William Laslett

  • 15 Jan 2012
  • Worcester People and Places
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William Laslett was a notable citizen and a Member of Parliament. He bestowed upon Worcester larger benefactions than any who preceded or have so far followed after him, but he was a man of strange contradictions, who frequently marred his gifts by the manner of his giving, and in his own day, was better known for his eccentricity than for his benevolence. Nevertheless he had generous impulses even if he had somewhat ungracious ways. He was a Worcester solicitor in the early 19th century - that golden period of the legal profession when many fair sized family fortunes were made locally - with offices at 50 Foregate Street. In 1843, anaother notable man, Thomas Southall, was articled to him, to whom Laslett gave £100 to start up in practice.
The circumstances of Laslett's marriage to Maria Carr, the daughter of the Bishop of Worcester reads like the plot of a high Victorian melodrama. Bishop Carr had died owing £100,000, and the Sheriff's Officer's seized his body, and not until a month later, when assurities were forthcoming, was the body released for burial. It was Laslett who put up the money, and it was the hand of the Bishop's daughter, Maria. The marriage lasted for six unhappy years, and proved a matter of notoriety. Thomas Southall, who knew them both, said the fault was not all on one side. Maria, openly showed dislike and contempt for Laslett, and in return, his behaviour was, at times, adominable. The story is told, that when Maria was ill, Laslett would not allow fires to be lit in her room, though the weather was cold, and the doctor remonstrated with him, saying she must have a fire. Whereupon Laslett told the servant to light the fire, but when it was lit, told the gardener to cut a large piece of turf, and then ordered him to get a ladder and place it on top of the chimney of her room.
Laslett did not study physical necessities much, and appearances not at all. He walked the streets of Worcester in a top hat and clothes that a ragman would not want. A party of singers called at Abberton Hall, and found the place very untidy, with flagstones broken, and Laslett stripped to the waist, digging a saw-pit rather than pay 2s. 6d. a day which the workmen wanted. He used to boast that his journey to London and back as Worcester's M.P., besides his fares, cost only 3d. He had breakfast before he started and would indulge in a penny bun and a class of ale. A Worcester tradesman once invited Laslett to have a glass of ale with him at Paddington, and the member for Worcester accepted, then boasted that his journey would cost only one penny.
In the political field he experienced the sweetness of victory and the bitterness of defeat. He was returned as a Liberal in 1852, but in 1874, Laslett had the mortification of being bottom of the poll, having 500 fewer than his Liberal Colleague, Rowley Hill. He never offered hinself as candidate again.
He brought the City Gaol in Friar Street in 1867. There was strong bidding for it, and Laslett protested: 'You ought not to bid against me - I am buying it for the good of the poor!. He paid £2,250 and then adapted the cells to accomodate old married couples. At first, the residents had no allowance, but lived rent free, but in 1875, he conveyed to the trustees an estate in Herefordshire to provide allowances for them.