16. Legacy of a gas man – the Wills of Henry McLauchlan Backler and his wife Eliza (nee Cole) Backler

In which we look at the Will of Henry McLauchlan Backler, with news of his siblings and wife, and preceding a look in my next blog at the fate of his two daughters.

In my previous blog, I described the life and times of Henry McLauchlan Backler, successful businessman in the 19th century municipal gas industry.

Henry’s Will

Henry’s Will was written on 13 February 1891, revealing helpful genealogical details.  Henry was of ‘Norlands’, Champions Park – now opposite Denmark Hill railway station, the houses having been destroyed.  He was also of No 11 Austin Friars, City of London (then the address of the European Gas Company, of which he was still Chair).  At the time of probate, his estate was valued in excess of £34,000.His Executors were to be:

‘my dear wife Eliza; my dear daughter Laura Louisa McLauchlan Backler, and my friends John Blacket Gill of the Stone House Caterham Esquire and William Williams of Number 11 Austin Friars, Secretary of the European Gas Company’.

John Blacket Gill was made a liveried member of the Guild of Merchant Tailors in 1867, later to become Master. In 1891, age 51, he was living on his own means with his 39 year old wife, three children and 4 servants in The Stone House, Caterham, Surrey.  Ten years before, he was shown as a coal factor, living in Croydon, Surrey, with a similar number of servants.  His occupation as ‘coal factor’ provides a link with Henry’s gas interests.  William Williams will also feature in Laura’s story.  He was the Secretary of the European Gas Company.

The Will provided for:

–  the leasehold home [Norlands, Champion Park, Denmark Hill] absolutely to my wife and all possessions.  Residue of estate to Trustees. After death of wife, £500 legacy to daughter and £200 to each remaining trustee.

The Trustees should sell property and invest the proceeds to pay:

  • -An annuity of £100 to wife’s sister Louisa Smith, now residing at Croydon House, Britannia Terrace, Upper Westbourne Park,widow, during her life;
  • ‘the same income’ to daughter Laura for her life – she shall not be able to dispose of it in anticipation thereof;

–  after Laura’s death the capital held in Trust for any children she will have; if no child, Henry bestowed legacies on a number of the many charitable pension funds and healthcare providers:

£100 each to Peckham and Kent Road Pension Society; Camberwell and Dulwich Pension Society; the Surgical Aid Society;  the Provident Surgical Appliance Society;

£500 to the Provident Clerks Association Benevolent Fund, 27 Moorgate Street, City of London;

  • to sister Susannah Maria Huxtable of Ashbourne, Lawrie Park Gardens, Sydenham, widow, £1000 (see my previous blog about this wealthy, multiply-married sibling);
  • to sister Sarah Knowles, widow of the Reverend William Knowles, of New Shoreham, Sussex, £1000;
    • Having worked as a domestic servant since returning to London from Paris, Sarah married at about age 50 to Christopher Knowles, schoolmaster of the Protestant Free Church.  After she was widowed, she appeared in 1891 and 1901 censuses living with her sister, Sophia Matilda Beaumont.  Sarah died in 1905.
  • to sister Sophia Matilda Beaumont of Hampton Villas Park Road Worthing, Widow, £1000;
    • No marriage is evident for Sophia and William Beaumont.  In later years, Sophia was to live with ‘daughter’ Eleanor Beaumont, born in Leeds in 1855.  Whether she was Sophia’s daughter is not yet known.  Sophia left £11,000 at the time of her death in 1913.
  • to Gertrude Baddeley daughter of my deceased friend Henry John Baddeley £500; to Annie Grace Perrier Wagstaff (my wife’s god-daughter) now a minor residing with her parents at Ashbury Cottage Forest Hill Kent, £500;  to Fred Hersee, eldest son of deceased friend Alfred Hersee £500, and to his sons Arthur and Stanley, £100, and to his widow Ellen, £500;  to Madeline, Dora and Ida, daughters of my friend Robert H Crowder now of the Larches, Newlands Park, Sydenham, £100 each, and to his son Albert £100; and to Maria Victoria Crowder now living with her mother at Rosedale, Cedar Road, Sutton, Surrey, £100.  All legacies to minors to be paid when they reach 21.
  • All the rest residue and remainder in trust for my niece Eleanor Beaumont, daughter of my said sister Sophia Matilda, for her heirs etc.
    • The fate of Eleanor Beaumont remains unkown…

Norlands:  And what about Norlands? Some flesh is put on the bones of this splendid home by the land valuation survey map and records at the National Archives.  The houses in this tract and others in the area were owned by, and owe the name of their area to, Sir Claude Champion de Crespigny, whose claims to fame were first that he was seriously rich, then a steeplechaser, hunter, and balloonist, and the owner of Champion Lodge in Essex.  Taking up ballooning in 1882, he was the first man to cross the north sea in a balloon in 1883.

The Land Valuation survey (IR 58/78070/2696) for 6 Champion Park puts the gross land value at £110, and that the leasehold owner was J.R. Porte D.D., with a superior interest held by De Crespigny [?name followed by a mark].  The occupier was responsible for rates and taxes and insurance, but it is not clear if Porte was actually resident there.  By the time of this survey, The Rev Porte would have taken on the lease after Laura’s death in 1910.

The description of the property is as follows:  Detached, double fronted, cement faced & painted. Bst. Servants Hall. Kitchen scullery w.c. & large domestic office.  Grd. 4 very fine rec rooms. conservatory w.c.  1st w.c. 5 very good bed. dressing room & Bath room.  Top 4 rooms.

The building and structures were given a market value of fee simple of £1090, and the whole property a gross value of £1910.  On the reverse page, under a date of 1909, the first name to appear is ‘Sir C.C. de Crespigny 87 years, 25/12/1842  £27.15

The second name is J.R. Porte, Occupier.  Further down this page we find that J.R. Porte was deceased on 1 October 1922, giving up his leasehold interest, and the freehold was taken by the Salvation Army, which now owns the whole site.  One of the houses is pictured in Camberwell records, but is not double-fronted, as Norlands was said to be.

Eliza Cole Backler:  I conclude this blog with details of Henry’s wife Eliza’s Will.  These details could equally be contained in the tale of their daughter Laura.  The Rev J R Porte comes to the fore here, first as Executor and then as beneficiary.  This might be the time when he began to assert himself as an influence in Laura’s life – or had he already done so for many years before?

The Will was dated 19 November 1902, with Codicils 11 February 1903 and 24 February 1903.  Eliza died on 19 December 1903, and was interred with her husband and daughter Florence Sophia McLauchlan Backler Davis in Nunhead Cemetery.  At the time of probate her estate was valued at nearly £32,000.  Executors: Laura Louisa McLauchlan Backler, spinster, daughter; the Rev John Robert Porte of St Matthews Vicarage Champion Hill; William Williams of Finsbury House, Blomfield St, City of London, Secretary.

  • £100 to male Executors.
  • Bronze statue of David and Goliath and pedestal to my friend and medical adviser Dr Bramley Taylor;
  • to William Williams the bronze group in my hall which was presented in 1872 to my late dear husband Henry McLauchlan Backler;
  • to John Robert Porte the silver service of three pieces for flowers and fruit which was also presented to my late husband – all subject to my daughter having use for her life.
  • To my friend Mrs Porte (wife of J R Porte) £100;
  • to Royal Hospital for Incurables at West Hill Putney £200;
  • leasehold dwelling house and appurtenances to daughter absolutely and all cash, household effects etc;
  • request her to distribute among ‘my and my husband’s relations and dearest friends such articles of jewellery and of personal or artistic value as she may not desire personally to retain’.
  • Desire Trustees during joint lives of my daughter and of my nephew Walter Davidson as they shall think proper and at their discretion to make allowance to the said Walter Davidson or his wife (if any) not exceeding £100 in any one year.
  • Trustees to pay interest of invested funds to daughter during her life and then each child of Walter Davidson gets £500; during his life he gets annuity of £200 per year unless the Trustees think there is reason not to pay it; the rest to be distributed as daughter from time to time says.

Witnesses J A Cowland Solr. 56 Ludgate Hill; Frances Ann Northern 58 Hogarth Road, South Kensington SW.

  • Codicil revokes £200 annuity to Walter Davidson and bequeaths him £500 only if he survives daughter;
  • further codicil Royal Hospital for Incurables now gets £100, and £100 to Surgical Aid Society.

Henry McLauchlan Backler and his wife had prospered, although they had lost their older daughter at a very young age.  They were not to know the fate of their other daughter, Luara, who although a wealthy woman, had a sad but pious end –  the subject of my next blog.

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