Elizabeth Quill, (known as Kitty) was born in Kingstown, Ireland in 1861. At some stage she moved to London where she met a labourer David Quill. Although they lived in London Kitty spent the summer in Eastbourne where she lodged and did a brisk business as a flower seller.
The Dukes of Devonshire regularly hosted members of the royal family at their seat at Compton Place, Eastbourne. In 1878, Queen Victoria’s daughter was staying there and for six weeks her flowers were supplied by Kitty. She became known locally as ‘Fair Kitty – The Royal Flower Girl’
In 1881 David and Kitty were living at 3, St James, Street Kensington, London. She is described in the census as a Hawker (general seller) and her place of birth is shown as Brighton but ten years later she was living with her husband at 158, Tideswell Road, Eastbourne this time she gave her correct place of birth. By this time she had established a ‘pitch’ opposite the Sussex Club on the seafront at Eastbourne, half way between the bandstand and the pier.
Unfortunately close by happened also to be the pitch of the Eastbourne Town Crier, Henry Wood. The two didn’t get on, indeed the local press reported that previously the Town Crier had beaten Kitty’s husband in a ‘pugilistic box’ . One warm September morning Kitty was sitting on the promenade chatting with another flower-seller, Annie Lee, described as a ‘red-cheeked good-humoured lass’. Wood’s main occupation was managing a Lending Library and he complained to Lee that one of her books was overdue. Kitty didn’t like the tone of the man and began to shout at him. When Wood told Kitty to stay out of the matter, she threw a flower box at him.
You can imagine the flower-seller and the town crier yelling at each other with their considerable voices, hers with an Irish brogue and his with his stentorian tones. Words came to blows which resulted in ‘Fair Kitty’ holding her apron to her face to staunch a flow of blood. But was poor Kitty beaten? Of course not, she knocked the town criers bell from his hand and proceed to drag him along the prom back towards her house so her husband could ‘wreak dire vengeance for so unpardonable an outrage’ The poor captive man could only beg for mercy.
Although it seemed that Kitty rather started this unsavoury row it was the town crier who appeared at the magistrates court and was duly fined 20 shillings for the assault.
In November 1890 Kitty was once again before Eastbourne Magistrates but this time as a defendant, accused of using obscene language. The complainant Mrs Catherine Webb accused Kitty of using the ‘most filthy language’. Kitty replied “Ditto” and the court laughed. There was more amusement when Kitty said she only used bad language when she was quarrelling with someone else. She was fined 10 shillings.
Kitty and her husband had a volatile relationship and in July 1891 she sought legal protection from Eastbourne Magistrates. She accused her husband of threatening to assault her. David (described as a militiaman) appeared in court with a black eye and in his defence stated that he would seek charges against his wife and a man called George Tobutt of Susans Road.
The summer of 1899 was unusually hot. The Duke of Devonshire’s royal guests that year were The Prince and Princess of Wales. As the Prince and the Duke rode along the seafront, Kitty threw the heir to the throne a buttonhole. He caught it but dropped it. The Duke and the Prince were attending an agricultural show and Kitty decided to go along too paying the half a crown entrance. She approached the Prince and Duke as they were looking at some sheep and gave him a bunch of carnations. The future King thanked her and said she was a “very good woman” which made her very proud. She then turned to the Duke and said “Your Grace, I have had the pleasure of giving your wife some flowers before”. He remembered her and shook her hand. A gentleman then took Kitty aside to a nearby marquee and gave her a glass of champagne saying “Kitty, you deserve a drink for your pluck and endurance!”
Later that same year on 11th September, Kitty was travelling in a cart with her friends, Joseph Donegan and fellow hawker, Annie Comer. The cart was being driven by licensed cabman Charles Parkings and it appears that all four of them had been drinking at the Royal Oak in Pevensey. As the cart passed Pevensey Castle, PC Marchant of the East Sussex Constabulary stopped it and accused Parkins of being drunk. He demanded that the driver dismount and when Parkins refused he pulled him to the ground a scuffle ensued. The constable started to take him away but Kitty was having none of it! She followed PC Marchant and his prisoner first pushing the policeman and then punched him in the face. They were taken to Hailsham Police Station but on arrival, nearly two hours later Superintendent Elphinstone declared the cab driver to be sober. The subsequent case at Hailsham Magistrates found Parkings not guilty. Kitty however was fined £1. She said to the Magistrate “ “Sir you know me don’t you? – Will you give me time to pay?” When he agreed she burst into tears and ‘poured a volley of abuse upon the constable’
She must have split up or divorced David (who died in 1927) as the 1901 Census shows Kitty living at 3, Rye Street with (surprise surprise) George Tobutt, a horse dealer. Her occupation is shown as ‘Flower Seller’ but interestingly her place of birth is again recorded as Brighton.
Kitty was a regular feature of Eastbourne for decades and several postcards show her with a basket of flowers to which is attached a ‘By Appointment’ sign. She was a proud woman, but obviously not one to be crossed! She died in Eastbourne in 1929.