Rees. At the interview, held on 12 July 1849, he argued for the adoption of Rawlinson’s recommendations in full and Edward, seconded by Steriker Finnis proposed that Rees should be given the job. By a large majority Rees was and the council subsequently abolished the Paving Commission adopting the Public Health Act in 1850!

Over the next few years, Edward immersed himself in learning everything he could about all aspects of Public Health as well as joining and voicing his change of attitude on many of the town’s committees. One of the first philanthropic ventures he immersed himeself was the Boys’ Ragged School that opened on 1 January 1850 in Ladywell, where as a volunteer he helped in teaching. At the same time, he maintained his legal practice and helped the Town Clerk, Thomas Baker Bass – a solicitor with expertise in municipal law, compile a series of bylaws on public health.

Laureston Place with the original cobble stones and drainage system. Lorraine Sencicle 2010

Laureston Place with the original cobble stones and drainage system. Lorraine Sencicle 2010

Thomas Baker Bass was one of the founders of the Stilwell and Harby solicitors and was an expert in municipal law. Their work resulted in the municipal waterworks started in 1853 and the sewage scheme; both are part of Dover’s present day’s systems. The by-laws led to the roads were being surfaced with cobble, gravel and some with hard wood paving. Proper drains were laid at the side of the roads and an example of one of these early drains can still be seen in Laureston Place.

In 1856 the Dover Gas Company bought the Fector town mansion, which stood on the seaside of St James Street. They sold much of the land for redevelopment and demolished the fine Regency residence in order to build a large gasholder. Workmen were digging the foundations when and about 20-foot (6 metres) down they came across a framework of stout oak skilfully dovetailed together. Edward offered to look at the find on his way home for lunch and it was expected that he would give a cursory glance and the workmen could get on with digging the gasholder foundations.

Edward arrived, peered down the hole and went home – to get changed. Over the next few weeks, he oversaw the excavation of the find, laboriously noting and measuring all the aspects. The following account is a précis: ‘it was constructed of four longitudinal beams on each side, about a foot square, laid upon one another. From each of these beams traverse ones were placed, at a distance of eleven feet apart. About 100 feet in length were dug out, being cut off at each end, and thus proving that it extended further on either side. The frame had a slight incline downwards towards the river, with which it lay at a right angle. The timber, though discoloured by water, was as sound as when first used. Though strongly built, this novel structure had but few bolts or pegs.’

The discovery excited both local and national interest and it was concluded that the structure was laid down ‘by the Romans as a hard or roadway to and from their landing place on what was a boggy shore, and it must have been constructed at least 1,500 years ago.’ In other words it was a massive Roman quay!

Although Edward’s attitude towards the health, social and historic aspects of Dover had changed dramatically, he still had a head for business and the real estate side remained successful. In 1846, he was one of the solicitors involved in the disposal of Farthingloe Manor and 500 acres of land. He was solicitor responsible for the disposal of the large Leacon Hall estate, near Ashford in 1855 and in 1860 the Rose Inn, Folkestone. Albeit, in May 1858, he and Edward Newman Knocker dissolved their partnership and the latter moved to west Kent.

On a personal level, Edward’s wife Elizabeth, who had become increasing disable with chronic rheumatism, died on 11 October 1859. The doctor wrote, ‘All her tissues were atrophied,’ she was 53. That same year, Thomas Baker Bass, Town Clerk and Edward’s mentor died. Edward was devastated and threw himself into his new found interests.

By 1860, Edward was the Clerk of the Local Board of Health, Register and Clerk of Dover Castle, Seneschal of the Grand Court of Shepway of the Cinque Ports, Registrar of St James’ Burial Board, Clerk of the Commissioners of Property and Income Tax, Treasurer of the Dover and Barham Turnpike Trust, Treasurer of Dover Hospital (later Royal Victoria Hospital), Treasurer of the Church Missionary Society and Treasurer of the British and Foreign Sailors Society (Seamen’s Mission).

On Thomas Baker Bass’ death, Edward was elected Dover’s Town Clerk and almost immediately was using his legal expertise to deal with two separate local problems. The results of both have had lasting consequences. The first case, also set a national precedence and concerned uncontrolled development that was taking place on Military Hill.

Military Hill where the confrontation between the council and the military that Edward took up and won setting a national legal precedence. Alan Sencicle 2009

Military Hill where the confrontation between the council and the military that Edward took up and won setting a national legal precedence. Alan Sencicle 2009

From the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815), much of Western Heights was under the jurisdiction of the military. Outside of the military establishment perimeters but on land under military jurisdiction a ‘red light’ slum serving the ‘needs‘ of the garrison had developed. The occupiers did not pay rates to the military or the council. About 1855, near the foot of Military Hill, on military land the council had authorised the building of terraces that complied with the standards set by Robert Rawlinson. For these dwellings, the military charged the council ‘rent’ and the council refused to pay. In response, the military authorised that the newly laid road, with water and sewerage pipes underneath, be smashed using heavy gun carriages. This, was in compliance with the legally accepted view that it was the military’s right as owners of the land.

This was the situation when Edward was appointed Town Clerk but with the council’s blessing, he decided to challenge this perceived right through the courts but as the victim. Using the council’s powers under the Public Health Act, he ordered the water mains and drains to be re-laid and to be covered with a sufficiently strong road surface to take the weight of the heavy gun carriages. Then he sent the bill to the War Office. They retaliated by increasing the rent they charged for the site, which Edward ignored. Thus, as Edward hoped, the War Office started legal proceedings. In court Edward argued that the council had the power, under the Public Health Act, to carry out the duties the Act prescribed. This was accepted and the successful challenge set precedence throughout the country!

Pencester Road by Mary Horsley 1893. Dover Museum

Pencester Road by Mary Horsley 1893. Dover Museum

The second case was local affair but set the tone of the council’s stance up to World War I (1914-1918). What became Pencester Road was started as a track by William Moxon to provide egress into Biggin Street from his estate at Brook House. A make shift bridge was built across the Dour and Moxon applied for permission to build houses along both sides of the track and a permanent bridge. This was agreed and in return, the council would lay the water and sewerage system and surface the lane into a road. Moxon was a highly thought of civil engineer brought in by the council to create Dover’s waterworks and the sewerage system. However, in December 1860, his company was wound up and everything he owned, including Brook House, was sold at auction. The money raised went to his creditors, which included the council.

The new owners, who were former creditors, started building villas along Pencester Road but there was no agreement as to who should pay for the laying of the road or the building of the bridge. Edward, using powers under the Public Health Act, had the road completed and the bridge built. He then sent the creditors/developers the bill for road and bridge, which they refused to pay. Therefore, he claimed, on behalf of the council, full ownership of the road, bridge and villas leaving the other creditors to claim them back through the courts – they did not!

Supporting Edward throughout all of this and taking over the public works following the demise of Moxon, was Rowland Rees, but he was also running his own private practice. At that time this was allowed, but in 1860, the council gave Rees the option of working full time for them or to resign. They gave him six months to make up his mind. During this time, the government introduced the Harbour Act of 1861 that created a new Harbour Board superseding the Harbour Commission set up in 1606. Rees was offered the post as Engineer, Architect and Receiver of Rents as well retaining his private practice – and he took it.

Edward was saddened to loose his right-hand man, especially as the demands on his time and expertise continued to escalate. The Lord Warden, James Andrew Broun-Ramsay, 1st Marquess of Dalhousie, born 1812 died on 19 December 1860. Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston (1784- 1865) and Prime Minister, was appointed and as the Seneschal of the Cinque Ports it was up to Edward to arrange the new Lord Warden’s investiture.

Bredenstone - the ancient Roman Paros on Western Heights. Dover Museum

Bredenstone – the ancient Roman Paros on Western Heights. Dover Museum

From 1668, formal installations had taken place on Western Heights  by the Bredenstone  – ancient Roman Pharos – but this had ceased when the Heights becoming a military zone. Further, the investitures no longer had the grandeur they once enjoyed due to the increasing demise of the Cinque Ports. Ideally, Edward wanted to reintroduce the magnificent ceremonies but due to the perceived threat of Napoleon III (1852-1870) extensive works had been started on the Heights in October 1859 and were not completed. At a meeting of the Court Shepway, the other Cinque Ports called for the installation to be low keyed and to take place in their towns but Edward successfully argued that Dover was the supreme port and that the full ancient ceremony should be revived.

The installation of the Lord Palmerston as Lord Warden in1861. Dover Museum

The installation of the Lord Palmerston as Lord Warden in1861. Dover Museum

The installation took place on 29 August 1860 and as the Lord Warden was/is also the Constable of Dover Castle. This part of the investiture was carried out at the Castle first. Then a grand procession of dignitaries in their full regalia walked down the hill from the Castle, along Castle Street and ‘was marshalled and toiled up the hills to the conspicuous Heights from which the noon gun was fired, and the ceremony of the inauguration having been performed.’ The ceremony took place in the Drop Redoubt where the works had exposed the Bredenstone buried by the earlier Napoleonic fortifications. This was used as the central focus of the ceremony and the area around was draped in sumptuous apparel with limited seating provided. The entourage then traipsed down the hill to the Maison Dieu where they enjoyed a grand banquet in the Stone Hall paid for by Edward.

Dover Trefoil shaped Coat of Arms. Dover Museum

Dover Trefoil shaped Coat of Arms. Dover Museum

To add to and emphasise the supremacy of Dover over the other Cinque Ports, Edward introduced and paid for the Dover Corporation trefoil shape Device adopted by Dover Corporation up until 1974 and by Dover Town Council in 1996. Designed by William Courthope (1807-1866) the Registrar of the College of Arms, the bottom left is the traditional Cinque Ports vessel with a forecastle, poop etc. and the bottom right, the story of St Martin. These are cheekily surmounted by the shield of the Cinque Ports! Finally, to add even more weight to Dover’s supremacy over the other Cinque Ports, he paid for the former Lord Wardens shields that decorate the Stone Hall. The designs were supplied by and carried out by local artist and later photographer, Edward Sclater.

Lord Palmerston died in 1865 and was succeeded by George Leveson Gower, 2nd Earl Granville, (1815-1891). Although the other Cinque Ports agreed that the installation should again be a splendid affair, they could not agree as to the financing or where it should be held. Consequently, the Earl was never formally installed! Following the debacle, Edward took legal proceedings to ensured that in future the ceremony would follow the 1860 format. This has been retained excepting the installation of the Lord Warden on Western Heights, which ceased in 1891 and has since been held in the grounds of Dover College.

Edward resigned as Town Clerk in 1868 and his son Wollaston, was unanimously voted to succeed him. On retirement Edward presented the town with the Mayor’s ‘Wand of Office’ a white painted wooden staff with silver gilt Crown finial and a silver gilt ferrule to the base. It is now only used on ceremonial occasions. He was immediately appointed to the position of Alderman on the council and busied himself cataloguing, co-ordinating and writing about Dover’s Borough Records.

Edward Knocker, Mayor 1870 in the new robe. Dover Museum

Edward Knocker, Mayor 1870 in the new robe. Dover Museum

Then, on 9 November 1870, Edward was elected Mayor and shortly before a new mayor’s  robe had been ordered. Edward wore this when he was one of the guests of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) when she opened the Royal Albert Hall, London, on 18 March 1871. The robe was described as being ‘a superb garment of crimson silk, purple velvet bands, silk tassels with sable trimming.’

During his Mayoral year, Edward set another legal precedence. Since the days of Henry VIII (1509-1547), St Mary’s Church parishioners had elected their vicar. This had not been an edifying occasion and Edward moved that the selection should be placed in a public trust. Canon Puckle, the incumbent vicar, who suggested that the patronage should be vested in the Lord Warden, the Lord Lieutenant of Kent and the Archbishop of Canterbury, endorsed his argument. This came to pass and still holds today.

During that year, the Lord Warden, Earl Granville opened Dover College, with the Mayor and Corporation taking a leading part in the proceedings. Not long after Edward went to London on business and much to everyone’s surprise, came back with his third wife! He was 66 years old and his wife, Jane Celia Bayley Dames, was 31. They subsequently had three children.

Edward Knocker - Archives of the Cinque Port and Borough of Dovor 25.04 1878. Dover Library

Edward Knocker – Archives of the Cinque Port and Borough of Dovor 25.04 1878. Dover Library

Edward’s interest in local history was unabated and he was elected President of the Dover Propriety Library, above Hills coachworks, Castle Street. In 1874, he was elected the Town’s Honorary Librarian and on 23 April 1877 gave a lengthy antiquarian address to a packed Stone Hall. The lecture was on the History and Traditions of the Municipality of Dover and remains the leading authority on the subject.

Prior to the 1881 census, Edward and his young family had moved to Ventnor, Isle of Wight but he returned to Dover on 25 August 1883 and gave a lecture, again to a packed house, in the newly built Connaught Hall. The subject was ‘The Regalia of the Corporation of Dover.’ This was revised and expanded by his son Wollaston in 1898.

On Christmas Day 1883, Edward died in Torquay his body was returned to Dover and buried in the family vault at Cowgate cemetery.

  • Published:
  • Dover Mercury: 29 September, 06, 13 and 20 October 2011



About Lorraine

I am a local historian, whose love of Dover has lead to decades of research into some of the lesser known tales that this famous and beautiful town has to tell.
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