150th Anniversary of Astwood - William Laslett of Abberton Hall (Transcript Page 8/9)

  • 26 Jan 2019
  • Worcester People and Places
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 For the establishment of an Orphan Asylum he gave £500 and towards building Holy Trinity Church he gave another 3500. He built the grandstand at the Worcester County Cricket Ground and in 1876 funded the Worcester Music Hall upon terms very advantageous to the citizens. But the gift for which William is most remembered, and which is now been linked together with the rest of his running bequests into the Laslett Charities, is the purchase of the old Worcester city prison and it's conversion into Almshouses. 

On 19th September 1868, William paid £2,225 for the old city gaol site on Union Street, Worcester next door to the Greyfriars in Friar Street and converted it at his own expense into four blocks of Almshouses with each block having four houses. Also included in the conversion was the building of a Church within the Almshouses site. These prison buildings, which William sought to be used to shelter the poor, were rather grim. Made surplus by an Act of Parliament in 1867 the gaol was advertised for sale and the lot included blocks of cells, treadwheel and mill houses with machinery and boundary walls, hospital building, Governor's house, outbuildings and offices etc, the whole comprising about 2,600 sq. yds.

The Gol itself was not that old, havong been built in 1822 in that early period of reform occasuioned by the growing realisation that 18th Century ideas of transportation of felons was not effective in the industrially developing England of the 19th Century. It replaced the City's old gaol in Castle Street which had proved itself not secure enough. The Union Street site had contained an ancient friary which was pulled down to make way for the new gaol.

The new gaol held about 30 prisoners and as was common in those days, the treadmill was its centrepiece. William Griffiths, the first and only Governor in the 45 year life of the gaol, did very nicely out of his charge. Not only had a large house come with the job but also the use of the prisioners servants. Griffths always dressed as a Regency dandy and was noted for the excellence of his hospitality and the quality of his table. His guests were even given a trustee prisoner to carry a torch to light their way home. It is reported that only one of the Worcester trustees ever failed to return to the prison afther his torch carrying job and that would not have worried Griffith overly much except the light fingered felon had also taken a quantity of the Governor's family plate.

A story is told that there was strong bidding at the auction for the site and Williamk exasperated by this protest:

'You ought not to bid against me; l am buying it for the poor'

The cells and prison bildings were immediately put to use to house 30 poor and elderly married folk. At first there was no money allowance provided for the day to day living expenses of the residents, but they lived in the Almshouses rent free. On 9th April 1875 William remedied this situation by presenting the Newton Court Estate in the parishes of Dilwyn, and Weobley in Hereford, in all about 351 acres to the Trustees of the Almshouses. He followed this up on 17th January 1879 when he gave a large landed estate of 2200 acres at Hinton-on-the-Green in the county of Gloucester, for which he had paid £84000, to the City in trust for charitable and religious uses, one of which was to provide additional funds for the Almshouses and another the restoration and repairs of certain Churches. In fact, the Trust is for sixteen different objects and these include a very wide range. It is still active today, over one hundred years after its establishment.

A gaol obviously converts into rather gloomy Almhouses so in 1912, under the supervision of Williams friend, Thomas Southall, the whole lot was pulled down and rebuilt as a group of half timbered buildings. With their timber panelling painted black and white the Almshouses fit in well with the Greyfriars building next door and their other historic surroundings. Over the entrance to the new buildings, carved in stone, is William's escutcheon with his motto inscribed "Finem Respice" which probably comes from Gesta Romanorum (Acts of the Romans) Quidquid agas, prudenter agas et finem (Whatever you do, do cautiously, and look to the end). The Alshouses still serve the poor of Worcester as William wished, they provided comfortable accommodation for 15 elderly folk plus a warden and chaplain.

All this did not change William and so the stories and anecdotes about him still went around.

A pary of singers who called at Abberton Hall found the place very untide, with flagstones broken and out the back was  William stripped to the waist digging a saw pit himself to save the 2/6d it would have costed to hire a labourere to do the job. Another story related by R.T. Rea, the former City Coroner whom we have mentioned before, recalled a visit to Abberton Hall where the door was opened by a charwoman who said she came twice a day to make the bed and empty the slops only, as William  did his own cooking.

William died on 26th Janaury 1884, His estate was left to his brother-in-law's dfamily, his servants and £500 for life to 'Mrs Laslett'. His charities live on to this day after him..



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