Thursday, 26 February 2015

WILLIAM LATHAM Esq. (1800-1887)


ARTIST, SOLICITOR AND LOCAL POLITICIAN.


Now retired from my many years employed as a police officer I am aware that I was once in the envious position of being able to explore places in locations where many others might have feared to tread, as the presence of a police officer wandering around old ruins and lost relics was mostly welcomed by those charged with looking after them. This grace and favour situation was closed for me in retirement but the arrival of the Internet and the desperately useful logistics and tools of cyberspace has made my research so much easier. It is with this in mind that I would like to pay homage to a man - whom I never met - who has aided me more than any other. Never more than a few feet away from me whenever I am writing or seeking inspiration, lies my well-thumbed copy of Jack Brownlow’s iconic historical reference, ‘Melton Mowbray Queen of the Shires’, which he apparently began to compile as early as 1967 an which was eventually published in 1980.  His in-depth knowledge of the history of the town which he obviously loved and its local surroundings has inspired my personal interest in the subject and whereas I never wished to steal directly from his prose, I confess to frequently dipping into his knowledgeable and authoritative chapters to keep myself on the right track. Jack was just a little late to benefit from the advantages of the electronic access that has overtaken us in the 21st century and I can only visualise now, his frequent forays to the museums and libraries which were mostly out of town.  My legwork is reduced considerably today with the knowledge that the greatest source of ‘modern’ history is at any moment, waiting to be found in the millions of pages of archive newsprint, data and other documents which are now freely available on my computer screen at the touch of a key.

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It is some few years ago now since I first laid eyes on a painting which was displaying in the Carnegie museum at Melton Mowbray, a landscape produced by a man whom we would probably describe today as a part-time or amateur artist. Dated 1835, it is labelled simply; 'Melton Mowbray,  Leicestershire,  from the Canal'. This portrayal is the excellent work of the late William Latham Esq., solicitor and local politician.  Done in oils on canvas and measuring just 22 x 109.5 cm. - for the unconverted, this equates to roughly 8½ inches x 43 inches - it is currently part of a collection held by the Leicestershire County Council in its Leicester museum. A greatly enlarged reproduction of this scene is today displayed for all to appreciate as a mural adorning the public foyer of the handsome new Borough Council offices in Melton Mowbray. The scene displays a vista of the 18th Century topography of this particular part of the town prior to the arrival of the Railway in 1846 which would slice the town into two.  It is a part of the history of which has fascinated me for some time and this depiction of how things once were, would, at a later time, serve to concentrate my mind in a search for the origins and evolvement of the old town, particularly relating to the social and corporate expansion which ensued at the hands of the townspeople and visitors drawn to the area over a period of about two centuries.




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PART I


A FAMILY OF SOLICITORS.


William Latham Esq. became a subject of King George III when he was born in the busy market town of Melton Mowbray in 1800, the year in which the Act of Union came into being, uniting the Kingdoms of Great Britain and of Ireland into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.  With his younger sister Sarah and three older brothers he was raised in the family home at Corn-hill, which served also as the business premises of his parents, solicitor Charles and mother Mary. In 1842 William, by then a solicitor himself, would marry Annie Hewitt and in the following year a son who was to be their only child was born.  Charles Latham, like his father and grandfather before him was also trained in the law and for a short while he did join the family practice, but from the age of about 20 he seems to have left the area.

After studying law at Fotheringey, near to Oundle in Northamptonshire, William Latham was admitted as attorney in 1822 and in 1840 he was further appointed to the Chancery.  He lived briefly in Cheshire where it is believed that he met  his wife to be, Annie, but he was to return to Melton Mowbray on the death of both of his parents close to the time of his marriage.  Remaining in the town with his new family he would take over the family law practice, working on his own account in Corncross at the top of High Street.  It was not too long before the young family relocated from living above the shop to take up a newly built family residence and practice at number 33 Nottingham Street. (This building was later later to be utilised as a doctors surgery under the name of Latham House and even later, to be demolished for a new Tesco outlet.)  Being competent and ultimately successful, his practice grew exponentially and he was to take up his first partnership with Lincolnshire solicitor Joseph Paddison, but sadly this proved to be a short-lived relationship due to the sudden and tragic occasion of his death of his partner from typhoid at the very young age of just 40 years. He next amalgamated his business with that of a local solicitor, Walter John New, to become 'Latham and New'.

“… A Very Boring Place to Live!”


Apart from his busy legal work which would provide the bulk of his income, William was also greatly interested and much involved in the outside world of local politics, especially regarding the education of young people, believing it to be the primary route out of the intense poverty which then abounded. Apart from this he was especially attracted to the appreciation of art and music in most of its varying forms and this passion he would endeavour to pass on to both the young and the old of his town, including especially, the proletarian, or working people of the street. Likely a good socialist, his interest in educating the labourers and unschooled of all ages is known to have ruffled the smoothly preened feathers of the conservative middle classes as this was a time when such ‘pandering’ to the plebeians was not particularly encouraged or supported, especially by the employers and those of the gentry or those in business and authority.  Indeed, in 1844, a correspondent of the Leicester Journal was to boldly inform his readers in the surrounding county that;
  
"This must be a very boring place to live. Melton cannot at present boast a public Institution (except the schools) of any kind; there is neither a public library or reading room nor any place of amusement or instruction to be found."
  
It needs to be told at this point, that this young and busy solicitor, maintaining his family business to a high standard, was prepared to provide many spare hours in pursuit of to his social interests.  One of his earliest and most remarkable achievements was to persuade the people of Melton of the need for a school for their young ones.  On a day in November, 1838, William Latham was to write in his own hand, the following missive to members of the Town Board.

'Take Notice that there will be a Meeting of the Feeoffees and Inhabitants of Melton Mowbray at the Town Hall on Monday 26th November 1838 to take into Consideration the Propriety of setting apart a piece of the Town Estates Garden for the purpose of erecting an infant school thereon And for the purpose of considering the means for raising money for such building, it having been resolved at a public Meeting that an infant school is desirable.   The Meeting will take place at 1/2 past 10 o'clock in the Morning.'      W. Latham.
There are 13 signatories appended

With the contribution of much of his own money, the land was purchased and the small school, one of very few of its type in England, was built and notwithstanding this fact, a lack of suitable education did continue through the eighteenth century, but as the education of the town’s young children was beginning to benefit year on year thanks to the encouragement of willing local patron’s, William Latham’s interests and voluntary exertions were to steer him towards the encouragement of a recognition of and a participation in, music and the arts as an intrinsic facet of the further education of working men and women. In conjunction with John Day’s new lending library at the top of Cornhill, he was to promote an art gallery in the newly established National School in the town. It was of course in 1835 that William was to produce his own little artistic masterpiece - at least in my eyes - of the landscape view of his home town canal and adjoining meadow area, a depiction of which as explained elsewhere, today adorns the foyer of the Melton Borough Council Offices in Burton End. A common method of discouraging attempts at this further advancement of these older, un-schooled workers was for landlords to charge high rents or to price working people out of the establishments used for teaching which did open up, by charging exorbitant entrance fees and rents with the intended result being that they were soon forced to close their doors.  Preferring the proletariat to remain at their kitchen sinks or in the bars of the many drinking houses which proliferated.  'Gosh! We don't want our 'ag-labs' learning how to read words and count numbers, surely. Whatever next!'

It was thus by good fortune and his great interest, that in his main and important rĂ´le as a succesful town solicitor, William Latham happened, among many other community titles, to act as Clerk to the Trustees of the Hudson and Storer Charities which were wealthy and generous benevolent trusts, then operating from four or five locations in the town.  One of these trusts was the 17th century establishment known as the Bede Houses in Burton End and being aware of the useful space and location which these might provide he was able to persuade the trustees that they could be utilised beneficially as a public library for the townspeople of all ages.  In her dissertation on the ‘Studies of the Melton Mowbray Libraries’ which was published in the Leicestershire Historian of 1988, a former Melton local studies officer and town librarian, Judith Flint, writes of the Bede Houses experiment;

‘Seeking cheaper accommodation, Mr Latham found an unused room in the Bede House, which he suggested to the trustees could be used for the library.  The Bede House was built in 1638 as an almshouse founded by Robert Hudson, a wealthy merchant. He was born in Melton Mowbray in 1564 and moved to London, where he made his fortune.  The inmates of the Bede House each had their own room and on the first floor of the building provision was made for a central room which acted as a common room and prayer room.  By 1846 this room had become a receptacle for lumber.  The old common room was the room that Latham and Woodcock used for the Literary Institution, at an annual rent of £1. 4. 0. [£1.20 today] This was paid to the inmates as a disturbance allowance, as people using the library would have to go through the building to gain access.’
  
The venture did prove a success with admission fee set at sixpence per visit and with the later inclusion of a small museum, apparently much loved by the school children of the day and it did manage for a time to pay for its own upkeep, but as the years went by, frequent tenuous attempts at this amalgamation with other local private libraries would create only complications and vexed problems of management with the upshot being that by the 1880s as the shareholders began to grow older and pass on, their successors would prove to be less interested in its upkeep or even harbour any thoughts of expansion or success. The result came to be that within a couple of decades of the death of William Latham and with a serious lack of any capable or willing stewardship available, the failing library at the Bede Houses was to issue just twelve books in 1907 for reading and these were destined to be its final ones, even though the museum did manage to just limp along: 


...‘The library gathered dust in the Bede House and, although the museum attracted several important donations, especially the Bickley coin collection in 1936, the lack of finance to develop the museum ensured its eventual decline. In November 1946 the trustees of the Bede House had to close the museum room as they could not find anyone suitable to look after it and it was never to re-open.’ 



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PART TWO




THE PORTRAIT AND MR LATHAM’S 
MAP OF THE TOWN





The Portrait


When William Latham was about 77 years of age - he never really ever retired completely - he was to complete a personal project that had apparently absorbed many hours of his precious and increasingly rare - even for a septuagenarian - spare time and thought.  With his obvious artistic gift and an eye and mind honed for precise, clear and useful detail, he had long pondered over the geographical problems and divisions of convoluted opinion which had arisen in so many of the day-to-day cases which he had overseen during his legal work - both criminal and civil - which were all part and parcel of his responsibilities to the Magistracy in the town.  His solution was to be the creation of a grand bespoke map, or chart of the town to supersede any previous effort and one which would identify precisely the location of each building, shed, fountain, memorial stone or byre and precisely display all of the boundaries which indicated the Borough limits.  Many an argument involving the thorny issue of boundaries and exact locations were matter which frequently arose in the courts and offices of the town creating the provocation of much uneccesary dispute.In the finest detail by his very skilled hand, all of this was to be made available for any citizen who wished to make use of its service.  No other official map - such as the later government produced Ordnance Survey charts - was yet available for public use. It is said that within a period of just six months from its conception, William was to complete and present this truly splendid artefact.  Described as being some 11 feet in length and 39 inches wide and covering the whole of the parish, it was inscribed with the utmost accuracy and annotated with fine manuscript, it incorporated every single foot of ground contained in the lordship at a scale set at 3 chains to the inch.  Each separate property in the parish was distinctly identified with the whole being painted in watercolours with different coloured or white ground, indicating which of the properties were unredeemed from the Land Tax, or anciently or recently redeemed.  

The foot of the map was beautifully decorated with a depiction of the town as it was seen before 1846 - the year of the arrival of the railway! - the aspect being from the south end of the parish with prominent features of the area known as Priors Close, the Play-close, the Parish Church, Earl of Wilton’s residence, the bridges over the River Eye and adjacent canal, together with other characteristics of the neighbourhood. Beautifully executed, there was included an extremely detailed index which pertained to every particular as to owners and occupiers and their redemption or not of the land tax on the estates that have taken place.  William had apparently professed in its implementation, that "Its use in the future for the welfare of the town with the added wish that it might become a legacy of reference for all time ahead." This was surely an understatement - how we would all desire to see such a map today!  In its presentation to the Local Board, it was his intention to ask for permission to place it in the Magistrates room for that particular purpose. The gift is said to have been nothing less than a marvellous production, apart from being a work of art and one which, in the motive which prompted it, indicated the amazing skill and patience of carrying it out and the accuracy and perfection which characterised it.

In connection with this impressive gesture to the people of Melton, William Latham was lauded from all quarters, not only from the businesses and professions to whom it would prove so useful, but also from every social class of town dweller, who was to assure that this public approbation was directly due 

‘…to one who every person living in the parish justly feels a pride and pleasure - towards a gentleman, a townsman and a friend and that his creation, as a work of art as well as one of the greatest utility, to be ever regarded as a boon to the town which will only increase in value.'

With no Ordnance Survey map of the town yet available, Latham’s contribution proved to be certainly ahead of its time and it really does sound like an amazing tour-de-force.  I am not aware that this map - or any facsimile - still exists, but it is something I would just love to see today, though I do fear that it is by now lost to view and is likely lost for all time.  The people of Melton were to keep a weather eye on matters and in the Grantham Journal at the beginning of March 1887, not too long after the passing of William and Annie Latham, there appeared the first emergence of discontent as to the future of the items.



Towards the end of his life, a time during which the man was not seen to be slowing down in any way,Close to two decades before the death of William Latham Esq., many of the townspeople present at his funeral and others who had themselves by now passed on, had willingly and cheerfully put their hands into their not too deep pockets in order to voluntarily collect the not inconsiderable sum in 1870 of £300, exclusively for the purpose of presenting to William’s devoted wife Annie a full length oil-painting of her husband.  The testimonial had been arranged and agreed with the popular solicitor and his wife some time beforehand and Mr J. Archer Esq., RSA had been commissioned to carry out the work for the generous fee of 150 sovereigns (£150).  This presentation of the portrait to Mrs Latham, together with a separate presentation of a purse of 150 sovereigns, together with an illuminated vellum address in an enriched casket to her husband, had taken place at the Latham residence in Nottingham street during the Christmas of 1872.  Mr Whitchurch, Chairman of the presentation committee was deputed to address Mrs Latham and in the presence of the gathered audience announced:

   “Madam, - It is upwards of a year since I had the honour of appearing in this room with a deputation to solicit Mr Latham’s consent to our presenting him with a testimonial. That consent being obtained, our work (which was throughout a labour of love), may be said to have been easy, for such is the respect in which Mr Latham is held by his clients and personal friends, such is the esteem felt for him by his fellow townsmen, and such is the appreciation of that wondrous piece of calligraphy executed by Mr Latham in his old age, now hanging in our public room, and ornament, and most useful to us, that subscriptions voluntarily poured in upon us, - I say voluntarily because no solicitation was used, and we shortly received close upon £300 from upwards of three hundred subscribers.  Our plans for carrying out the object of the testimonial were resolved on, and if they are in consonance with Mr Latham’s and your own we are glad.  Knowing that an act of courtesy to a wife must ever meet with a grateful response from a husband, it was decided to present you with Mr Latham’s portrait.  The portrait now before us, as a work of art, is seldom equalled, and as a true portrait, faithfully delineating Mr Latham, can’t be surpassed.  The artist as well as depicting the outward features of the man, has shown us his natural temperament - look at that plain sympathising face and those benignant eyes.  I have now, Madam, the honour and the most profound pleasure, on behalf of this deputation and the subscribers generally, of presenting this portrait to you, who will value it much. When we are numbered with our fathers, it will, I trust, be handed down to posterity and show them their predecessors in this place knew how to appreciate one of the noblest works of oration a true Christian and a good man.  We sincerely wish Mr Latham and yourself many years of uninterrupted happiness, and that you may in green old age enjoy that peace which a life well spent generally produces.” 
   Then turning to Mr Latham, Mr Whitchurch addressed him, explaining that the purse was the work of two local ladies ‘whose fingers I have no doubt were guided by their good wishes towards you in producing so beautiful a piece of work.’ He told Mr Latham that the surplus of £150 was his to spend as he wished.  The Address, hand-crafted in London by skilled artisans and presented in a beautiful and richly carved casket, was read out.
   In acknowledging the gifts along with the names of the 306 subscribers, Mrs Latham was, in return, to tell the Committee;
“Gentleman, allow me in a few words to thank you most sincerely for you great liberality and kindness.  Nothing can be more gratifying to a wife than to find her beloved husband so highly esteemed and respected by so large a circle of friends.  I not only thank those present, but, through you all, individually and collectively, who have aided in this marked goodness, not only to my dear husband but also to myself.”
   It was revealed that the following message was delivered that same day by Mr Latham to the trustees of Hudson and Storers Charities;
“A number of my neighbours and personal friends have kindly subscribed the sum of £302 as a testimony of their respect for me, which is very gratifying, and fully appreciated.  Part of that sum has been expended in a portrait of myself, in autotypes from the picture [photographic copies], leaving a balance of £15 which has been presented to me this day. It is my wish to dispose of this sum for the benefit of Hudson’s Bedehouses and Storer’s Almshouses in this town, and for the following reasons - I have been clerk and treasurer to those charities for more than fifty years and have observed the benefits derived from them by the inmates.  As the chief part of the income of these charities may be such as to necessitate either a reduction of the number of inmates or a reduction of their weekly allowance.  I therefore hereby hand over the sum of of £150 to the Trustees of Hudson’s and Storer’s Charities, to be applied by them and their successors in such manner as they shall think will be most beneficial to those useful institutions.
Another generous gesture and a nice little Christmas present for the inmates - remembering that £100 in 1870 was the equivalent of over £8,000 in today’s money! and a yet further example of the largesse of William Latham was his generous contribution to the funding of the new infant school which was built in Norman Street in 1853, when in 1880 and in the later years of his life, he was to donate a piece of land in order to provide a playground.

_____________________________________

NOEL 


As a total irrelevance and with the purpose of presenting some idea of life in the small market town of Melton Mowbray at Christmas in that year of 1872, I insert this short piece taken from the Grantham Journal of the 27th December:

Christmas: - Christmas Day, as usual, was ushered in with the strains of of the Melton Band, who played their morning carols much to the pleasure and satisfaction of those who heard them.  The bells of the Parish Church also announced the arrival of the festive season.  The members of the band paraded the town on Boxing day and paid their respects, and the compliments of the season, to those who were likely to reward them.

Christmas Day at the Workhouse. - The inmates of the Union Workhouse had, on Christmas Day, through the kindness and liberality of the Guardians, roast beef and plum pudding, to which all seemed to do ample justice.  After dinner they were plentifully supplied with ale, tobacco, etc, and the little hearts of the children rejoiced amongst a bountiful supply of figs, nuts and oranges.  Tea and plum cake were provided later in the day, and all appeared to enjoy themselves to their hearts’ content.  The dining-hall was very well decorated with evergreens and suitable mottoes, the whole being under the management of of the respected master and matron, Mr and Mrs Weston, who were indefatigable in their exertions to make this festive season an enjoyable one to to all those under their care.’

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T H E   L A T H A M   P O R T R A I T.


To the Editor of the Journal

Sir, - Some years ago, a subscription was set on foot for the purpose of making a presentation to the late Mr. Latham, and something over £300 was raised. About half that sum was spent in an oil painting of Mr Latham, which was presented to Mrs. Latham and the balance presented to Mr. Latham in cash. This sum Mr. L. gave to the Bede-houses, and both he and Mrs. Latham stated at the death of the last survivor of the two the portrait should be given to the town. I want to know, Sir, whether that has been done, and whether the Townwardens have applied for it? If not, why not? - 
I am, Sir,

ONE OF THE SUBSCRIBERS.

Melton Mowbray, March 3rd, 1887.




At one stage it was believed that the items had been stolen from their resting place and there followed a tricky passage of time during which conflict arose as to who would have the responsibility for their safe-keeping.  The small local matter seemed to have been a storm in a tea-cup which resolved eventually, but though the map seems to have vanished over the longer passage of time, the portrait is believed to have been hanging within the precincts of the Melton Magistrates Court until quite recently.PART THREE



THE PORTRAIT AND MR LATHAM’S 
MAP OF THE TOWN

(A Gift to the People)



It was on Thursday 6th January 1887, that William Latham was ultimately laid to rest at just after 2pm on what was reported as a cold and foggy afternoon, publicly and in the presence of a considerable number of his mourning townsfolk who would not be deterred from celebrating the final moments of a much-loved man who had been finally removed from their midst. Following this much-lamented passing of such a popular resident, attention was soon to be drawn to the mention within the requiem of the iconic portrait and scale map, especially the sentence in the Grantham Journal which had stated - ‘The portrait above mentioned now becomes the property of the town.’ There followed a public discourse via letters to the editor of this newspaper as opposing factors in the town lay down their  rights and reasons as to claims of ownership.

It is here that I feel a personal need to bring to light in the present day, a more detailed exposition of these once personal items, now in public ownership, their origins and their probable importance to the heritage of Melton Mowbray. For me, there exists the added enigma of their possible present existence and of their seemingly unknown location, if indeed they do still exist at some place.  For this reason, I will explicate further.


THE PORTRAIT …


Close to two decades before the death of William Latham Esq., many of the townspeople present at his funeral and others who had themselves by now passed on, had willingly and cheerfully put their hands into their not too deep pockets in order to voluntarily collect the not inconsiderable sum in 1870 of £300, exclusively for the purpose of presenting to William’s devoted wife Annie a full length oil-painting of her husband.  The testimonial had been arranged and agreed with the popular solicitor and his wife some time beforehand and Mr J. Archer Esq., RSA had been commissioned to carry out the work for the generous fee of 150 sovereigns (£150).  This presentation of the portrait to Mrs Latham, together with a separate presentation of a purse of 150 sovereigns, together with an illuminated vellum address in an enriched casket to her husband, had taken place at the Latham residence in Nottingham street during the Christmas of 1872.  Mr Whitchurch, Chairman of the presentation committee was deputed to address Mrs Latham and in the presence of the gathered audience announced:

   “Madam, - It is upwards of a year since I had the honour of appearing in this room with a deputation to solicit Mr Latham’s consent to our presenting him with a testimonial. That consent being obtained, our work (which was throughout a labour of love), may be said to have been easy, for such is the respect in which Mr Latham is held by his clients and personal friends, such is the esteem felt for him by his fellow townsmen, and such is the appreciation of that wondrous piece of calligraphy executed by Mr Latham in his old age, now hanging in our public room, and ornament, and most useful to us, that subscriptions voluntarily poured in upon us, - I say voluntarily because no solicitation was used, and we shortly received close upon £300 from upwards of three hundred subscribers.  Our plans for carrying out the object of the testimonial were resolved on, and if they are in consonance with Mr Latham’s and your own we are glad.  Knowing that an act of courtesy to a wife must ever meet with a grateful response from a husband, it was decided to present you with Mr Latham’s portrait.  The portrait now before us, as a work of art, is seldom equalled, and as a true portrait, faithfully delineating Mr Latham, can’t be surpassed.  The artist as well as depicting the outward features of the man, has shown us his natural temperament - look at that plain sympathising face and those benignant eyes.  I have now, Madam, the honour and the most profound pleasure, on behalf of this deputation and the subscribers generally, of presenting this portrait to you, who will value it much. When we are numbered with our fathers, it will, I trust, be handed down to posterity and show them their predecessors in this place knew how to appreciate one of the noblest works of oration a true Christian and a good man.  We sincerely wish Mr Latham and yourself many years of uninterrupted happiness, and that you may in green old age enjoy that peace which a life well spent generally produces.” 
   Then turning to Mr Latham, Mr Whitchurch addressed him, explaining that the purse was the work of two local ladies ‘whose fingers I have no doubt were guided by their good wishes towards you in producing so beautiful a piece of work.’ He told Mr Latham that the surplus of £150 was his to spend as he wished.  The Address, hand-crafted in London by skilled artisans and presented in a beautiful and richly carved casket, was read out.
   In acknowledging the gifts along with the names of the 306 subscribers, Mrs Latham was, in return, to tell the Committee;
“Gentleman, allow me in a few words to thank you most sincerely for you great liberality and kindness.  Nothing can be more gratifying to a wife than to find her beloved husband so highly esteemed and respected by so large a circle of friends.  I not only thank those present, but, through you all, individually and collectively, who have aided in this marked goodness, not only to my dear husband but also to myself.”
   It was revealed that the following message was delivered that same day by Mr Latham to the trustees of Hudson and Storers Charities;
“A number of my neighbours and personal friends have kindly subscribed the sum of £302 as a testimony of their respect for me, which is very gratifying, and fully appreciated.  Part of that sum has been expended in a portrait of myself, in autotypes from the picture [photographic copies], leaving a balance of £15 which has been presented to me this day. It is my wish to dispose of this sum for the benefit of Hudson’s Bedehouses and Storer’s Almshouses in this town, and for the following reasons - I have been clerk and treasurer to those charities for more than fifty years and have observed the benefits derived from them by the inmates.  As the chief part of the income of these charities may be such as to necessitate either a reduction of the number of inmates or a reduction of their weekly allowance.  I therefore hereby hand over the sum of of £150 to the Trustees of Hudson’s and Storer’s Charities, to be applied by them and their successors in such manner as they shall think will be most beneficial to those useful institutions.
Another generous gesture and a nice little Christmas present for the inmates - remembering that £100 in 1870 was the equivalent of over £8,000 in today’s money! and a yet further example of the largesse of William Latham was his generous contribution to the funding of the new infant school which was built in Norman Street in 1853, when in 1880 and in the later years of his life, he was to donate a piece of land in order to provide a playground.

_____________________________________

NOEL 


As a total irrelevance and with the purpose of presenting some idea of life in the small market town of Melton Mowbray at Christmas in that year of 1872, I insert this short piece taken from the Grantham Journal of the 27th December:

Christmas: - Christmas Day, as usual, was ushered in with the strains of of the Melton Band, who played their morning carols much to the pleasure and satisfaction of those who heard them.  The bells of the Parish Church also announced the arrival of the festive season.  The members of the band paraded the town on Boxing day and paid their respects, and the compliments of the season, to those who were likely to reward them.

Christmas Day at the Workhouse. - The inmates of the Union Workhouse had, on Christmas Day, through the kindness and liberality of the Guardians, roast beef and plum pudding, to which all seemed to do ample justice.  After dinner they were plentifully supplied with ale, tobacco, etc, and the little hearts of the children rejoiced amongst a bountiful supply of figs, nuts and oranges.  Tea and plum cake were provided later in the day, and all appeared to enjoy themselves to their hearts’ content.  The dining-hall was very well decorated with evergreens and suitable mottoes, the whole being under the management of of the respected master and matron, Mr and Mrs Weston, who were indefatigable in their exertions to make this festive season an enjoyable one to to all those under their care.’

_____________________________________


…AND THE MAP.


When William Latham was about 77 years of age - he never really retired completely - he was to complete a personal project that had apparently absorbed many hours of his precious and increasingly rare - even for a septuagenarian - spare time and thought.  With his artistic gift and an eye and mind honed for precise and clear detail, he had long pondered over the geographical problems and divisions of convoluted opinion which had arisen in so many of the day-to-day cases which he had overseen during his legal work - criminal and civil - and which were all part and parcel of his responsibilities to the Magistracy in the town.  His solution was to be the creation of a grand map, a chart of the town to supersede any previous effort and one which would identify precisely the location of each building, shed, fountain, memorial stone or byre and precisely display all of the boundaries which indicated the Borough limits.  In the finest detail by his very skilled hand, all of this was to be made available for any citizen who wished to make use of its service.  No other official map - such as the later government produced Ordnance Survey charts - was yet available for public use. It is said that within a period of just six months from its conception, William was to complete and present this truly splendid artefact.  Described as being some 11 feet in length and 39 inches wide and covering the whole of the parish, it was inscribed with the utmost accuracy and annotated with fine manuscript, it incorporated every single foot of ground contained in the lordship at a scale set at 3 chains to the inch.  Each separate property in the parish was distinctly identified with the whole being painted in watercolours with different coloured or white ground, indicating which of the properties were unredeemed from the Land Tax, or anciently or recently redeemed.  

The foot of the map was beautifully decorated with a depiction of the town as it was seen before 1846 - the year of the arrival of the railway! - the aspect being from the south end of the parish with prominent features of the area known as Priors Close, the Play-close, the Parish Church, Earl of Wilton’s residence, the bridges over the River Eye and adjacent canal, together with other characteristics of the neighbourhood. Beautifully executed, there was included an extremely detailed index which pertained to every particular as to owners and occupiers and their redemption or not of the land tax on the estates that have taken place.  William had apparently professed in its implementation, that "Its use in the future for the welfare of the town with the added wish that it might become a legacy of reference for all time ahead." This was surely an understatement - how we would all desire to see such a map today!  In its presentation to the Local Board, it was his intention to ask for permission to place it in the Magistrates room for that particular purpose. The gift is said to have been nothing less than a marvellous production, apart from being a work of art and one which, in the motive which prompted it, indicated the amazing skill and patience of carrying it out and the accuracy and perfection which characterised it.

In connection with this impressive gesture to the people of Melton, William Latham was lauded from all quarters, not only from the businesses and professions to whom it would prove so useful, but also from every social class of town dweller, who was to assure that this public approbation was directly due 

‘…to one who every person living in the parish justly feels a pride and pleasure - towards a gentleman, a townsman and a friend and that his creation, as a work of art as well as one of the greatest utility, to be ever regarded as a boon to the town which will only increase in value.'

With no Ordnance Survey map of the town yet available, Latham’s contribution proved to be certainly ahead of its time and it really does sound like an amazing tour-de-force.  I am not aware that this map - or any facsimile - still exists, but it is something I would just love to see today, though I do fear that it is by now lost to view and is likely lost for all time.  The people of Melton were to keep a weather eye on matters and in the Grantham Journal at the beginning of March 1887, not too long after the passing of William and Annie Latham, there appeared the first emergence of discontent as to the future of the items.






T H E   L A T H A M   P O R T R A I T.


To the Editor of the Journal

Sir, - Some years ago, a subscription was set on foot for the purpose of making a presentation to the late Mr. Latham, and something over £300 was raised. About half that sum was spent in an oil painting of Mr Latham, which was presented to Mrs. Latham and the balance presented to Mr. Latham in cash. This sum Mr. L. gave to the Bede-houses, and both he and Mrs. Latham stated at the death of the last survivor of the two the portrait should be given to the town. I want to know, Sir, whether that has been done, and whether the Townwardens have applied for it? If not, why not? - 
I am, Sir,

ONE OF THE SUBSCRIBERS.

Melton Mowbray, March 3rd, 1887.


At one stage it was believed that the items had been stolen from their resting place and there followed a tricky passage of time during which conflict arose as to who would have the responsibility for their safe-keeping.  The small local matter seemed to have been a storm in a tea-cup which resolved eventually, but though the map seems to have vanished over the longer passage of time, the portrait is believed to have been hanging within the precincts of the Melton Magistrates Court until quite recently.

“Death, Whose Arrow is Noiseless ..."

William Latham left his indelible mark on Melton Mowbray upon many divers fields, including those of the civil and criminal law, Magisterial duties, education, together with music and the arts to name the main ones and not to forget his indefatigable travails as Clerk to both the Local Board (the forerunner of the Urban and Borough Councils) and involvement of the complex operations of the Town Estate.  His beloved wife Annie, of whom little is publicly recorded, was to die in 1884 at the age of 70; she preceded William who was destined to become a widower for just three years until in 1887, he too was to succumb to his Maker. passing away at the fairly generous age of 86 years. The Grantham Journal was one of the first newspapers - then weekly - to officially announce the news to a despondent population with an entry in their edition of Saturday the 8th January 1887;  the message was very simple and succinct.
LATHAM - On the 2nd inst., at Melton Mowbray, William Latham aged 86 years.  Friends will please accept this the only intimation.
The following week there appeared in the Journal a detailed and emotive obituary which took up almost one whole column of the broadsheet.  I reprint it in toto to give some idea of the character of the man;
“Death, whose arrow is noiseless, whose footstep is light,” after a long and kindly waiting of eighty six years, entered the well-known and peaceful dwelling of the late Mr. WILLIAM LATHAM, in Nottingham-Street, Melton, on Sunday evening last, and claimed for his own one of the worthies of Melton Mowbray, for certainly no one in Melton, whose life’s course has run with the century, has borne a more honoured, spotless and worthy name than the deceased gentleman, whose removal from our midst it is our painful duty to record.  Death is “a benefit when it comes crowned with honour” - the honour of a quiet, unostentatious, yet noble, because a christian life, as in the case of the venerable subject of this notice: we feel, when one so lives with honour to his end that “memory and virtue are his mourners,” death is robbed of its terrors, and becomes rather the friend than the enemy of such men.  The late Mr. Latham for many years actively practised as a solicitor, and indeed, up to within a short period of his decease, though suffering long from enfeebled health, he took a deep interest in the business of the eminent firm of which he had so long been the senior partner. Among no class of persons will the kindly face of the deceased be be more missed than by the numerous clients of his firm.  Until within the last few years, no name figured in the town records oftener than his.  The signature of ‘William Latham” is very frequently to be met within the books, generally well kept by the successive Townwardens, and that always in connection with some good work tending to advance the interests and prosperity of the town he loved so long and so well. He was not an office-seeker, nor did his ambition lead him to the rulers seat, but where quiet earnest help could be given to a worthy cause, that help was never withheld. He was ever ready to help the needy, to sooth the suffering, and to comfort the addicted, His connection with the Melton Bede House was so long, consistent, and regular, as to become part and parcel of his daily life. His duty there was an inspiration from God. In his daily visits, in his reading of prayers, in his cheerful conversation with the inmates, in his every endeavour to contribute to their comfort and joy in their declining years, he was indeed as a father and a friend. For some time past, in consequence of physical infirmity, Mr Latham had to cease his daily visits to the Bede houses, but in Mr. J.H. Petch he had found a willing helper, and an able deputy.  Mr Latham was a tried and firm friend of the Bible Society, The Young Men’s Christian Association, and other kindred societies. He was a generous supporter of the Melton Horticultural Society, and of every institution in the town, the tendency of which was to add to the material intellectual, or spiritual improvement of the people. By the death of Mr LATHAM the poor have lost a real friend. The good he has done in this direction - much of it unseen and unnoticed except by the recipients of his bounty - can never be told. Benevolence was with him a habit of daily life - systematic, regular, unbroken.  Calm and collected in all his business transactions, in dispensing charity he was never impulsive or erratic - today taking one course and tomorrow another.  As the anvil is responsive to the hammer’s stroke, so was he to the great purpose of his life.  If he cared for the applause of his fellow men, he did not seek it.  If he could show love to his neighbour and glorify God, he appeared satisfied, for he found “the blessedness of being little: And to add greater honour to his age Than man could give him, he died fearing God.”   
As clerk to the Local Board from, we believe, its first meeting to the last day in his long life, the deceased won the respect and esteem of all with whom he became associated; and when he was no longer able to be personally present at the meetings of the Board, the town was especially fortunate in him having placed at its service such valuable assistance as that rendered by the late Mr. Paddison, and now with such ability by Mr. New,  With the exception of this important office, Mr Latham hardly ever took part in public matters.  When upwards of seventy years of age, Mr Latham produced a very large coloured map, or plan, of the parish of Melton Mowbray, which is a marvellous piece of work.  It is now deposited in the Melton Sessions Hall, and is frequently referred to.  Soon after this, his fellow townsmen raised £300 as a testimonial to him, of which £150 was expended on a full-length, life-sized portrait, by Archer.  The remaining £150 Mr. Latham presented to the Trustees of Hudson’s Bed Houses.  The portrait above-mentioned now becomes the property of the town.
On the 13th April next, it will be fifty years since the celebrated Marquis of Waterford’s riots took place, and caused such terror in Melton.  It appears that after spending the day at Croxton Park Races, the Marquis, Edward Homer Reynard, Esq., Lord Alford, Sir Frederick Johnstone, the Hon. Mr Villiers, and other gentlemen, about three o’clock on Thursday morning turned out into the streets, attacked the constables and knocked them down.  Mr Latham was prosecuting solicitor in the legal proceedings which followed these strange doings.

THE FUNERAL

    As the life of the deceased was of the simplest, so in harmony with that life, the funeral, which took place on Thursday afternoon, was of a simple and unobtrusive character.  The coffin was of plain oak, with plain black mounts, and was carried by six bearers.  At two o’clock, the time appointed for the the funeral to leave Nottingham Street, every place of business throughout the town was closed, and though the weather was exceptionally severe, and a thick fog hung over the place, a very large number of the inhabitants took part in the solemn proceedings.  The cortege proceeded to the Church.
The correspondent went on to describe the long procession of a great number of clergy, inhabitants of the parish present and others from further afield which gathering was, in his estimation, “the largest seen since the funeral of the late Sir Francis Grant.” He referred to the words spoken by the Incumbent, the Rev. William M. Colles thus “His unstinted charity to the poor, of his consistent and continued attention to the worship of Almighty God, and of a life so well spent that they could scarcely expect to “look upon his like again.” And he concluded;
"The portion of the service at the grave side, said in a dense fog, brought to an end that which will long be remembered in Melton Mowbray, as a most fitting “last office” to the memory of one of its best citizens." 
In relation to the prosecution of the ubiquitous and much despised visitor, the Marquis of Waterford, the writer expounded upon an incident which was apparently often repeated about the town to the effect that on the occasion of the Magistrates hearing at Leicester, Mr Latham had commenced his opening speech for the prosecution with the bold statement that, “… as regards these and such-like acts, the Marquis of Waterford was a notorious character …”  at which it is told that the Marquis immediately interrupted him and striding towards him with great anger and face close to face, defied him to “Repeat those words!”  A number of the friends of the Marquis are said to have interposed, and his lordship was at length induced to retain his place in the dock to listen as Mr. Latham, with great equilibrium, continued with his speech unmoved.

... But the Name Remains.

Such were some of the many recollections which would attach themselves to the memory of William Latham during the ensuing years, but the man himself was now gone and lost to the community which he so obviously cherished and respected.  Today in the 21st century, scant attention is paid to the man now almost forgotten who was surely one of its most extraordinary citizens.  His name lives on in the town with the existence of the town's doctor's surgery now removed from Nottingham Street.  In the High Street of Melton Mowbray today there still exists a firm of solicitors which currently operates under the name of  ‘Latham and Co., Solicitors’ which has evolved over the decades from the original one of William's father, Charles; this was at an earlier time known as ‘Latham, New and Smythe’ and the business name has changed several times during the intervening years as partners have come and gone. But the constant part of the title is the contemporary appellation which remains as ‘Latham’, like a cornerstone which has lasted for more than two centuries.  Since the last of the practising Latham family of solicitors died in 1887 and there seems to have been no descendant members employed at the the firm since, this might well serve to indicate the importance of William Latham’s contribution of his long and useful life in and service to, the town.



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I will add to this piece at a later time, but with its publication I would like to think that there is someone out there who has the answer to my question, "Whither lies the portrait of William Latham Esq. (1800-1887) and as a follow up question, does his amazing map still exist?"  If they both do, they would certainly rate highly as much valued treasures of our town and should form part of its ancient heritage.  I suggest that the memory of William Latham deserves to be not only remembered, but physically displayed alongside his 1835 painting, an enlarged copy of which which adorns the Council Offices as a mural in the public area for all to appreciate, to remind us of one of the forgotten but very important fathers of our community.



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