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Hobourn solicitors archive

Water in the Archive Desert

A very large collection of solicitors' papers from the now defunct firm of Hobourn of Woburn was literally scraped off the floor of the firm's premises in 1977 and has remained untouched ever since because the twin jobs of putting it into order and then listing it are enormous. We have now made a start on it and the results may be seen in the searchroom and online at 'Search our Catalogues' under the reference HN.

Amongst the dry legal papers surrounding sales of land and the making of wills one can sometimes find oases of interest, poignancy and/or amusement and these are very welcome indeed to the jaded cataloguer!

A lot of the firm's business involved preparing people's wills and it is noticeable how often elderly Victorian ladies of a certain class made changes to them, almost as a hobby. Sometimes there are copious notes around the bequests of quite small things. Amongst the various draft wills of Elizabeth Seabrook of Maulden one finds this written in 1895: "I have this morning been putting away my Winter Stockings. There are 6 pairs of my knitting and if I should not be living to want them another Winter I wish them to be given to my good Servant Sarah Harris also the two pink pairs of Woollen Knickers. I have told her about them" [Ref.HN10/267/Seabrook5]. On a sadder note Caroline Cooper Cooper of Toddington Manor was thinking about the fate of her pet dogs after her death and in 1887 noted: "My dear little dogs to any one who will take care of them & pet them if not to ask Dr.Waugh to poison them & to be buried with Tiny & Baly" [Ref.HN10/270/Cooper5].

Legal action could result from a deceased person's estate, usually quite soon after the death of the testator. This was not the case with the estate of Thomas Paxton of Milton Bryan. The records around this man are quite tantalising. Milton Bryan was the birthplace of the famous Sir Joseph Paxton, the landscape gardener and architect who did much work for the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth and who designed the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851. His father William is variously described as a gardener and farmer. Thomas, by contrast was a publican and draper, he kept the Red Lion in the village. Interestingly at his death in 1823 he was owed money by Sir Gregory Page Turner for supplying beer to the men constructing a lake in the grounds of Page Turner's extravagant new Battlesden House. The design of this water feature was Joseph Paxton's first piece of landscaping work. Given the small size of Milton Bryan it seems quite possible that Thomas was some relation to Joseph, a distant cousin, perhaps. In 1886, 63 years after Thomas' death his daughter Mary Ann Ricketts began an action against John Thomas Green, son of the Woburn solicitor John Green, for recovery of her share in her father's estate. The papers do not reveal the outcome of the action but do reveal that John Green was asked to be an executor of Paxton's will by Sir Richard Inglis, who was Lord of the Manor at Milton Bryan and concerned that the elderly Paxton was being taken in by a man named Philpot, who was suspected of carrying on with Paxton's young Irish wife. There are all the makings of a lurid novel of suspense and romance in this case!

Of interest to me as a records manager is the fact that when John Thomas Green was called on in 1886 to find evidence to back his case that his, now dead, father never gave Paxton's children their legacies because Paxton's estate was insolvent, he had great difficulty finding any. Green senior had destroyed most of the papers. An exasperated John Thomas says at one point, in some notes on the case " [I] have spent 3 days already over the papers in the office and am sick of it. I cannot search every bundle of papers but I feel sure that the working papers relating to the matter are either mislaid or destroyed before 1857." [Ref.HN10/273/Paxton7]

Finally, some light relief. Frederick John Coleman was the proprietor of the George Hotel in Luton. In 1888 he was threatened with an action for slander. John Thomas Green's notes tell the tale admirably. "Harris, Sworder, Percival, Wright, Coleman & others drinking about together. Wright when drinking has a mania for breaking other people's hats after a little horse play. Coleman gets home and finds his Hat smashed – he instantly concluded Wright had done it 2 hours before when all up at his place. He sends the hat done up in paper up to Wright's House with a note something like this written on one of his Bill papers "I never play practical jokes and I shall not allow you to so perform on me or my property" Coleman thinks the wife got hold of it and this has put the fat in the fire". [HN10/271/Coleman2] Clearly Wright's wife gave him a sore ear on the subject and insisted he establish his (and her) good name by legal action!

Hopefully the Hobourn archive will reveal more of this nature, so look out for further instalments!