Saturday, 23 April 2016

The demise of the Strelley fortune and other conspiracies - Clayton Sommerville Strelley 1867-1910

Born in Oakerthorpe in 1867, one of 12 children Clayton Somerville Strelley was the fourth son of Richard Clayton Strelley and Francis Joanna Moore. As the fourth son he was most unlikely to have inherited the remnants of the family fortune although he might have continued to live quite well as the Strelley siblings had been well provided for over the years. At this time in the late Victorian period the population of South Winfield Parish which incorporated the township of Oakerthorpe was only 122.

As luck would have his two oldest brothers had passed away before he was 20 and his slightly older brother Richard Charles Strelley was heir after his father died in 1884. Probate shows Richard Clayton’s personal probate to be £4000.

So Clayton the youngest living Strelley seemed to live a comfortable life in Derby with his sisters.

The Strelleys had been land owners and made money from Colliery development, brickworks, public houses etc. Richard was an engineer and also involved in a Colliery in Wales. But he was not the only one expanding the family fortunes. The tidying up of the proceeds of great grandfather Robert Strelley’s properties after he left his property to his daughters had been complicated by the emigration of Robert Strelley’s youngest daughter to the colony of Western Australia where they continued to inflate the family fortunes.

Eventually the widowed Lucy Harris returned home in 1860 but the estate was not completely settled until decades later.

It still took till about 1895 for finalisation when her son WES Harris returned to England for an extended period. Somehow or other the elderly William Edward Strelley Harris met and married young Emily Jones the cousin of Richard Charles’ Wife. The pair married in 1896 and returned to Western Australia in 1897 to have two children where the remnants of this estate remained in Harris and not Strelley hands!

At some point in time young Clayton was promised some land if he would come to Western Australia and farm it. It is known that Clayton travelled to Brisbane in Brisbane in Queensland in 1889 on the Jumna. So Clayton travels 2nd class amongst the assisted passengers to Queensland which is quite a distance (as in thousands of miles) from Swan River in Western Australia. Another relative ended up in NZ so it is a not so surprising mistake. Perhaps the Derby Strelleys pointed at Australia on the globe and booked themselves passage to “get themselves down there”.
Clayton (rear) holidaying in Bournemouth

Anyhow, for whatever reason Clayton did not take up the “generous” offer. He had returned to England by early 1891 as shown in the 1891 Census where at age 22 years he is living in Eddington Road Derby living on his own means with his sisters Maria and Alice Grace Strelley. It is quite possible that Clayton’s disapproval of the Australian deal necessitated William’s journey to England.

One little newspaper article in the 90s about Clayton tells of him stepping in  to play a role in a local production.  He acquitted himself with credit in the part of Fleur-de-lis in the fairy burlesque “Cinderella”.

At some point in the 1890s Clayton became involved with the  recently formed and expanding Hull Brewing Company. He is possibly involved in management . I hardly think it was a manual job as many in the family had speculated.

There is a reference is to him involved in the planning of the Annual Outing of 298 employees to Matlock on 10/7/1899. Another refers to an Annual Employees’ Dinner  in February 1900 where he seems to be amongst the distinguished guests at the dinner.

He gave a toast to “the Hull Brewing Company and its Directors” at the Annual Dinner has a comment that “he was gratified to see that that the company was still further enlarged and was sure that with the present Board progress was assured.”  The reply indicates that  he is in Management.  “The Board was pleased with the satisfactory way the work had been done by staff and men alike.” There is also a presentation of an interesting address to Clayton on this occasion of his retirement in 1900. The article reports that he had been brewer for the Company several years and the address from the Directors and Employees showed the esteem in which he was held. (He returned in 1902 to again propose the toast.)

What necessitated the retirement of Clayton at the grand age of 32? Older brother Richard Charles died aged 47 in 1900. Richard  had increased his wealth to £48,814 which little brother Clayton Somerville Strelley now has responsibility for. In today's money that would be £5,364,000 or over AUD$10 million. Mind you Richard’s wife Sarah Jane Lewis was known to have been a spendthrift and she did her bit towards depleting the family money before dying a year before her husband.

How is it that less than 8 years later Clayton has managed to become bankrupt, necessitating selling the family property at Oakerthorpe? Upon his death he left his widow and son only £20 unless they successfully managed to spirit the money away somewhere..

Let's go back. Clayton was a man of plenty of opportunity. As a result of his brother’s death in 1900 he’s able to live a privileged life, sensationally rich with income from property and the mineral rights of the Strelley owned Oakerthorpe Colliery Company.

The 1901 census has him living at Oakerthorpe with his sisters Maria Elizabeth Strelley and newly widowed Alice Georgina Barber and her daughter Ruth Barber. They are living off their own means at Hollybank House on the Oakerthorpe estate. Uncle Clatie is very fond of little Ruth and she lives an idealistic country life being spoilt rotten by Clayton and spinster Aunt Maria. Ruth had fond memories of her time living at and later visiting Hollybank. She explored the Hollybank land searching for guinea fowl eggs, birds and animals. She would help her uncle fill his gun cartridges and her aunt with the pastry cooking.
1901 census

Newspaper reports between 1900 and 1908 show, Clayton is busy attending dinners, and meetings for the various local communities he is naturally involved within the small community.

Many of the newspaper reports around the period involve cases of his head gamekeeper dealing with theft of Clayton’s property at the hands of poachers.

Other articles refer to his various appointments  such as churchwarden, being Church organist, appointment to the South Wingfield School Board or organising committees in the Oakerthorpe local area. Later he is appointed to the new school authority. In 1902 and article shows him proposing the idea of a reading room  for the village at Oakerthorpe. He’s a member of the St Thomas Lodge Tibshelf Free Masons.

Many of the village meetings are held around the Anchor Inn. Although it was billed as a small coach house it was a popular spot for the local community and for the farmers and minors to meet and a spot to collect the rents.
The Anchor Inn owned by Strelleys for several generations

In 1902 the village celebrated the coronation of Edward VII with masses of food set about on trestle tables for all to enjoy. Clayton was Chairperson of the Coronation Committee.

With the demise of the Alfredton Agricultural Society  during his brother’s time the locals realised how important the annual show was for comparing notes. With Clayton as Chairperson,  Midland Ploughing and Agricultural Association was formed and the historic gathering was revived. The first Annual show of the new Association was held in the grounds adjoining the Peacock Inn in Oakerthorpe. Events included ploughing, hedge cutting, produce and a steeple chase.  

Clayton as Chairperson was sued for £11 over a disputed steeple chase race at this event. When you look into it there might have been a bit of bad blood in the Community between  his brother involved in  the closing down of the old Agricultural Society and the man involved in the dispute. The case was soon over.
Sometime around 1903 and 94 Clayton met and married Isabella Eleanor Alexandrina MacVean daughter of a Scottish minister Colin Archibald MacVean. How they came to meet is a bit of a mystery as she is a Perthshire girl from Scotland.

Isabella and Clayton's Scottish wedding 1904

His marriage was celebrated in both in England and Scotland.At the annual dinner of the Midlands Ploughing and Agricultural Association in November 1904 the newlyweds were presented with a handsome silver and glass vase. 

In 1905 Clayton became a father with little Richard Colin Strelley born. A necessary male heir one would think- what went wrong?
Ella Strelley, Clayton Strelley , and Aunt Maria Elizabeth Strelley with little Richard Colin Strelley c1905
By 1908 the Strelley family went bankrupt and the property at Oakerthorpe and the Anchor Inn was sold.

 A necessary male heir one would think- what went wrong?

Spinster Maria Elizabeth Strelley, no longer being able to live in the family home went to live in Canada where she had visited many times. In 1909 she married a widower Derby friend who was a retired Lighthouse keeper in Vancouver.

Older sister Alice had married Reginald Arthur Christian, the local Court Registrar and continued to live in the South Wingfield area at Manor Cottage with her older daughter Ruth Barber and boys Richard Frederick (Mins) Christian born 1903 and Anthony Hugh Christian born 1909.
An interesting anecdote from Ruth Barber.......she had a pet duck that was kept at Hollybank and she used to feed it whenever she went there, which was most weekends. It was around the time of the estate being wound up and cash was obviously tight. One Sunday the family sat down for can guess the rest!

Little is known of what Clayton and Isabella and little Richard Colin got up to in the next few years.  Presumably they moved to Hull and perhaps he returned to the Brewery.  Sadly Clayton’s life was short lived there.

This snippet appeared in the Courier and Argus on Monday, January 3, 1910
“"I'll see the New Year in and then I'll go to bed” said Mr CS Strelley a Hull man to his landlady. He died a few hours later apparently from heart disease. “  There is another rumour that some one of the Strelleys committed suicide but it is unlikely that a suicide would be reported in such a way. Until I found this newspaper piece I had concluded that given the circumstances perhaps it was Clayton. Even the brewery story lent itself to a “perhaps he drank himself the death” scenario

Isabella and her son are found living in Bradford Yorkshire with her brother , a medical practitioner, one year later in the in the 1911 census. The servant is a girl from a town nearby Hull so has probably come along with Isabella and perhaps had worked for the little family prior to Clayton’s death...  Isabella then moved to North Berwick and died in 1919 in Edinburgh of endocarditis with her sister attending.
Isabella Strelley and Colin in 1911 census

Clayton and Isabella’s son Richard Colin Strelley had been attending school in Edinburgh when his mother died. He entered the Scottish Police Force and was posted to Bombay when he was 20 about 1925.  He returned to Scotland and was to have returned as his passage was booked on 31/10/1936 but was cancelled. He possibly returned on another passage. Again the family rumour mill had it that he had died overseas in some outpost. In fact he died in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary aged 80 on 21 May 1987. . His death certificate shows he was single and the death was reported by a staff member of the nursing home where he was living. His occupation was reported as Retired Captain Indian Police.  

From the Edinburgh Gazette published 8/11/1991 we find his name listed under Estates fallen to the Crown Queen's and Lord Treasurers Rememberancer's Office Crown Office Regent Rd Edinburgh. It appears that any estate he left was sold up and forfeited to the Crown as no-one had come forward to claim it within 10 years. The Strelley legacy – lost again.

Between us we have come up with all sorts of possibilities about the final demise of the Strelleys of Oakerthorpe. Was Clayton able to secrete property away in other’s names- did Isabella benefit in any way and therefore was Richard Colin’s legacy lost to remaining traceable relatives still living in Derbyshire?
I visited Hollybank House which is now a nursing home in 2014. As you go through Oakerthorpe towards Belper it is a big house, there on your left, next to the Anchor Inn. I feel a sense of admiration at the land which had been in the Strelley family for many years  consisting of farming and colliery rights. I saw the workers cottages and a few remaining “Strelley” Bricks from when they ran a brickworks.

The conspiracy theories make me chuckle...
Some family members have never gotten over the loss of the Strelley money.Richard Charles' wife Gertrude gets a drubbing for being a spendthrift and her attempts at squandering the family fortune. The sale of Hollybank doesn’t sit well either. How could Clayton have lost so much in such a short time?

In her article Curses, Cannons and Robin Hood's Bowl in Bygone Oakerthorpe! Jill Sparrow speculates that

“the Strelleys may not have vacated it entirely. Sidney Strelley, one of the last remaining Derbyshire Strelleys, tells of a bedroom whose atmosphere was so hostile that no one would sleep there. In recent years, I have heard that the owner's flat on an upper storey is reputedly haunted. Objects have been moved without explanation, bedclothes pulled off and temperatures plummeted on occasion. Perhaps the Strelleys of long ago are still protesting at the trespassers of the 21st Century or maybe they continue to search for treasures they concealed in 1908.”

 “the Strelleys may not have vacated it entirely".

Strelley's Oakerthorpe home Holly Bank House now a Nursing home
(picture courtesy Greg Strelley) 

Since the deaths of Sid in 2007 and my father Alf Kerr, another Strelley relative in 2008 there have been many revelations about the Strelleys. I’m sure they are both "upstairs" spitting chips about the losses and sending clues to solve mysteries and reveal lost documents.

I have been told stories by Strelley relatives about paintings rolled up and deposited down cellars and wells and of valuable items which were secreted around the local district to avoid the bailiffs when Clayton met his downfall.

I wonder if anyone has seen or dug out any of the items rumoured to have been secreted around the nearby cottages. 

It seems in the last century the Strelleys have been losing inheritances every which way and just maybe they're not happy!

Holly Bank House by night

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