WILLIAM HOBSON (1752-1840) – MARKFIELD HOUSE – TOTTENHAM
DESIGNER and BUILDER OF MARTELLO TOWERS

 

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Markfield House was built in 1798 when Tottenham was a fashionable rural village conveniently close to London. The occupant of Markfield House was William Hobson who was a very important figure in the London building and property world. He had been prominent in the rebuilding of St Luke’s Hospital and also the construction of the London Docklands. He also helped with the construction of London’s infamous Newgate Gaol.

 

In her ‘Reminiscences of Tottenham’ written by Mrs J.W Couchman she makes a small reference to Markfield House as follows: “The next estate was called Markfield and was fifty-four acres in extent; there was a large house lying some distance back, in its own grounds, belonging to and in the occupation of Mr William Hobson” .
Harriet Couchman reminiscences recall in her mind’s eye the dear old village of Tottenham as it was in her childhood, surrounded by meadows, cornfields, and pretty country lanes and a great number of stately elms and other trees. She continued that the population was then so small that all of the inhabitants were known to one another, and the appearance of strangers was at once a matter of speculation as to who they were.
The house at Markfield Park only stood for 82 years when it was demolished to make way for the new streets and terraces which were turning Tottenham into a London suburb.

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The activity with which William Hobson is particularly associated, however, was the building of the Martello Towers along the South and East coasts of Britain for defence against a feared French invasion. Reacting to this very real threat, the British government set about urgently improving defences along what it considered to be the most vulnerable stretches of coastline

The towers were so called because at Mortella Point in Corsica, a small round tower that withstood an immense battering by cannon fire from an English fleet commanded by Lord Hood in 1794. A prominent engineer at the time, Captain William Ford, put forward the proposal to create a chain of similar towers, spread at regular intervals along the coast. If one tower could repel two heavily armed British ships, then a strategically placed series would surely have a devastating effect on any invading fleet.
Many of the towers built by William Hobson remain today especially along the Kent Coast. Typically the towers are about forty feet in height, are situated along the beach and are of a very solid construction.
Please refer to the following photographs that show a cross section of the surviving Martello Towers:

 

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In 1805, William Hobson, was appointed as the main contractor for the building work. In this role he was able to sub-contract the building work to local builders, although there appears to be some confusion concerning him allegedly buying vast stocks of bricks, effectively cornering the market and virtually guaranteeing him the contract.
As a result of Hobson sub-contracting, 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

 

WILLIAM HOBSON & FAMILY

 

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William Hobson of Markfield Tottenham was born in Southwark, London on 9th November 1752. He married Ann Rickman in 1779 who bore him no less than sixteen children. William Hobson was of Quaker origins although only in a nominal sense as his activities were often frowned upon by his fellow Quakers. Being the father of a very large and lively family whose pleasures and relaxations were not normally associated with such a background. He had a box at the Opera, owned a billiard table and enjoyed hunting and fishing which were inconsistent with Friends principles. His wife was likewise criticised because ‘ she encourages and approves of her children being taught the practice of music’. All of the Hobson’s activities were unexceptional by the standards of the day for a family of their social class but were nevertheless disapproved of in Quaker circles.
The sixteen children, 13 girls and 3 boys were born between 1780 and 1801 and were named in order of birth, Martha, William, Joshua, Shepherd, Anne, Susanna, Laura, Lydia, Emma, Emily, Adeline, Caroline, Hannah Blades, Georgina, Mary and Ellen.
Without, however, the arrival of the artist John Constable on a visit in 1806, the whole family might well have been abandoned to obscurity by history. Why Constable was invited to stay at Markfield is a matter of conjecture. He was thirty, unmarried, and an aspiring painter, though not certain at this stage how his art would develop. The landscapes for which he is now famous were not produced until later in the decade. One explanation is that one of Hobson’s neighbours, Priscilla Wakefield, had recommended Constable as a suitable visitor to help improve the girl’s drawing. Priscilla Wakefield was a philanthropist and writer of children’s books , and like Hobson a liberal Quaker. Though a native of Tottenham she had connections with Ipswich, and it was in the house of mutual friends, the Cobbolds, that she had first met Constable in 1799.
John Constable spent over two weeks during June and July 1806 at Markfield House, Tottenham, as a guest of William Hobson. He made a number of sketches of William Hobson, his wife, and at least six of their sixteen children including five of their daughters; they were Ann (b. 1785), Susanna (b. 1786), Laura (b. 1788), Lydia (b. 1789) and Emma (b. 1791). He made large number of drawings of the daughters, many of which can be seen in two intact sketchbooks (one in the Louvre, the other at Yale). Most of the sketches of the girls were hastily executed, on a small scale and in pencil.
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It is also possible that while a guest at Markfield House, Constable also made studies for his painting of All Hallows Church Tottenham which is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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A bust of William Hobson was presented to the Brassie Institute at Hastings, Sussex by his grand-daughter Mrs. Ellen Oliver in memory of her Grandfather.
Ellen Oliver was the widow of the Rev, William Oliver and daughter of John Austin by his wife Ellen Hobson. Mrs Oliver died 26th April 1906.
William Hobson is said to have been upon friendly terms with King George III , who wished him to accept a baronetcy, but he had enough of the Quaker in him to refuse that honour.


William Hobson died on 23rd May 1840, aged 87 years and was buried at the old parish church of All Saints, Tottenham. There were apparently twelve mourning coaches and seventeen private carriages in the funeral procession from Markfield House in South Tottenham to the Church.

Prepared by Alan Swain _ August 2011
References;

'Remininiscences of Tottenham' by Mrs J.W Couchman.
Markfield House , Tottenham - By Ian Murray
William Hobson of Markfield- The Quaker builder of the Martello Towers – Joseph J Green
Website: http://www.martello-towers.co.uk/index.html

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