John Yearsley

By Steve Myall

The first mention of John Yearsley is in the 1833 Brighton Directory, where under the Municipal Guide, coming after magistrates and clerk to the High Constable, he is one of eight men listed as Headboroughs. This was an old long-established office with officials elected annually, "to act occasionally for the preservation of the peace, in keeping public houses in order, and on special occasions".  Bearing in mind our particular interest in Mr. Yearsley is centered around the late 1840s, this earlier position of responsibility indicates he was an established figure in the town.

By the late 1840s Yearsley was involved with a number of properties in our area. Joy Moore in her essay held in the History Centre, mentions Yearsley’s partnership in the Eagle Foundry, the building by him of 5 Clifton Hill and of Clifton Villa (7 Clifton Hill) in which he lived, and of Grove Villa – 4 Powis Villas - his final home. Joy Moore lived at 28 Montpelier Street, and found further investments in the area by Yearsley mentioned in her deeds, she writes:-

"In 1849 the owner of my house, John Yearsley, paid off the mortgage which Stephen Davey held. The next door house, No. 27, was also listed in the 1848 ratebook as belonging to Yearsley, not Stephen Davey as in 1846; perhaps a similar transaction took place". 

Yearsley was a partner with Robert Williams in an ironmonger’s and foundry business known as Williams and Yearsley's Eagle Foundry, which was at the bottom of Gloucester Road. The partnership also ran an ironmonger’s shop at 26 North Street, listed in Leppard's Directory in 1839.

The large Victoria Fountain at the southern end of the Steine, designed by A.H. Wilds and erected in 1846 to commemorate the Queen's 27th birthday, was cast by the Eagle Foundry, under Yearsley's ownership. They charged £989 16s 7d to cast the fountain and £114. 7s  6d for setting it in place, most of which was raised by public subscription.

In 1851 John Yearsley is recorded as owning a small plot of land, 3 rods, up near Queens Park, between what is now Richmond Street and Sussex Street. He paid 7 shillings and 6 pence rate to the vicar.  By 1851 he is a trustee of the Brighton & Hove Benefit Building Society, and in 1852 was on the committee appointed to report on the disposal of the Church Hill Workhouse and its replacement on Elm Grove.

John Yearsley died in 1857 and his widow Julia continued to live in the family home, which was held in trust by his brother William. John had two daughters, the eldest called Jane, and her sister Julia named after her mother. This youngest daughter Julia married Richard John Cheesman Taaffe, whose father Richard P.B. Taaffe, was one of the founders of the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital, and is listed under medical practitioners as living at 45 Old Steine.  

John had come close to death in 1848, with an illness that was reported in the Brighton Gazette, and a copy of this local article was published in The Times of October 21st 1848. While acting as the foreman of a jury at the Lewes Sessions he was suddenly seized with ‘a fit of apoplexy’. The surgeon who attended him fully expected that he would not make it through the night, but in the morning he was able to ask questions ‘indicating that he had no recollection whatever of what had passed subsequent to the attack’.

In John Yearsley’s will the wider family is mentioned. He had an aunt, Anne Weaver, a sister, Sarah Yearsley, and a niece, presumably William’s daughter, Mary Yearsley. All his real estate and personal estate was left to his brother William in trust to invest in ‘public funds and government securities, his wife to enjoy the same for life and after her death for any children by her to be divided equally. . ‘  Maybe his wife was that much younger that he could imagine her marrying again as a widow. He also gave £1,000 to his brother ‘as a mark of my affectionate regard for him’. The will was dated 5th January 1854 and valued his personal estate at £6,000. William Yearsley died just three years after his brother, on 19th August 1860.

This page was added on 15/04/2011.

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