The Wittys of Whitstable

Amyand Lodge, Whitstable

Our mother, Mary Tudor Nugent, was born a ‘Witty’ at Edgbaston, Warwickshire. She married our father, Oliver Nugent (later CBE – see separate page) in September 1943 at All Saints Church, Whitstable, Kent, followed by a reception at her parents’ nearby home, Amyand Lodge. It was wartime and Oliver had weekend leave from his RAF training but his mother, Gladys, was not able to travel from her Wiltshire home.

Mary’s parents, Cyril and Beth Witty, moved to Whitstable, a fishing port near Canterbury renowned for its oysters, in 1939. Earlier they lived for a time at Chartham, the other side of Canterbury, latterly at The Mill House. Cyril worked for the Chartham Paper Mill. The writer William Somerset Maugham brought a sort of fame to Whitstable where his uncle Henry was vicar. Somerset Maugham wrote of ‘Blackstable’ in his novel ‘Cakes and Ale’. Another claim to fame of this now fashionable town was as the first port to be connected by railway – the old Whitstable and Canterbury railway also known as ‘The Crab and Winkle Line’ – was one of the first to be constructed and on the outskirts of Whitstable the line crossed over the oldest railway bridge anywhere in the world (below right), now sadly demolished.

Mary, who was born in 1917, attended school at Whitstable (St Anne’s 1929-32) and then Athelstan School, Folkestone (1932- ). There she was a contemporary of a Nugent relative, Eleanor Brushfield, who was to introduce Mary to her cousin, Oliver Nugent. Their three children were all born at the home of their maternal grandparents, Amyand Lodge, close to the seafront, so are true Whitstable ‘natives’ as well as Man and Maids of Kent. We were brought up to believe that Maids and Men of Kent who had been born East of the River Medway looked down on Kentish Men and Maids born to the West – just a bit of Kentish folklore! In any case, since our childhood home was at Shortlands, near Beckenham, to the West of Kent’s main river we could be said to have batted for both sides! As for being ‘natives’, as Somerset Maugham and all others familiar with the fishing port know, the only true Whitstable ‘natives’ are oysters!

Cyril’s copy of local author’s ‘The Moon and Sixpence’
‘My Uncle Henry, for twenty seven years Vicar of Whitstable, remembered the days when you could get thirteen Royal Natives for a shilling.’ W. Somerset Maugham

As children we spent holidays with our grandparents at Whitstable which in the summer involved swimming off the pebbly beach. Our bathing location and beach hut looked across the estuary past the Isle of Sheppey to Southend in Essex, and past the curious anti-aircraft forts erected in wartime and looking rather ghostly now (pictured). These days a more beautiful sight on a fine day are the Kentish Flats wind turbines about six miles offshore, opposite nearby Herne Bay.

Beth on the beach, August 1950

Cyril had been a cricketer in his younger days. The story is told that on a family holiday to France around 1948, when Ann was a baby, he nearly broke his new portable valve radio when England lost the test match. Cyril and Beth both enjoyed playing golf at nearby Chestfield, and Cyril used to fish at various venues around Kent. Beth, a regular church-goer, enjoyed bathing in the sea till quite an advanced age. She also rode a pedal cycle and was a keen bridge player. The Wittys were prominent local figures and the garden at Amyand Lodge was often opened for charitable or church functions.

Cyril and Beth’s Diamond Wedding, Nov 1965

Cyril and Beth both lived long lives and were able to celebrate their Diamond Wedding at Amyand Lodge in November 1965 for which they received the traditional royal telegram. They were pioneer travellers by air visiting many locations in Europe, which included visits to Finland, the Baltic States, Berlin and Amsterdam in 1938. In the 1950s they used to leave their car with us at Shortlands when they went abroad and we used to meet them on their return by BEA to Heathrow airport. Cyril’s job took him by car all over the country. When MOT tests were introduced and he gave up driving Nicholas inherited the car, a sea-green Morris Oxford registration HJG148, but only managed one short holiday in 1969 before it was consigned to the scrapyard!

In Berlin in 1938

After the deaths of Beth in 1978 and Cyril in 1988 – just three months short of his 100th birthday—Caroline, who had cared for Cyril in his declining years, stayed on at Amyand Lodge. Our mother, Mary, retired from Shortlands after Oliver died, also in 1988, to a bungalow over the road from Amyand Lodge in Park Avenue. Following her death in 2011 Amyand Lodge was eventually sold after 75 years in the Witty/Nugent family.

Beth Anne was born a ‘Snowden’ (sometimes spelt ‘Snowdon’) in 1889 to Edwin Snowden, a sea-going engineer plying the route between Hull and Great Yarmouth, and his wife Rose Annie (née Elvin). Beth was the youngest of five, sisters Lilian, Daisy and Norah Carhill (Nonie) and brother Arthur. Losing her mother at a young age, Beth, the baby, was brought up in Great Yarmouth by her maternal grandmother Mary Elvin (née Reed, 1826-1906). Arthur Snowden (1884-1965), a favourite brother, was a seafarer who served in the Royal Navy during World War II ending up as Commander, and subsequently worked with Trinity House which was concerned with the safety of sailors, managing lighthouses for example, for which he was appointed OBE.

Cyril Owen Tudor Witty was born in Goole, Yorkshire, in 1888, the son of Frederick Charles Witty and Minnie Kathleen née Tudor, the daughter of a Goole architect. As a child Cyril was a choirboy at Exeter Cathedral, staying there with relatives. Ann remembers his story of once having met the composer, Sir Arthur Sullivan of ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’ fame. He trained as an engineer and served as an apprentice boat-builder at Goole, near Hull. After a visit to a tea estate in Assam, India (1913-5), he returned to work in the paper industry for Glasgow-based George Christie, who provided mesh filters for paper making. We always knew him as ‘Buffy’ and, as children, we remember being taken on his regular visits to paper mills of which there were several in Kent.

Cyril’s vicar father, Frederick (born 1860), after graduating from Corpus Christie College, Cambridge, in 1884 served as curate or vicar at Goole (1885-87), Barking Essex (1888), Fishpond, Glos (1889-91), Wednesfield (1892-94), St Martin, Bilston (1894-97), Brightside, Sheffield (1898-1900), Purston (1900-01), Ferry Fryston, Yorks. (1901-2) and Acomb-Street, Charlton-on-Medlock, Manchester (1902-25). He died in February 1942. Beth also had family in Goole so that may have been where they first met. At any rate they were proud of their links to Yorkshire.

Mary’s record of Witty homes

Beth and Cyril were married on 11 November 1915 at Edgbaston near Birmingham and Mary was born there on her father’s birthday, 20 July, in 1917. Mary, an only child, did not see much of her maternal Yorkshire-based cousins, Elaine Larard and Eileen Cussons, the children of Beth’s sisters Nonie and Daisy respectively. In later years they made occasional visits together to Whitstable.

Mary at 80, at Amyand Lodge

There was an air of mystery over Cyril’s younger brother Leslie Mordaunt Buchanan Witty (born 1892) because he left his wife Florence, whom he married in 1918, and set up home with a cousin, Marjorie Tudor Potts or Pott, at Waterworks Cottage, Haslemere, Surrey. We knew their daughter Anneli Veronica Tudor and may have met her brother Robert Owain Mordaunt, Mary’s first cousins, but we never knew Great Uncle Mordaunt, who died in 1955. Marjorie, Anneli and Robert are also deceased.

We believe Anneli married Victor E Marsden and would welcome any information about this branch of the Witty family, or indeed of any of the families mentioned to:

Cyril and Beth as well as Oliver and Mary were all laid to rest in the churchyard at All Saints Church.

Ann, Nicholas and Caroline Nugent

Sources: family papers and photographs; Ancestry; Crockfords Clerical Directory; the biography ‘Elaine-The Story of Elaine Larard a member of the well-known Hull family’ by Eileen Cussons (Elaine and Eileen were both first cousins of Mary Witty); Somerset Maugham quotation is from the final page of ‘The Moon and Sixpence’.