A STING, OR TWO, IN THE TAIL ...
What started me off on this by now, increasingly convoluted narrative of riches and romance, was initially an immutable interest in the divers characters who have at one time or another inhabited the now ancient walls of Craven Lodge which has been located here in my home town of Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire for almost two centuries. In choosing the Baldock family - resident from about 1887 until a few years just after the First World War - I scarcely realised what an interesting story I would unearth. Colonel Edward Henry Baldock who inherited great wealth from the land and property purchases of his M.P. father, moved in with his wife Agnes Jessie Bibby who was the third daughter of the extremely wealthy Liverpool based shipping magnate and owner of countless tranches of property and stately homes, James Jenkinson, (J.J.) Bibby: He was indeed one of the very richest Victorians of his time and had in 1887 purchased the Lodge on a whim - as we might buy an electric blanket - from the then incumbent William Young of Scottish brewing fame, as a wedding present for his daughter and her new husband to provide a rural escape from the frequently suffocating high society trappings of Knightsbridge et al. Agnes was a country girl at heart and her family home was then the magnificent Hardwicke Grange in Shropshire. Their only daughter Sarah Baldock was therefore a very eligible socialite who apparently grew up into a beautiful young lady in the country lanes of Melton, between occasional forays on the train to the bright lights and gay balls of the capital city some 100 miles away.
But disaster stalked the Baldocks as Sarah grew into a young woman and was to pounce with a vengeance when their attractive young daughter fell head over heels in love with a bright young motor-mechanic who was newly arrived in town and was setting up a small garage. In response to an advertisement for which he was the ideal candidate, he would double as Sarah's personal chauffeur and driving instructor for her newly acquired automobile. But the personable Cyril Duvall Bishop carried a worrying personal secret in that at the age of only 17 years he had recently become the un-registered father of a male child who was born to a young milliner's assistant of Lewisham, London whom he had courted whilst Sarah had travelled abroad. Worse for her parents and the extended Baldock and Bibby families, it appears that Cyril had no intention of ever marrying the mother of his apparently unwanted child and despite all of the robust efforts of the Baldocks and Bibbys, the young lovers defied all odds, ducked the slings and arrows and resisted the more than one attractive incentives of exceptionally large amounts of money which were offered; they simply went ahead and got married.
TIDYING UP THE DETAILS
As I have turned up more and more of the details of this story, I have wandered into avenues that I would perhaps at other times choose not to go down, but what with one intrigue or another I have allowed myself to become diverted. The reverberations of the great disappointment of Sarah's 'scandalous' wedding for Edward and Agnes Baldock were likely to become in the end a begrudging acceptance that their beloved and only daughter had determined her own destiny and departed with her chosen husband - who could never be properly integrated into the 'Debrett' set, but with no male heir, Sarah's position was legally inviolate and she would inherit everything that her parents left behind. Of course the bulk of her inheritance had already been decided at her grandfather's deathbed in 1875 and then, through her mother's connection so this could not be taken from her. Whatever the situation, her parents did snub the wedding and seemed to have made no further efforts to intercede.
I have heard of many people who profess to have endured more than their fair share of ill-luck in their lives, but in my opinion, Sarah Frances Constance Lilian Baldock would head any list of them all. An American lady of whom I have written recently was an Astor Heiress who married Count Zborowski in controversial circumstances, resulting in them spending the rest of their lives in England. Today, the whole of their small family lies almost unremembered in a church vault near to Melton Mowbray. American newspapers of the day talked widely of the 'curse of the Countess Margaret Laura Zborowski' as everyone she professed to love died in front of her: read the story here. But there is an even more tragic ending to Sarah's story, not to mention a few poignant moments along the way, but first, I wish to provide you with some of the peripheral minutiae I have unearthed in my journey and which are relevant to the story.
MR BIBBY'S WILL
I must concern myself with Mr Bibby and his contribution to Melton Mowbray, even only if he was an investor in real estate here. He did actually purchase Craven Lodge from brewer William Younger in 1885, maybe as an investment but more than likely as a wedding present for one of his precious daughters who became a permanent participant in local life. Following his death in 1897 'The Manchester Guardian' published the following official announcement (which I have reduced for the comfort of my readers):
A LIVERPOOL SHIPOWNER'S WILL
The personal estate has been valued at £1,783,062. 6s. gross, and £1,776,432. 12s. 6d. net, of Mr. James Jenkinson Bibby, of 25, Hill-street, London, of Hardwicke Grange, Salop, and of Liverpool, shipowner, who died on the 8th January last, aged 83 years. The will bears the date the 4th November, 1890 with codicils ... Mr Bibby bequeathed to his wife, Mrs Sarah Bibby, daughter of Mr T. Cook of Dewsbury, £10,000, the furniture of his residences, and the indoor and outdoor effects, the use and enjoyment of either one or both of his houses for her personal occupation, and a life annuity of £10,000. He bequeathed upon trusts for his daughter Sarah [unmarried], £200,000, for his daughter Agnes Jessie Baldock and her issue £125,000 and for his daughter Gertrude Wormald and her issue £125,000 ... Mr Bibby settled Craven Lodge Melton Mowbray in favour of his daughter Mrs Baldock, and he left his Mansion House in the county of Salop in trust for his daughter Sarah during her life ...
This is where Sarah Baldock linked into her grandfathers will, through her mother Agnes. She would inherit when she came of age on 12th July 1902. James' only son and main heir, Frank Bibby was to receive the bulk of the considerable estate and he took over the reins of the family business by joining the Board of the Bibby Management. The Will also stated that his funeral should be 'plain and unostentatious' and interestingly no charitable bequests were made though Mr Bibby was well enough known, especially in the North, for his great philanthropy at other times of his life.
Burton Court, Chelsea, S.W.
I would assume that Sarah and Cyril Bishop, after that very special wedding which was followed by the traditional honeymoon in Bournemouth, were soon safely ensconsed in the very best of contemporary addresses. They were indeed, very well set up. Opposite Sloane Square in Chelsea and forming part of the Royal Hospitals district was - and remains today - a delightful high-rise apartment block of the very finest residences that money could then buy. Initially the couple took up residence in No. 69 Burton Court, Lower Sloane Street where they would have been pampered by as many servants, chauffeurs and attendants of any service that their heart's desired. But I have learned nothing of their life there apart from the fact that soon after becoming Mrs Bishop, Sarah was to drop her first three christian names from general usage. From now on she was to be known socially as just 'Lilian', a change in which she succeeded for a while in misdirecting me away from a lot of my research!
In the ensuing years it is believed that her parents were not too frequent as visitors at Burton Court and Lilian was to bear no children and living in the lap of guaranteed and permanent luxury would not necessarily provide total contentment. Combined with her apparent inability to provide an heir or heiresss, another great sadness was looming, when, on the 4th February 1911, Cyril died suddenly at home. The Certificate shows that Lillian was not a witness to his death and that his brother Arthur, who had also been present as his best man at the wedding, had signed the official document: Cyril was just 28 years of age and the contentious marriage had lasted just short of six years in total. He had provided a will and on his death, considering the style of his life and the standing of his wife, his assets were perhaps considered to be pretty meagre. Lilian received his declared assets of just £289 18s. 9d. (worth around £27,000 in 2012.) A relative informs me that Cyril died of some form of heart disease which would probably have been easily dealt with today by the use of up-to-date medicines or tablets.
From 'London Gazettes'
Richard Cecil Philpott.In mentioning a presence at the time and place of Cyril's death, I have perhaps hinted that all might not have been well in the Bishop household and I might add to this, the fact that only Cyril's name ever appeared on the Voter's Register during the period of their residency at Burton Court. To go one step further, it appears that within a very short time of her bereavement, Sarah was meeting with another young man and in the summer of 1912 she would marry a young brewer, 28yrs old Charles Cecil Philpott, a native of Kent but who had spent a few years in Manchester with his parents. His Father Herbert Philpott was a apparently a brewer of some repute who plied his trade at Hulme, Manchester and his mother was Maria (Bushell). The couple stayed at Burton Court as their residence of choice, but they now, perhaps understandably for Lilian, would transfer to No. 11. where, once again, I have to assume that they lived happily for a while.
During this period of her life and hoping to settle down with her new husband Cecil - as she preferred to call him - Lilian, (still without children from her new husband and so whether as a matter of inability or choice could be debated, but if it was the former then it was most likely on her side that the problem lay) would experience first, the passing of her father Edward who by now stayed less frequently at Melton Mowbray. He seems to have been suffering for some time with a debilitating illness which was slowly taking away his life. The Baldocks had acquired a very nice property at the south coast seaside town of Hove, next to Brighton, in the county of their birth, Sussex and it was in their retirement house at No 2, Fourth Avenue in the town on Friday, 14th February 1913 that Edward Henry Baldock peacefully passed away.
No. 2, 4th Avenue, Hove , Sussex (Google)
How Lillian took the passing of her father is not recorded but she was to remain with Cecil through any grief which she might have suffered. She also had a very close lady friend who seems to have shared the apartment at 11 Burton Court, a Miss Anne Eleanor Morris, native of Stourbridge who was about 8 years Lilian's senior and said to be her former Governess. She and Cecil were to be together when the time arrived of news of the death of her mother Agnes. I would like to think that she was informed a lot earlier, but on the morning of Wednesday, 28th June 1922, the Deaths Notices of The Times reported to the world;
(The Times Newspaper)
Agnes's Will 1922 (London Gazettes)
The pathos of this story of the Baldock family, once notably of Craven Lodge, came to a crashing climax in the year of 1931, but Lilian's penultimate personal tragedy was to arrive some three years earlier when on Friday 28th April 1928, her husband died at home at the young age of 47 years. A short and simple notice in The Times informed its readers:
PHILPOTT. -- On April 20, 1928, at 11, Burton-court, Lower Sloane-street, S.W., RICHARD CECIL PHILPOTT, the devoted and beloved husband of Lilian Philpott.
So Lilian had been robbed again of a loved one, this time after just 16 years and she still three years from her fiftieth birthday; how cruel could life be? Now with her parents gone and tragically, her supposed lifetime companion, she must have wondered of whatever use was it that she was by now an extremely rich woman, albeit surrounded by her lady friends and a number of servants. But something did happen within the walls of apartment No. 11 Burton Court after the death of Richard, culminating in the final tragedy which would end Lilian's short life.
When I discovered that Lilian was to die just three years after Richard, I began to get a whiff of something out of the ordinary. I wasn't quite able to form an intelligent guess as to what had caused her demise - but I suspected that something was afoot. Then when I put together the dates on which each of them died and realised that she had died on the same date as her husband, albeit three years apart, I was to shout out aloud, "eureka", being then convinced that a desperately depressed woman had taken her own life. For the first time in my research I made an executive decision to spend all of ten pounds on an official Death Certificate, perhaps to throw some light on the matter, even though I fully realised that such things could always be covered up in high places if you were in the right strata of society in 1930. Then, completely out of the blue, a big light flashed above my head and sparks flew all around me when I was to realise that I had wasted my money after all, for there, in front of my very eyes on page 5 of the Nottingham Evening Post of Thursday, April 23rd, 1931 was the stunning and for me, shocking, headline:
WORRY OVER ANONYMOUS LETTER CHARGES.
A story of a woman's worry over an action brought against her to restrain her from writing further anonymous letters was told at a Hammersmith, London, inquest today on Sarah Frances Lilian Philpott, 49, widow of a brewer, who was found dead in her flat at Burton-court, Chelsea, with her head resting on a pillow by a gas ring, and two open razors by her side.
The Coroner found that she committed suicide, but that there was insufficient evidence to show the state of mind.
Mr Philip Gardener, a solicitor, said Mrs. Philpott had been worried over an action being brought against her.
The Coroner: I understand there had been anonymous letters written, and there was an action to obtain an injunction to restrain her. She subsequently admitted writing the letters.
Mr Gardener: Yes, and she had undoubtedly worried over this.
After medical evidence that death was due to coal gas poisoning, the Coroner, in recording the verdict, said Mrs. Philpott had made elaborate preparations for taking her life, and left letters giving instructions to various people as to what was to be done after her death.
So, I was right - well, almost! - but I was indeed truly astonished at my discovery and have by now written to the Coroner's Officer at Hammersmith in the vain hope that the file is still alive and available for examination. But it is here that I really must move on from the saga of the apparently despondent life of Sarah Frances Lilian Constance Baldock, the pretty little girl who came to live in Melton Mowbray in the 1880's and once played in the beautiful gardens behind the high wall just across the road from my house. I will also give a quiet thought to the 100th anniversary of her father, the good Colonel's death which will pass on the 14th of February this year.
FOR THE FUTURE
Still to come will be my endeavours at the unravelling of Sarah's amazing Last Will and Testament, a copy of which only dropped through my letter box just the other day. Its 18+ pages will take some time to digest and properly understand but I hope that I will be able to do it justice. Please bear with me as I prepare the 'epilogue' and, as I usually say, "Watch this space!"