Stileman, Richard (1787 - 1844)

by Malcolm Pratt

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Six years later Richard was back in Winchelsea where the early deaths of the older generation had left him at the age of 22 as head of the family. An 1809 militia return certainly lists him, as 'gentleman', a description clearly arising from his wealth and social position.

In the following year Stileman was serving, along with his friend William Denne who also came from Winchelsea, as a captain commanding a company of the Cinque Ports Militia. Such appointments were at that time readily available for active and personable sons of leading county families regardless of military experience. In that capacity Captain Stileman was invited to Walmer Castle by the Lord Warden, the Earl of Liverpool, who later became the country's long-serving prime minister. On that occasion, rather embarrassingly for Stileman, Dick Holt re-entered his life. As Lord Liverpool and his guests were about to sit down in the Walmer Castle drawing room a servant appeared and announced that there was a woman who wished to speak to Captain Stileman. This woman, in great distress, told him that Dick Holt had been press-ganged and taken on board the guard ship in The Downs. Please would Captain Stileman speak up on Dick's behalf. On approaching the ship's captain the following day Stileman was told that 'the orders are so strict and the government so uncompromising that it would be useless.' Nevertheless he would try. There was no happy outcome. Dick was sent to 'serve His Majesty' on a naval vessel. Stileman saw Dick just once more, a chance encounter at Boulogne. By that time Dick was following in his father's footsteps as a smuggler and offered safe passage for anything that Stileman would like taken to England. The offer was declined. Next day Dick was again seized and on that occasion put on a ship bound for Africa. Despite realising that probably nothing could have been done to save his friend from himself and his lifestyle, Stileman could not help feeling guilty that he had not attempted to do more.

A letter was written in 1813 from India by a friend of Stileman's who would have been seen as considerably more respectable than Dick Holt. This was George Spilsbury who included among the letter's contents, 'I am rejoiced to hear that Stileman has accomplished his wish of buying The Friars at last - has he thought of peopling it with Stilemans at present?' Spilsbury was correct for Winchelsea's most important property where he had been so nervous of the eagle as a boy had indeed become Stileman's own. However, the purchase had been by no means straightforward. He had originally bid over £1000 for the two main lots, the house and the estate, which had been put up for auction by the executors of Mr Thomas Lloyd. The Court of Chancery then ruled that a certain William Vizard should have been declared the successful bidder for all the lots. In the absence of further documentary evidence we must assume that Vizard put the house and the estate back on the market and that Stileman was then finally able to realise his ambition.

Stileman definitely then set about 'peopling The Friars with Stilemans' as Spilsbury had hoped for in the following year he married Sarah Curteis. Their ten children, six girls and four boys, were born during the next thirteen years.

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