Where there’s a will

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William Roberts himself. Image from ‘Brownhills: A walk into history’ by Gerald Reece.

I keep returning to the subject of the man I consider to be the father of modern Brownhills, the one and only William Roberts – railway plate layer, ganger, publican, entrepreneur, civic stalwart, JP and philanthropist.

William was clearly as sharp as a tack in business, but also a generous man who valued community, which he supported financially and civically. He was also undoubtedly a rogue, with some interesting business deals.

In the past, I’ve featured William Roberts’ eulogy from the Lichfield Mercury, the superlative account by Gerald Reece, plus scans of the April 1990 edition of the Brownhills Gazette, which contained an article by local lady Gwen James, detailing her version of the history of the Station Hotel – and a further view of the history was detailed in ‘Brownhills Past and Present’, the book issued by Brownhills School in 1985. Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler also supplied his own research into William Roberts,

To add to the record, and hopefully expand things a bit, the great Gerald Reece has been in touch once more and sent something remarkable: scans of the last will and testament of William Roberts.He sent three wills connected with the Roberts empire in total, the other two I’ll post later.

My inability to read old script is legendary: I’m asking for help, please. Can anyone assist me please and interpret this document (if only partially), please?

Thanks to Gerald for letting me reproduce the will here, and of course for so generously  supplying it. Gerald in my opinion remains the most outspoken and respected historian ever to write on Brownhills, and he’s a man for whom I have immense respect. It really is a pleasure to know he’s still engaged with our history and supporting further research into our town, even though he now lives in Devon.

My thanks also to David Evans for his work in connection with this post. Another man without whom this blog would be nothing.

Click on any page in the gallery for a full size version.

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6 Responses to Where there’s a will

  1. aerreg says:

    i recall there was rears ago a charity fund set up for old folk who resided in the parish of ogley hay comoly known as roberts money once a year a gift was given from that fund it whent on for years i can recall seeing pensioners goig to the memoriol hall on the day it was handed out as a boy it was later bolsted from the estate of a french lady mrs lovell of ogely road again who i knew a very fine person forgive me if my details on who qualified for the charity just thought it may be of interest god bless

  2. Well according to the This is money site inflation calculator. the sum of £153,747 etc would equate to roughly £16,711,162 . 65 today. Quite a sum for those days. Obviously a clever business man, was our Mr William Roberts.

  3. Clive says:

    Big thank you for putting the will of Mr W Roberts on the blog. Nice one Gerald; Dave and Bob.

  4. Andy Dennis says:

    Thanks, for this, Bob.

    I’m not really sure what to make of this. We are led to understand that Mr Roberts was generous with his time and money in support of worthy causes, and perhaps he was in life generally, but in his will the William Roberts Charity was given just £1,000 and Hammerwich Hospital £500. True enough, these were substantial bequests, but only amounted to just one hundredth (yes 1%) of his estate.

    I’ve paraphrased most of the will – legalese makes for especially frustrating typing – and added some notes where something has occurred to me. The charity is set out and I have typed that bit word for word.

    Page 1 essentially tells us that the executors were Ann Roberts of the Station Hotel, widow and relict (dependent), Charles Sydney Burton deceased of 19 Lichfield Street, Walsall, maltster’s manager, and George Hodgkins of Catshill, farmer. Probate was granted to these three people on 5 April 1906.

    As an aside those with an Ancestry subscription can check out the (admittedly limited) public tree William Roberts (under AndrewsAncestors).

    The initial estimated value of his estate was £126,000-odd and net value £63,000-odd – was that down to the anticipated tax liability?

    Although not dated the value was resworn (revised) to £153,000-odd and 149,000-odd. I know from being executor to my father’s estate that one finds out about things as the process unfolds (for example someone sent some interest in respect of a savings account I had not been aware of).

    The 1911 census for George Hodgkins is not as helpful as it might be, but, age 66, he lived with Eliza, wife of 38 years, at Canal Side or Canal Farm, Chester Road, Brownhills – presumably somewhere near the Anchor Inn. In 1881 it says he was a farmer of 130 acres, next record is Anchor Inn. He seems to have been somewhat terse in his dealings with the censuses.

    Charles S Burton, 45, malt agent, was at 19 Lichfield Street, Walsall, with wife Edith E Burton and a servant. In 1911 he had wife, 2 young sons and 2 servants, at “Binwood”, Lichfield Street, though the enumerator had number 73.

    Bequests:-
    All furniture and household goods to his wife.
    To George Bradley, timber broker, and Thomas Bradley, coal merchant, both of West Hartlepool £1,500 each.
    To Hannah Wilson of Etherley, near Bishop Aukland, £400.
    To Charlotte Bradley of Yarm, Yorkshire, spinster, £400.
    [We have previously discovered that he spent some time in Yorkshire and Durham as a young man.]
    To Emily Princip, widow of the late John Princip of West Bromwich, £400, provided that she remains a widow upon his or his wife’s decease. [I suspect you could not make such a condition stick nowadays – why was it so important for her not to remarry?]
    To Alice Yates of Lime Tree Villas, wife of John Yates, £1,200.
    To William Roberts of Birchills, Perry Barr, plasterer, 10 shillings a week for life.
    To Ann Cook, wife of Frederick Cook, of Clifton Road, Aston, printer, £500.
    To Sarah Bowen, wife of Matthew Bowen, £100.
    To Emily Pheasant, wife of Thomas Pheasant, of Wednesbury, £350.
    To Jane Clark, wife of Thomas Clark, of Brownhills, £350.
    [Note: in all bequests to these women, he specifies “for her sole and separate use”. Are we to understand that he considered their husbands were not worthy?]
    To Mark Sharman, Joseph Stokes and Godfrey Clegg, now in my employ, £100 each, provided their conduct has been satisfactory in the opinion of my wife and trustees and still employed in my business.
    To Levi Seedhouse of Brownhills, £100.
    To trustees leasehold villa known as Lime Tree Villa in Pelsall Road, with the two cottages and gardens thereto in trust upon the decease of my wife for George Roberts of Brownhills. [He had a brother and nephew named George.]
    To Henry Seedhouse, my farm bailiff, subject to [essentially good behaviour], £200.
    “I hereby direct my said trustees to invest the sum of one thousand pounds in consols [consolidated annuities or stocks] or in government stocks or securities guaranteed by the Government of Great Britain to pay the income thereof yearly and every year to poor widows and other deserving poor residing in the Central Ward of Brownhills for which ward during my lifetime I was district councillor and this charity shall be known as the “William Roberts Charity” and the manner of distribution of the same shall be in the disctretion of my said wife during her lifetime and afterwards of my said trustees.”
    To each trustee £50.
    None of these legacies shall become due during the lifetime of my wife unless she shall notify in writing to trustees her desire to pay.
    I empower my wife and trustees to remunerate any manager of a licensed house beloging to my estate as they think fit not exceeding £100.
    Residuary “real and personal estate to be disposed of unto trustees after payment of debts and testamentary expenses to permit my wife to receive the income thereof for the term of her natural life and upon her decease upon trust to stand posessed of one half part of my said residuary real and personal estate in trust for the said George Roberts his heirs executors administrators and assigns and as to the other one half of my said real and personal estate to stand posessed thereof to pay the income thereof to Clara Cresswell of Brownhills aforesaid spinster for her sole and separate use and upon the decease of the said Clara Cresswell to stand posessed of the said one half part of my said residuary and real personal estate in trust for all the children of the said Clara Cresswellabsolutely as tenants in common …”

    [Why we all love lawyers so! Basically, the income from half the estate goes to his wife, and when she dies, half of the estate to his brother George and his heirs, and the income from the other half to Clara Cresswell (adopted daughter), and when she dies half the estate to her children equally.]

    The next bit is about trustees running the brewery business under the name of William Roberts, which may include forming a limited company.

    Some is illegible, but I think it may be empowering the trustees to sell the company if George Roberts and Clara Cresswell agree.

    Signed 10 Jan 1905 and witnessed by David Jeavons, Church Street, Brownhills and William Jackson, Wolverhampton Lane, Brownhills.

    There follows a codicil. This bequeaths £500 to his trustees to invest and pay the income to Hammerwich Hospital.

    He also appoints Charles Sydney Burton amd George Roberts as directors of estate, remuneration to be decided by wife.

    Signed with his mark, undated, witnessed by William Jackson, Pelsall Road, Brownhills and John Jones, High Street, Brownhills.

    [Note the change of road name from Wolverhampton Lane to Pelsall Road.]

    • Hi Andy

      Sorry for not commenting sooner: I meant to and it totally slipped my mind. Apologies.

      Thank you for an absolutely splendid piece of work, which I know from experience attempting to type old newspaper reports up must have been very challenging.

      Thanks so much for your help – without it, this document would have stayed pretty much a mystery, but is now searchable.

      Thanks so much, your contributions are always wonderful
      Bob

  5. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    A huge thanks to Andy, please….and to Gerald, of course, for opening up another chapter in our history for us!
    Kind regards
    David..

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