|The sons, grandson and great-grandson of David Palethorpe|
The market garden that my family kept in the village of Gedling for over 150 years, always seemed to represent everything I thought I knew about my Palethorpe ancestors.
Independent, hard working but contented Nottingham folk who enjoyed their food! I certainly didn't associate them with scandal.
So, I was most surprised to discover that in 1858 there was a big Nottingham legal case - Palethorpe v Palethorpe - which disputed the very ownership of the garden.
The case, reported at length in the Nottingham and regional papers, arose after Thomas Oldknow Palethorpe left the garden to his son David in his will. The problem was, that in doing so, old Thomas overlooked two elder sons, Tom and John, and four elder daughters.
The siblings were not happy and in 1858, after their mother's death, they disputed the will claiming that old Thomas was not in fit mind when writing it, having had a stroke shortly before. And so Palethorpe v Palethorpe came to court at the Nottingham Assize in front of Mr Justice Wightman and a special jury.
Both parties were represented by the leading Queen's Counsels on the Midlands circuit. But David struck lucky with his barrister, "Sergeant Hayes", who just 10 years later was appointed a judge. Sergeant Hayes combined a moving tribute to the hard life of old Thomas with scathing wit that had various Gedling witnesses tying themselves in knots.
Hayes told how old Thomas had laboured his whole married life on the 4 acres of garden to support his family of 9 children despite the burden of a hefty mortgage of £550 at 4.5 % interest, and the personal tragedy of losing his sight when he was 40:
"This poor old man, when he had gone about midway in his pilgrimage, met with one of the greatest calamities which can afflict a human being - the total deprivation of his sight, and yet he still went on, with his family working in his garden, and kept himself and his children from the workhouse."
Convinced that David must inherit the garden, Old Thomas contacted his solicitor in Nottingham, who sent an articled clerk Mr Rothera, (founder of a Nottingham law firm that survives today), to record his will. Mr Rothera gave evidence that Mary, Thomas's wife, and Caroline, his daughter, tried so hard to convince Thomas to make his will in favour of Caroline that he had to banish them from the room declaring that he "came there to make the old gentleman's will, not their's!"
After Thomas's death, Mary and Caroline complained bitterly about the will and got the local doctor, Dr Davidson, to say that Thomas had been of unfit mind. Two medical witnesses were also called during the case itself who claimed that a stroke would have left Thomas's intellect impaired.
However, David's barrister Sergeant Hayes was able to show that in the two weeks that he lived after making his will, old Thomas asked his brother to visit him and told him what he had done. And then most dramatically produced an affidavit that Dr Davidson had signed for the clerk, Mr Rothera "affirming that the old man at the time he made the will was possessed of what was termed in law a disposing mind".
When confronted with the evidence, Dr Davidson claimed in court that he had not signed the affidavit and then that Mr Rothera had falsely got him to sign a completely different document! Sergeant Hayes had completely demolished Dr Davidson's credibility as a witness and the jury very quickly returned a verdict in David Palethorpe's favour.
After David had taken possession of his inheritance - he had to climb through a window with the help of his friend, the village constable, to enter the house - he maintained the market garden until his death in 1869. David's wife Sarah and son Thomas continued to garden until Sarah's death in 1901.
Unfortunately, despite old Thomas Palethorpe's intentions to "perpetuate his little possession ... in his family", the market garden seems to have left the family on Sarah Palethorpe's death. In her will Sarah left £730, (£70,000 today), to Henry Albert Willoughby, a shopkeeper.
Who he was and what connection he had with Sarah, I don't know, but he wasn't a Palethorpe.
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