Thursday, 2 July 2009

Benjamin Horne and the coal fraud

I have just received an e.mail from Vivienne Lewis (nee Horne), whose ancestral stories are featured on 30 March 2009 and 21 April 2008. She writes:

'Do you remember you put me into contact with the bursar of Aldro School who had seen the Horne blog on your web site. My second cousin, Rosemary, and her husband plus Paul (my partner) and myself went up to the school at the end of May and Norman kindly showed us around. Seemingly Edgar Horne not only owned the big house that now houses the school but all the surrounding land which comprised the whole of the village of Shackleford which is on the outskirts of Godalming, Surrey.

Inside the school they have a copy of the portrait of Sir Edgar, the original of which is evidently still in the Prudential Head Office. The Edwardian bell-push remains with the various names of the Horne family clearly written under each room. There is an old gong in the hallway plus an old-fashioned telephone. The staircase which Edgar acquired from another old property, which was being pulled down, also remains in situ. Evidently after his wife died he did not wish to remain in the house and moved to another property across the road. It was a very interesting visit and many thanks for being kind enough to forward Norman's e-mail on to me.

Two weeks ago I went up to the Society of Genealogists and found out some further information about the first Horne (Benjamin Horne, 1698-1766) who started the coal factor/merchant business. He has an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of Biography and quite a large one. Seemingly, he started his business when he was 21 when he set up as a middle-man between the colliery owners of the North of England and the main users of coal in London and the suburbs, namely the brewers, soapboilers, dyers etc. As a result of an Act of Parliament he was allowed to set up his own wharves and lighters to ferry the coal ashore. By 1730 he had a financial interest in over 40 collieries (the picture above shows what a colliery would have looked like in Benjamin's day). However, a bit like the present MPs, he skated on thin ice when he issued bonds to the shipmasters to pay the excise duty on their behalf so they could return North quicker to pick up the next load of coal, and then delayed payment. When the Customs Department exposed the fraud that he and other coal factors had been involved in he quickly paid up!!!!! He retired to High Cross, Tottenham, and died in 1766 worth over £70,000.00.

His son, Thomas (1726-1802) was considered by one biographer to be the greatest coal-merchant in London. Succeeding generations entered into various partnerships and finally the business was absorbed into the Charringtons Group.

Hope your project is going well. I still intend to visit the Quaker Library in Euston although I have learnt that the Thomas Horne who was living in Bloomsbury in the 1841 Census had, in fact, left the Society of Friends in 1823.'

Photos of your Bloomsbury ancestors' homes and workplaces

I have started to take photographs of some of the areas of Bloomsbury inhabited by the descendants of people who contact me with stories. I will be happy to provide anyone with a Bloomsbury ancestor a digital image file of their house or work place. Or, if the property no longer exists, an image of the building now in its place. Many of the original 19th century properties are still very much in evidence, however.
The image above, taken by Mary Hinkley, a UCL photographer, shows the Church of Christ the King on Gordon Square. It was built from 1850 to 1854 and is Gothic Revival in style, typical of many 19th century Anglican churches.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Lancet's editor certifies death of Bloomsbury resident

Coral Still sent me the death certificate of her ancestor, William Thorne, the paper hanger who fell off a ladder, broke his hip and died in University College London (see 'An untimely death at University College Hospital', 1 April 2009). It confirms that William sustained a comminuted fracture of the femur (thigh bone) and died from gangrene. A communited fracture is one where the bone is not cleanly broken but crushed or splintered in a number of pieces - almost impossible to repair in 1853, when he died.

However, what is intriguing about this death certificate is that a coroner was involved in investigating William's death. This was the coroner for Middlesex, who at that time was Thomas Wakley (portrait above). Wakley (who lived in Bedford Square, Bloomsbury) is famous for founding the Lancet journal, in 1823. This was the first inexpensive weekly medical journal, written specifically for the 'ordinary' British surgeons and physicians rather than the elite. It focused on 'hot' news and comment, especially the major political issues of the day, as well as learned medical articles. Wakley was a radical and spent much of the first decade of his editorship in the law courts, defending libel actions and copyright litigation. He pirated lectures delivered by eminent doctors and reprinted them in Lancet, and 'outed' those who had botched operations or misdiagnosed diseases.
Wakley became MP for Finsbury in 1835 as an independent radical reformer and his first parliamentary speech defended the Tolpuddle Martyrs, a group of Dorset labourers sentenced to transportation for forming an illegal trade union. He also campaigned agains the flogging of sailors as well as reform of the medical profession. It was largely Wakely's campaigning that resulted in the 1858 Medical Act, which created a Medical Register in which all practitioners were listed, and the establishment of a General Medical Council to regulate the profession and set clinical standards.

Wakely was elected Coroner for Middlesex in 1839, a role he adopted with his usual rigour, investigating every suspicious death in the district, calling multiple medical witnesses when he believed it necessary, and involving the police when he suspected foul play. He was particularly insistent that industrial accidents should fall under the coroners' jurisdiction, and his recommendations became the norm.

So, William Thorne's industrial accident came under Thomas Wakely's jurisdiction, a post-mortem would almost certainly have been ordered, and possibly an inquest held as well. We can guess that these events took place because William's death was registered over two months after he died. In any other district, it is unlikely that a coroner would have been involved at all.