The prominent local builder and politician John Howell, of Priory Mount, 7 Holmesdale Gardens, died on Friday 1 December, aged 69. He had always been an active campaigner for the Liberal Party. In the 1859 general election he had been instrumental in upsetting a Liberal/Tory compromise, whereby the parties would have had an MP each. Instead, Howell was key in helping two Liberals win (Frederick North and Harry Vane). Howell was a councillor for many years, on and off, in the 1860s and 70s, and was mayor in 1878.
Howell when he died was well-off and living in the large house 7 Holmesdale Gardens, but he came from a poor background. He began work very young as an apprentice carpenter, then becoming a journeyman until starting for himself on some stables for the Local Board in Waterworks Road. In 1857 he began a more expansive life, taking a brickfield at Silverhill and taking large contracts. The town was then undergoing an expansion, which had now slackened off. He was then one of the town’s largest employers of labour. He built everything and was always ready for more work.” He made the best use of the time and after several years hard work he retired. All he touched seemed to turn to gold.”By the late 1860s he was perhaps the town’s leading builder.
His most recent work was re-building Robertson Street Congregational Church, with his son. John Howell’s work had included the west side of Warrior Square (1855), the Public Hall, Robertson Street (1859), Holy Trinity Church, Robertson Street (1860), the town’s main drainage works (1866), St Johns Church, Hollington (1868), St Andrews Church, Queens Road (1869), and Emmanuel Church, Priory Road (1873). He also built the London and County Bank (now the Nat West), the St Mary Magdalen Schools, the basement of the Queens Hotel, and the Memorial Chapel, plus many private residences. He was unsuccessful in bidding for the construction of Hastings Pier (1869-72). One of his biggest jobs was carrying out large-scale development of the Cornwallis Estate in 1873, including Cambridge Gardens, Cornwallis Gardens and Holmesdale Gardens where he was to live. He was based in a large sawmill at the top of Middle Street, running through to Station Road. He was was popular with his workforce for being firm but fair. In later years he set up the company John Howell and Son, his son also being called John. His son was the main force behind the building of Hastings Grammar School (1883) and St Peters Church, Lower Park Road (1883).