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The Death of William Lavender

Church Farm seen from the churchyard March 2012
Church Farm seen from the churchyard March 2012

The Bedfordshire Mercury of 9th October 1886 has the following report.

DEATH OF MR. LAVENDER

"We regret to announce the sudden death of Mr. William Lavender, farmer of Biddenham, which took place in his 66th year, about 1 o’clock on Friday afternoon, the 1st inst. Details of the circumstances of this unhappy occurrence will be found below in the evidence given at the inquest which was held on the following day, and it will be seen that the immediate cause of death was apoplexy, although it was probable that when seized with the attack he also fell from his horse on which he was about to go for a ride. The deceased gentleman had latterly enjoyed good health and there were apparently no premonitory symptoms of the attack which culminated so fatally. Mr. W. G. Johnson was his medical attendant. Mr. Lavender’s death has given rise to a wide-spread feeling of regret in this county, where he was not merely well known, but exceedingly popular among the agricultural community, and he enjoyed the respect of all classes. He was an excellent neighbour, a kind and considerate master, and a most devoted son and brother. Mr. Lavender was a bachelor and lived with his eldest unmarried sister at his house in the centre of the village, while his aged mother and another unmarried sister live in the house at the Church Farm, close to which Mr. Lavender died, and in which the family had lived for more than a century. He was therefore a native of Biddenham. The surviving members of the family are the mother, who is 95 years of age, three sisters, one of whom is the mother of Mr. H. J. Peacock, and a son James, in Australia. Mr. Lavender occupied the South Field or “Church” Farm, about 300 acres in extent, which is the property of Mr. E. Rhys Wingfield, of Barrington Park, Burford. At his father’s death, in 1853, he succeeded to the office of churchwarden of Biddenham, and held that post to the time of his death. He has also for many years been Chairman of the Bedford District Highway Board, and the ability and courtesy with which he discharged the duties devolving upon him never failed to secure the respect and confidence of those with whom he came in contact".

THE INQUEST

"Was held at the Three Tuns Inn, Biddenham, on Saturday morning by Mr. Mark Whyley, coroner for the county, on view of the body. The following comprised the jury: - Messrs Charles Frossell (foreman), J. Manning, T. Manning, J. Goodman, F, Harrison, G. Roberts, T. Morris, A. Burton, F. Summerlin, S. F. Green, A. Hebbes, J. Maxey and W. Frossell. Subjoined is the evidence taken:"

"Elizabeth Ford, house-keeper for Mrs. Lavender, said she lived at Church Farm 27 years and knew the deceased well. He was unmarried. She last saw him alive about one o’clock the day before, he being then at his mother’s house; she was going out to lunch with him and was in the carriage with Miss Elizabeth. The carriage went off and she was left standing at the gate. The deceased said to her “You are not going to my house today” and she replied “No sir”. She used to go up to his house sometimes, - often once a week. When she was at the gate deceased was on his horse – a chestnut one, - the one he always rode. She left him on his horse and went in the house by the front door, and through to the kitchen, and as she went along the passage she saw Mr. Lavender on the ground in the yard. The passage was a large one, and she could just see the back part of his head. She went up to him and found his hat and stick on the ground beside him, and the horse cropping grass from the wall. It was a gravel yard, with no manure or straw in it. When the deceased spoke to her he was close to the gate: then he also asked her to just look out at the back door; she supposed he meant she was to see after the men, that they came at the proper time; she could think of nothing else he could mean. He always went round to the back-door, putting his horse in the stable near there. When she got to him he did not speak or move. She had seen and spoken to him earlier in the day, before she saw him at the gate, and he seemed quite as usual. She had noticed no change in him during the last six months, and he had not complained to her of any trouble; she didn’t know that he had any."

"James Felts, who lives near Biddenham Church, deposed that he was sent for at about 1.5 to go to the farm. He went directly and was told what had happened as he went along. When he got there he saw the deceased on the ground in a sitting posture, between the legs of one of his labourers. Witness sent for the doctor, but he believed he was dead. They got him into the house and laid him on a couch in the room. Witness then went down the village and informed Mr. Peacock of what had occurred. He saw the deceased a little before 11 o’clock that morning and had conversation with him for twenty minutes perhaps. He then seemed well, in fact, he thought he had never seen him looking better or more cheerful. They talked on ordinary subjects, and they parted opposite his house. Witness had noticed a change in him during the last two years or so; he seemed depressed, as if he had some trouble hanging over him, - it appeared so to witness. He seemed a little different to what he used to be. He was 65 years of age."

"Mr. William Greaves Johnson, surgeon, Bedford, said he was called to see the deceased about 1.30 the previous day. He found deceased on a couch in the sitting room, dead. He was dressed. Apparently he had been dead half an hour. There was no foam at the mouth. His eyes were dilated, but countenance quite calm, and the hands were open. He had since made an external examination of the body. There was no smell from the breath. He had not professionally attended deceased within the last three months. He had not to his knowledge any disease of the heart, - merely a week feeble heart, with no disease. He should imagine that death was due to apoplexy; the giving way of a large vessel on the brain casing instantaneous death. It was probable he thought, he got off his horse before he fell, possibly feeling ill. There was no appearance of his having been dragged."

"The jury returned a verdict of death from Natural causes."

"The funeral took place on Wednesday at half-past twelve, when a large number of friends attended in order to show their respect for the deceased and his family, but had the day been fine there were many others who would also have attended. The coffin, which was made on the Bromham Hall estate, was completely covered with flowers and immortelles, and was followed, in addition to the relatives, intimate friends, and servants, by a numerous array, among those present being Mr. Charles Howard, Capt. Robe, Mr. Sharman, Colonel Josselyn, Supt. Kennedy, Mr. Biggs, Mr. H. King, Mr. Hilton, Mr. J. Manning, Mr. C. Frossell, Mr. Chibnall, Mr. Purser (surveyor to the Bedford Highway Board), and others. Mr. Jessopp, clerk to the Board, was away from home, or he would also have attended. The coffin was borne by six men in the employ of deceased, Mr. Harrison taking sole charge of the arrangements, and carrying them out with efficiency. The service in the church and at the grave was impressively conducted by the Vicar, the Rev. H. Wood, and his predecessor, the Rev. B. Chernocke-Smith, rector of Hulcote-cum-Salford."

Lavender Lodge April 2012
Lavender Lodge April 2012

The 1881 census suggests that William Lavender lived at the house currently called, appropriately enough, Lavender Lodge (so-called since at least 1910 when it is found in Kelly’s Directory) at 42 Main Road. The census return shows that Lavender and his sister lived with two female servants. Details are as follows:

  • William Lavender - Head - unmarried - 60 - farmer (304 acres) employing 21 men and 7 boys - born Biddenham;
  • Mary Lavender - Sister - unmarried - 63 - gentlewoman - born Biddenham;
  • Sarah Worker - Servant - widow - 63 - domestic servant (cook) - born Eaton Socon;
  • Elizabeth M. Jones - Servant - unmarried - 19 - domestic servant (housemaid) - born Ampthill.