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There have been many John Osbornes in Leigh. The records go back at least  to a John who in 1695 inherited the Peterboat from his father Samuel and who passed it down the generations.  Other members of the family went into the fishing trade of course and the John Osborne born in 1774 became a wealthy oyster merchant owning several boats which worked out of Leigh.


This John served as a Sea Fencible during the Napoleonic Wars (a home guard of the sea) and in 1826, Alexander Ritchie of Leigh is recorded as the master the 44 ton Sharp in an 1826 sale catalogue of John Osborne's Oyster Business.


So why was John selling his fleet?


Well he had gone bankrupt. This fact is recorded by Dr Jonas Asplin of Prittlewell  who mention in his diary for that year that ‘all the oysters on the shore are destroyed and Mr Osborn(sic), a principle merchant, has failed at Leigh.’ He also mentioned that  John Osborne was not the only one suffering such a fate.


John was 52 when he lost his livelihood. He and his wife Elizabeth (nee Pinder) had had 14 children in Leigh, at least 6 of whom had died in infancy.


It is difficult to know what John did after the failure of his business as there are no further records until a newspaper report of the death of his wife, Elizabeth, in 1849 in Northfleet in Kent and then the census in 1851 when  he is to be found on his own living at 29 College, Northfleet.


So what was ‘College’?


It was Huggens College (which still exists today). The College was founded by John Huggens expressly for the purpose of housing elderly ladies and gentlemen of distressed means.

For John Huggens the ‘doors of my little charity’ opened on 29 April 1847 when the College houses which had been built in Northfleet took in his first 8 Collegians and he introduced them to one another as brothers and sisters and told them they should live together in ‘such love and harmony as will make the sunny evening of your lives go down happily to that better home we are fast travelling to’. I bet that cheered them up no end!


John Huggens' father and grandfather were corn dealers owning a vessel called ‘The Phoenix’ in which they traded round the Kent coast buying corn for the London market. So it is possible he and John Osborne were old friends.


Initially Huggens intended to build some almshouses for  his old bargemen for their retirement but during his business life he came in contact with  people of all classes and he became aware of a great need among the middle and educated classes for a place for them to spend their declining years. So he decided to found a haven for aged gentlefolk  to ‘run their little bark into the smooth and tranquil waters of the summer evening of their life’ – quite a poet was John.


So it seems John Osborne after all his trials and tribulations ended his days very comfortably in Kent. He was buried in Northfleet in June 1860.


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