Sort file:- Gravesend, March, 2021.

Page Updated:- Sunday, 07 March, 2021.


Earliest 1819

Wates Hotel

Latest 1883

(Name to)

Commercial Place


Wate's Hotel 1880

Above photo circa 1880. Kindly supplied by John Hopperton.


This large weather boarded structure was at the western end of the promenade next to the Customs House, whose white lookout tower can be seen in the foreground. It was named after James Wates, its first proprietor in 1819. Charles Dickens stayed here when he was waiting to move into Gads Hill Place. The eastern part (closed in 1925) was known as the "Commercial Hotel" from 1886 onwards, although I have reference to it being called the "Commercial" from Pigot's Directory in 1832. In 1896 the main building became the sailors home and in 1918 the Sea School built new premises in the site. It was demolished in 1975 after the Sea School had moved to new premises on the marshes in 1967.


From the Kentish Gazette, 25 January 1846.


On Sunday morning the inhabitants of Gravesend were alarmed by the outbreak of a fire, which occasioned the total destination of the police lock-up, and the death of a prisoner named Thomas Budge, a waterman belonging to the town. Budge was taken in custody shortly after midnight, on a charge of being drunk and incapable of taking care of himself. At one o’clock on Sunday morning he was locked up in what is termed the refuge for casual prisoners, a building two floors high, between the Town-hall and the Market-place. A quantity of straw was placed in the upper floor for the prisoners to sleep in, and the lower room was used as a warehouse for tressels and baskets belonging to the market people. Which the unfortunate man was placed in the building, there was not the least appearance of anything burning. About six o'clock, however, a man named Washer, who sweeps the market, perceived smoke issuing from several apertures in the building. He knocked violently at the entrance, and shouted "Fire." He then ran to the police station, and informed the sergeant on duty. The police hastened to the spot; they applied the key to the door, but the lock was so hot that they were unable to open it, and they were therefore obliged to force the door. The interior of the building was in a blaze, and no one was able to enter. They called loudly to the prisoner to come out, but not receiving an answer they went to the Town-hall and got one of the engines belonging to the corporation, which was immediately set to work, and by directing the branch from the hose upon the roof of the market house, the further extension of flame was cut off, and in less than one hour the fire was wholly extinguished, but not until the lock-up and the warehouse beneath were completely gutted. As soon as the place was sufficiently cooled, search was made for the missing man. After some time the trunk, with the head attached, was found lying upon two partially consumed rafters. The legs were completely burned off; one arm was destroyed, and another had only the shoulder stump remaining. A shell having been procured, the remains were carefully collected together, and carried to the dead-house to await the coroner’s inquest.

The origin of the fire is of course uncertain, but the fact has transpired that a woman who sells lucifer matches had been shut up in the cell in which the unfortunate Budge was consumed, on the very night previous to his incarceration, and it is conjectured that she might have dropped in the straw, which was strewed over the floor as a temporary couch for the incarcerated, one or more of the matches by the sale of which she earned her livelihood; that the deceased might, by treading on one of them, have ignited the straw, when, exhausted by intoxication, he sank upon it.

At twelve o'clock on Thursday Mr. C. J. Carttar opened an inquest in the Town-hall on the remains of the deceased.

The Mayor, Messrs. Oakes and Smith, borough magistrates, and a great many members of the corporation, were present.

Mr. Sharland, the town clerk, was in attendance to watch the proceedings on the part of the corporation.

The jury having viewed the remains of the deceased, William Driver, sergeant of police, deposed, that the remains were those of Thomas Budge, waterman, who was brought to the station-house at about a quarter to one o’clock on Sunday morning, the 17th instant, in the custody of police constables White and Lewis, charged with being drunk and disorderly in the street. The deceased was very drunk and disorderly, and he (witness) ordered the policemen to take him to the "refuge or straw-house," and lock him in there. He had him searched before removing him, and a knife was taken from him. Persons very drunk and disorderly were generally shut up in the upper apartment of this building, the lower apartment being a storeroom for the use of the market, and in the possession of the officer of the corporation who took care of the market. It had been used by the police by order of the mayor and the magistrates, for five or six years, as a prison or lock-up for drunken and disorderly persons, and occasionally as a place of refuge for wanderers who might be taken up in the streets at unseasonable hours of the night. There was no fireplace in it. There was a small grated window or aperture in the upper room or lock-up, and a quantity of straw, for persons shut up in it to lie upon. Heard the deceased, at different times of the night between one and five o’clock, singing, shouting, and cursing. About five o’clock Inspector Penman told him (witness) that "Tom Budge was keeping on making a noise." At about six o'clock, which was an hour before witness was to go off duty, a man of the name of Washer gave the alarm of "Fire"’ at the station house. This man said, "The refuge was on fire;" and he (witness) immediately on hearing this, exclaimed, "Good God! pour Tom Budge is locked up there." He at once, seized the key, which was hanging up in the station house, and accompanied by Washer rushed to the door of the refuge, and unlocked it although it was very hot. The panels of the door were on fire. On opening it he called out to deceased, but received no answer. The fire was then bursting up the steps from the room below, and a quantity of straw that was in the corner of the room opposite the door was in a blaze. Did not see the deceased there. The flames now began to ascend to the roof, and he (witness) sent off policemen, who came up at this time, for the superintendent and the mayor, and proceeded himself for the fire engine; when it was got out the roof was on fire, and no water was procured for about 20 minutes. The quantity of straw in the room was about four trusses. The floor of the refuge did
not fall in till the roof of the building fell in on it, and the whole fell together into the lower room. The body was found in the corner opposite the door, where the straw had been.

Police constable Lewis deposed, that a complaint was made to him by James Edwards, porter at "Wate's Hotel," that the deceased, Tom Budge, was very drunk and disorderly near the hotel. Proceeding there he found him and constable White with him, inducing him to go away and to be quiet. Finding that he would not do so, White and he (witness) took him to the station house with great difficulty as he was very violent. They gave him in charge to Serjeant Driver, who entered the charge in the book, and ordered him to be searched, and then shut up in the refuge or straw-room, where refractory drunken people were usually put. When the alarm was given at about 6 o'clock witness arrived, and saw the door opened. The flames were then on the floor where the straw was. Asked if Budge was got out, and was told not. Could not see him in the room, nor could he or anybody go in, as the flames burst out at the door, and the roof had taken fire. The remains of deceased were found when the fire had burnt out. Could not say what was in the room or store below the refuge.

Police constable White corroborated the evidence of the last witness.

George Washer, market-cleaner, deposed, that he went into the market-place about half-past 5 o’clock in the morning; that he commenced cleaning or sweeping it out, and was so engaged for nearly half an hour. At about 6 o'clock, while so engaged, he turned round and saw the fire breaking from the roof of the refuge. He ran to the station house close by, and called out. "Fire, fire," when Sergeant Driver ran out, and he told the sergeant that the place was on fire. Driver said, "Good God! Tom Budge is in there." Driver took the key and ran up to the building, and with his (witness's) assistance the door was opened. It was very hot, and the flames burst out when the door was opened. Saw the deceased through the flames lying on the straw on his face and hands. He seemed to be dead at that time; the fire was all round him. He (witness) run down to the lower door, of which he had the key, and opened it. The steps that led up to the upper room were on fire, but there was no other fire then in the lower room, but the flames soon spread, and he was prevented from saving any of the things in the room.

Superintendent North proved that the magistrates had ordered that persons very drunk and noisy should be locked up in the refuge or detached appurtenance to the station house. The upper apartment of it was under the control of the police.

There were several other persons examined as to the time of the discovery of the fire, but their evidence did not add materially to that already given.

The Coroner having addressed the jury, they retired, and in about 20 minutes returned with their verdict - "Accidental Death," when The Coroner, addressing the Mayor, said,— Mr. Mayor, I am instructed by the jury to state to you that they have come to a verdict that the deceased came by his death by an accidental fire whilst he was in the legal custody of the police, but that as to the origin of the fire they can come to no conclusion. They wish to append to their verdict their opinion that the lock-up or refuge was not a proper place to imprison people, inasmuch as the police had no control over the lower part of it, that being in other hands, and that such control should not be in any other hands; that the magistrates and the police should have sole and undivided control over the building, should it be rebuilt and again used as a lock-up. They further express their opinion that it was not proper to allow a person in a state of drunkenness to be unvisited in a cell during the night, and they express their desire that you, Mr. Mayor, and the magistrates, should give an order to the police to visit such person at intervals of one hour at least in the coarse of the night.

The Mayor said, that the suggestion of the jury should be duly attended to, and expressed his thanks to the Coroner for the courtesy with which he communicated to the magistrates the opinion of the jury.

The Foreman of the jury said, that the jury wished it to be publicly stated that they believed the police to be perfectly justified in taking the deceased into custody, and that in their opinion no blame attached to them in this melancholy case, as they had no orders given to them respecting visiting a prisoner who was shut up for being drunk.


North Devon Journal 31 December 1857.

BANKRUPTS from Tuesday Night's London Gazette Includes James Wates, hotel keeper, Gravesend.



WATES James 1840-57


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