A couple of weeks ago the top-hatted figure of William Tyler Smith was seen at Seaford Railway Station to welcome dignitaries who were arriving on a special train to mark the 150th anniversary of the railway arriving in the town.
Bearing in mind he was born in 1815, he was looking remarkably fit for his age.
Tyler Smith was born in Bristol and despite his humble beginnings, became an eminent surgeon and the person who put Seaford ‘on the map’.
He studied at Bristol School of Medicine, qualifying as an apothecary in 1839 and as a doctor the following year.
In 1841, he was the Vaccinator for a part of Bristol but resigned the post in May, when he moved to London.
In September that year, he married Tryphena Yearsley of Cheltenham and gave his address as Vigo Street (off Regent Street) London.
Tyler Smith survived the move to London by writing to supplement his income as a doctor.
In 1845, he founded the Medical Directory.
He also contributed to The Lancet and was soon on the editorial staff.
When St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington was opened in 1851, Tyler Smith was appointed its obstetric physician and, in 1859, was admitted as a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.
By this time, he was taking his holidays in Seaford.
In 1856, Dr William Tyler Smith gave evidence at a meeting at Seaford Town Hall in South Street which was called by Alfred Dickens, a commissioner of the General Board of Health.
There was a discussion about the lack of drains in the town and Tyler Smith complained that the town in its present state was ‘not safe’.
Despite the state of the drainage, Tyler Smith obviously liked Seaford and, in the summer of 1857, he bought some land at the Crouch Field and built two villas.
The same year he was one of eight local land owners in the newly established “Seaford Improvement Committee”.
The aim of the committee was to improve the beach, plant tamarisk on the green, lay out walks, increase the number of bathing machines and ‘to render the town as attractive as possible’.
The following year, he was elected to become a Freeman and Jurat (magistrate) for Seaford although it is clear that he was still living in London and in 1860 Tyler Smith became the president of the Obstetrics Society.
In 1861 he was elected Bailiff (Mayor) of Seaford. He was also Bailiff in 1864, the year that the railway finally arrived in the town.
Tyler Smith had sold land for the building of the railway but as well as a doctor he was also an astute businessman and benefited from the new link to London.
He built the Terminus Hotel (now the Shore pub) opposite the station and the magnificent terraces in Pelham Road.
He also re-built the Assembly Room, Bath House and Billiard Room on the seafront.
He certainly benefitted from the railway, which of course also made his journey from Seaford to London much easier.
The land between Steyne Road and the seafront was known as the Beame Lands and had been given to the people of Seaford by Elizabeth I on May 30th, 1592.
Although this land was frequently flooded, it was the scene of many local community events, including the site of the annual Seaford bonfire celebrations.
In 1864, Tyler Smith managed to secure a lease of this land for 299 years.
This caused outrage among many people in Seaford who worried (quite rightly) that this important ‘village green’ would be developed.
Obviously, Tyler Smith had undue influence within Seaford Council but he also agreed to build a groyne to help prevent the town from flooding.
He told the council that he would pay them rent of £100 for the first four years and that the annual ground rent of £1 for each property built would be made payable to the council.
At a heated council meeting in April, 1864, Tyler Smith set out his business case saying that his developments would help Seaford to become “one of the most important seacoast towns on the south coast of England”.
Not everyone agreed with the plans. Thomas Crook had moved to Seaford in 1861 building a grand house Telsemeure on the seafront. Crook was also a speculator and introduced gas to the town in 1863.
Crook and Tyler Smith did not get on and the author George Meredith parodied their dislike in a book ‘House on the Beach’, Seaford being thinly disguised as the town of ‘Crickswich’.
Tyler Smith’s plan to develop the Beamlands began and his groyne was built but it wasn’t a success.
Within a few months it had been destroyed by high tides.
Doctor William Tyler Smith, one of the founding fathers of modern Seaford died in 1873 while walking along the River Thames at Richmond.
He was buried in a large grave that can still be seen in the graveyard of St Peter’s Church, East Blatchington.
My thanks to Mavis Brinkley for sharing with me her research into the good doctor. She was pleased that he was resurrected for the railway celebrations but disappointed that he was referred to as the Reverend William Tyler Smith.
This title as erroneously attributed to him by the railway historian RW Kidner in 1979 but whatever his title we still have a lot to thank him for.