by Malcolm Pratt
Whether his difficulties were mental or physical, or indeed both, Stileman was clearly not a well man towards the end of his life. On a number of occasions he wrote to the parish vestry apologising for being unable to attend including one in which he cited 'the very damp weather'. A family member who visited in 1843 reported to her cousin 'I wish I could give a good account of your dear uncle. I think him very poorly - he has the gout on his hand', and later to the same correspondent, 'Fanny has been to see me this afternoon. Her papa was very poorly yesterday but is better today'.
Richard Stileman died in office as mayor and was buried in the churchyard of St Thomas's, Winchelsea at the age of 57 on 17th October 1844. His beloved wife Sarah had been buried in that same churchyard just thirteen days earlier. The members of the corporation gathered on Tuesday 29th October to elect Joseph Hennah into the mayoralty 'to serve the remaining term of Richard Stileman Esq deceased.'
Only two of Richard and Sarah Stileman's many children continued to live in Winchelsea and take a leading interest in the town's affairs. They were Robert, later Major Robert, and his sister Katherine. Both unmarried they succeeded their parents at The Friars. The major became mayor for the first time in 1858 and later served in that capacity a further eighteen times, a record. It would seem that Major Robert was a considerably sterner figure than his father had been. There is a delightful story of one of his servants, William Bennett, who had first served the family in Richard Stileman's time. Once Bennett took advantage of the extra freedom permitted by his employer's absence from the town to become drunk at the Bridge Inn. On his appearance before the Winchelsea bench charged with this offence he was fined whatever was the normal amount and given a strict warning about his conduct. However, the press were represented at the hearing and the magistrates made a point of asking the reporter not to submit the details of this case to his paper because 'They did not want the major to hear of it'! Katherine Stileman died in 1898; Major Robert ten years later. The Friars and its estate were sold and thus ended the considerable Winchelsea influence of the Stileman dynasty over at least a hundred and fifty years.