Corporal Staines lived and died in Brighton during the first half of the nineteenth century. A former Marine, he was buried at the foot of another old soldier Phoebe Hessel, but his grave is not marked, and his name doesn’t appear in the records of inscriptions. More can probably be found in the parish records for anyone with the patience for the search. We know about Staines because his life was noted by John Ackerson Erredge in his ‘History of Brighthelmstone’ (1862)
He had served under Nelson at the siege of Copenhagen in 1807. Returning to Brighton as an injured veteran he took up residence in a cavern hewn in the Church Hill chalk-pit, (the site now forming the junction of Dyke Road and Upper North Street). The following entry in the Vestry book relates to his time there: October 2nd, 1809.-That Corporal Staines be allowed a blanket and a great coat during the winter.
The corporal made his living by exhibiting miniature models which he carved from chalk of soldiers and cannons, and also a model of the gallant ship – the Victory – bearing, under a black canopy a coffin containing the body of the Hero of Trafalgar. At the great feast days held at the Level he would fire off Royal salutes from four pistols mounted on his model ship, and was rewarded with a share of the food.
After some time Staines moved from the chalk pit to a hut which he constructed at the back of the St Nicholas Church, now the entrance of the Children’s Garden, which was then also the site of the parish stocks. Changes in land ownership forced the removal of Corporal Staines from this site, and he spent the remainder of his life in locations around Rose Hill and above the Level. He ended his days in Brighton Workhouse.
There is a watercolour currently on display at the Brighton Museum in Pavilion Gardens. It is called ‘Brighton Church’ by Thomas Streatfield (1777-1848) and shows the church viewed from the chalkpit. The little hut at the bottom of the pit may or may not have been home to Corporal Staines.