150th Anniversary of Astwood - William Laslett of Abberton Hall (Transcript Page 6/7)

  • 26 Jan 2019
  • Worcester People and Places
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In 1843 Thomas Southall, later Town Clerk of Worcester, was articled to William. Years after Thomas could remember how as a young man he was asked to dine with William at Thorngrove, the house and furnishings were magnificent, William having brought the contents of the house from the previous owner. (Interestingly this same circumstances appears in East Lynne) . The dinner silver and wines were of the very best but two dishes made an indelible impression on the young guest- two suckling pigs at either end of the table, one boiled and one roasted. When Thomas had qualified as a Solicitor William gave him £100 to set up his own practice, a very generous act, Thomas remained a staunch supporter of William, eventually joining him in a practice and finally being one of Williams executors and overseeing the Laslett Charities for many years.

It is also apparent that William was increasingly displaying his philanthropy.  On 15th November 1849 William, who was a parishioner of St Nicholas parish in Worcester, gave Rector, the Rev W.H. Havergal, 32,500 to carry out alterations and enlargements.

William developed political ambitions for standing as a Liberal, he was elected to Westminster top of the ticket on 28th April 1852 assuming his seat on 9th July 1852. The electors of Worcester, and in those days before universal suffrage there were not many elected William with 1212 votes followed by his Liberal running mare Osman Ricard with 1164 votes and the Conservative, J.W Huddleston, with 661 votes. He was elected again on 28th March 1857 topping the poll with 1137 votes and again on 29th April 1859.

William's parliamentary career was successful and he served his Worcester electors well and faithfully. He appears to have had strong convictions for fairness as is illustrated by the stand that he took over the Arrow incident following the first  Opium War with China. William, seeing the justice of the Chinese position, crossed the floor and voted with the opposition thereby helping bring down Palmerston's Tory government. Canon Browning of the Laslett Charities in Worcester wrote of in Berrow's Worcester Journal 27th February 1875

'The most impressive indications of Laslett's real character are to be found in the speech he made at the Guildhall (Worcester)                         when he was seeking re-election as a Liberal in 1857. He had no easy task, for on this occasion, he had to defend  himself for having voted against his own party on the China question and had been instrumental in bring down the government of his own party leader, Palmerston, He showed himself as a clear thinking, enlightened and conscientious politician when he told this crowded meeting:  

'I regard the violent course pursued by the British authorities in their quarrel with the Chinese as unwarranted by the laws of nations or treaty stipulations and inconsistent with due regard to the rights of humanity'

These words might well have been said by a secretary -general of the United Nations in our own day. Laslett put his conviction to the people of Worcester with Pikestaff clarity as he said:

'You know, we profess to be a Christian country, but l say that it is most un-Christian to act in the spirit in which our representatives abroad have done. As a powerful, and above all Christian country, we ought not to tyrannise over a weak one'

Laslett was no greater orator but he was a very forceful speaker.

'The actual debate in the House of Commons, which preceded the adverse vote which brought down Palmerston's government, was described by Gladstone' as doing more honour to the House of Commons, which any l can remember' 

'Laslett was a long way ahead of many men of his own day in his ideas of social justice'

On 12th March 1860, William resigned from Parliament but stood again, only this time as a Conservative, styling himself as a 'turncoat' and renegade Rad of Abberton Hall' and was elected on 17 November 1868 at the top of the poll with 2439 votes.

It was in this election that Lord Lyttleton, Lord Lieutenant of the county, had a son who ran as a Liberal candidate. Lyttleton had sympathy with Maria Laslett and had slighted William by refusing to put forward his name as a J.P. Apparently no opposition was expected to Lyttleton's son but William came back to politics, nominated as a Conservative, and threw himself into the campaign achieving a 25% increase in the Conservative vote and defeating the son outright.

(Info/Research by Pam Hinks for 150th Anniversary of Astwood)