|Administrative / biographical background:
Augustus Fitt Drake (c1847-1916) was the last surviving partner of the firm of Drake and Lee, solicitors, of 168 High Street, Lewes, on the opposite corner of Castlegate from the headquarters of the Sussex Archaeological Society. The firm ceased business by 1915, not being listed in Kelly's Directory of Sussex for that year. Drake died in October 1916 (Sussex Express, 13 October 1916, page 4, 20 October 1916, page 5).
While he was closing the business, a chance visit by the Revd Walter Budgen, who was later appointed Honorary Curator of Deeds and Documents by the Society, 'found Mr Drake surrounded by a mass of parchment deeds sorted out as not belonging to any existing clients; some little help followed in deciphering a few early deeds and listing others, and in the end Mr Drake expressed his wish to present the deeds to the Society. Unfortunately he died shortly afterwards, but the gift was completed by his son.' (W. Budgen, 'Notes on the deeds and documents deposited with the Sussex Archaeological Trust', Sussex Archaeological Collections 85 (1946), 113-4; he dates the chance visit to 1917, but it must have been earlier.)
Budgen followed his usual practice of breaking the original bundles in which the deeds were stored and arranging them in chronological order. Deeds from 1310 to 1702 were listed as SAS/D 1-500, and deeds from 1704 to 1799 as SAS/DD 1-341. SAS/DD was continued from 342 to 821 with deeds of various dates grouped by place. Two further classes, SAS-DM and SAS/DR were created, for miscellaneous and manorial documents respectively. A large body of material, amounting in bulk to at least a quarter of the whole and mostly consisting of 19th-century material, was not touched by Budgen and remains unlisted. In 1953 Budgen's successor as curator of deeds added four documents received from Rotherham Public Library as SAS/D501-504. In April 1982 the archive passed, with the Society's other muniment collections, into the custody of East Sussex Record Office. Two groups of papers from the unlisted mass, relating to a presentation to Lord Egremont for his encouragement of agriculture, 1809, and the Spital Charity of Lewes St Anne, were added to SAS/DD as DD 822 and 823 in the 1990s.
Despite Budgen's best efforts to disguise their presence, several discrete groups of documents can still be identified in the archive. Hardest to find are those generated by the public offices held by partners of the firm; only one out of what must have been bundles of coroners' inquests, for example, have survived. The papers of private clients are easier to distinguish, and those derived from the estate of William Franklin Hick and his wife Mary Hamlin, who married in 1796, have already been analysed in detail - see the introduction to AMS 6355. Other prominent groups relate to the Gatehouse Estate in Mayfield and the Apsley, Fuller, Dalrymple and Thomas families, and the business undertaken by John Fisher as steward of Lord Pelham's estates in the Rape of Hastings, particularly the granting of roadside waste.
Drake, a Scot, came to Lewes in 1880 as partner to Inigo Gell, but the firm, and the records which descended with it, have a much longer history.
Josias Smith (1737-1827)
Josias Smith, the son of the tenant farmer of Hempstead in Framfield, was baptised there on 11 January 1737 (PAR 343/1/1/3). He was practising as an attorney in Lewes by July 1763, when he visited Thomas Turner at East Hoathly to discuss two forthcoming trials at the sessions (The Diary of Thomas Turner (OUP 1985) 275). His appointment as a commissioner for affidavits, 1 December 1766, survives in the archive (SAS-DM 169). Smith was attorney to Thomas Pelham, Lord Pelham, subsequently Earl of Chichester, and succeeded Abraham Baley as steward of his manorial courts. He was also registrar of the court of the Peculiar of South Malling.
In 1771 Smith became tenant of St Anne's House, Lewes, which he bought, for £2100, on 26 March 1803. Between 1809 and 1818 he considerably augmented the estate by purchasing eleven houses from the Earl of Chichester and others (AMS 6199/13/70-114, including a contract for the redemption of Land Tax on Smith's entire estate).
Richard Andrew Turner, who had been his clerk in 1778 (SRL 5/1/31), thought Josias Smith 'a good and true man' in 1803 (AMS 2841). He died, a bachelor, and was buried at Framfield, aged 90, on 29 March 1827 (PAR 343 1/5/1).
Between 1785 and 1808 Smith's signature as a witness to documents is often followed by that of John Fisher (SAS/SH 444, AMS 1327), who in a deed of 1803 is described as his clerk (SRL 2/4/5).
John Fisher (1753-1811)
John Fisher was the son of John Fisher (d1786), innkeeper of the Green Man at Brightling, and his wife Mercy, née Thorpe (SAS/RF15/29, p93, W/A65.316). His first appearance in Lewes was in 1780, when he was listed as a scrivener in the poll-book of the Borough election of that year (LEW/C5/3/8). He can be traced as a solicitor in Lewes from 1781 (SAS/DD 321), and was described as the steward of Thomas Pelham, Lord Pelham, in 1790 (DUN 51/167). Part of that work involved the grant of leases of roadside waste in the Rape of Hastings, which Lord Pelham claimed as overlord of the Rape; Fisher's name appears as witness to the leases from at least 1785 (SAS/A 533).
By 1795 John Fisher was in partnership with Thomas King (SAS/A550). The men remained in business until Fisher's death in 1811, and details of their affairs, including a list of clients and accounts for a joint building speculation in Dolphin Lane, can be established from the papers amassed by Fisher's son John Fisher as his father's executor (ACC 5702/57/11). John Fisher (1780-1858) had served as clerk to the Rye solicitors John Woollett and Weeden Dawes; on Woollett's retirement in 1818 he formed a new partnership with Dawes and John Haddock Lardner.
On Fisher's death Thomas King seems to have formed a partnership with Francis Harding Gell; the two men paid several sums to Fisher's estate, and the rent of the house at 76 High Street, which Fisher had occupied from before 1790 (Woollgar), was apportioned between them (ACC 5702/57/11).
The year after Fisher's death Thomas King married his daughter Sarah (b1787), who had gone to Rye to live with her brother John; the bondsman was Francis Harding Gell (SRS 25.253).
Francis Harding Gell (1785-1864)
John Gell of Cliffe, linen-draper, married Susannah Harding of St Christopher le Stocks at St Margaret Lothbury, London, on 10 March 1785 (SNQ 2 142); their son Francis Harding was born on 3 February and baptised on 8 April 1785 and his sister Charlotte on 17 August 1786 (PAR 415/1/1/9). In the 1790s Gell was in business as a milliner, haberdasher and law-stationer on School Hill, which his wife left in 1797 to open a young ladies' day and boarding school in Fisher Street. In 1800 she advertised her husband's drawing academy (Sussex Record Society 81 (1998) 181-3). The premises in Fisher Street were owned by the family of the lawyer-antiquary John Elliot, and had previously been occupied by Charles Scrase, the town clerk of Seaford (AMS 6349/12-13).
John Gell clearly moved on the edges of the town's legal community; in 1791 Charles Scrase, then of Brighton, appointed him attorney to deliver seisin of the Beam Lands in Seaford (SEA 379). He appears as a witness to deeds in 1796 (CHR 7/1/3-4) and to the will of John Tourle of Landport in 1801 (AMS 2148), and may be the John Gell who witnessed a deed in 1817 (ASH L 2207). The archive contains his certificate of the freedom of Pevensey, granted on 21 October 1794 (SAS-DM/176).
In 1854 Francis Harding Gell wrote to Mrs Anne Dorothea Gilbert commiserating on the death of her husband and assuring her of his continued service to the family, with whom he had been associated for over 55 years (GIL 4/360). It seems likely that he was articled to Charles Gilbert (1736-1816), who practised as an attorney in both Eastbourne and Lewes, in about 1799. From 1801 he witnessed a series of leases of waste, executed by Gilbert and the other lords of the manor of Eastbourne (SAS/DD 409-422). He was still of Eastbourne in 1810, when he became mortgagee of the town's theatre (SAS/WH 45-48), and in July 1811 when he acted as bondsman for the licence of the marriage of his sister Charlotte to George Woolley of Petersfield, surgeon (SRS 26.480).
Gell returned to Lewes on John Fisher's death and went into business with his surviving partner Thomas King; the firm practised under the style of King and Gell until at least 1829. Gell became town clerk of Seaford in 1817 (SEA 9, 291-314), and was appointed county coroner on the retirement of George Gwynne in 1829. In his will of 1815, Charles Gilbert of Eastbourne offered Gell, whom he described as his partner, the option to purchase his house [at 23 High Street], Lewes, for £1400; the option seems to have been exercised, as the firm practised from that address in 1855.
Gell and Fullager
Gell practised alone between 1830 and 1833 but in May 1834 went into a seven-year partnership with John Edward Fullager, with the option to introduce Gell's son Francis Thomas Gell (b1812), formerly articled to his father but then in practice in London, into the firm (SAS/DD719); the style of the firm was Gell, Fullager and Gell, the business was based at 18 High Street and each partner retained their public appointments outside the partnership (ACC 3392).
John Edward Fullager (1805-1866) was born in Northwood in the Isle of Wight, and came to Lewes in about 1826 to be articled to John and George Hoper. He married Caroline Vinall at Donnington near Chichester on 28 September 1833, and seven children were baptised at Lewes in the course of the next ten years. The middle names of two of the children - Rose Faulconer Fullager and Lewis Greene Fullager - were the surnames of his fellow clerks at Hopers, Robert Hoffman Faulconer and Anthony Sheppey Greene.
Frank Gell returned to Lewes in 1835, remained for three years and left to travel on the continent, when the firm's style reverted to Gell and Fullager. In August 1840 Francis Harding Gell informed Fullager that he wished to determine the partnership, and in November a dispute arose concerning the appointment of Frank as the firm's London agent, a transaction on which Fullager had not been consulted. On 4 December 1841 Frank and his brother Alfred Gell (b1817) induced Fullager into the office on the pretence of an appointment, and Frank thrashed him with a stick. Fullager brought an indictment against the brothers and the case, having been moved into Queen's Bench by writ of cerciorari, was tried at the Lewes Assizes on 23 March 1841. Defence counsel made much of a suggestion that Fullager had attempted to separate Francis Harding Gell from his sons, since he would suffer financially were Frank to be brought into the partnership. The jury, after much deliberation and some testy encouragement from the bench, brought in a guilty verdict, and the brothers were each sentenced to a month's imprisonment and a fine of £50. A transcript of the hearing, from shorthand made by James Knight of 11 Windsor Street, Brighton, and annotated by Francis Harding Gell, survives as ACC 3392. Fullager, from his sick-bed, instructed his counsel to state that he 'has no vindictive feelings towards the prisoners, and would respectfully entreat a remission of the sentence of imprisonment'. Baron Parke replied 'No; this sort of behaviour must be put a stop to.' And there the matter rested.
Fullager established himself as a solicitor in sole practice, and took with him the business of the Earl of Chichester, which Gell's firm and its predecessors had enjoyed since the 1760s. Having lived in Albion Street from before 1835, he bought Pelham House in St Andrews Lane in 1850. He became County Treasurer in 1856 and died, after a long illness, on 30 January 1866 (East Sussex News 2 Feb 1866 p2). His son Lewis Greene Fullager, who had been educated in Lewes by Thomas Hopley, succeeded to his house, practice and public offices, and became county coroner on the death of Francis Harding Gell in 1864. In 1879 he was tried for the fraudulent conversion of £2500 belonging to a client, and sentenced to five years' penal servitude (Sussex Express, 13 May, 9 August and 25 November 1879); in 1881 he was enumerated as a convict at Chatham Prison (PRO RG 11/897 folio 74), an establishment which had earlier entertained his former teacher. His brother John Edward Fullager acted as deputy coroner while his brother was on remand. Pelham House was sold in 1880, and Caroline Fullager moved to Bognor Regis, where she and John Edward Fullager were enumerated in 1881 (PRO RG 11/1124 folio 62). For a large group of papers from Fullager's practice, -1877, see ACC 8634.
Gell and Son
In 1834 Francis Harding Gell's chief private clients were the Earl of Abergavenny, the Earl of Chichester, the Duke of Devonshire and the Davies Gilbert family of Eastbourne; in addition he acted as county clerk for the eastern division, coroner, clerk to the benches of magistrates at Uckfield and Hailsham, clerk to the trustees of several turnpike roads, town clerk of Seaford and steward of several manors and hundreds (SAS/DD719). He died on 31 October 1864, and an obituary appeared in the Sussex Express the following day.
Cell's practice and public offices, apart from the coronership, were continued by his third son Inigo Gell (1824-1882), named presumably after Inigo Thomas of Willingdon, another of the joint lords of the manor of Eastbourne. In practice with his father from before 1851, he had served as deputy coroner, and became clerk to the Lewes Bench on the death of William Polhill Kell. For a short time after the death of Francis Harding Gell, his nephew Charles Alfred Woolley joined the firm. He was resident at 3 Wallands Terrace in 1871, and was later to serve as the first Town Clerk of Hove. His brother the Revd Frank Woolley came to Lewes as head of the Grammar School in 1860, and became rector of St Michael's church in 1863.
A conservative like his father, Inigo Gell acted as the party's chief agent for East Sussex, and was prominent in the formation of the Lewes Rifle Corps in 1859. He died on May 1882, and obituaries appeared in the Sussex Daily News of 26 May and the Sussex Express of 27 May 1882, page 4, and 3 June 1882, page 5.
Gell, Drake and Lee
In 1880, two years before his death, Inigo Gell had been joined in partnership by Augustus Fitt Drake, who succeeded to the practice in 1882. In August of the same year he was joined by Arthur Lee (1846-1913), who bought Westfield House from the estate of Inigo Gell in April 1883 (GIL 3/62/2, R/C4/154). Lee died on 1 March 1913, and an obituary appeared in the Sussex Express on 7 March 1913, page 5. In August 1914 a memorial window was dedicated in St Anne's church, and a report appeared in the Sussex Express of 6 August 1914, page 7. Westfield House was sold by his personal representatives to East Sussex County Council in 1956 (R/C4/154).
The firm ceased to exist on the death of Augustus Fitt Drake in October 1916.