Sitting in your market stall or in the antique fair is only half of the story if what I spend my time doing - the hunting, buying, looking up and researching occupies at least half of your time.

And sometimes the surprises come in unlikely forms.  I had a lot of old books - and here amongst them, unmentioned, unnoticed and largely untouched lay a Victorian scrap book. Nice binding, quality paper and in top condition with gilt edging and I thought untouched at all. Flicking through there as no sign of any annotation or use.

 

The other day I pulled this book out to be priced and placed on the stall.  Now I only ever write in my books in pencil and then carefully so it can be erased without trace. As I opened the book up the front pages, which had clung together due to lack of use, sprung open - and there in beautiful almost gothic script were three pages of ink handwriting.

So what do we know? It is written by Will, he has signed it and it is dated November 5th 1879.  The poem is relatively long - 14 verses, every other verse has the refrain - My precious my beautiful Bess.  In verse 14 we learn that Bess is his wife, and helpfully Will tell us that he lives st 38 Victoria Terrace, Newland Road, Worthing, Sussex.

In content the poem is a devotion of Will's love and affection for Bess.  It is frank and at times brutal "Thy gentle eyes are not so bright - as when I loved thee first.".  The poem is written for Bess’s Birthday “Happy returns”, but in addition it hints at trauma "thy fair face a shadow wears - that tells of sorrow past", leading us to speculate that this might follow a period of illness, a still birth or child death.  More than anything else we are left in no doubt of the care and affection from Will to Bess but left with the desire to know who are they.

Looking at Newland Road now it is hard to find Victoria Terrace and it doesn't appear to exist today.  Indeed number 38 itself is not there and is occupied by a wood yard of a commercial company.  But it seems that that wood yard is the key to our puzzle.

The wood yard was founded in 1876 by William Wenban Smith - is this our Will?  Census searching reveals that in 1881 William W Smith lived with Elizabeth and their 5 children and the address at this date is but yards away from Newland Road. William's profession is given as Builders Merchant/master employing 37 men and 5 boys. And they have two live-in servants.

Our next step is to contact Wenban Smith - if I am right then we have a crucial, probably unpublished poem that gives the most intimate insight into the life of Will and Bess.  If our attribution is correct then there is much more to be written about then family... but for now we will leave there and be in contact with the firm. 

Watch this space.