William Laslett was baptised on 14 October 1799 at All Saints Church, Worcester the first born child of Thomas and Sophia Laslett. Thomas was a banker whose father had settled in Worcester around 1850. The family were of Kentish stock originally.
The most enigmatic of the Lasletts William evoked strong reactions from all that knew him. He was a shrewd hard and successful money maker whose quoted saying 'how fast money accumulated' gives an indication of his business acumen. He was the greatest landowning commoner in all Worcestershire and Herefordshire but never appears to have luxuriated ion his wealth rather giving vast amounts of money to charity. He was a keen supporter of the underdog and even crossed the floor of Parliament on a matter of principle during the debates in 1857 concerning the Arrow incident the Opium question and the war in China. This action helped to bring down Palmerston's Government. He married the daughter of a Bishop under questionable circumstances and had a stormy marriage, much argued over in public, which was ended, after only six years by their separation.
Ellen Price, the wife of a Worcester Banker who had fallen on hard times, writing as 'Mrs Henry Wood' used William as the basis of her book 'East Lynne', the first of the popular romantic novels. Published in 1861, fact and fiction mingle in its pages so much that it is often difficult to separate the two but to anyone acquainted with William's story immediate recognition of place and plot comes with virtually every page.
We know little of William's early life except that his upbringing was comfortable, his father being prominent in the Worcester 'Old Bank', Messrs Berwick, Wall and Isaac (late Messrs Berwick & Co). He was educated in Worcester and started as a boy clerk at the bank, he rose to the position of assistant cashier before leaving to be entered as a student at the Inner Temple in 1825, he served all the terms necessary for a call to the bar and was also articled to Solicitor and Banker William Wall, who had his rooms in the old bank building 50 Foregate Street, Worcester. Wall was prominent in local politics being a member of the Common Council of Worcester for a number of year. William later took over the practice from Wall. Records show that William practiced as a solicitor at Worcester from 1830 until 1846. He was called to the bar at the Inner Temple on 30 April 1856.
Although the Worcester Lasletts had built up considerable wealth from their middle class occupations and judicious marriages it is William who made them truly rich. He appears to have come into some money on the death of his father in 1816 and to have demonstrated his speculative talents through dealing in land at the end of the Napoleonic War. By the 1840's he was exceedingly wealthy.
In the 1830s William bought Thorngrove House in Grimley, which is situated about five miles North West of Worcester and was the former home of Lucien Bonaparte, the Prince de Canino, a younger brother of Napoleon Bonaparte. Around 1840, William sold Thorngrove to buy the estate and house at Abberton Hall, near Pershore from the Sheldon family. The house came complete with all furnishings. Thomas Southall, later Town Clerk of Worcester, described the house and effects as impeccable.
William married Maria Carr the daughter of the late Right Rev. Dr James Robert Carr, Lord Bishop of Worcester, on 3 February 1842 at Aldingbourne, Sussex. The marriage was the centre of much controversy and was a talking point for the society of Worcester during the 1840s. The following verses, attributed to William, succinctly tell the tale:
Poor Parsons and Doctors aspiring to Marriage, Rarely, if ever, attain to a Carriage, But Law, lucky law, is happier far, keeps a carriage, and sports an episcopal 'Carr'
Conveyancer Cupid egregious ass let, A Lass'Carr' to be Sold to become a Laslett, Her sorrowing friends with illogical tone, Say 'if a Lass is to let -let Laslett alone'
The Bishop had died at Hartlebury Castle at about half-past 9 on Saturday night 24 April 1841. He was interred privately in St James Churchyard, Hartlebury on Monday 3rd May 1841. William's disastrous marriage to Maria Carr stems directly from the strange circumstances surrounding Dr Carr's life and death.
Ellen Price in East Lynne mentions the funeral of the Bishop:
The body of a church dignitary, who died deeply in debt, was arrested as it was being carried through the cloisters to its grave in the Cathedral'
On this story Ellen based the death of her heroines fathers, the dissipated William, Earl of Mount Severn. Gouty, and grown old before his time, the Earl had squandered his sixty thousand a year and died leaving only debts. The daughter, who is styled on Maria Carr, is unaware of her fathers financial position until the body is 'arrested' by the creditors. To her rescue comes Archibald Carlyle, her late father's solicitor, who pays the debts from his own money so that the body can be buried. The character of Carlyle is based on William Laslett.
Later Archibald, more out of pity than love, proposes marriage to the now impoverished daughter, who accepts, marries, and then betrays her husband - the sins of the father re-occurring in the daughter to fatal effect. Archibald is by our standards an aloof and undemonstrative husband but by Victorian standards would be considered a much more sympathetic character, always correct and noble.
(Info/Research done by Pam Hinks)