Friday, January 24, 2014

From Rags to Riches - This story has everything!

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Mikki recently sent me an update on the page about William Kay of Tring which mentioned that William Kay junior's wife had left about £100,000 to an adopted son in 1894. This sounded interesting so I decided to search for references to the family in the British Newspaper archive - and the more I looked the more interesting it got. The following is a reconstruction of what appeared to have happened.
At the time of the 1851 census Rose Eley was an 18 year old stay maker living in London. She apparently later moved to work in Marylebone for Letitia Reed who ran a fancy repository, and her husband Albert Howard Reed, who was a tailor. While there she met William Kay, who was an extremely foolish and extremely rich young man. Perhaps Albert was well known for the quality of his tailoring, and William went there to buy a suit, and spotted a fair young maid!

William Kay was the son of William Kay senior, who had owned Tring Park but had died in 1838, when his infant young son was made a ward of court. William did not live at Tring, and the mansion and estate was let to Joseph Grout in 1843 and then to the Rev. James Williams.
When William junior was in his late teens, but still a minor, the court gave William an allowance of £1300 a year. In 1852 William met up with a Mr Robert Johnson, and the pair went on a "grand excursion of pleasure" (presumably this means wine, women and song) to France, Italy and Germany. Despite his extremely generous allowance William ran out of money and it would appear that cash was borrowed on the promise that it would be repaid when William was 21 and had direct access to the family fortune.

As soon as William became 21 he married Rose Eley in a quiet wedding in St Marylebone Church, the witnesses being Rose's shopkeeper employers Albert and Letitia Reed. This was definitely not the big society wedding one might expect for someone with William's wealth and as far as I can judge it was not announced in the press. I am sure that his father, if he had still been alive, would have said that another gold digger had been at work attracted by the family fortune.

Of course, once William was 21 there were people who were expecting to be paid on the strength of the promises he had made. But he did not pay - on the basis that debts incurred as a minor were not valid, and this led to him being improperly arrested and held in a private house against his will. (This part of the story need more research.)

It is possible that William wanted a son and heir - but for 10 years nothing happened (gaps like this can be due to venereal disease which seems a real possibility in this case). However in 1864 a son was born - unfortunately stillborn. William died the following year in Paris, and after much legal wrangling Tring Park and the associated estate were sold by auction in 1872, to Baron Rothschild.

It would seem that the widow, Rose Kay, still wanted a son and heir, and (subject to confirmation of a birth certificate) she "adopted" George Louis Howard. He may have been the son of Albert Howard Reed and Letitia Reed, but a baptism in Kent suggests that Rose may have been the mother, and Reed family tradition suggests Albert was the father! George was born in Paddington in the summer of 1866, and was at a boarding school in Tooting, Surrey, in 1881 under the name George Louis Howard Kay.

However, now that Rose was the wealthy one it seems that she may, in turn have been the victim of another gold digger. In January 1868 she married a soldier, James Watkins, late of the 18th Hussars, in St George's, Hanover Square, the service being taken by the Chaplain-in-ordinary of Queen Victoria - definitely a top notch society affair. This did not last long. Rose went to the theatre and discovered that the leading actress was wearing some of her own (i.e Rose's) jewellery! It appeared that James had been having an affair with the actress, and had planned to elope with her to America. While adultery with the actress was not proved, the divorce was granted in March 1870 because of cruelty and another affair with a woman called Douglas. Four years later James remarried an Edith Galsworthy.

I have not so far been able to trace Rose in 1871 or 1881 but in 1891 she was a widow living in Park House, Wetherby Road, Kensington. She died in 1894, and the residue of her will was left in trust to her adopted son. Possibly George was already showing signs of madness at this stage (hence the trust fund would be appropriate), but in the 1901 and 1911 census he was living as a ward of court with the widow of his ?brother? Henry Howard Reed and their family. Eliza (Henry's widow) is describes as of independent means, and in each census there are a number of servants, one being described as a "Lunatic Attendant". It may well be that the household was getting significant income from the trust set up for George, because they were providing the care which might otherwise have to be provided, at even greater expense, by a private lunatic asylum.
The detailed evidence is on the William Kay page, including a report of the divorce and copies of the relevant marriage certificates - so you can see what was written when a divorced person remarries. There are still some gaps in the story - particularly relating to the court cases, and if you can help to fill them why not comment below.

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