“Perhaps no man is better known in the town or precincts of Southampton". This description, taken from the Hampshire Independent of 31 July 1858, characterised a man who throughout most of his eighty years in Southampton attracted such epitaphs as "powerful looking", "our tall acquaintance", "notable and notorious", "never-to-be forgotten", a "Leviathan", and "original and in his way inimitable".

Seventeen children are recorded to John Rose between February 1827 and March 1864: 14 by his first wife Isabella (nee Sievewright who he married on 24 January 1825 in All Saints Church and who died in February 1850, aged 43) and three by his second wife Hannah (nee Rawlence, daughter of James Rawlence, agricultural labourer of Hatchet Gate, Beaulieu) who he married in 1855, she aged 24 years and he 51 years old. An illegitimate son of Hannah, William Rawlence, born in Beaulieu in January 1851, was taken into the Rose household after the marriage. The first ten children were all boys. The tenth, Guilford North, was offered to his namesake the Earl of Guilford, Rector of St Mary's, as a tithe in May 1838. A doggerel by Rose subsequently addressed to Lord Guilford had a certain vogue when the tithe question was discussed. To quote four lines: "Well-known in Southampton, while courting the muse / As Father of Children and Vendor of News / Ah, hinc illae Lachrymae! one thing is sure, / Though in young ones I'm rich, in the pocket I'm poor".

Three of the children met untimely deaths. Alexander Thane Rose drowned near the Pier Gates in 1848. Selina Rose was killed by her stepmother Hannah in July 1858, the culmination of months of abuse and violence from the wayward teenager ("no tongue could tell what she [the stepmother] had to put up with from her" to quote a police witness). Hannah was acquitted of manslaughter at the Spring Assizes, and a subscription to help the family in this time of distress was set up in Southampton. Fifteen-month old Edward Thomas Rose died from scalding in 1859. Another son, Edwin Rose, was convicted in March 1863 of assault on his father after a quarrel which began in Lock's beershop in French street.

It was as a news vendor, peddling the humbler class of racy, unstamped newspapers and periodicals, that John Rose gained notoriety in the 1830s and early 1840s. He ran a small shop, which also sold tobacco products, at 35 College Street. We first meet him being charged by proxy (the charge was against his wife Isabella as John was away from home) in June 1834 with selling unstamped papers, specifically John Cleave's The Weekly Police Gazette. The magistrates fined Isabella £20, mitigated to £5. "This decision was immediately conveyed to her husband, who in return broke the windows of his prison-house" (Hampshire Advertiser, 14 June 1834). More serious was a case before the Quarter Sessions in January 1840, part of a concerted putsch against the infamous Penny Paul Pry which shortly before had published a "gross and indecent libel" on Patrick Mackey, a Southampton surgeon. Rose conducted his own defence. After a fraught and convoluted trial, in which Rose was threatened with gaol after he refused to enter a plea, he finally allowed himself to be bound in recognisances of £50 to abstain from the sale of Paul Pry in future. His defence was typically off the wall: that the best way to stop the circulation of the offending periodical was to subscribe a few pounds to enable him to lay in a stock of respectable publications and books to support his family through the winter. The previous month Rose had been convicted by the borough magistrates for an assault on the Southampton surgeon John Wiblin, who had reprimanded the news vendor for having sold a copy of the Paul Pry - presumably the issue containing the libel on his confrere Patrick Mackey - to his servant. The unstamped press was part of a sub-culture largely grounded in beer shops and public houses. John Rose was a determined supporter of these elements of popular democracy. He attended a temperance meeting called by the Reverend Herbert Smith in May 1836 to promote the practice of private brewing - by a reduction in the malt tax - among the poor in order to remove the inducement of frequenting the public house or beershop. Rose challenged the core of the Reverend Smith's argument: "They could not hinder the rich from enjoying themselves in luxury and drunkenness, and why then try to shut up beer shops where plenty of information may be got, &c, &c, &c". He also quoted a Dr Scovell "who had prescribed four half-pints of eightpenny per day as a decided preservative of health". In similar vein, in December 1841, he attended Southampton Police Court to speak in defence of one of his sons and a friend who had been charged with disturbing temperance lectures at a hall in the Ditches: in the words of the complainant, they "got on the forms, and made such a hinterruption as was quite infamous, and no respectable person as ever came once never came again". Rose counter-claimed that young children often no more than five or six years old, including several of his own, had been swindled into attending the temperance meetings and signing the pledge without their parent's consent.

Between c.1844 and c.1865 we find John Rose as a barrowman (or porter) on the Royal Pier, licensed by the Southampton Pier and Harbour Board Commissioners to unload passenger's baggage and if necessary to convey it to local inns and hotels. Licensed barrowmen were a tight-knit, rather aged fraternity, numbering between 25 and 30, each insistent upon his own position. Violence was rarely far from the surface. In May 1844 a fellow barrowman, Richard Chambers, was charged with maliciously cutting and wounding Rose with a knife after an argument in the yard of Lock's beershop about payment for a job. In the course of the altercation, Chambers had said "You wants to be king of the barrowmen". The case was taken to the Assizes - much against Rose's wishes for he had clearly been the aggressor, and Chambers was over 20 years older than him. Rose's evidence under cross-examination was fatal to his cause: "After being struck by the knife, he knocked the prisoner down; then went into the public-house, and came out again and knocked the prisoner down a second time; might have struck him whilst he was down. Had struck the prisoner once before this". Chambers was acquitted on the grounds of self defence. In July 1860 Rose was convicted of an assault on George Feltham, a fellow barrowman, of French Street, over what the Hampshire Independent called "some professional point". Rose was fined 1s and costs or 3 days' imprisonment. He refused to pay and was sent to prison. For most of the time that Rose worked on the Royal Pier he lived locally: in Bloomer Cottage on Vyse Lane (a narrow passage between Bugle Street and French Street) and after c.1868 at Anspach Place, West Quay, near the Royal Standard public house. His house narrowly missed destruction in December 1872 when part of the adjoining town wall fell down.

John Rose was a consummate showman. For most of the period from the late 1840s to the mid 1860s he laid on an annual extravaganza of 'Old English Sports' on the Common for the Queen's coronation celebrations. They were under the patronage of the mayor, with surpluses donated to the South Hants Infirmary. Huge crowds - estimated at between 3,000 and 4,000 in 1849 - witnessed what one contemporary called "harmless fun - real, rollicking fun": bobbing for oranges and treacled loaves, jingling matches for lads, wheeling barrows blindfolded, running in sacks, grinning through horse collars, climbing a greasy pole, as well as more conventional running matches for men and women, hurdle races and pony and donkey races. Prizes, largely in the form of cuts of meat or clothing, were awarded to the victors. There was not a maypole, a garland or a morris dance in sight. The coronation celebrations of July 1856, combined with celebrations to mark the end of the Crimean War, were especially lavish, including the distribution to women of about seventy items of domesticity - from a gridiron to a porridge pot - gained by catching a ticket wrapped in paper thrown among the scramblers. Similar exhibitions were provided for the West Quay Regatta, the celebrations to mark the fall of Sebastopol in 1855 and for festivities at Bramshaw House (in the New Forest) in May 1858 to mark the 25th birthday of the owner's son. Rose described himself on this occasion as "Major domo and Jawmaster-General [master of ceremonies]". He was also connected with the Theatre Royal in French Street from 1827.

In later life John Rose was a committed Conservative in politics. He was present at the inaugural dinner of the St Michael's Working Men's Conservative Association in March 1877. Two years later he can be found supporting the Conservative candidates during ward elections for the Town Council. In earlier days, however, he had been a Liberal, voting for Lord Duncan and Lord Henry Paget in the 1837 general election and, later that year, surviving an attempt by the Conservatives to remove his name from the burgess lists. It was, however, a very urban form of Liberalism, for he was one of what John Wheeler, proprietor and editor of the Liberal Hampshire Independent, called one of those "Tory Scavengers" who been paid to support a pro-Corn Law meeting in the Long Rooms in August 1840. This was part of a long-running feud between the rival newsmen. In November 1838 Wheeler had been fined £3, with 10s costs, for an assault on Wheeler. The vendetta came to a climax in mid 1840. Rose characterized the Independent as the Gallows Gazette (mirroring Daniel O'Connell's description of the London-based Standard) and took to verbally abusing Wheeler whenever their paths crossed. Wheeler applied to the borough magistrates for a restraining order in June after a particularly bad incident, when Rose had blackguarded Wheeler for ten minutes as he sat aboard Groombridge's Coach waiting to be taken to Millbrook - "much to his annoyance and the amusement of the other passengers" according to the unsympathetic Hampshire Advertiser. Rose was bound over to keep the peace until the next sessions. Rose alleged that Wheeler had unwarrantably made use of his name in the report of the Long Rooms meeting in order to excite him to commit a further breach of the peace in contravention of his bail conditions.

The twilight years of Rose's life, from the late 1860s to c.1880, were spent as a carpet beater. The 1881 census enumerator described him as of "no occupation (formerly news agent)", an unwitting tribute to his early influence in the borough. His second wife Hannah died in July 1871, aged 40. John Rose died on 15 September 1884 at West Quay, aged 80.

John Rose

Image Unavailable

A photograph of John Rose as an elderly man. Taken from an article in the Daily Echo, 16 November 1940.


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