A soldier returned injured from war, unable to get work and settle into civilian life, makes for himself a home an a bit of wasteland next to the local graveyard, and ekes out a living dependent upon the kindness of strangers. This could be a story of any town in any age, but it just happens that this is the story of Corporal Staines, veteran of Nelson’s navy, Brighton 1810 or thereabouts.
Corporal Staines lived in a chalk pit in what is now the St Nicholas rest garden, and when moved on from there, in a succession of spaces – behind the church, at the Level, Rose Hill.
The corporal made a living 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.
Corporal Staines was buried at St Nicholas Ground in an unmarked grave at the foot of another veteran – Pheobe Hessel
It is a story from 200 years ago, but versions of it are still being played out in Brighton of today. A piece of film and music inspired by his life recently came my way. Here it is.