My Sussex Bartlett Family History


My middle name is Bartlett; so is my father’s; and my grandfather’s; and my great grandfather’s too. But we never knew where the name had come from. It was only after my Dad died that we decided to research his family side that we were able to put a name and a story to this Bartlett. It turned out to be a sad story.

Bartletts in Seaford

These Bartletts came from Seaford in Sussex. Seaford is an old Sussex sea port, one of the ancient "cinque ports" recognized for the defense of England against French raiders. It even had a Bartlett connection at one time. John Bartelot of the county represented the borough in Parliament in the 15th century. But by the 18th century, it was one of those "rotten boroughs" in England where representation could be bought for a fee.

Smuggling provided perhaps the most excitement for the Seaford inhabitants at that time, as this newspaper account from 1783 reveals:

“There is a most convenient port, about a mile from Seaford, for smugglers to land their goods. And so daring have they become that a dozen or more cutters may frequently be seen laying to on an open day. On Tuesday evening, between two and three hundred smugglers on horseback came to Cuckmere and received various kinds of goods from the boats until at last the whole number were laden. Then, in defiance of the King’s men, they went their way in triumph. About a week before this, upwards of three hundred attended at the same place. And though the sea ran mountains high, the daring men in their cutters made good the landing, to the surprise of everybody, and the men on horseback took all away.”

There was in Seaford a house named Corsica House, built by a Mr. Whitfield who had made a fortune from the smuggling of Corsican wines. However, news of his activities in time reached the Government and he had to flee the country.

I can trace my own Bartletts in this village from the 1770's. An Edward Bartlett and his wife Mary had three sons there, John, Betty, and Edward. Their eldest, John, married Lucy Hasting Teeling in Seaford in 1813 and they had six children, the third-born (in 1821) being a daughter Amelia.

In Brighton

Whether the Bartletts had had any involvement in smuggling is unknown. In any case, it was less of a business as the 19th century proceeded. In the 1830's, John moved his family from Seaford ten miles down the coast to Brighton. He worked there as a shoemaker on Montpelier Road and his wife sought to supplement their income as a nurse.

What kind of town had they come to? It was a fashionable town and a booming one. Sea air and salt water had been recommended by doctors as a health tonic; and once the Prince Regent had started coming there in the 1780’s, Brighton became a gathering place for London’s high society. The Prince built his Royal Pavilion in the town to the design of the Taj Mahal. White stucco buildings in the Regency style soon sprung up on the Old Steine and stretched along Marine Parade and the King’s Road as far as Hove. The Chain Pier was completed in 1823 and became a great attraction. By 1841, the small fishing village of Brighthelmstone with a population of 3,500 in 1781 had blossomed to the thriving town of Brighton with 45,000 inhabitants.

But there was an underside to this growth. Behind the fashionable facade, the town’s backstreets, hemmed in on two sides by sharply rising hills, became more and more crowded. Here the houses were for the most part ill-ventilated, badly drained, and often so damp that the walls were covered in lichens. By the 1850’s, Brighton had some of the worst slums in England.

Somewhere in these tenements lived Amelia Bartlett and her future husband Charles Shelley. Charles had come to Brighton from Alfriston in 1841, seeking to ply his trade as a tailor. We find him at 26 William Street off Edward Street and then at 4 North Lane Cottages, nearby what is the present junction of North Road and Queen’s Road.

Marriage and Early Death

He had by then met Amelia Bartlett and on June 17, 1845 they married. The marriage ceremony was performed at St Nicholas’s Church, high up on the hill overlooking the old town. Amelia’s older brother, Edward, and a friend witnessed the marriage. What is astounding to the present-day mind is that neither Amelia nor Edward could write and both had to affix an X, their mark, to the marriage document.

Their married life was characterized by poverty, children, and ultimately tragedy. The first son, Charles Robert Bartlett (CRB), was born in April 1846, followed by John Bartlett, Kathleen Ellen Bartlett, Mary Ann Bartlett, and Walter Bartlett between 1848 and 1852. But the unsanitary conditions in which they were living took its toll. The cholera epidemic claimed the children one by one, except the first-born, and then Amelia herself at the age of 32 in 1854.

By that time, they had moved from North Lane Cottages, which had been condemned and were soon to be pulled down, to tenements nearby, first in Kensington Gardens and then in Richmond Buildings across from Grand Parade. Amelia’s mother Lucy had moved in with them to tend to the sick. But she herself did not last much longer and died, probably worn out, in 1857.

My great grandfather, Charles Robert Bartlett Shelley, survived and he became in time a shrewd and successful businessman. He waited until he was financially secure before he married and, unusually for Victorians, they only had two children. Whether this was planned or for lack of love it is hard to say. But just maybe he was affected by the trauma of his childhood. Perhaps he put such a deep attachment on his departed mother so that no other woman could approach her. He commemorated her name in his son and this Bartlett name was passed down from my grandfather to my father to me.

Amelia Bartlett's Family Tree