Chapter 10: William

Thomas and Anne Habgood had lived in Cricklade in Wiltshire, and had had five children. Thomas was an extremely well educated man, one of the first veterinary surgeons in England, and, in spite of everything, still fairly wealthy. Then Thomas had died, you may remember, in 1819, and Anne had gone to live in Cirencester. This part of the story is about their eldest son William, and shows that even though the Chancery case had finished, its effects were felt by later generations.

William was born in 1815. When he was four, his father Thomas died, having made George Muskett one of the executors of his will. George Muskett probably had quite a lot to do with Anne, Thomas’s widow, and it is likely that William saw him quite frequently. Anne and her children moved to Cirencester, where William’s sister Mary Anne died aged 9, then his brother Thomas died aged 4, and his sister Martha died aged 14. Then when he was 17, his mother Anne died. All these five deaths had occurred within 13 years; these days, one can hardly imagine such a trauma.

Two children had survived: William and John. They both went to live with George Muskett, who was then doing very well indeed and was living in the manor house in Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire. As executor of Thomas’s will, it is possible that George was holding all of the remaining money from Thomas’s estate. The two children grew up in great luxury, members of the family of the lord of the manor, the owner of the local bank, and an MP. No doubt they were treated very respectfully by all the local people.

The years passed. By 1840 William was planning to go into business as part owner of a factory producing clothing, underwear, parasols and suchlike. The factory was in Manchester, so he would be leaving the gentle countryside of the south of England for factory life in the north. Before leaving, he married. In his marriage, he seems to have had an eye to business, since the bride, Maria Plant, was the daughter of a wealthy landlord and machine maker of Gloucester, while her mother had a business of her own making clothes and hats. So for all parties, the marriage extended their businesses quite profitably. No doubt his father-in-law had an opportunity to provide some of the factory machinery, while his mother-in-law might have provided some of the clothing he was to sell.

However, it is clear that Maria’s father, Edward Plant, was a grasping, tyrannical man, whose other two children worked for him all their lives and never left home or married. Although they lived in a beautiful, expensive house in Clarence Street in Gloucester, and owned several other houses in the same street and elsewhere, there seems to have been little in their lives apart from work and money.

William and Maria left for Manchester, where they took a house in Higher Temple Avenue. Children came rapidly: Martha Maria, William Edward, and John Arthur. Then came catastrophe: George Muskett’s death and the loss of all the money in his bank. William immediately went bankrupt. Since his business partners did not go bankrupt, we may assume that much of William’s money was in George Muskett’s bank, and that this was the cause of his bankruptcy.

The family returned to Bristol, where William, penniless and humiliated, had to work as a commercial traveller – possibly for his father- or mother-in-law. Their lives must have been very unhappy, an unhappiness made all the greater by the death of their eldest child, Martha Maria, in 1855.

Obviously William found life intolerable; the marriage broke up, and he left Maria and her family. In Wolverhampton he met a woman called Ellen Moreton, and in spite of the age difference of 13 years, and in spite of the fact that he was already married, he married her. This was bigamy, a serious crime, so of course he had to tell lies to the Registrar: he said that he was a widower. Ellen was a respectable young woman: her father was a gentleman. They married and the children started to arrive; by 1871 they had three children.

By 1881 this marriage had also broken up; Ellen and the children went to live with her brother in Birmingham. William, now aged 66, went into Wolverhampton workhouse.  It was in Wolverhampton workhouse that he died, in 1888. During his lifetime, he had experienced the most astonishing mixture of wealth and poverty, good fortune and tragedy.

The damaging effects of the suicide of William Habgood in 1803, and the case in Chancery, continued to make themselves felt for the next two generations of the family, and the events which happened were as bad as anything that had gone before. The effects of those events was not fully shaken off by the family until about 1900; a period of almost a hundred years, covering five generations.

Habgood versus Habgood in Chancery

List of Source Documents

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