Thomas Jenner Sells creator of Charlotteville

Image 1.7 Cline Road

Our researcher Liz Lloyd has been looking into the life of Dr Sells Sr and his creative vision for Charlotteville, which has endured, making this part of Guildford distinctive, even today.

Thomas Jenner Sells MRCS and JP 1811-1879

Thomas Jenner Sells was born on February 25th 1811 in Clarendon, Jamaica, the son of William Sells, Practitioner of Medicine, and his wife, Euphemia. William Sells was a surgeon in Jamaica for several years. B. W. Higman in, “Slave Populations of the British Caribbean 1807-1834,” quotes William Sells recommendation in 1815 that slave women should have, “proper lying-in houses,” for safe delivery of their babies, “with attention from a medical Practitioner.” In 1823 William published his own work, “Remarks on the Condition of Slaves in the island of Jamaica.” In November 1826 he and his family left Jamaica and by 1841 he was living in Kingston-upon-Thames where he died in September.

After completing his medical training, Thomas Jenner Sells settled in Guildford in about 1840. He worked and lived with the elderly surgeon William Newland, whose practice he took over. He was later in practice with Caleb Woodyer and James Stedman. On July 19th 1842 Thomas married Charlotte, the daughter of Rev. John Stedman and they settled at 109 High Street. In 1846 and again in 1851, Thomas was elected Mayor of Guildford and in 1856 he was a member of St Mary’s burial board.

Thomas and Charlotte had six children, four sons and two daughters. Charles John Sells and Hubert Thomas Sells followed their father into medicine, William Sells became a clergyman and Edward Jenner Sells became a bank cashier. In addition to his everyday medical duties, Thomas took over the private lunatic asylum at Leapale House. His partner at first was William S. Wilson, who married Thomas Sells’ daughter, Euphemia, two years later. By her early 40s, she was a widow and spent the rest of her life living with her younger sister, Frances Duncomb Sells, who had never married.

In 1852 Thomas Jenner Sells participated in the investigation into the horrific murder of a 3 year old child in Albury. John Keene and his wife Jane were accused of drowning her illegitimate child, Charlie Broomer, in a well in February 1851. Mrs Keene’s mother, Ann Broomer, had reported her fears to Police Superintendent Josiah Hawkins Radley stationed at Guildford and he took a well-digger to Warren Well near Albury Heath. On finding remains, they summoned Dr Sells. Thomas Sells testified that the body had been in the well for at least a year and he produced the skull, which he had put back together, to show to the Court.

Other testimonies included that of Mr Ames, Master of Guildford Union Workhouse, who reported that Jane Keene had been admitted to the Workhouse after dark on January 10th 1851 accompanied by two children, 3 year old Charlie Broomer and a baby born a few weeks before to Jane and her husband John. She had left the Workhouse with her children on February 6th. On 16th February she returned to the Workhouse with her husband John and her youngest child, saying that Charlie was with her mother in Albury. In spite of the fact that all the evidence was hearsay, at the end of the trial Jane Keene was acquitted but her husband was condemned to death for murder.

One of the other cases involving Thomas occurred in 1864 when there was a quarrel between two boys from a gypsy encampment on Whitmoor Common. One boy, John Stacey, was stabbed. Dr Sells dressed his wound and then sent the boy to the Workhouse although his assailant had escaped towards Woking. In January 1865 an inquest was held on the death of Thomas Philips, a fruit hawker from Kingston. He had been arrested the previous week for being drunk in the street and as he was very unwell at the police station Dr. Sells directed that Philips should be removed to Guildford Union Workhouse. While at the workhouse, he fell and died.

T. J. Sells was a man of his time, an entrepreneur with a social conscience. He was actively involved in the management of two Friendly Societies, the Ancient Order of Foresters and the West Surrey General Benefit Society which provided sick pay to its subscribers. In 1865 he was elected chairman of the Working Men’s Institution, now better known as the Guildford Institute. He was co-founder of the town’s first public hall for the Guildford Institute in North Street. He was an Alderman of the town, a magistrate and during the last few years of his life, a justice of the peace.

In 1862 Thomas Jenner Sells purchased a large plot of land at the south-eastern end of Guildford with the intention of building many houses. Thomas Sells worked with Henry Peak, the town’s first Borough surveyor, and the design for one of the first housing estates in the town took shape. Thomas Sells named the area after his wife, Charlotte, and all the roads were named after famous physicians. Charlotteville, one of the earliest planned suburbs in Britain, was planned to have a social mix, with large villas to purchase and small terraced cottages to rent. The gradual building of this, “urban village,” continued after the death of T. J. Sells, but in 1867 at an anniversary dinner for the local Forresters’ Lodge, Thomas commented that, “He hoped he had shown his fellow townsmen the best way to spend their money. Every mechanic should live in his own home.”

Thomas earned the respect of his peers in Victorian Guildford. At a Forresters’ Dinner in 1865 his health was toasted by the chairman for being, “A skilful, courteous gentleman who thought no trouble too much in looking after his patients.” In 1864 his innovation in establishing Charlotteville earned the praise of the Surrey Advertiser, “Mr Sells deserves success and we cannot too highly commend that private enterprise which while it conduces to such success, improves the town and confers a lasting obligation upon the inhabitants.”

Thomas Jenner Sells continued to take an active part in civic duties until shortly before his death. He died at the age of 68 after a few weeks illness. In March 1879, two years after his wife, Charlotte, he was buried in the Mount cemetery in Guildford.
Elizabeth Lloyd

Diaries of Henry Peak edited by Roger Nicholas
Census and Parish records from
British Newspapers Archive
Times Digital Archive

Helen Lloyd and the WVS in Surrey

In 1938 when the Woman’s Voluntary Services were established, Helen Lloyd, a 39 year old resident of Albury, where she lived with her parents, volunteered to take charge of the reception of evacuees in the Guildford Rural District.  We are able to discover a great deal about her ever widening responsibilities for the WVS through the diaries she wrote for the Mass Observation Archive.

Helen Lloyd by kind permission of SHC 1532/9/1
Helen Lloyd by kind permission of SHC 1532/9/1

From 1939 till 1940, 1100 evacuees arrived in the Guildford Rural District, many in 1940 having been moved from the south coast where they had first been housed.  Apart from the logistics of finding homes for the children, Helen commented in her Narrative Reports to the WVS headquarters that Enuresis (bed-wetting) was a severe problem for families taking care of the children.  Many solutions were suggested throughout the country, such as not allowing children to pick dandelions, but Helen believed, “All that is needed is a legion of old-fashioned nannies who love the children dearly but who stand no nonsense from their charges.”  She may have followed this herself for she remarked in her diary that she had happily replaced a bath and a drink before dinner with a session reading a story to the four boys residing with her family.

The WVS centre for Guildford Borough was organised by Mrs Eileen Leach, but Helen’s base was also in Guildford and she had regular meetings with Mrs Leach.

Though not specifically connected with Warren Road Hospital, Helen often went there in her role as WVS district organiser.  Her diary entry for

June 15th 1940

“Took a car full of teapots and cruets to Warren Road Hospital.  Mrs Thomas objected to appeals being made for the hospital as it made public the fact that it was badly equipped – which of course was the case.”

October 26th 1940

“To Warren Road Hospital to give blood.  Had to wait 40 minutes but enlivened the time by gossiping with Mrs Cooper who was taking records.  The operation was extremely simple and I felt ashamed of having a fluttering head.  The doctor was charming and I admired and wished to emulate his bedside manner.”

Helen was concerned that the London boroughs made no attempt to forward the children’s medical records or spectacle prescriptions , but the main medical concerns were obvious.

December 30th 1940

“Had to take two of Mrs Strachey’s children to Warren Road Hospital with impetigo and nits!”

January 31st 1941

“Eight cases of scabies and nowhere to put them; 3 measles contacts and no billets; an expectant mother imminently expecting; a child admitted to Warren Road for impetigo has measles there and no-one is told; a second child of Mrs Strachey’s has scarlet fever though the school doctor pronounced it to be nothing.”

The highlight of June 1940 was the arrival at Guildford station of men evacuated from Dunkirk.  Mrs Leach was in Helen’s office organising food for the trains when there was a message for them to go to the station as soon as possible.  There they found chaos as train after train of hungry and thirsty English, French and Belgian soldiers stopped en route from the south coast.  “The waiting rooms on the platform were transformed into larders and pantries and were filled with people cutting sandwiches.  Churns of hot tea ladled into tins, jam jars, anything that would serve as a cup.”  For four days the WVS continued to serve the soldiers with the, “enthusiastic support of Guildford tradesmen willing to be knocked up at all hours to give goods at a discount of sixty per cent.”

After Dunkirk, the Guildford scheme was instigated, “Whereby we shall keep a list of lodgings, free or otherwise, for the wives and relations of wounded (servicemen) on the danger list.  These people are, if necessary to be met at the station and taken to the hospital or billets.”

Meanwhile the rural WVS were to supply ashtrays, handkerchiefs, drinking beakers, books and games for the injured soldiers at Warren Road Hospital.

Helen Lloyd with Canadian soldiers in June 1945 (with kind permission of the SHC 5380/1/12/1)
Helen Lloyd with Canadian soldiers in June 1945 (with kind permission of the SHC 5380/1/12/1)

On one occasion Helen recorded that a family had been sent from Bristol because the husband was dying of cancer at Warren Road Hospital.  His wife and six children were sent to Ockham Park which made it impossible for them to visit the hospital so she persuaded the Billeting Officer to find them a council cottage in Shackleford.

Later in 1941 Helen Lloyd reported that 3 bombs had dropped near to Warren Road Hospital killing 2 people, injuring 9 and making 200 homeless.  In October 1941 a British Restaurant was opened in Charlotteville.  This was a communal feeding centre, a cafe where a full hot meal could be purchased for one shilling, served and washed up by the WVS.  At the same time WVS members were knitting scarves, helmets, socks, sweaters and gloves.  By 1941 almost 3,000 children had been evacuated to the 22 parishes in Helen’s Rural District.  In January 1942 when there was thick snow on the ground, Helen skied into Guildford from her home in Albury.

In June 1942 there were 542 WVS members in Guildford Rural District and 1,005 in the borough of Guildford.  An editorial in the Surrey Times of 29th October 1943 expressed the opinion that, “While the grey uniforms of the members of the WVS are seen mingling among the crowds in our streets, few of the public are conscious of the valuable work they undertake.”

Article by SLHHP researcher Liz Lloyd


Warriors at Home 1940-1942” edited by Patricia and Robert Malcomson
Women at the Ready: The remarkable story of the Women’s Voluntary Services” by Robert and Patricia Malcolmson.
The Surrey History Centre, 130 Goldsworth Road, Woking, GU21 6ND