150th Anniversary of Astwood - William Laslett of Abberton Hall (Transcript Pg 4/5)

  • 22 Jan 2019
  • Worcester People and Places
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We have a description of Bishop Carr's funeral as it was reported in The Times. As said before he died at 9 pm on Saturday 24 April 1841 but was not buried until 10 am on Monday 3 May 1841. The fact that nine days elapsed between death and burial is unusual, that it was a private funeral is most unusual for a Bishop of the Church of England. The Times of Thursday 6 May 1841 says:  

 The clergy had expressed their wish to follow the remains of their late diocesan - a wish which, while it was warmly acknowledged by the family, was negatived, on the score of the funeral being intended to be strictly private. The intention was adhered to; for everything connected with the last obsequies was of as simple and unostentatious a description as was consistent with the station which the deceased had occupied in the church. In the absence of all pomp and parade, it was pleasing to observe the homage paid to the late Bishop's kindly character. In the long line of procession there was scarcely a shop the shutters of which were not partially or altogether closed. The blinds of all the numerous private dwellings were drawn down, and a general and respectful silence marked the passage of the late Bishop from the See house of diocese to the 'home appointed for all living'. His Lordship's remains were interred at Hartlebury by the side of Mrs Carr.

Bishop Carr's death brought down the financial pack of cards that he had built to maintain his opulent lifestyle. His reputation in Episcopal circles was destroyed and his family brought to despair and devastation. Outstanding debts amounting to £100,000 were left behind. This is a large sum even these days but in the 1840's it was astounding. Robert Carr had been active in Court circles and was a lifelong friend and intimate of George lV  whose preferment assured his Episcopal ambitions. As Bishop he was one of Worcester's more absent prelates preferring the fast life of the Court in the luxury of the Pavilion at Brighton, the Royal playground, to the more austere surroundings of Hartlebury Castle. Within Worcester Cathedral, where there are countless memorials to the works of its Bishops, some dating back to Saxon times, there is nothing to record the episcopate of Robert Carr apart from the record of his period of tenure in the Custo's reference book. In Hartlebury Castle however there are a number of mementos, one being his portrait hanging in the hall at the lower end of the opposite side to the entrance, another being a sideboard which was bought from the Bishop when he was short of funds by one of his clergy and returned to the Castle by a Mrs Kirkham from Worcester, a great grand-daughter of the clergyman. 

Preferment had come to Robert Carr by a combination of luck and skill. He came from a comfortable rather than a wealthy background but was adroit or lucky enough to secure the Parish of Brighton where his superb oratory skills brought him to the notice of the Prince of Wales, later George lV. by whose patronage he was appointed Bishop of Chichester in 1815 at the young age of 40 and made Bishop of Worcester in 1831.

In the Birmingham Post of Thursday 24 December 1953, a correspondent identified as 'C.D.T.B.C' and 'Bishop Robert Carr's great-great-great-grandson' wrote that for many years Bishop Carr had been accumulating debts, of which only £20,000 can currently be identified, since, with little personal assets, the pace of Court life and the cost of entertaining Royalty was expensive.

He quoted one occasion when George lV and his consort, Queen Caroline, told Bishop Carr that they would be coming for a week's visit. The Bishop and his wife, Nancy, immediately had the castle re-decorated and a considerable amount of new furniture installed. The bill came to around £5,000.

In the event George lV and Caroline stayed for only one night after enjoying a sumptuous banquet on their arrival --- leaving the Bishop with a larder filled for another six day's feasting on a scale suitable for a monarch who gloried in his food and wine, as well as a bill for one day's entertainment large enough at the present value of the pound, but staggering high for those day's.

Robert Carr died aged 66 of a cerebral hemorrhage, or paralysis as it was then termed. When word got out his creditors panicked and besieged Hartlebury Castle, but one being particularly adroit, took legal action, and then had the Sheriff's officers seized the Bishop's body on account of his debts. The Bishop's only son disclaimed any responsibility and the Rev. Thomas Baker, the Rector of Hartlebury , who was the Bishop's son-in-law generously, perhaps foolhardily, volunteered to take on the debts. Immediately the creditors moved in and the Rector's belongings were ticketed for sale by public auction. 

Baker with £2,000 a year from Hartlebury, one of the clerical plums of the day, could not hope to repay his father-in-law's debts. It appears that this is where William Laslett came in and assisted the family. Some of the debts were actually paid off personally by William, while he must have arranged finance for Baker to enable him to cover the balance. This sort of action would fit perfectly into the picture we have of William as a man of charity and one to whom a sense of honour was paramount, Anyway the auction was avoided and the Bishop buried quietly in the family tomb in St James, Hartlebury and as Rural Dean of Kidderminster and Hon. Canon of Worcester Cathedral, lived and died a poor man, but finally the debts were paid off.

William married Maria Carr, seven months after her fathers death, whether she accepted William from a sense of grateful, naive romanticism, or as part of a deal, we do not know. We do know that at 41 she was perhaps as unable as William to adjust to married life. William's motives for entering into a marriage are equally unclear but considering the age, the financial and the social scandal surrounding his bride he can hardly have been seeking any personal advantage and if he felt his was a noble action to rescue Maria from penury then it was sadly unappreciated. Perhaps the marriage was a manifestation of the eccentricity that William was to increasingly display as he grew older. They soon separated but there evidence indicating that William remained on good terms with the late Bishop's family to the extent of making Thomas Baker's son, Rev Robert James Baker, Rector of Landeglos, his executor and primary beneficiary under his will. Abberton Hall, Bishampton, Flyford Flavel, Naunton Beauchamp, North Piddle, Kington, Dormston, Grafton Flyford and Hanbury all went to Robert which must have made him one of the Worcestershire's largest landowner. Ellen Price, in East Lynne makes it very apparent that she considered Maria to be at fault in the marriage .


(Info/Research Pam Hinks in relation to 150th Ann)