Every morning I pass a gravestone in St Mary’s Churchyard, Eastbourne and have often wondered about it. The grave is at the apex of the triangle of land as you walk from the northside of the church towards the Lamb Inn. It is in the form of a ‘grave rail’ – a horizontal slab between two upright gravestones.
The top of the main gravestone is decorated by an angel kneeling alongside a ship’s anchor. Nearby there is a ‘momento mori’ in the form of a skull to remind people of the fragility of life. Sadly the inscription has eroded although the name ‘George Chapman’ can just be seen. Luckily, before they faded, a transcript was made of the words:-
In memory of
Who departed this life
August 11th 1793 aged 55 years.
Also of Elizabeth Boullard of Dieppe, Normandy
Who departed this life April 2nd 1799 aged 77 years
Also David M. Chapman, fourth son
Who departed this life
January 20th 1818
Aged 42 years
In memory of John Louis son of George Chapman
Who died November 19th 1794 aged 20 years
These stones were renovated in 1878 by S.B. Chapman of Ipswich.
George Chapman was born in Eastbourne on 3rd August 1735, the son of Nicholas and Elizabeth Chapman (nee Davis). he was the first of ten children and was christened at the church the following year.
George was probably a wealthy Marine Merchant who worked on legitimate cross channel trade between Sussex and Normandy (in the days when much of the trade was illegitimate!) This must have been challenging due to the unstable political situation in France at the time and the prevalence of both English and French smugglers.
On 11th August 1770 George married Marie Boullard in Normandy. (the Elizabeth mentioned on the gravestone is her sister) It is likely that Marie came from a seafaring family. In January 1777 there was a report of a storm on the French coast. A Dieppe harbour pilot by the name of Boullard had helped rescue the crew and passengers of a ship in distress. The report describes the Frenchman as a man of ‘courage and resolution’.
George and Marie lived in Dieppe and their four children, George, James, John and David were all born in France although they all retained their Eastbourne roots. Their first son, George Nicholas Solomon Chapman (1771-1844) was also a marine merchant and ship-agent. In 1795 he married Judith Belcher at Pevensey. They had no less than twelve children. In 1801 he assisted in rescuing the crew of a Prussian vessel in difficulty off the Sussex coast by towing the damaged ship into Rye Harbour. In 1829 he is described as a ‘dealer and a chap-man’. It is interesting to note that the surname ‘Chapman’ derives from the old English name for a trader or merchant so the Chapmans were literally chapmen!
In 1835 George was working as a Marine Broker based in Dieppe and wrote a letter to the Customs office at Hastings telling them how some French fishermen had rescued the crew of a local fishing-boat which had been hit by a West-Indian Cutter off the French Coast. He says in his letter that he was from Eastbourne and that his son, Samuel Belcher Chapman, was a Vice-Council in the diplomatic service.
George Belcher Chapman, their eldest son, was born in Eastbourne in 1800. He went London where he worked for a short time as a confectioner but settled in Ipswich, Suffolk where he established a business as a chemist and druggist. On more than one occasion he gave evidence at inquests as a ‘surgeon’ and he was also a Justice of the Peace. He died in 1880 and was clearly well thought of as many of the towns traders closed their shops for the day as a mark of respect.
It is now clear that the S.B. Chapman who restored the grave in 1878 was George’s grandson, the Ipswich J.P., who died just two years later.
Mentioned on the side of the St Mary’s gravestone is David M. Chapman. David Mant Chapman (1776-1818) lived in Eastbourne where he ran a brewery in South Street. He worked with Richard Buckley Stone and they ran the business of ‘Brewers, Maltsters and Coal Merchants’ but this partnership was dissolved in 1814. David was also the innkeeper of the New Inn (now the Bibendum) on the corner of South Street and Grange Road.
Having done a little research it is good to know a little more about the Chapman family and I now say ‘hello’ to George when I pass his grave. I hope you will too!
Sources: Family Roots, Eastbourne, Ancestry.com, British Newspaper Library and the book Public Houses in Eastbourne by Alan Smith 2017.