Friends of Hastings Cemetery

SMITH, John (‘Yorky’)

SMITH, John (‘Yorky’) Builder; born Leeds 1788

Died November 23 1856, age 68yrs  

The first burial Plot AB K24 9 ft (inc wife)

The towers between Bexhill and Eastbourne were built by a Yorkshireman, John 'Yorky' Smith, who walked from Leeds to London in search of work. More than one builder became rich from building Martello Towers. Smith himself is said to have made £20,000 from the venture, whilst Edward Hodges, another Martello builder, is also reputed to have made his fortune from them.  Smith fired the first rounds from a Martello Tower (between Eastbourne and  Bexhill) at a French privateer; it is suggested that his Martello Tower work was the instrument in his meeting Mark Breeds, though no documentary evidence survives.

He became a foreman at Rye & came to Hastings c.1815; he built Nelson’s Buildings in the High St in 1817, helped in building Bohemia House, Wellington Square, Pelham Crescent & Arcade, St. Mary-in-the-Castle, and part of Breeds Place; he responsible for pulling down part of Castle Cliff with ropes and oxen to enable seafront buildings; built the first significant house to be built in St Leonards new town at 57 Marina, for James Burton.

Bohemia farmhouse was rebuilt for George Collingwood, the son in law of Admiral Collinwood in about 1818 by ‘Yorky’ Smith as the mansion Bohemia House (later called Summerfields). It had a large estate running south. It was bought by Thomas and Boykett Breeds, of the local merchants family, in late 1824 and then Wastel Brisco in 1831.

Smith bought a house in Guestling and restarted Bradshaw Charity, eventually establishing a school for poor children; in politics he supported the Reform Bill and municipal reform; he was a member of the Burial Board.

New Cemetery and Dead Builder


Consecration of the new Borough Cemetery on the Ridge by Dr Gilbert, Bishop of Chichester. This followed the parish cemeteries being closed by the 1847 Act of Parliament. There had then been a strong row in Council (and establishment) circles about where the new borough cemetery should be built, how much it would cost, who would get the contract and who would make money out of it.

The first burial, on December 2, was that of the well-known local builder John (Yorky) Smith, who died November 23. Ironically, he had strongly opposed the cemetery being on this site.  His funeral was followed to grave by mayor and corporation. It is recorded that his gravestone was removed but there is some doubt if it was same man.

SMITH JOHN, Stonemason,  Male, 68, St Mary-in-the-Castle 2 Dec 1856