Ryde Social Heritage Group research the social history of the citizens of Ryde, Isle of Wight. Documenting their lives, businesses and burial transcriptions.
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Francis Newman JP, CE (1831 – 1904) Ryde Borough Surveyor

Francis Newman

Francis Newman was, by all accounts, a decent and well respected man of Ryde and the present day inhabitants of the town have reason to be grateful to him for his professionalism and for the enduring services he rendered to the community.

Mr Newman was a native of the Island and trained as a civil engineer. Between 1852 and 1853 he carried out a complete survey of Ryde and produced a large leather bound book containing a series of hand drawn maps covering the whole of the town. The maps included all the buildings, roads and the existing sewers and drains. On 13 January 1857 he was elected surveyor to the Ryde Commissioners and continued to hold the office after the borough was incorporated in 1869 until 1872. Then, owing to a municipal change of administration when the ‘Knight’ party came into power, he was out of office for a time but was re-elected again in 1875 and continued to serve the town until 1897.

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Much of the efficiency of the Ryde water supply, sewerage arrangements and sea defences were due to his professional skill and thoroughness. His fame as a surveyor and engineer and his knowledge of sanitary matters and of sea defence work won him an extensive clientele. He had been professionally connected with nearly all the Island towns, as well as Swanage and many places on the mainland. He also did much arbitration work, amongst other things in connection with the construction of the Joint Railway works at Ryde.

In 1860 the Old Parish Cemetery which had opened in 1842 was already beginning to fill up and there was a need to find additional land for the burial ground. A number of sites were considered but the most suitable was thought to be land to the north and west of the Old Parish Cemetery. Francis Newman carried out a survey of the land on behalf of the Burial Board and in June 1860 issued the following certificate:

“I herby certify that the proposed site for a new cemetery adjacent to the present burying ground, can be efficiently drained in the High Street sewer, by placing a drain at the west end of Hill Street, 20 feet below the surface, The length of the drain from the lowest point of the land to the main sewer will be 499 yards.” – Francis Newman, Town Surveyor.

Mr Newman submitted plans two new chapels for the cemetery, one to be Church of England and the other Non Conformist. In July 1861 a secret ballot was held and his design “ars longa, vita brevis” was chosen. “Ars longa, vita brevis” is generally taken to mean “art lasts for ever, but artists die and are forgotten”, or “Life is short, but to master an art (skill or profession) takes a very long time”. He was appointed to superintend all the building work, which was carried out by Mr Thomas Sibley, and the fencing, draining and laying out of the grounds and to provide all the necessary specifications and plans. He also designed the cemetery lodge which was built in 1862 by Mr Meader and was initially for the use of the Superintendent of the Cemetery, the first of whom was Mr Henry Import.

Picture of Ryde Town Hall before the enlargement.

Picture of Ryde Town Hall before the enlargement.

Ryde Town Hall was built in 1829-31 by James Sanderson and in 1867-8 it was altered and extended in an Italianate style by Francis Newman, and at the same time a tower rising from the roof level, with a tall cupola, was added to the design of Thomas Dashwood.

When the Island was constituted as an administrative county in 1890 Francis Newman was appointed County Surveyor, an office he held until the time of his death in 1904. In the early 1900s his name was added to the Commission of the Peace for the borough of Ryde and he performed his magisterial duties with conscientiousness.

Mr Francis Newman was one of the most distinguished Freemasons in the province he was a founder of the Chine Lodge as well as holding high office in many other lodges.

In 1850 he was one of the promoters of the Volunteer movement in Ryde, and stood amongst the first of those sworn in as members of the local corps. When the various local corps were amalgamated he retained his connection with the Island battalion and retired with the rank of Major, with permission to wear the uniform of his rank. He received a medal for long service and good conduct at the hands of the Duke of Connaught in Portsmouth Town Hall.

He was also one of the founders of the Ryde School of Science and Art and when the Council was constituted for the management of the school he was elected chairman, a position he held until his death.

Francis Newman died of heart failure, as a result of bronchitis, at St Paul’s in St Thomas’ Street, Ryde at 11:30 on the evening of 30 March 1904 aged 73. His wife Ann survived him by four years. His funeral service was held on Saturday 2 April 1904 and was conducted by the Revs Cameron, Whittam and Brew. There was a very large attendance at the funeral, the first part of which was conducted at Holy Trinity Church where the Rev Cameron read the office and the Rev Whittam read the lesson. Rev Whittam also officiated at the graveside and read a number of Masonic prayers after the conclusion of the Prayer book service.

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The memorial to Francis Newman in Ryde cemetery is a simple marble cross mounted on a small three tiered plinth. The bar of the cross has a central motif of two circles around a double bar cross with the words IN HOC SIGNO VINCES between the two circles. The phrase means “in this sign you shall conquer” and is attributed to Constantine who used it as a military motto in the early 4th Century. The phrase was also used by the original Knights Templar military order that was founded during the Crusades. The Freemasons began using Templar rituals and symbols in the late 1700s.
Unfortunately the cross has been broken for some time and is in two pieces leaning against the plinth. This simple and modest memorial gives no indication of how important Francis Newman was to the development and health of the town.

Francis Newman grave

Buildings of England, The Isle of Wight by David W Lloyd and Nikolaus Pevsner; Minute Books of the Ryde Cemetery Burial Board; Isle of Wight County Press; History of East Medina Lodge No 175 from 1813 to 1913 and Freemasonry in the Isle of Wight.