Sunday, November 11, 2001

If not Mad Jack then who?

[update: This was Mad Jack causing mayhem - to quote Geoff Hutchinson (page 49) "in 1796 (Fuller) was given one of the most prestigious offices available to a country gentleman - High Sherrif of Sussex, the king's legal representative for the county." Hardly surprising as he was a staunch monarchist with the wealth to carry out his duties in style.]

It is always interesting to hear from various people who, like myself, are investigating the lives and works of men and women who have made lasting contributions to the arts and sciences. Recently I was contacted by a gentleman named Brian Robins who is researching the catch and glee club culture in the 18th century. In addition to being a music historian with a special interest in England during the 18th Century, he is also an adult education lecturer and reviewer for Fanfare (US) and Goldberg Early Music Magazine (Spain), of which he is the UK Editor.

In a recent e-mail message he wrote:

I'm the editor of the Journals of John Marsh (1752-1828) (pub. 1998), who was a gentleman composer who spent much of his life in Chichester. Marsh includes two references to a rather eccentric Mr Fuller. I think this probably not 'mad Jack' but wonder if you have any idea if was a member of the family. The two references are pasted below:

About an hour after dinner the Duke retiring, Col Pelham took the opportunity of going to pay his respects to the gent'n at the other inn, & deputed Mr Fuller, the High Sheriff, from thence to take his place at the Dolphin,who being afterwards desired to give us a song, sung so very obscene & blackguard a one, as was noticed by many people & occasion'd some to withdraw sooner than they otherwise wo'd have done, amongst whom I took the opportunity of going & went with Gen'l Jones to tea at Miss Poole's.

p.614 (1796)

Hearing here a person near the orchestra making a great noise I soon found it to be Mr Fuller late of the Sussex Militia, who sung the curious song at the election dinner at Chichester when High Sheriff & who now on Salomon leading a symphony of Haydn with great rapidity, exclaim'd "too fast too fast, it's all confusion" etc. & on my agreeing with him, on meeting him when the act was over, as to the matter of his criticism, he immediately brought me into the scrape, by calling out to Salomon & saying that I "who was a great musical amateur & critic" was of the same opinion with him. And on young Pinto finishing his Concerto in the 2nd. act he was in such raptures as again to burst out into exclamation vociferating "Bravo, bravo, Pinto, you co'd not have played it better Salomon yourself by G- ".

p.692 (1799)

Monday, September 24, 2001

John Vetterlein

Lately I have been corresponding with John Vetterlein who has recently published a monograph on the restoration of Brightling Observatory. He writes:

My monograph is only intended to place on record my own input (together with a few reflections for amusement). Unfortunately the early correspondence I had with Hugh Malleson, before we became well acquainted, I have lost or destroyed. Likewise, the detailed drawings for the dome. This is a pity since it included photographs taken before the alterations. The observatory being a listed building, we were mindful of a number of design factors in an attempt to retain the original appearance. I don't think the new dome was aesthetically inferior to the lead clad dome: mounting the anemometer altered the appearance as much as anything and this was done before my involvement.
Hugh Malleson researched the background to the building himself. I saw some of this during my visits to the observatory. This information too is dispersed. My recollection is that Hugh went to the RIBA archives as well as those of the RAS. When I was a Fellow of the Society way back in the 60s, I did some work in trying to trace records of actual astronomical observations made at Brightling but came across nothing of note. I may turn my attention to the matter again now that my interest has been rekindled. The RAS was formed only 12 years before Fuller died.

An excerpt from the monograph will appear here shortly.

Tuesday, July 10, 2001

Intriguing Questions

In recent months I have received a number of very interesting queries about Jack Fuller, his family and his follies. The latest one is a question regarding, "the name of the person that John Fuller placed a bet with concerning Dallington church spire", that led to the construction of the sugarloaf folly. As far as I can tell, the bet was made while Jack was at his London home so that opens up the door to speculation considering the company he kept.

I will be going to England on July 17 and am looking forward to continuing research at the East Sussex Record Office and other sources.

Sunday, March 04, 2001

Fuller Genealogy

Stephen Fuller of Deal Kent writes:

We have a mystery. Our Samuel Fuller (Biddenden, then Smarden, then Sellinge) married Mary King in Biddenden Kent in 1699. They both died in Biddenden in 1712, Samuel registered as "a poor man". We have no record of Samuel's parentage and where in Kent or Sussex he was from, Fuller being a common wealden name. We have no trace to Staplehurst and all the Sussex Waldron Fullers. We have no trace to the Egerton Mayflower Fullers.. We know he was from another parish than Biddenden, registered in the Poor law records as a "foreign occupier".

Samuel Fuller and Mary had 5 children, according to the Biddenden register as follows, christenings:

Richard 1 Sept 1699
Samuel 19 July 1702
Thomas 9 April 1705
James 10 April 1710
Elizabeth 31 Dec 1710

We believe that Richard and Thomas died in infancy although no burials recorded. Elizabeth died and buried at Biddenden 21st Oct 1718. Samuel and James and Elizabeth (before she died) were looked after as orphans under the poor law, both their parents having died in 1712.Samuel and James are then found at Smarden

Saturday, February 10, 2001

Who was John "Mad Jack" Fuller?

The eccentric John Mad Jack Fuller, squire of Brightling, is a fascinating topic of research for me. Born in 1757 Fuller was in some ways a typical English squire and Member of Parliament in the Georgian Period. However, his penchant for building follies and his ebullient personality are the stuff of which legends are made. He was a patron of the arts and sciences who made valuable contributions to the community.

In 1777, at the age of 20, Jack Fuller inherited his family's wealth and mansion, Rose Hill at Brightling, East Sussex. He served 4 terms in parliament and was on more than one occasion removed from the House for raucous behaviour. Fuller was a huge man who wore his hair in a pig tail. He never married and had no children.


He is buried in a 25 ft tall pyramid in the churchyard of St. Thomas of Canterbury church, a structure he had built 24 years before he died in 1834. Legend had it that he was interred in full evening dress, sitting upright at a table set with a roast chicken and a bottle of claret. Renovations to the pyramid in the 1980's put this tale to rest.

It is also said that when in London, Fuller bet that he could see the spire of Dallington church from his house. Upon returning home he found that this was not the case and sent a group of men out to erect a conical building designed to resemble the spire. Needless to say, Fuller won the bet and the Sugar Loaf as it has come to be called still stands.

Fuller's Observatory was furnished with state of the art astronomy equipment. It is now a private home. The Observatory, and quite possibly the Greek Rotunda Temple, was designed by noted architect Sir Robert Smirke who also designed the British Museum in London among other important commissions. The Obelisk or Brightling Needle, another of Fuller's legacies, is 65 ft high and is most likely a monument to celebrate Wellington's victory over Napoleon in 1815.


Among Fuller's lasting contributions to the community are: the Belle Tout lighthouse at Beachy Head and the barrel organ at Brightling church which is now the largest of its kind in full operation in Britain today. He is also credited with saving Bodiam castle from demolition as he purchased it from a firm of builders and had it restored. The Tower, another odd structure, is said to have been built by Fuller so that he could keep an eye on the progress of workmen at Bodiam. Fuller was a founding member of the Royal Institution and created two professorships which have endured into the 21st Century.

Sunday, February 04, 2001

The Legend lives on: Mad Jack's Pyramid

The makers of Brooke Bond Tea have been giving away collectable cards in each package of their product for many years. In 1996 a series of 45 cards titled " Pyramid Power" was issued. Several of the cards were about pyramid-shaped follies in the UK. Card number 43 highlights the legend of Jack Fuller's pyramid and reads as follows:

A typical English eccentric - Mad Jack Fuller was the Squire of Brightling Park, East Sussex. At 22 stone he was a larger than life character - loved eating - drinking and talking loudly - and had a heart of gold! He built a weird and wonderful collection of
buildings - but the strangest of all is his 25-foot high pyramid tomb in Brightling churchyard. He died in 1834 - and one tale handed down is that he was buried at a fully set dinner table with a bottle of claret at hand - dressed for dinner and wearing a top hat! Now that's what I call style - Kevin!

The complete set of Pyramid Power Cards can be viewed at: