Charles Francis Seitz (Sykes) 1858 - 1933

Tess Taylor

Charles Seitz was born in Bombay, India, the son of an Anglo-Indian doctor, and died flea-ridden, frozen to death on a bed of straw in a cottage in Broad Campden.

Family History

His grandfather was a German interpreter attached to Blücher’s army at the Battle of Waterloo, after which he went to India and married an Indian lady.  Their son, Hartwick, Charles Seitz’s father, was sent to England to complete his education and study medicine at Guy’s Hospital in London, where he met and married a nurse, Elizabeth Weston of Campden.  Her father, Francis William, had varied occupations – a grocer at her birth, a schoolmaster in 1841, an ‘out-deliverer of post’ in 1851, and, aged  77 at the almshouses in 1861, he is recorded as an ex-tallow chandler.

Hartwick Seitz returned to India and set up a private medical practice in Bombay, where four of their five children were born.  Later for the children’s education, Mrs Seitz returned with her brood to England and set up home in Leysbourne, the eldest child, Charles, attending Campden Grammar School and studying medicine at St. Mary’s Hospital, London.  He acted for some time as student assistant in the surgery of Dr. Morris at Cotswold House, Campden, at whose dinner parties Charles Seitz was always a welcome guest with his musical talents and well-trained voice.  He was good-looking with fine features, well over six feet in height and keenly interested in sport, particularly playing cricket and boxing.  However during his medical studies his health broke down and mental problems developed.  After the deaths of his parents his siblings returned to the care of their paternal grandmother in India, while Charles remained in England to resume his studies.  But he abandoned medicine and after periods in Canada cattle dealing, in the Antipodes and in South Africa where he enlisted in the Cape Mounted Police, he eventually returned to Campden about 1890.

From Charles Seitz to Charlie Sykes

It was after this time that Charles Seitz became known as Charlie Sykes, a local drover and labourer, well known in the Magistrates Court for being drunk and disorderly and the legend described by Graham Greene in ‘Journey without Maps’ who ‘crept down the High Street bent double under a weight of incredible rags, clutching a tall stick, his bearded Apostle face bent to the pavement’ – this beard often hanging with icicles –  beating his chest and railing about God, suspiciously like a stage madman, playing up to strangers, bellowing and shaking his stick so that, daunted they moved away.  Sometimes during the summer he went berserk in the market place, shouting and shaking while spectators looked on with indifference.  He earned money from Americans with Kodak cameras who snapped him in front of the market hall.  For many years his familiar figure was seen in Campden resting under the shade of the old chestnut tree which stood in Leysbourne.

Despite the fact that he had several hundred pounds in the bank, he lived in squalor, touring the dustbins on Fridays turning over their contents.  He was assured of a drink and something to eat at Betty Hancock’s general store.  Sometimes he begged or made amiable demands and a regular Monday sixpence was left out for him by Commander Fred Hart.  Seitz’s cottage near the Quaker Meeting House in Broad Campden had two rooms with one broken chair and a pile of straw in the corner and sixteen pairs of old shoes.  In later years with all old boots given to him, he built a row of ‘combers’, touching each other all round his little garden wall with tightly packed lines of spares along the base of the walls.  It was said that when no smoke was seen from his chimney, a policeman broke in to find Charlie frozen to death on a pile of straw.  Another account given by Fred Coldicott is that he was found at the foot of the stairs with a broken neck.

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