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Nov 17, 2011 | 2 comments
Victorian Bankruptcy

The current economic crisis has had some consequences for people which they couldn't imagine and it led me to think about people's dreams in life which weren't realised in the way that they had hoped. It wasn't just the current circumstances which led me to the idea of people's dreams but an archive of a local historian, Norman Tildesley which his family were delighted would be shared online.

One of Norman Tildesley's ancestors was Matthew Tildesley and amazingly, the family had kept every letter of correspondence which concerned a bankruptcy case in the mid to late 1800s. The case takes place in Willenhall which was at the heart of industrial development in England. Matthew Tildesley is clearly up against it from the start. 

Matthew Tildesley was an ironseller and  his cousin James Tildesley had a foundry called The Albion Works in Willenhall. Matthew was doing rather well, James was doing badly. Furthermore James owed Matthew so much money for goods he had received that he handed over the Albion Works to the manager John Harper and Matthew Tildesley. This was something of a poisoned chalice which Matthew would come to regret accepting. 

The Albion Works moved  to new premises in 1852 and incurred costs which were met by borrowing from a family member and although the company prospered for a while it was declared bankrupt in 1871. That would have been enough for most people but these Victorians were made of strong stuff. They bounced back and carried on, only to founder financially again and be taken to court by  creditors in 1874.

Unfortunately John Harper doesn't appear to have heard of the expression 'one good turn deserves another.'  Harper's response to the court case was to do a deal with the creditors behind Matthew's back, ousting the latter from the company altogether. Matthew fought against this, even taking a party of workmen to take over the factory. But it was all over for Matthew even though he continued to pour large sums of money into the lawyers' pockets to fight his case.

Exiled by his family to Leamington Spa, where he lived in lodgings, Matthew Tildesley died  a broken man and a pauper. There is a letter in 1878 from Matthew's solicitor to the family asking if they could send money to buy him a new suit 'as his clothes are nearly tumbling off his back.' Matthew's appearance is not going to make a good impression at court. He is also 2 weeks in arrears at his lodgings. It is a pitiful letter, smudged on the front and the back. Were these the tears of the solicitor writing it or the family receiving it?

Matthew Tildesley died shortly after the court case which he lost. We can't imagine how he must have felt living out his last days in Leamington Spa away from his friends and family. The dreams he had back in 1850 when he took over the company were long gone and the bitterest pill of all perhaps was that John Harper did make a success of the Albion Works, making it a company of worldwide renown. 



Janes commented Apr 18, 2013:

No, it is one of the features that I want to look into. I suspect that had he carried on living in the same house at Willenhall the goods in the house could all have been seized. I have seen similar situations where the husband lives round the corner from the wife. Now I can imagine all sorts of emotions surfacing if your husband went bust but I don't think this is quite the reason why he is living in Leamington. I am gathering together the info on the bankruptcy to do a talk at Willenhall Historical Society and will have more info soon, hopefully.

Jean49 commented Apr 18, 2013:

Jane........did Matthew's wife Mary Anne go with him to Leamington Spa? I see on a Probate for Matthew that Mary Anne's address is 88 Walsall Street Willenhall.

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