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Corsica Hall – the evidence for a shorter Harben presence

Published Harben family history states that three generations resided at Corsica Hall, in Seaford, Lewes, Sussex. Yet, readily available sources show that at most the Harben’s occupied this dwelling only for the period after 1773 until 1812. After which the building was largely demolished and a new structure took its place and name.

To be fair to the Harben’s the three generations shared the same name (see below). Of which the second Thomas Harben (1736-1803) was very active in politics, business and socially – and reported in newspapers, magazines and books of the era but in a manner that could be confused with his father’s or son’s actions. Some later Harben descendants, in particular those of the Victorian era, would have been happy for the ancestral ‘home’ to presented as being much more intergenerational than in fact it was.

The three generations are:
1. Thomas Harben (1707-1766) ‘the original’
2. Thomas Harben (1736-1803) ‘the son’
3. Thomas Henry Harben (1768-1823) ‘the grandson’

Above, the original Corisa Hall, in Wellingham (c1740-1783)
Below, the re-located Corsica Hall, in Lewes (1786-1823)

Timeline:

  • 1740s – “The Lodge” originally constructed at Wellingham for Mr John Whitfield
  • November 1747, Nympha Americana wrecks on the coastline. Thomas Harben ‘the original’, noted as being a clock maker of Lewes, is widely credited with making a significant fortune from this – there is no evidence to suggest that he did.
  • Before 1760 – Mr Whitfield’s involvement in the illegal importation of Corsican Wine leads to him presenting the King (George the 2nd) some of his finest wine to escape legal consequences. He is successful and “The Lodge” becomes known as Corsica Hall. George 2nd’s reign was from 1727 to 1760.
  • 1766, Thomas Harben, ‘the original’ dies.
  • Before 1772, After the death of Mr Whitfield, Francis Scott, the fifth Lord Napier, purchases Corsica Hall.
  • May 1772, Lord Napier’s son inadvertently shoots dead Rev. Lowden (the Lord Napier’s domestic chaplain and private tutor) at Corsica Hall (widely reported at the time).
  • April 1773, Lord Napier dies and afterwards the family vacates Corsica Hall. The building became known as being haunted – “was invested by the ignorant and superstitious with an evil and unlucky character”.
  • 1773 – 1782, While Land Tax is paid it appears that the building is not tenanted
  • 1782, Land Tax records show, Thomas Harben, rent £60 occupied by himself
  • 1784, Corsica Hall no longer appears on Land Tax records – presumbably the relocation has started.
  • September 1785, A significant quaintity of Lead, stolen from Corsica Hall, is uncovered buried near the old site. This indicates that no other part of the structure remains at Wellingham.
  • September 1786, the Sussex Advertiser and Lewes Journal reported that ‘Last Friday Mr. Harben of this place gave an elegant dinner at his new house in Seaford.”
  • 15 Oct 1792, Mr Harben of Corsica Hall (now in Seaford), is noted as helping eight French clergymen on the coast – as mentioned in “An Historical and descriptive account of the coast of Sussex” by J D Parry.
  • Around 1812, “Corsica Hall, a plain brick mansion westward of the town, was lately the residence of Thomas Harben, Esq. by whom it was sold prior to the general election in 1812 to the Hon. Thomas Bowes, brother of the Earl of Strathmore.” page 157 of ‘The Beauties of England and Wales: or Original Delineations’ – vol 14, 1813.
  • Before 1822, described as “Corsica Hall, the residence of the Hon. Thomas Bowes, brother to the Earl of Strathmore, stands to the westward of the town, and was previously occupied by Thomas Harben, Esq. who sold it to the present proprietor. It is a brick mansion; and its exterior appearance, being deficient in every pretension to ornament, is totally unprepossessing.” in the 1822 edition of ‘Excursions in the county of Sussex’ – by T K Cromwell. (page 82)
  • 1823, Corsica Hall was purchased by John Fitzgerald and by 1824 had been largely demolished. A new building, named “The Lodge” built in its place. It is this new building which currently referred to as Corsica Hall.