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news 16th may 2008

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Life in Blue Jackets and Pines

Some of the visitors, residents, businesses and clubs and societies who celebrated the unveiling of the blue plaque tribute to famous former Grayshott resident Dame Agnus Weston on Saturday 10th May 2008 outside Ensleigh in Crossways Road, Grayshott
Some of the visitors, residents, businesses and clubs and societies who celebrated the unveiling of the blue plaque tribute to famous former Grayshott resident Dame Agnus Weston on Saturday 10th May 2008 outside Ensleigh in Crossways Road, Grayshott

Grayshott stepped back in time on Saturday to pay tribute to famous Grayshott resident Dame Agnes Weston.

Highly regarded for her charitable work with serving Royal Navy servicemen and their families during the latter part of Victorian times, residents, businesses and members of local clubs and societies joined the celebrations and the unveiling of a blue plaque at Dame Agnes's house 'Ensleigh' in Crossways Road, Grayshott.

The plaque, made and donated by Grayshott Pottery and its Community Trust Fund, was unveiled by Brian Deverson, Executive Director of 'Royal Sailors Rests' the charity that was started by Dame Agnes.

Richard Peskett, of Grayshott Village Archive recalled to the group, how a chance purchase of a book written by Dame Agnes, called 'My Life Among The Blue Jackets', had brought about the revelation that in fact the author had lived in Grayshott!

Richard said "My wife June, made the discovery when, at a local auction, she bought Dame Weston's book and there on some of the pages the author recounted how she had come to move into the area to 'be among the pines' and had bought 'Ensleigh' in 1901."

In fact Dame Agnes was one of many Victorians who had been attracted into the area at that time, by the good transport links to both London (by train from Haslemere and its newly created railway) and to the coast. George Bernard Shaw and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Flora Thompson are also said to have enjoyed both the 'excellent communications' of Grayshott and Hindhead's telegraph system and also the 'air' described at that time by Professor Tindall, 'As pure as the Alps!'

For Dame Agnes, the links to Portsmouth were of particular importance so as she could continue her charitable works with the sailors and she lived in Grayshott for 7 years.
Phil Bates (Vice Chairman Grayshott Society) and Ed Snell (Managing Director Grayshott Pottery) putting the final touches to the positioning of the hand made plaque
Phil Bates (Vice Chairman Grayshott Society) and Ed Snell (Managing Director Grayshott Pottery) putting the final touches to the positioning of the hand made plaque
Daughter of a barrister, Agnes Weston (1840 - 1918) dedicated her life to her work with the Royal Navy. As a young woman she began by writing letters to servicemen on active duty and became known as 'the sailors friend', providing a lifeline of letter writing and communication to them during many campaigns including the later Boer Wars.

Agnes, through her relentless fundraising all round the country, was eventually able to raise enough funds to buy a house outside the dockyard at Devonport in Plymouth and open it up as a hostel for sailors. It was opened in May 1876 as the first "Sailor's Rest' and although intended as a 'temperance house' for the movement actually all sailors were made welcome. Talks were arranged as well as religious services however, giving them all the chance to sign the "pledge" to refrain from drinking alcohol.

The success of the Devonport Sailor's Rest led to a similar project being opened in Portsmouth in 1881 and the projects were able to house a total of 1600 men between duties.

Later in1895, Queen Victoria allowed the use of Royal Sailor's Rest to be given to the whole foundation and in 1918 Agnes was created a Dame of the British Empire.

During her fundraising, Dame Agnes continued writing to servicemen and her now monthly letter was distributed amongst the ships. In later years up to 60,000 men were said to have read the letters and she also published a journal Ashore and Afloat to encourage Christian beliefs, behaviour and temperance amongst sailors.

Sadly, in the autumn of 1918 she died aged 78, and was buried with full naval honours. In 1940, a frigate was named after Weston-Super-Mare and this became known in the Royal Navy as "Aggie-on-Horseback".

Dame Agnes Weston's Sailor's Rests continued to operate up until the beginning of the twenty-first century, when a fall in use led them to be closed. However, the work that the charity 'Royal Sailors' Rests' continues and now provides support services of its 70 staff to servicemen and their families.

Brian Deverson summed up the day and said, "I am sure Dame Agnes would be thrilled that Grayshott is celebrating her life and her wonderful work with the Royal Navy, in this way. The RSR (Royal Sailors' Rests) is still thriving after 130 years with the same mission to be the 'sailors' friend', but today we are using new and relevant ways of supporting our active Royal Navy & Royal Marines, who are engaged in very real service all around the world".

Phil Bates, Vice Chairman of the Grayshott Society, who co-ordinated the making of the plaque said, '"We are delighted that by working in partnership with Grayshott Pottery and with the Archive Group and others in the village, we have been able to commemorate the life of another great village resident. We are looking forward to doing the same with other famous names in the future!"


Left to right (back 5) Phil Bates (Vice-Chairman, Grayshott Society), Brian Deverson (Executive Director, Royal Sailors' Rests), Councillor Ferris Cowper (Leader, East Hants District Council), Clive Slaughter (Chairman Grayshott Parish Council), Richard Peskett (Grayshott Village Archive), Commander Bill Melly (Royal Navy) Left to right (front 4) Robyn Clarke (Plaque maker Grayshott Pottery), Amanda Haddon-Cave (Chairman Grayshott Society), Pottery and Derek Sparrow (Resident Ensleigh House)
Left to right (back 5) Phil Bates (Vice-Chairman, Grayshott Society), Brian Deverson (Executive Director, Royal Sailors' Rests), Councillor Ferris Cowper (Leader, East Hants District Council), Clive Slaughter (Chairman Grayshott Parish Council), Richard Peskett (Grayshott Village Archive), Commander Bill Melly (Royal Navy) Left to right (front 4) Robyn Clarke (Plaque maker Grayshott Pottery), Amanda Haddon-Cave (Chairman Grayshott Society), Pottery and Derek Sparrow (Resident Ensleigh House)