The Trial of Thomas Williams

From Hoole History and Heritage Society

The Hoole Millennium Book (pg. 9) gives only a partial family tree for the landowning families of Hoole, this article updates that for the Panton's and shows how the mention of Bishop Peploe in the HUDC Handbook (pg. 15) also needs reconsideration.

The Consistory Court at Chester Cathedral. The coat of arms on the wall is that of Bishop Peploe who was a distant relative of the Peploe-Wards of Hoole. For some reason the same coat of arms is to be found half-way along the spur wall leading to the Watertower on the Chester City Walls. The arms comprise three hunting horns, possibly associated with Cannock Chase near where the family seems to have dwelt.

The trial of Thomas Williams, Esq. of Bryn Bras Castle, Caernarvonshire together with Ellen Evans & Ann Williams, two of his servants, took place at the Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey, London, on Monday, April 9th, 1838, and on the four following days. The subject was forgery of a will and associated documents, and related to the estate of Jones Panton of Plas Gwyn, Pentraeth, Anglesey, whose relatives included Martha Panton of Hoole and other people associated with the development of that suburb of Chester.

Until 1858 wills were dealt with by church courts (apart from 1653 to 1660 during the Civil War, when ecclesiastical jurisdictions were abolished and all wills were proved in London). The first level of organisation was the Diocese. This was divided into two or more Archdeaconries, for administrative purposes. The lowest level of probate court was the Archdeaconry Court, and testators who lived in and/or only owned land in the Archdeaconry would have their wills proved here. If the testator owned land in more than one Archdeaconry, their will would be proved in the next level of court, the Consistory or Commissary court. Such a court can still be seen in Chester Cathedral. If land or property was owned in more than one Diocese, it would be proved in the highest ranking probate court – the Prerogative Court of the relevant Archbishop, for example the Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury (PCC). When Jones Panton died his will first went to the Prerogative Court in Canterbury as he owmed land in at least the dioceses of Bangor and St Asaph. The eventual court of appeal for the ecclesiastical courts was the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

Parties on both sides of a dispute were allowed to speak in the ecclesiastical courts, however in 1838 prisoners were not allowed to testify on their own behalf in other courts. In England, competency was recognized for interested witnesses who were not parties by Lord Denman's Act in 1843, for civil parties in 1851 with the passage of Lord Brougham's Act, and for criminal defendants by the Criminal Evidence Act of 1898. The dispute moved to the criminal court when a charge of forgery was brought and so Thomas Williams could not testify in his own defence.

Bryn Bras Castle

The Castle was built in the Neo-Romanesque style on an earlier structure between 1829 and 1835 for Thomas Williams (1795-1874) a cultured Welsh speaking attorney at law, and his wife Lauretta Maria (nee Panton). The design is attributed to the architect Thomas Hopper (1766-1856) who was building Penrhyn Castle, Bangor at the same time. Its style reflects the romantic historicist ideas current at that time.

Bryn Bras Castle, the home of Thomas Williams.

Thomas Williams left the castle to his sister's grandson, Rev. Charles Bodvell Griffith. Rev. Griffith seems not to have lived at Bryn Bras, and by 1880 it belonged to William Dew, who began an estate agency business but was unlucky on the Stock Exchange and became bankrupt, having to sell the castle in 1890. The purchaser was Charles Davison of Flintshire, but he does not seem to have stayed long and the castle was bought in 1897 by Capt. Frank Stewart Barnard, who was High Sheriff of Caernarvonshire 1903-4, and something of a philanthropist. He stayed at the castle until his death in 1917, despite attempting to sell it in 1913, and ran it as a stud, converting part of the park area to this use. Although the estate was offered for sale in 1913, it was not sold until after the First World War, in 1918, following which it changed hands again, twice. During this time, in 1919, most of the timber was felled (it is thought for use in shipbuilding), although the ornamental trees nearest the house were left. In 1920 the estate was finally acquired by a wealthy new owner, Duncan Elliot Alves, originally a New Zealander, who immediately set about making improvements, including erecting the garden buildings and installing statuary; but what was done in the park is hard to say, as so little is now left.

Alves, who was an oil magnate, was Lord Mayor of Caernarfon for six years, and was friendly with Lloyd George and other important figures of the day. He entertained lavishly and spent a great deal of money on the house and grounds, including creating a lake (on the far side of the southern road and now in a caravan park) for a private hydro-electric scheme and re-routing the northern lane where it passed closest to the castle, to enclose the small triangular paddock to the north-west.

Alves died in 1938, and his wife, who was 27 years his junior, died rather young in 1947. They had no children. During the Second World War Mrs Alves let the house to a Catholic school for delicate children, and sold it in 1946. The purchaser was Tom Welch, who lived there until he died suddenly in 1953 aged only 40. He made further improvements to the grounds, but when he died the castle was again sold, to an industrialist named Charles Sydney Cowap, who, however, sold it on after four years. It was then bought by Patrick Durkin and converted to a hotel and country club, the farmlands being sold off; the grounds were opened to the public for the first time in June 1958. Durkin died in 1964 and the rest of the estate was broken up and sold; the castle and garden came into the hands of the present family, who have made the castle their home and converted part of it into self-catering holiday accommodation. They have largely restored the gardens and continue to work on the remaining areas.

The Pantons

In Hoole, the Pantons are remembered by Panton Road and Panton Place, but their connection with Chester possibly goes back much further to the de Lacy's who were associated with the Earl of Chester Ranulph de Blondeville. Roger de Lacy (1170–1211), was Baron of Pontefract, Lord of Bowland, Lord of Blackburnshire, Baron of Halton, Constable of Chester, Sheriff of Yorkshire and Sheriff of Cumberland, also known as Roger le Constable, he was a notable Anglo-Norman soldier, crusader and baron. Ranulph granted the Earldom of Lincoln to his sister Hawise, "to the end that she might be countess, and that her heirs might also enjoy the earldom"; the grant was confirmed by the king, and at Hawise's special request her husband John de Lacy received royal licence to succeed de Blondeville and by charter dated at Northampton 23 November 1232, was created 2nd Earl of Lincoln. The Pantons are said to be descended from Thomas Pontfract a secretary to Henry de Lacy, whose son married Ellen, an heiress, possibly a relative of the de Lacys.

Paul Panton

Plas Gwyn, the home of Jones Panton.

The elder Paul Panton (1731–1797) was a Welsh barrister and antiquarian. He was known also as a reforming farmer and collector of manuscripts, as well as for his knowledge of Welsh history. Panton married in 1756 Jane Jones (1725–1764), daughter of William Jones (1688–1755) of Plas Gwyn, Pentraeth. It was William Jones, a barister, who had built Plas Gwyn in the period 1740-50 although it was scarcely complete when he died. In addition to his public responsibilities in Anglesey as squire of Plas Gwyn, Paul Panton took a keen interest in collieries, lead-mines and industrial projects in the Holywell district. He was lord of the manor of Coleshill and he spent a large portion of his time in Flintshire.

The younger Paul Panton (1758-1822) followed much in his father's footsteps but made his home at Plas Gwyn, which he improved and enlarged. He took a leading part in local affairs in Anglesey and became Deputy Lieutenant, Colonel of the volunteers from 1803 and High Sheriff in 1807. He was also sheriff of Flintshire in 1815. He died unmarried on 24 August 1822, and his possessions were passed between his sisters, and his brother Jones Panton (1761-1837), sheriff of Anglesey, 1823, 1828, Flintshire, 1827 and Merioneth, 1830.

Plas Gwyn

Plas Gwyn sits half a mile from the pretty village of Pentraeth, five miles north-west of Beaumaris, in a sheltered valley at the head of a small bay called Traeth Coch, from where the marble and limestone once quarried in this part of Anglesey were shipped to the mainland. The house is built in a Georgian style which is unique in Anglesey.

The indictment against Thomas Williams.

Paul Panton senior had amassed an enormous collection of important Welsh literature during his life. Following Paul Panton junior's death in 1822 the manuscripts and papers were inherited by his brother Jones Panton (d. 1837). They then came to Jones's youngest son William Barton Panton (d. 1875) and his wife Anne (d. 1890), who removed them from Plas Gwyn to Garreglwyd, Holyhead. During this period the manuscripts were inaccessible to researchers, reputedly being stored in chests in a stable loft, with all requests to inspect them refused.

The Trial

The Judge

James Parke, 1st Baron Wensleydale PC (22 March 1782 – 25 February 1868) was a British barrister and judge. His work in the Court of Exchequer has led to him being called:

  • "one of the greatest of English judges; had he comprehended the principles of equity as fully as he did the principles of the common law, he might fairly be called the greatest. His mental power, his ability to grasp difficult points, to disentangle complicated facts, and to state the law clearly, have seldom been surpassed. No judgments delivered during this period are of greater service to the student of law than his".

The defence lawyer was the Attorney General Sir John Campbell, who had put through the Will's Act 1837, and so might be considered something of an authority on wills. Prior to the Will's Act:

  • "Any scrap of paper, or memorandum in ink or in pencil, mentioning an intended disposition of his property, is admitted as a will and will be valid, although written by another person, and not read over to the testator, or even seen by him, if proved to be made in his lifetime according to his instructions."

Campbell had himself changed the law such that a will needed to be in writing, signed, intended to have effect, and made in the presence of two or more witnesses who attest to the will. However the law did not apply to wills existing before 1 January 1838.

Newgate gaol in 1810. For much of its history, the "Old Baily" court (among other spellings seen) was attached to the jail.

Day One

The case opened with the usual formalities of swearing in the jury and reading of the indictment. The alleged "victims" in the case included William Barton Panton (who brought the case) and his sister Martha Hamilton. The prosecution, led by the ever polite Sir William Follett, opened by explaining that forgery was no longer a capital offence (punishable until 1790, in the case of female forgers, by burning at the stake), but was still a serious one. It was explained that Williams had married Jones Panton's daughter, Lauretta Maria, in 1828 and since then had "carried on no business" and that Jones Panton had died on the 26th May,1837. Jones Panton had come in considerable wealth in 1822 with the death of his brother Paul and the following year his eldest son also a Jones Panton had married a Miss Lewis. The couple would have a daughter, Mary Elizabeth in 1812, but Jones Panton's eldest son would be dead by the time of the trial.

Martha Hamilton had married Rev Hamilton of Chester in c.1822. Hamilton was born as Peploe William Ward, son of Peploe Ward and grandson of Abel Ward. At around the same date as he married Martha he resigned his new position as perpetual curate of Shotwick. In 1823, at around the time that his eldest son was preparing to marry a Ms Lewis (Mary Elizabeth Lewis bpt 02.12.1805, d 10.1871), Jones Panton had set up a trust for the benefit of his children. This was limited to his property in Angelsey, Flint, Denbigh and Merioneth, and he had other property elsewhere. Thus, there were two distinct sets of property, that settled in the trust and that which lay outside of it. In English common law trusts were often used to keep property within a family. Panton elder either did not fully understand this trust or gradually came to believe he had entered into a poor agreement and in latter life he stated frequently that the mother of Ms Lewis had "robbed" him.

A family tree is given below. With the childen of Jones Panton alive at the time of the trial shown in green.

The Pantons. Living children at the time of the death of the elder Panton are in green, and the accused in orange. Spouses are in yellow, others (alive or dead) in blue. Some sources add an additional son, Thomas Whittaker born in 1799 who died as an infant The last known will at the time of Panton (elder's) death was that drafted by Rumsey Williams and was significantly for the benefit of his son-in-law, while Thomas Williams had drafted the will which turned up just after the funeral and was for largely for the benefit of his wife. Charles Crespigny Vivian, 2nd Baron Vivian married Mary Elizabeth Panton in 1841 as his second wife with whom he had seven children, including Claud Hamilton Vivian (1849-1902)

The terms of the trust were that the income from the £42,000 in the trust was to be shared as follows:

  • £7000 held in trust for each of the children except William Barton, to be paid to them on the death of their father;
  • £300 interest each year to each of the children, with the exception of Martha Hamilton;
  • William Barton did not get anything from the trust, but lived with Jones Panton.

The prosecution then explained that nothing happened until 1829, when Jones (elder) made his first will. In this he set out terms for what would happen if eldest Jones (younger) had no children - the whole of the property would go to Barton Panton. If Barton died without issue it would go to Martha Hamilton, and if she had no issue it would go to Mrs Williams, the wife of the accused in the case. The remainder of the property - that not settled in the trust would be shared out between Barton, Mrs Hamilton and Mrs Williams. In 1829 the eldest son, Jones (younger) died with no sons (the court transcript says 1929 in one place and 1830 in another). Jones (elder) then, in 1831, changed the terms of his will so that part of property which would have been shared between Barton, Hamilton and Williams now went entirely to Barton, save for a small legacy to each daughter. Thomas had died without issue, on a voyage home from India, and the elder Jones was not on good terms with his son Paul Griffith (a naval officer). To summarise, the bulk of the property would go to William Barton.

The prosecution was led by Sir William Webb Follett (2 December 1796 – 28 June 1845), an English lawyer and politician who served as a Member of Parliament for Exeter (1835–1845). He served twice as Solicitor General in 1834–1835 and 1841, and as Attorney General for England and Wales in 1844. He was reputed to have been the "greatest advocate of the century".

Next, the prosecution discussess the evidence that the accused had brought forward that the elder Jones Panton had arranged for the preparation of a further wills, which were then signed. All these most recent documents were prepared by Thomas Williams alone and witnessed by his own servants. The earlier set of these documents (1834) makes some changes, but there is a later set of documents including a will of 1836. The effect of this most recent will was to leave everything where it was possible to Lauretta Maria, the wife of the accused and make Thomas Williams the sole executor. An explanation was given in what porported to be instuctions noted by Williams:

  • "I have been robbed of my property by that woman of Llanddyfnan" (this is a reference to Mary Lewis' mother, Elizabeth, who lived at Plas Llanddyfnan (b 05.12.1780, d 01.12.1874, dau of Hugh Thomas of Trevor).

The will was, apart from the signature, written in the hand of the accused and neither the handwriting nor the dated signature was disputed. However, the case of the prosecution was that the signed documents were not originally a will and other things, but were documents relating to a different legal matter. These had been pencil maps, witnessed in ink and associated with a land settlement. The prosecution put forward the argument that these had been erased leaving a palimpsest on which the porported will could be written. The dates of the papers from the earlier case were known from other sources and "extraordinarily" the dates of the will and its codicils had the same dates of signature as the other documents would have had. As to the original "pencil maps", none could be found.

The next part of the first day was taken up with the prosecution establishing the circumstances around the preparation of the deed of 1823 and the other documents up to those of 1833. The witnesses also established that two weeks before his death (on the 8th May 1837) the elder Panton was visited by the solicitor who had drawn up the 1831 will, who had the original of that document with him (so Panton did not have a copy at home). The solicitor was Rumsey Williams, the father of Ann, wife of Barton Panton. Rumsey Williams stated that Jones elder looked at the 1831 document and did not mention any 1834 document.

George Bettiss and the 4th May

Having established that Rumsey was unaware of the "new" will, witness George Bettiss was heard, a slate merchant and evidently a friend and confidant of Panton elder. Bettiss had evidently "negotiated" the marriage of Barton Panton and Rumsey William's daughter, and the elder Jones Panton had made it clear to Bettiss that, if the couple lived with him, he would leave the bulk of his property to Barton. Just before the elder Panton's death, Bettiss was present when papers were handed-over to Barton (4th May) and overheard the elder Panton say that he wished the bulk of his property to go Barton. The papers included reciepts for stock and funds worth c.£29,000 on which there were outstanding dividends of c.£20,000. In the same meeting the elder Panton also said that he gave to Barton all the money he had in various banks, his back rents, mining shares and canal shares. Bettiss makes it clear that this was not a promise of a future transfer but a gift at the time, as the elder Panton handed over the keys to his library, plate chest and wine-cellar. This evidence may have been brought forward to show Panton's intent (which would be relevant under the "old" law regarding wills).

Barton himself was then heard and a significant issue discussed were the events of the 7th May (a Sunday). This was the effective date on the will which Williams had revealed after the funeral. The court would later spend quite some time trying to establish whether it was possible for the accused to have visited on that day (when the weather was particularly bad) to get a codicil which effectively re-published the "new" will signed.

The defense was led by John Campbell, 1st Baron Campbell, PC, QC, FRSE (15 September 1779 – 23 June 1861) was a British Liberal politician, lawyer and man of letters. He served as Solicitor General in 1832–1834, and as Attorney General for England and Wales in 1834 and 1835-41.

The other matter that was discussed on the first day was the matter of the pencil marks on the "new" will. Experts in the form of various engravers were called and these claimed that they could make out the faint remains of pencil marks including words such as "MAP", "Cavendish", "Cursitor" and "Bishopsgate". This was entirely consistent with the supposed re-use of documents which had been written in pencil and signed in ink (dated 7th May) by the elder Panton. The jury spent some time examining the documents themselves.

To sum-up the first day it established there were two possible wills:

  • An earlier will dated 1828, with codicils drafted by Rumsey Williams which favoured his son-in-law, Barton Panton. This is consistent with Bettiss account of Jones Panton handing over property and keys on the 4th May 1837.
  • A later will dated 1934 drafted by Thomas Williams (the accused), which appeared after the funeral. This will favoured his own wife, Lauretta-Maria Williams (nee Panton) and is consistent with a codicil signed on the 7th May 1837. This second will appeared, according to the proecution, to have been written on paper which Jones Panton had signed while it was an earlier document written in pencil, with the pencil marks having been almost completely erased and a "new" will written in their place above the signature. Rather curiously all of the "legal" documents produced by the accused appear to be on this "re-used" paper even though they purport to have been written over a period of some years.

Day Two

The second day opened with a discussion of events on the 7th May, the day that Panton (elder) is supposed to have signed the "new" will. On the day in question a Hugh Price was visiting and was there for the whole day having arrived the night before. He states that sometimes he was with the elder Panton and sometimes he was not. Various members of the staff were called as witnesses (some of whom could not speak English) and they all agreed that, as far as they were aware, Thomas Williams did not visit Plas Gwyn on the 7th May.

The next witnesses were clerks from the registrar where copies of the wills were made. They stated that while they could now see some pencil marks on the will, they had not noticed them earlier. Next, the engraver who had been called as a witness returned and there was a further examination of the "new" will and documents associated with it. Once again pencil marks were noted at it was confirmed that these had originally formed a map. The same was confirmed by another "expert"

There was also a discussion about where the papers had been kept during the events leading up to the trail, with the defence obviously trying to build a "chain of custody" argument, that the pencil marks were made more recently than the writing of the will. The clerk of Rumsey Williams was examined, again presumably to seek an argument that the papers had been tapered with. It was established that the examiner from the ecclesiastical court (Mr R. W. Jennings) had taken some odd precautions with the papers while they were taken in his custody to North Wales, storing them in a room where the door was sealed with tape or a paper strip, and placing a table in front of the door. Jennings claims that he is able to make out a lot of the pencil writing, including the name "Hurlock" of which only "..ock" appears visible to him now.

The next witness up was a police-officer, Ruthven, who had arrested the accused and seized papers. Apparently he was instructed which papers to seize by the clerk of Rumsey Williams.

Days Three, Four and Five

On the opening of the third day another document expert was called, in this case from the British Museum

The next issue was whether one or more of the supposed witnesses to the "new" will could read. All of these witnesses had written out their names in full, but the prosecution alleged that they could not read or write. As the witnesses were also accused of taking part in the "fraud" there was some debate over whether the ones still alive (one having died) could be called as witnesses.

A Mr Hurlock was the next witness he confirmed that he was jointly interested with the elder Panton in property in Cursitor and Devonshire Streets in London. Papers mentioning Horlock were among those seized by the police at the time of Thomas William's arrest.

To sum-up the prosecution's case:

  • Jones elder is fond of telling people that he proposed to leave property to Barton, and doted upon Barton's daughter. He did not mention at any time that he proposed to change his will to favour Williams and his wife;
  • On the 4th May Jones made a formal declaration, before a witnesses that he intended to leave his property to Barton;
  • Thomas Williams had access to the papers drafted in pencil between Jones and Hurlock and signed by Jones in ink. Williams had erased the pencil marks incompletely and written a false will above the signature;
  • There was no opportunity to add "false" pencil marks on the "last" will;
  • Williams could not have visited on the 7th May to obtain a signature from Jones. Jones never left the house, had a visitor staying and none of the staff saw Williams;
  • On 12th May the elder Panton states in front of Rumsey Williams and Barton that this is his will as he hands over a copy of the earlier will.

The Defence

Plas Gwyn and Rhiwlas are indeed quite close. The road layout has been changed since the time when the events which occurred prior to the trial. It is not possible to determine exactly where Williams' coachman dropped him off, but it may have been near the "Three Leaps" (see map) which was presumably a well-known local landmark.

The defence (led by Sir John Campbell) then began to set out its case in detail, which went on into the next days. Campbell starts by pointing out the penalty for forgery was until recently death, but was now transportation for life and forfiet of all property to the Crown. He then goes on to explain that if the case had been heard to completion in the church courts Thomas Williams would have had a better opportunity to defend himself and it was his opinion that the charge of forgery had only been brought to shift the case to the criminal courts. The defence alleges that the "new" will is the valid one and the case has been brought by Barton Panton for the sole purpose of undermining it, at the urging of Rumsey Williams. As the defence puts it:

  • "Gentlemen, it does seem to me that, in the whole history of the administration of the justice of this country, there is nothing at all to be compared to the conduct of this prosecution; and I hope, gentlemen, that it will never be considered as an example to be followed; but that, by your discountenancing it, by your looking to all the evidence and seeing, as you will do, there is no ground for the prosecution, that it will recoil with disgrace on those who instituted it, and that no person hereafter, however selfish, however unprincipled, however vindictive, will follow the example of Mr. Barton Panton, or those to whose influence he has allowed himself to succumb."

The defence states that the only witnesses to the speech of Panton elder (on the 4th May) where he confirms that he "gifts" all to Barton Panton are Barton himself and Bettiss, who is the uncle of Mrs Barton Panton and the brother-in-law of Rumsey Williams (his wife Anne is Rumsey's sister). The defence claim is that Panton elder had changed his mind several times about his will and finally decided that he preferred to leave the bulk of his estate to his daughter Lauretta-Maria, the wife of Thomas Williams and that the will and other documents have been altered to make them appear to be a forgery. The defence also argue that the evidence that Williams never visited on May 7th is a sham, and that Williams was dropped off at the gate by his coachman (Thomas Owen, who appeared and confirmed this) and walked to the house where he only stayed briefly before leaving for his brother's house which was nearby at Rhiwas. Williams brother, Rev. Owen Gething Williams, a perpetual curate and a magistrate, confirmed that he lived a quarter of a mile from Plas Gwyn and that Thomas had arrived, on foot, at about at about 13:30. Rev Williams also stated that a few days later he visited the Elder Panton who told him that Thomas was his executor. This was indeed the case according to the "new" will.

Overall, Sir John Campbell does a brilliant job in presenting the defence. However, the prosecution gets the last word before the judge sums-up. Part of the prosecution's argument is that for the defendant to win, his counsel has to argue that almost every witness for the prosecution is mistaken or deliberate lying. One point he appears to underemphasise is that the same type of paper, with the almost erased pencil marks from the drafts prepared for the Hurlock matter has been used for nine documents:

  • "Now, the first thing that strikes one with regard to the nine, is this, every one of these nine documents, which are written in the handwriting of the prisoner, are all written upon paper upon which there had been pencil-writing, or maps, or plans. It is not one, it is not two; but the whole are written upon paper of that description. They are written at different dates: one is the 6th of November, 1834; another is the 15th of October, 1836; another is the 7th of May, 1837; and yet, every one of these documents is written upon paper of the same sort, — that is, paper upon which there had been pencil, either pencil-plans, pencil-maps, or pencil-writing; the whole nine."

The judge sums-up by setting out what is an incredibly complicated case for the jury as clearly as he can. He notes that on the face of it the evidence of the prosecution and defence appear contradictory, but it is possible that the elder Jones Panton is being fickle and deceptive and only appearing to favour Barton while secretly intending to leave the bulk of his property to Williams and his wife. As the judge puts it:

  • "No doubt that is quite reconcileable with the supposition that is insisted on on the part of the prosecution, that all these are forgeries; but it is also reconcileable with the supposition on the other side, that he meant to defraud Barton Panton, and to induce him to believe that he had made him his universal heir, whereas he meant somebody else to be so; and the testator may have been that wicked person who would carry the deceit to the last. We do find that persons are very often very deceitful with respect to their testamentary dispositions; but this would certainly have been carrying the deceit a little further than is usually done, though it may be that he did so; it may be that, on the 7th of May, he did execute this codicil, by which he may have meant to republish his former will; and which, certainly, had the effect of republishing that former will, so far as the will related to personalty . Therefore, you may explain that act upon that supposition; or you might explain it upon the supposition of his being ignorant of the contents of all the wills made by the prisoner at the bar, or of the exact effect of them; for very singular and extraordinary they are."


Ann (the maid) gets her £300 in damages.

The jury were only out for just less than half an hour, and believed the defence finding Thomas Williams not guilty. It is remarkable that after such a complex trial the jury should come to a verdict so quickly. Perhaps they simply wanted to take the easy route and go home. As the "Cambrian" reported:

  • "Mr. Baron Parke gave directions that the prisoners should be immediately discharged. — The Court was immensely full, and immediately on the verdict being pronounced hundreds of respectably dressed persons pressed towards the dock in order to shake hands with the prisoner. Similar enthusiasm was exhibited on the prisoner being discharged and reaching the street, where he was met by a crowd of persons, who cheered him loudly."

However, this was not to be the end of the matter...


Ann Williams (the witness to the signature on the 7th May) sued William Barton Panton for having falsely and maliciously brought the forgery case against her. Thomas Williams was now able to testify and stated that he did visit on the 7th May. The jury found in favour of Ann Williams and she was awarded £300 in damages. However the case then ground on into a tedious legal dispute about how, in this instance, the judge had instructed the jury.

With the forgery case over the original proceedings in the prerogative (church) court started up again. Barton Panton was not giving up so this involved prolonged arguments and vast quantities of evidence which led to a decision in 1840. The decision was in favour of Thomas Williams that the "new" will, in favour of his wife, was the valid one. Meanwhile, Barton Panton filed an appeal and turned-up yet more evidence. Ann Williams and Ellen Evans (the two house-maids) had stated that the only document they had witnessed was the "new" will which favoured the wife of Thomas Williams. Now Barton turned up with yet another will, witnessed by the two maids. The cracks in Thomas Williams' version of events now began to show.

A brief version of the Privy Council decision (see Online sources for more).

The judical committee of the Privy Council heard the appeal from the other courts and gave its decision on the 10th July 1843. This overturned the prerogative courts decision and declared that the "new" will had indeed been fabricated. Their reasons for this were:

  • they simply do not believe that the elder Panton would keep up a deception of leaving his wealth to Barton, while he was taking active steps to leave it to Thomas Williams;
  • their inabillity to accept that it was a mere co-incidence that erased paper from the same source had been used so many times over a period of years;
  • the fact that the will started in large script, and got more cramped and smaller as it approached the signature;

This would put an end to Thomas Williams' claim, but Williams (now resorting to desparate measures and presumably having paid a near-fortune in lawyer's fees) then claimed that the codicils to the earlier will (favouring Barton Panton) were invalid as well. The only surviving witness to the signature of the first of these documents was John Holford Grindley (one of Rumsey Williams' clerks) and he stated that the elder Panton was "very drunk" when he signed them. This was in complete contradiction to Grindley's earlier statements and dismissed by the court. As for the second codicil, Thomas Williams alleged that Rumsey Williams (who was by now dead) obtained the signature by fraud. His evidence for this comes from a gardener, Owen Roberts who was also a witness to signature. The court did not believe this either:

  • "..this Owen Roberts, to whose evidence their lordships do not give the slightest credit, swears that Rumsey Williams slyly withdrew the paper which the testator had just read and approved, and was about to execute, and slyly, as the witness says, drawing another paper out of his pocket, put it before the testator, and got him to execute it.."

The court then goes on to state that Grindley and Roberts are in the pay of Thomas Williams!

  • "It is quite certain that Grindley, and Owen Roberts, though witnesses whom Mr. Barton Panton was compelled to produce, were in fact, Thomas Williams's witnesses, and under his control; and he attemnts to set up his case by their perjury, for there is not any doubt they are grossly perjured, and it is by these perjured witnesses that Thomas Williams sets up a case, charging Mr. Barton Panton in bringing forward forged codicils, and Rumsey Williams with being party thereto, and their lordships are of opinion, that in consequnce of the respondents, (Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Williams) being so distinctly connected with the perjury, they ought to pay the sum of £100 towards the costs and we do therefore pronounce in favour of the will and three codicils propounded by Mr. William Barton Panton, the sole executor, and decree probate thereof to him, and condemn the respondents, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Williams, in the sum of £100."

What is startling about the case is that Thomas Williams got off so lightly. He had completely bodged his attempt at forgery and started many years of costly litigation, and yet appears to walk away without further censure and returns to his mock-castle in Wales.

Ownership of Land in Hoole, 1839

By 1839, close to the time when the will was contested, the Peploe/Ward/Hamilton family were already extensive land owners in what was to become Hoole. At this time the land was still mostly agricultural, although Hoole House, Hoole Hall, and Hoole Cottage all existed. Other than that there were small hamlets at Hoole itself and at Flookerbrook. The Hoole hamlet was at Oak Bank, clustered around the "Royal Oak" public house. The Flookersbrook hamlet, which was in Newton, clustered around the Ermine. The railways had arrived, but there were as yet two separate stations. The streets which were to be named after Peploe, Hamilton and Panton did either not yet exist or only existed as short branches off Hoole Road. More on the ownership of land can be found on the article "Hoole Road".

The ownership of land in Hoole c.1839

Had the "Great Will Cause" gone the other way it would probably have had little effect on the development of Hoole. In 1848 Samuel Lewis would note:

  • "HOOLE, a township containing 294 inhabitants. Various plots of land here, belonging to the Rev. Mr. Hamilton, of Hoole Lodge, and others, have been laid out for building purposes, such as the erection of villas, &c., by Mr. Rampling, architect, of Liverpool; and some of the plots have been sold at the rate of 5s. the square yard, or £1210 per acre; while, before the introduction of railways, the price was not more than about £150 an acre"

Hoole Hall remains but has been developed as a hotel and greatly extended. Hoole House (1760) suffered neglect and was eventually demolished in 1972. Hoole Lodge was much altered over the years and became the official residence of Cheshire's first Chief Constable (1857), but was demolished to make way for Park Drive shortly after WW1.

Hoole Lodge (From Sale Catalogue 1917).

A note on Bishop Peploe

St John by Moses Griffiths showing The Archdeacons House (center), Samuel Peploes house, later the Bishop's Palace and a part of Dee House.

The Hoole Millennium Book suggests that Bishop Street was named after "bishop" Peploe Ward. Unfortunately, he only became a Canon and the name more likely alludes to Bishop's Field or Bishop's Ditch which flowed into Flookersbrook (the stream).

Peploe Ward was however related to the Samuel Peploe (1667–1752) who was Bishop of Chester (1726–1752). Around 6 June 1699 Bishop Peploe married his first wife, Anne Browne, daughter of Thomas Browne of Shredicote (died 1728) and Mary Carr (died 1689). With Anne Browne the bishop had four surviving children:

  • Elizabeth Peploe (1704-), married in 1736 to John Bradshaw;
  • Rev. Samuel Peploe (1700–1781), who married Elizabeth Birch and had one son and Rebecca Roberts. Commonly known as ‘Peploe Junior,’ he was vicar of Preston 1726–43, prebendary of Chester 1727–81, vicar of Northenden 1727–81, archdeacon of Richmond 1729–81, warden of Manchester 1738–1781, vicar of Tattenhall 1743–81, and chancellor of Chester 1748–81;
  • Mary Peploe (1701–1772), wife of Francis Joddrell (died 1765);
  • Anne Peploe (1702–1769), wife of James Bayley of Withington (1705–1769);

Anne Browne died on 5th December 1705, possibly from complications associated with the birth of a further daughter Jane (bpt 25 Nov 1705 - d.2nd December 1705). On 8 January 1712 he married secondly Anne Birch, who died in 1758.

It was Bishop Peploe's daughter Mary (later Mary Jodrell) who rebuilt the Archdeacon's house left to her by her father. This was described by a contemporary as "a pretty showy house". It had a main south front of five bays and three storeys in a style resembling houses shortly to be built on the north side of Abbey Square and was positioned on the banks of the River Dee with St Johns Church set slightly back on one side and Bishop Peploe’s old house on the other. Mary’s nephew Abel Ward (1716-1785, Archdeacon of Chester), who was married to Anne Bayley (1729-1806, daughter of Mary's sister Anne and James Bayley) took the lease on, not Chancellor Peploe.

Bishop Peploe and Peploe Ward had a common ancestor and were also related through the bishop's daughter.

The son of Abel Ward was Peploe Ward (1750-1819) and he continued to live there until at least 1800, when he purchased Hoole Old Hall (now a farm). Peploe Ward eventually became the Prebendary of Ely and Beeton Cottenham, in Cambridgeshire, and would be involved in the Ely and Littleport riots of 1816. Peploe Ward was the father of the William Peploe Ward (1781-1754), who changed his name to Hamilton and married Martha Panton (1793-1883) in 1822. From Memorials of St. Ann's church, Manchester, in the Last Century, by Charles Wareing E Bardsley, dated 1877 we learn the following about Abel Ward and his family:

  • "The family vault of the Wards lay beneath St. Mary's Chapel in Chester Cathedral. There the archdeacon himself lies. During the alterations that have been taking place under the careful zeal of the present dean, it was found desirable to re-floor the chapel, and the epitaphs have been removed. But all memory of those that lie below is not gone. A brass tablet on the wall has an inscription which commemorates the family."

As noted above, Abel Ward (1716-1785) was not a native of Chester although his family was to have some impact on the city. He was born in Whitgreave Staffordshire, the son of Thomas Ward and Mary Peploe. Mary Peploe was born in Penkridge, Staffordshire and shares a common ancestor (Humphrey Peploe) with Bishop Samuel Peploe (who was also born there) - her father Reverend John Peploe (1648-1728) the "fanatical parson of Penkridge" was brother to Podmore Peploe and hence Bishop Peploe's uncle. Penkridge was a Royal Free Chapel and remained outside the diocesan structures of the Church of England, one of the handful of royal free churches or peculiars that were self-contained ecclesiastical islands within – but paradoxically outside – the Diocese of Lichfield. Evidently Abel Ward was greatly favoured by Bishop Peploe who appointed him to a prebendary stall at Chester, then to the Rectory of St Ann's, Manchester, and later to the Archdeaconry of Chester (1751). Both were almost fanatical anti-Jacobites. Abel Ward died at Neston, where he had relatives and a rectorship.

Peploe Ward (1750-1819), as noted above, was never a bishop but became the Prebendary of Ely and Beeton Cottenham where he had a rather small part in the riots of 1816. These were associated with the unemployment and rising grain costs after the end of the Napoleonic wars. 1816 was also the "Year Without a Summer", when climatic abnormalities led to crop failure. Initially a group of labourers had met in Littleport which is about four miles north of Ely for a discussion about rising prices and low wages but soon started rioting before marching on Ely. The Ely magistrates, the Reverends William Metcalfe, Henry Law and Peploe Ward offered poor families relief of two-shillings per head per week and ordered farmers to pay two-shillings (£6) per day wages. Proclaiming that no prosecution would follow if the rioters dispersed. This went some way to calm things although some continued rioting before eventually returning to Littleport. Meanwhile military support had been called for and the situation was brought under control. Arrests were made and trials, transportations and two hangings followed.

William Peploe Ward/Hamilton ended-up as a significant land owner in Hoole, this was partly due to the purchase of estates by Peploe Ward and partly due to his family having purchased the contingent estate of the remaining children of the Burrows and Tonna families.

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