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CHARLES HEATH OF MONMOUTH, AUTHOR,
PRINTER, AND PUBLISHER
NOTES BY WILLIAM HAINES
CHARLES HEATH of Monmouth, Printer, was born at Hurcott, near Kidderminster, Worcestershire, in the year 1761, and at an early age settled in the town of Monmouth as a printer during the latter part of the eighteenth century.
In a printed note on the cover of his Excursion Down the Wye, 1808, he says he had then been resident at Monmouth twenty years, so that, approximately speaking, this would fix his going there about 1788. Being endowed with a mind naturally observant, he soon found numerous objects in unison with his antiquarian taste in the county to employ his mind and printing-press, and, to use his own phraseology :-"A parent the most solicitous for the
happiness of a favourite child could not more assiduously labour to promote its welfare than was he, in endeavouring to advance the local interest of his publications.” He appears to have made his first attempt at sending through his press An Account of Some Portions of the Scenery of the Wye in the year 1795, and it is interesting to note that he combined the threefold character of author printer and publisher. I will here again quote his remarks in his preface to The Excursion Down the Wye, edition of 1799, where he says :-" I printed in the year 1795 an account of some of the writers on the river Wye, which I intended prefacing with notices of The Man of Ross'.” However, it does
, not seem quite clear what accounts or works he refers
to as having printed. In that year (1795) he issued from his printing-press in the Market Place, Monmouth, A Description of Peresfield and Chepstow, a copy of which edition is now before me, and it is particularly interesting, being, I suppose, the first edition of his first book; and by a printed note on the cover at the end, he says : -"Just published (according to the plan of this part), price 2s. 6d., neatly done up in blue paper, A Descriptive Account of Ï'intern
, Abbey"; and below, “ Also preparing for publication, A Description of Ragland Castle, from New Material and Local Information, to which will be added Abergavenny Castle,” etc.
On turning to his Ragland Castle, I find he began to collect materials for his account of that place and the neighbourhood in the year 1792, just three years previously to the publication of his first work before referred to. He successively wrote, printed, and published his Account of Tintern Abbey—The Excursion Down the Wye from Ross to Monmouth, Wilton and Goodrich Castles, Courtfield, New Weir; The Swift Family, with Memoirs of the Man of Ross-Historical and Descriptive Accounts of the Town and Castle of Chepstow and Peresfield-Peresfield, Chepstow, Caerwent, the Passages, and the Road to Bristol and Gloucester - Ragland Castle, The Kymin Pavilion, Beaulieu Grove—The Naval Temple and Buckstone, with an Account of Lord Nelson's Visit to MonmouthA History of the Town of Monmouth, both in 8vo and 4to sizes (1804), and (reprinted from a MS. copy) a rare Tract, lent him by the celebrated Actor, Mr. Waldron, entitled “ Lamentable News out of Monmouthshire in Wales, containing the most wonderful and most fearful accidents of the great overflowing of waters in the saide Countye, Drowning infinite numbers of Cattell of all kinds, as Sheepe, Oxen, Kine, and Horses, with others, together with the losse of many men, women and children and the submersion of xxvI
Parishes in January, 1607 (rude woodcut follows). London : Printed for W. W., and are to be solde in Paul's Churchyarde, at the signe of the Greyhound."
He also wrote and printed “An Account of the Presentation of Colors to the Monmouth Volunteers, by Her Grace the Duchess of Beaufort,” in the year 1799. The last named is, no doubt, one of his most scarce books, and it is highly probable only a limited number were printed to commemorate the event. Of this pamphlet there is no copy in the British Museum, nor have I ever seen it in any of our public libraries, or catalogued by secondhand booksellers, and the only one I have ever seen is that in possession of Mr. Bickerton H. Deakin, of Monmouth, who kindly allowed me to reprint 100 copies in the year 1901. The company referred to was a mounted company and was called "The Patriotic Band,” raised by the local gentry when this nation was the subject of menace by our French neighbours. Similar bodies were raised in other towns-one in Chepstow, so Heath tells us. The author has recorded in this pamphlet the names of those enrolled, and it is of immense interest at the present day to note that the ancient Borough still claims residents who are descendants of that patriotic band in the names of Hyam, Prosser, Dyke, Griffin, Tyler, Powell, Powles, Stephens and Tippings, and there
may be others I cannot identify for want of local knowledge. Equally interesting too is his account of the state of the roads in and around Monmouth anterior to the coming of the Turnpike Acts. The author goes on to record that “Mr. Capel Hanbury of Ponty pool was the first gentleman of landed fortune who visited Monmouth in his own private carriage and it required a considerable portion of courage to accomplish the undertaking; for such was the state of the roads though the distance was but 21 miles that it occupied from 8 o'clock in the morning till 5 in the evening,
attended also by a number of labourers who acted as pioneers to open gates, pull down hedges to make ways to perform the journey.” No less interesting is that of the visit of the immortal Hero of the NileLord Nelson-on the 2nd August, 1802, when he and his party were feted by the Corporation.
Mr. Heath's works ran through a number of editions (thirteen or more) and continue to interest the student of topographical pursuits, but all are now very rare, especially his Monmouth set in 4to, the only copy of which I have ever seen is my own.
I am also the fortunate possessor of his Monmouth 8vo, which was the property of Sir Richard Colt Hoare, with an impression of his crest in the binding; also a copy of his Tintern which was the author's gift copy to the Duke of Clarence (afterwards William IV); and also the reprint of his Tract, Lamentable News, etc., and copies of all his many other works before referred to.
With his delightful quaintness of expression it is sometimes difficult to suppress a smile.
All the same his works on the whole still rank amongst the best topographical accounts of Monmouthshire and they always have possessed for me a great fascination.
Much of his information respecting Mr. John Kyrle, “The Man of Ross,” he acquired from a venerable old man named William Dobbs, aged 84, who was a resident of the town of Ross, and who remembered the Man of Ross perfectly well; from Mrs. Prosser, Mr. William Wyrhhall of English Bicknor, and Mrs. Clarke of the Hill, the three last named persons being relatives of the Man of Russ. Mr. Heath enjoyed the friendship also of the late Dr. Griffin of Hadnock, William Jones Esq., of Clytha, Mr. D. Tregoze of Raglan, and a host of other literary residents, and families of distinction in this county, from whom he was able to set on record much that is particularly interesting and valuable of a local character, that would otherwise have died with
Mr. Heath is the only one to my knowledge who has printed that laughable ballad on Happy Dick,” the first lines of which run :
“How comes it, neighbour Dick,
with taste uncommon
Happy Dick was the term by which Richard Jones, Esquire, the owner and the occupier of the Dingestow Court Estate, was familiarly known. Heath goes on to say that “ he was much in appearance
“ of the ancient Yeomanry of England, he was a fine athletic figure, stood 6ft. 3in. high and well proportioned, fond of the amusements of the country, and an excellent shot.” In the latter part of his life he married Miss Milborne of Wonastow, a maiden
, lady aged 60, with £10,000, whom he survived, and having sold the Dingestow Court Estate to Mr. Duberley, with part of the purchase-money Mr. Catchmayd of Monmouth, Attorney, bought him an annuity “with which he retired from the world and went to live at Usk,” where he built himself a house and, Heath adds, “No one sang the ballad more lustily than Mr. Jones himself at convivial meetings at Monmouth.” Mr. Jones left an only daughter by a former marriage who was, at the time Heath wrote, resident at Ghent. Mr. Jones died and was buried at Usk, and the following is a copy of the inscription on his tomb :
Underneath lyeth the body of RICHARD JONES, Esq., late of Dingestow, who died in this Town ye 17th day of July, 1769, in the 67th
of his age.”
The Dingestow Court Estate was subsequently sold by Mr. Duberley to Mr. Bosanquet, ancestor of the present Squire. The author of the ballad referred to was a Mr. Gwynn, second Master of the Grammar School, Monmouth. He was also the author of some lines on Sir Charles Hanbury Williams of Coldbrook Park,
6TH SER. VOL. XII.