Chapter 2: William Habgood

Of all the sons, it was probably William who had chosen the most lucrative occupation. England was to be the birthplace of the industrial revolution, which was just in its infancy as William started his apprenticeship. It was the textile industry which was the first of all industries to be modernised; until now, spinners and weavers had sat at their spinning wheels or at their looms, slowly and monotonously producing their wool or their cloth by hand. But huge changes were on the way. New steam machinery was being invented, and also spinning and weaving machines, and these were so much faster that skilled workers were no longer needed, except to tend the machines. The steam engines and the huge machines were housed in factories, and the factory owners took on the starving poor and paid them a pittance to work in terrible, inhuman conditions. Fortunes were waiting to be made not only by the mill owners, but by those who bought and sold the produce of the mills, such as haberdashers and drapers. The factory workers, however, saw little of this prosperity; an era of appalling poverty and suffering was about to start for the urban poor. The whole of society was in a state of flux because of industrialisation, and the textile industry was at the forefront of this. This was the very industry that William had chosen to work in.

James Habgood had decided that his son, William, would be apprenticed to a haberdasher called James Shaw, who lived in London. William would stay in James Shaw’s house for seven years, and would work for him, gradually learning the trade of haberdashery: what the different cloths were used for, where to buy them, who to sell them to, what prices to pay, what profits could be made. Just before Willliam’s sixteenth birthday in 1760, he and his father left Latton and travelled to London.

The arrangements were completed. James paid a fee to William’s new master, and William signed the apprenticeship agreement. James then said goodbye to his son, and left him with his master in the biggest city in Europe to learn the trade in which he would spend the rest of his life. How huge, how dirty, how exciting London must have appeared after life in the tiny village of Latton.

William started upon his seven years’ training. The life of an apprentice was full of prohibitions: he must not waste the goods of his master, nor commit fornication, nor marry, nor play at cards or dice; he was not allowed to frequent taverns, but “as a faithful apprentice he shall behave himself”. Of course most young apprentices managed to meet women, but behind their masters’ backs.

So the seven years of apprenticeship passed, and finally in 1767, when William was 23, James Shaw bought him two suits, one for work and one for best, and William was ready to face the world as a qualified haberdasher.

William set to work enthusiastically and quickly established himself as a wholesale haberdasher. He bought goods from wool and cotton producers, and sold them on to retail haberdashers: bales of velvet, cotton, linen, ribbons, gloves, petticoats, stays, bodkins, tippetts, muffs, shrouds … Gradually, with effort and enterprise, he built up a circuit of buyers of his goods, in towns and villages all the way from the east of England to the west, in places like Greenwich, Gravesend, Sevenoaks, Canterbury, Folkstone, Dover, Exeter, Bristol, Wooton Bassett, and even in Cricklade, which is the little town one mile from Latton.

He was a good businessman. He took partners, but he made sure that he was always the senior partner, and paid his partners a salary, rather than giving them a percentage of the profits, so that he always maintained a strong control over the business. Some of his family from Latton came to London to join his business venture, or to start up on their own. Although William was living in London, he was regularly in contact with his family in Latton: uncles, aunts, first cousins, second cousins, in-laws by the dozen; and as well as seeing them often, he helped them financially by giving them mortgages and loans, and they helped him in similar ways. They were a close-knit family, and they all saw a great deal of each other. There must have been a great deal of commuting between London and Latton.

The years passed, and William came up to middle age. Most men would have married years ago, bought a house, and started a family, but William did not. Why should he buy a house in London, when Latton was his home? He was going to go back there when he had made his fortune. In London he would only rent houses, since he already owned a house in Cricklade. He let his widowed sister-in-law Betty Habgood live there until he should need it for himself, and in return she helped in the distribution of his textiles in that area.

It was only in 1783 when William was nearly 40 that he took a wife; a woman from Latton, of course, called Mary Cook. She was already in her early thirties. Mary went with him to London, and there they leased a house in Stockwell Place, and also another in Rood Lane in the city, which was half home and half warehouse. William spent most of his time in Rood Lane, because that was his headquarters. Some of his workers lived there; there was a garret for the men, and another for the women. The house in Rood Lane had three bedrooms, apart from the maids’ garret and the men’s garret, and also a little parlour, a great parlour, and a kitchen. Then there was the cutting room, and a counting house.

The most important family room was the great parlour, which was furnished comfortably, rather than fashionably. It had a Bath grate and shining fender, and on the floor there was a Kidderminster carpet. There were two dining tables, which, when put together were almost seven feet long, so that the extended family who ran the business could all sit down to meals together at a table spread with silverware and heavy with food and drink.

The bedrooms were comfortably furnished, some with four-poster beds with crimson fittings. On the chamber tables there were basins and ewers for washing. Of course there were no flush toilets, only mahogany night stools. The kitchen had all the latest equipment necessary to keep the household fed and provided with clean clothes: as well as a big table and seven chairs, pewter plates, water plates, dishes and so on, there was a wind-up range, swing trivets, spit racks, a crane and hooks, a jack weight and multiplying wheels, and a copper boiler and tin cylinder. It was a thoroughly well-equipped kitchen, catering for a large household where people worked hard and ate well.

Then there was the cutting room, where the materials were cut up into the lengths required by the customers (that is, the shopkeepers whom William sold his goods to), and the warehouse itself. There were long counters and shelves in these rooms, and normally they would be piled high with all the goods that William stocked.

The other house, in Stockwell Place, had four bedrooms, a front parlour and a back parlour, and a front kitchen and a back kitchen. All were pleasantly furnished, and the family’s lifestyle was obviously very comfortable, but not lavish; William was too thrifty for that.

William had a sister, Martha, who was married to a man called John Butler. William and John went into partnership at about this time, with William as the senior partner, while John’s son Richard acted as a rider or commercial traveller for William when he was old enough, and John Butler’s other son, also called John, was apprenticed to William. William also had another partner called Samuel Buxton who lived in the same house with them in Rood Lane. This Samuel Buxton met one of William’s relatives, called Miriam, and in 1788, they married; thus the family grew even larger. Then there were Thomas and William, the sons of widow Betty Habgood, whom William took on as apprentices, free of charge, when Betty was widowed; John Warwick, the son of his sister Ann; and James, the son of another Habgood relative, who also came to William as apprentices. So the wholesale haberdashery that William had started off was becoming very much a family business, with his sister and her husband and their two sons, and his cousin and her husband, and his brother’s sons who were taken on as apprentices, all either living in the same house, or being around most of the time, and lots more relatives living nearby.

Quite apart from members of the family, there were other apprentices, often the sons of friends and acquaintances, whom William sometimes took on free of charge, such as Joseph Shipman and Thomas Leach in 1783, and Richard Ricketts in 1784. Then there were the servants: William’s housekeeper, Mrs Russell, and his servant, Sarah Dodd. The house was full of busy, hardworking people.

William was now middle-aged, and had become quite a wealthy man. His wealth was apparent in the gold jewellery and the silver knee buckles that he wore, and the silver boxes, gold medals, and silver tableware all on view in the house. William rode about London in a chaise – an obvious sign of prosperity. Yet apart from a few valuable items, William’s houses were not expensively furnished. The furniture was definitely old-fashioned for its time; the ornaments were not particularly good and the curtains were often only cheap cotton. The books in his bookcase were not valuable, and the pictures on the wall were not painted by famous artists. Obviously William did not forget his country roots, or try to turn himself into a member of the gentry. He had worked hard for his money, and did not fritter it away. Instead he bought a large annuity for £9,784, to give security to himself and his family. He lent sums of money to his extended family, but always charged interest on it. Perhaps even the gold and silver were bought as a way of investing his money, rather than adornment. He did have one fairly unusual item in his house, however; unusual in that only about the richest 10% of families would have it, and that was plumbing. Most people used taps in the streets to obtain their water, and household servants would have to carry pails of water from the street to the house, and into the kitchen, or up the stairs to each bedroom, there to be poured into large jugs which stood on the dressing table beside the basin. William, however, had plumbing in the dressing rooms beside the main bedrooms, described later as “a lead sistern with sink, wash pipe, plant and 33 feet of lead pipe from kitchen, and ball cock”. This was a luxury indeed, and, in an era where cleanliness was considered to be so important that armies of servants would be employed to attain it, must have been quite envied.

However, William did not keep all his money for himself; throughout his life, he gave to the poor, and with generosity. It seems that he was not one of those who exploited the poor unscrupulously. Later on, his family said of him that he would be long remembered by the poor for his generous and solicitous charity. Certainly he provided decent accommodation for his servants, giving them small extra comforts which other servants might have envied, like feather beds, and dressing tables with mirrors. Possibly these were old pieces of furniture that the family themselves no longer wanted; but nevertheless not all servants had feather beds in those days.

He was very highly thought of among those of his own profession. In the Needlemakers Company, he was elected Assistant when he was in his thirties, then Warden, and then finally in 1786, when he was 42, he became the Master of the Needlemakers Company. In order to obtain such a great honour, he must have proved himself to be not only a capable and efficient person, but able to deal with formal and ceremonial occasions where he would entertain people of some importance, such as the Lord Mayor of London. Officials of the Company met several times a year, for purposes of administration and sometimes for special dinners or banquets.

But life was not all honours and banquets. Over the years, like all responsible householders, William had to do a great deal of work for the parish of St Andrew Hubbard, where he lived. For many years he was a member of the parish vestry, which was the body responsible for the collection of rates, care of the poor, pest control, policing and so on. In 1785 he was made parish constable; this meant that he not only had to apprehend criminals, he was also in charge of seeing that fathers of illegitimate children were made to support their offspring, and preventing street riots and drunkenness. Probably the most frequent task he had to perform would be to remove beggars, vagrants and vagabonds from the parish; after he had whipped them, he would escort them to their place of settlement – usually the village where they had been born. Perhaps his heaviest responsibility would have been to make the muster; that is to collect those men from the parish who would have to join the army, and provide them with the parish arms, pikes, muskets, and so on. The parish post he held most often was that of overseer of the poor. At these times, he had to give to the poor or sick of the parish, or put the children of the poor to work for wealthier people.Habgood versus Habgood in Chancery Index page

Much of this work was unpaid. It was simply expected that certain members of the community would do the work voluntarily. Not the gentry, of course; they would not soil their hands with real work, and certainly would not want any contact at all with the poor. It was the middle stratum of society, tradesmen of substance, respected craftsmen and the like, who carried the very heavy burden of responsibility for keeping the community functioning in an orderly way. The work must have brought the individuals who did it into very close contact with the other people in the parish; they would know what their income was, what sort of houses they lived in, how many children they had, what misdemeanours they had committed, who had fathered illegitimate children. Between them, they functioned rather as do the modern local council, the DSS, Child Support Agency and police force all rolled into one.

Sometimes these parish officials gave themselves a little treat as a reward for all their hard work. After the annual procedure of “walking the bounds” – that is, confirming the boundaries of the parish by walking all round it – the members of the vestry of St Andrew Hubbard decided one year that they would “regale themselves with a cold colation and also in the month of June … dine together at some public place in the country when the weather will be settled and pleasant and .. every inhabitant who chooses to attend [will] pay 5/- towards defraying the expenses”. It must have been most enjoyable for the more affluent members of the parish to go off for a picnic in the countryside, half an hour’s walk from the city of London! What with his business, and all his relatives, and the Needlemakers’ Company and duties imposed by the local parish, William was an extremely busy man with considerable responsibilities. Even allowing for the fact that he had assistants, he must have worked very long hours; he could not have had very much time to spare for his family.

William and Mary had married in 1783, and soon started a family. There was Martha who was born in 1784, then Mary Ann. Little Mary Ann died as a baby, so when the next baby was born a girl, they called her Mary Ann again. Then there was Thomas, born in 1791.

Mary was too old for childbearing now. After a few years she became ill, and died. Her body was taken back from London to Latton in a wagon which trundled and jolted over muddy ruts and stony paths for a hundred miles, while William and the three crying, motherless children followed on later. At the journey’s end, she was buried in the churchyard in Latton, in the section which was kept for the Habgoods.

That was in April 1798, when Martha was 14, Mary Ann 9, and Thomas 7.

At this time William was 54, and now that his wife was dead he started to think that it was about time he retired and went home to Latton. It was agreed that the business would be taken over, after his retirement, by three people: his partner Samuel Buxton, Richard Butler (William’s nephew, the son of his other partner John Butler) and his nephew Thomas. So in preparation for the time of his retirement, William travelled all over the south of England, introducing his customers to Samuel, and telling them that he would be taking over during the course of the next few years.

Over the last thirty years, William had amassed a considerable amount of money. He had not allowed his money to lie idle; any money not required for his own needs had been loaned out to his family and friends, at interest, rather as a banker would do in modern times. Most of his wealth was in the form of annuities, loans and mortgages to his own family; these totalled over £15,000. Then there were his goods: precious possessions, furniture, gold, and jewellery; and his stock, lying in his warehouses, was worth about £5,000. Later on, in 1803, his wealth was to be assessed, very conservatively, at £40,000.

What would this be worth today? It is not really possible to translate this into a modern equivalent, because costs of different items have changed relative to each other. It is impossible to be more precise than to say that his estate would certainly have been valued in millions by today’s standards; somewhere between one and twelve million pounds. Each of the three children was due to inherit a very large sum of money one day.

The years passed and the children were growing up. In 1801, Martha was 17 years old. She had left boarding school and was probably starting to learn the duties of mistress of the house, organising the household and directing the servants. A full life and an excellent marriage might lie before her, but she would have to beware: the young men who were starting to take an interest in her might really be more interested in her money. Men might view her as a young, inexperienced girl, with no mother, an ageing father who might die soon, and a very large sum of money coming to her – which could all be theirs one day. In those days, any money a woman had immediately became the possession of the husband when she married; a married woman normally had no possessions at all in her own right.

One man in particular was interested in Martha. His name was William Milburn. He was an international dealer in commodities, and as a free mariner of the East India Company, he bought and sold goods in China, Japan, the East Indies, London, and elsewhere. He traded in all sorts of goods, wherever he thought a profit might be made: glass, perfume, confectionery, jewels, pearls, cornelian – almost anything would do if he could sell it at a profit. A typical entry in his accounts reads: “Treasure shipped at Canton to buy tin at Penang to carry to Bombay – (valued) £6325”. For this kind of work, he needed a good knowledge of markets, prices, navigation and geography, and in these fields he had both learning and practical experience: he had made several long, dangerous voyages to the east. He dealt in large quantities and needed a lot of money to back up his purchases. He was a sophisticated, knowledgeable person, with a taste for luxury, sometimes mixing in aristocratic circles. His vast knowledge of the wonders of the east, and his adventurous lifestyle must have dazzled Martha, whose life had been so sheltered until now. He probably told her stories of near shipwreck in the roaring forties, or being attacked by pirates in the South China Seas. What a contrast he made with her stolid, law-abiding family. At 18, she fell head over heels in love with him.

The family were greatly alarmed at this, because they had heard that Milburn was starting to get into trouble financially. All kinds of rumours were circulating about his having huge debts, and secretly being close to bankruptcy. Her father was extremely worried at this turn of events and told Martha that she was not to see him any more; but she would not obey. She started to have a love affair with Milburn. Family tensions increased as her father grew more and more desperate to separate Martha from this villain, as he saw him.

However, if the family had known the whole truth about Milburn, they would have been absolutely scandalised, and could probably have stopped Martha’s love affair dead in its tracks: Milburn was already married.

It was back in 1798 that Milburn had married, and since then his wife Henrietta had borne him a child. However, Martha and the family knew nothing about his being married, and Milburn must have made strenuous efforts to keep it secret. So Martha was getting into quite a dangerous situation, with a completely unscrupulous married man after her money. She was already in very deep waters, but was quite unaware of the fact.

However, a matter of much greater concern was to distract the family from Martha’s love affair. In the first week of April 1803, when William was 59 years old, he suddenly appeared to feel ill. He seemed absent-minded and could not concentrate. He would start to do some work, and then stop, saying he could not do it. Sometimes he would try to write, and then throw down the pen saying he did not know what he was writing about. He also had a temperature, and kept his overcoat on indoors because he felt so cold. Most seriously of all, he sank into a state of black depression.

On the morning of Tuesday 5 April, he went to Princes Street near the Bank of England to the office of Anthony Clark, a stockbroker, whose wife was a relative from Latton. When he got there, he started to talk to Anthony Clark, who reminded him that they had an appointment to meet the next day at two o’clock. Anthony Clarke noticed that William seemed ill, and they walked out of the office and down the road talking together. William told him that his mind was troubled, and went on to say that he wished that someone would take away his life; in fact, he had already tried to kill himself. Anthony Clarke was very startled and alarmed, and tried to comfort him, saying that he was very sorry that he was in such a state, but no man had less reason to be so. He must have felt that William, with all his wealth, his children, and a wide and loving family circle, was a most fortunate person and should have been happy and satisfied with life, rather than feeling suicidal. Not wishing to leave William alone in this condition, he asked him to come home with him, and they both went to Anthony Clarke’s house. William was still feeling very cold and did not take his overcoat off. They talked together for a long time, Anthony trying to comfort and cheer William, but to no avail. Anthony was deeply worried that William really would kill himself; this was no idle threat. There was no mistaking the intensity of William’s suffering and his terrible desire to escape from it by death. At some point during their long conversation, Anthony broached the subject of a will. Had he made a will, he asked. No, William told him, he had not, and he was unhappy about it. In his present frame of mind he could not think about special bequests to all the different members of his family; he simply wanted to leave everything to the three children equally. Anthony Clarke took some paper and a pen. Trained in financial matters, he knew exactly what words to use when writing a will, and he started to write. ‘I, William Habgood, of Rood Lane and Stockwell, being of sound mind and memory, for which I thank the Almighty ….’ Of course it was by now very obvious to Anthony that William was not really in his right mind at all at the moment; he was in a state of chronic depression and despair, perhaps brought on by pain, or by fever, or maybe from some secret anxiety. Nevertheless, he continued with the will. ‘… do make publish and declare the following to be my last will and testament that is to say I give and bequeathe among my three children Martha Thomas and Mary Ann all my property……’ Anthony didn’t ask whether William would like to make individual bequests to family and friends; there was no time for that. Nor did he ask if the house and land in Cricklade were to be divided equally, or whether it was just the money that should be split three ways. It was enough that there would at least be a will of sorts before William died; – if he died. If all went well and William recovered, a longer and more thoughtful will could be made at a later date. William signed the will.

Anthony’s wife, Mathilda, came in while they were talking. She saw that William was very upset and started to talk to him. Later she said, “He appeared to be very low and dejected, and he said he was very low, and that his character was black”. Trying to console him, she said that it would pass; but he replied that he would never get over this. All the time they were talking he was walking up and down the room in a very agitated way – still wearing his overcoat.

It was now six o’clock in the evening. Samuel Buxton, William’s partner, came in. William started to feel hot and took his overcoat off. Eventually he left Anthony’s house and left accompanied by Samuel Buxton.

The next day, William was no better. He was due to see Anthony Clarke at two o’clock at the office in Princes Street, and arrived a little early. Anthony was not yet there, but his wife Mathilda was. She could see that he was still terribly unhappy. She asked him if he had been home to Stockwell, and he replied, no, he thought he would never see Stockwell again. Probably Mathilda was frightened by his demeanour, for she tried to leave, saying that she had to go into the city, but as she went to leave he stood against the door so that she could not pass. Perhaps he was afraid to be left alone in his present suicidal frame of mind and desperately needed company. She insisted that she had to go, and took him by the hand to take her leave of him. For William this was not just a casual goodbye; it was farewell for ever. He said goodbye to her with such great earnestness that she was deeply struck by it.

She left, and William was on his own, apart from a clerk who was sitting working in the office. William went into a little room next door, which was separated from the office by a small window. There was a penknife on the desk. The clerk who was working in the other room suddenly heard an odd noise. He looked through the window, and saw William leaning over, groaning. He thought at first that he must be having a fit; but on hurrying to the door, he saw what was actually happening: William was cutting his throat with the penknife. The clerk did not rush in to save him; aghast, he shouted for help, and ran as fast as he could to the bank to get his colleague Charles Shaw. They both rushed back to the office, where they saw William, with blood streaming down his clothes, staggering out of the office and into the street. They stopped him and took him back and immediately sent for a surgeon.

Three surgeons turned up and looked at William’s throat. The wound was serious; it was about four inches long and one and a half inches deep.

It was at that point that Anthony Clarke arrived to keep his appointment with William, only to find him sitting in a chair surrounded by surgeons and bleeding heavily. For the next hour and a half the surgeons tried to staunch the flow of blood and dress the wound. Taking his pulse, they found that it was very rapid. Finally, William, much too weak to be taken back to his own house, was taken upstairs and laid on a bed.

The next day, Thursday, one of the surgeons came back. By now William was delirious. On Friday and Saturday he was worse; the surgeon said that as he was deranged should be put in a straitjacket.

Messengers were sent to William’s family in Latton, and his brothers James and Robert hurried to London hoping they would not be too late to see their brother one last time. Clergymen were called to William’s bedside.

On the Sunday evening, William died.

On the Monday, the coroner was informed, and decided that an inquest must be held the next day. William’s body was taken back to his own parish and put in a room in the White Horse Inn in Rood Lane, just a few yards from his own house. There the coroner and the twenty four jurors would be able to see the body, with its horrific wound, while listening to the evidence of all those people who had witnessed what had happened over the last few days: Anthony Clarke, his wife Mathilda, his two office employees, the surgeon, and Samuel Buxton. Each one told what he knew: how William had seemed to feel ill, how he said he would kill himself, how the terrible deed had been performed. When the surgeon was giving his evidence, he had said that he thought William died of the fever which he had contracted earlier, rather than the suicide attempt. This was perhaps a humane attempt to influence the outcome of the hearing.

The verdict of the coroner’s court was of crucial importance. In those days, if someone committed the crime of suicide, the repercussions for the family were very serious. Quite apart from the social stigma, the body of a suicide could not be buried in consecrated ground with the rites of the church, but would be ‘hurled into the ground’, in the darkness of the night, without the comfort of the church. As for the children and family of the dead person, they would not inherit any of his property, since by law all the belongings of a suicide would be seized by the state. So, in William’s case, if the court ruled that he died by suicide, his body could not be buried in Latton churchyard beside the remains of his wife and near the bones of generations of his ancestors, but would be buried in some unconsecrated field, or at a crossroad. His three children, Martha, Mary Ann and Thomas, would inherit nothing at all of all his great wealth, and would have to be taken in by their aunts and uncles, to live off their charity. His house in Cricklade would be sold, and his impoverished sister-in-law who lived there would be turned out of it. Everything would go to the state.

However, there was one verdict which would avoid these repercussions: lunacy. If the jury ruled that he was insane when he killed himself, his body could be buried in consecrated ground, and his children could inherit.

The jury gave the verdict: Lunatic; Suicide. The family must have breathed a sigh of relief. However, they still had to come to terms with the terrible shock of his death, and the social humiliation it brought upon them.

Perhaps the family concealed the true circumstances of William’s death from the three children. After all, William had not been taken back to Stockwell after his suicide attempt, so perhaps the children had not seen him, blood-covered, delirious, in a straitjacket. It is possible that the aunts and uncles tried to protect them from the trauma of the situation. Over the next ten years there seems to have been an almost total silence on the subject of the way William died. If the children did indeed understand what had happened to their father, they must have been in a very bad emotional state. For the adults too, the shock of his death must have been all the greater because he had always seemed such a tower of strength, and had had such a successful life. Suicide must have been the last thing that anyone would have expected from such a man.

Work in the warehouse in Rood Lane stopped immediately; that must now have seemed of very minor importance now. Richard Butler later said, “Death was very sudden. Immediately the shop and warehouse were shut up, and business at a standstill until a meeting of the Testator’s friends, to consider the state of affairs”.

It was decided that a meeting would be held the day after the inquest, on 13 April. There was so much that needed to be sorted out: what was to happen to the business? What about all the stock, the orders, the customers? Much more importantly – what about the children? Before the body could be taken to Latton to be buried, decisions had to be taken quickly. With all the members of the family not only bereaved and grieving, but in a state of shock, it was going to be hard to make decisions of any kind.

Everyone involved would be at the meeting; the children, the business partners, the brothers, the relatives, Anthony Clarke, even William Milburn.

Martha had asked if a Mr Edward Collyer could also be there. He was a the children’s “most intimate friend and adviser” who lived near their house in Stockwell. Martha trusted him, and would follow his advice, she said. He would later be appointed by the court to act as guardian temporarily until a permanent guardian could be found.

The family assembled, and the talking started. Eventually, after long discussion, Mr Collyer recommended that the partners should carry on the business for a while, and that they should continue to live in the house in Rood Lane. All the stock in the various warehouses would be valued by brokers, and then sold off and the business closed down.

When the meeting was over, the coffin was loaded onto a wagon pulled by a team of shire horses to be taken home to Latton. The children were rapidly bought a new set of mourning clothes, and the family set off. Once again the mourning, frightened children made the long and wearisome journey.

The children were going to endure much suffering over the next few years because of their father’s suicide; and not only these three children, but many years hence their own children would suffer, and another generation later even their children’s lives would be deeply affected, and theirs, though by then the cause of their troubles would be lost to memory.

At last the coffin arrived in Latton. No doubt the villagers whispered to each other: yes, he had succeeded in life, certainly, since he had become very rich; but what a terrible way to die … and how dreadful for those children to know that he was a lunatic and that he killed himself … and who’s going to look after the children now? .. they say there’s a lot of money coming to them, but will they ever get it? So the gossips must have talked, in their stone cottages, or standing beside the cobbled street in Cricklade.

The funeral was hurriedly arranged and William’s body was buried in the same grave as his wife, and only a few feet from the graves of his father and grandfather. The church bells were tolled in Latton and in Cricklade, and bread was given to the poor in the time-honoured way. All the family, William’s ageing brothers and sisters, his children, cousins, in-laws and friends, mourned, in the chilly spring days in Wiltshire.

Chapter 3: The Court of Chancery

Habgood versus Habgood in Chancery Index page

Home page