KEVIN GORDON An epitaph of bridges and beer

Kevin gordon
Kevin gordon

One of my talks that I give to History Societies, Women’s Institutes etc is about the gravestones of Sussex and, despite the gloomy subject it seems to be quite popular!

During the talk I show people a couple of my favourite gravestones, including that of Thomas Tipper in a graveyard at Newhaven.

The gravestone shows the first bridge over the River Ouse at Newhaven and a verse which gives us an insight into the man. “READER, with kind regard this GRAVE survey / Nor heedless pass where TIPPER’S ashes lay / Honest he was, ingenious, blunt and kind / And dared do what few dare do - speak his mind / PHILOSOPHY and HISTORY well he knew / Was versed in PHYSICK and SURGERY too / The best old STINGO he both brewed and sold / Nor did one knavish act to get his gold / He played through life a varied comic part / And knew immortal Hudibras by heart / Reader, in real truth such was the man / Be better, wiser, laugh more if you can!

Hudibras was a royalist poem about the English Civil War written by Samuel Butler (1613-1680).

I love the beautiful carving and the humorous epitaph which not only shows he was clever, fun but was also so much of a businessman that he even advertised Old Stingo - his best beer which was called “Newhaven Tipper”. Old Stingo was a generic term for strong beer.

Once Old Stingo was served to the guests at Compton Place in Eastbourne and a couple of hours after the ladies (Misses Cavendish) had retired to bed, the servants had to be sent out into the grounds of the mansion to retrieve unconscious guests and drag them to the nearby stables where at least they could sleep off their drunkenness under cover.

Tipper was born in Cocking, West Sussex, in 1731 and by the age of 30 was living in Newhaven and brewing beer. His brewery was close to the river, just south of where the Bridge Inn is now situated. Every September he would travel across East Sussex during the hop harvest presumably to buy the core material for his trade. He was also a local exciseman, an amateur lawyer, surgeon and even a musician (he once entertained his friend Thomas Turner, a shop-keeper from East Hoathly on the “German Flute” ). We are lucky that Thomas Turner kept an account of his life in a revealingly honest diary between 1754 and 1765. He was not only friends with Tipper but also something of a drinker too. Indeed he regularly visited Tipper at Newhaven. On one occasion he left East Hoathly at 5am in order to breakfast with Tipper.

The two men inspected the local fortifications (The new Lunette Battery built to protect the entrance to Newhaven Harbour) and returned to Tippers home for a lunch which contsisted of boiled leg of lamb, lobster, white cabbage and green salad followed by a gooseberry pie and hot baked rice pudding.

On 29th May, 1763, Tipper and Turner went to Seaford where they had tea which cost 6d. The two men had to pay a penny each for the ferry across the Ouse at Newhaven.

The fact that there was no bridge across the river until Lewes must have irked Tipper because he was one of the driving forces to replace the ferry with a bridge.

Trustees for the bridge met at his pub, the New Inn. On Thursday 23rd December 1784 the bridge opened. It was originally a toll bridge, so presumably Tipper eventually got back some of his investment. As the Ouse was busy with traffic the bridge had to be raised to allow sailing ships to pass. It was a bascule bridge. similar in design to Tower Bridge and was designed by John Plaw (1745-1820) of London.

On 7th January, 1764, a meeting was held in Newhaven to appoint a Toll-Keeper. (Did this mean for the first few days passage was free?) He had to be literate as he had to produce his application in writing and I was amused to read that when on duty he had to provide his own candle. At the same meeting the amount of compensation to be paid to the proprietor of the old ferry (Henry Bates) was also discussed.

Thomas Tipper died on the 14th May, 1795, aged 54 years, his bridge, beer and brains all deemed to be worthy of inclusion on his gravestone. His bridge stood for a century but unfortunately a few years ago his tombstone was damaged, however in 1993 it was listed and may it stand for many years to come. Oh and reader - take note of the last line of his epitaph - Be wise and laugh more if you can!