Thomas Fudge of Langford Hall


One of the nice consequences that results from the publication of our books on Langford and from having this website on Langford History is that enquiries regularly come in about people who have lived here in the past.  Usually this is from individuals seeking information about their forebears and the homes they occupied. It is often the case that they tell us more about Langford than we are able to tell them about their ancestors.  It is particularly satisfying when the benefit is mutual.

A recent example occurred following an enquiry from Deborah Howells about her great grandfather, Thomas Fudge.  An entry in the National Probate Calendar for 1938 quite clearly refers to him as “of Langford Hall, Langford, Somersetshire”.  Our first thoughts were that this must refer to the Drill Hall in Lower Langford.  But no.  Then we were shown a copy of Sheet 165 of the One-inch, New Popular Edition Ordnance Survey map that was fully revised in the 1930s and published in the 1940s, after WWII.  It clearly marked Langford Hall on the Wrington side of the A38 at Havyatt, where Havyatt Farm and the properties on the other side of Havyatt Road are now[1].

All of this land was sold in the auction of the Wrington Estate in 1895.  Havyatt Farm, on the north-east side of Havyatt Road, together with 200 acres of land, was sold for £7800 to Edward Payson Wills, one of the many sons of Henry Overton Wills II.  Havyatt Lodge, on the other side of the road, which was let to a Mr Gibson, was sold to a Mr Power for £4850.  The main property included 91 acres but the lot also included the “rights of the vendor as lord of the manor”.  This gave rights over a further 1000 acres of land.

Havyatt Farm was more recently bought out of the Wills estate by the Alvis family, whose members still occupy it.  But Havyatt Lodge has had a much more chequered existence and is the subject of several local myths and legends that are sometimes at variance with verifiable facts.  The stories about Thomas Fudge, in particular, do not cast him in a very favourable light.  Not knowing if Deborah would welcome a potential skeleton in her ancestral cupboard, we were initially nervous about feeding back the things we heard.

We’ll start with one of the stories.  Thomas Fudge owned a boot-making factory in Bristol. The story is that the business fell on hard times during the great depression of the 1930s.  Thomas Fudge was said to have set fire to his premises and claimed on the insurance.  This worked so well that he later decided to do the same at Langford Hall.  What he’d forgotten was that he’d hidden much of the factory stock down the well at the Hall.  This was, of course, discovered when the brigade tried to put the fire out and Thomas ended up in prison for fraud.  A nice tale but, sadly, not one that is borne out by the records we’ve been able to uncover.

There are several Bristol families with the name of Fudge and a number of the members are called Thomas, so confusion is easy.  Several of the Fudge families were also involved in shoemaking and it seems likely that there were two contemporaries named Thomas Fudge each described as boot or shoe manufacturers.  The Western Daily Press on October 3rd, 1933 reported the sudden death of Mr Thomas Fudge, boot manufacturer of Holly Hill Road, Kingswood.  This is clearly not Thomas Fudge of Langford Hall and it seems more likely that he was the proprietor of a factory that had been badly damaged by fire 32 years earlier.  The event was recorded in the Bath Chronicle of Aug 15th, 1901.  It reported that the premises of Fudge and Williams in Hanham Road, Kingswood, were destroyed along with their contents and the firm’s books. It expressed surprise that Mr Fudge’s house, which was near to where the fire was most intense, remained undamaged.

Thomas Fudge of Langford Hall was born in about 1860 in Hanham.   Newspaper reports from October and November, 1892, record the bankruptcy of Thomas Fudge, boot manufacturer of Bell Hill, St George.  He was charged with concealing over £100 of stock behind nailed-up boards on the top floor of the factory and of not declaring two sums he had received totalling £130.  He was initially remanded to Horfield prison and then transferred to the house of correction (for more minor offenders) at Lawford’s Gate, just beyond Old Market, Bristol.  He was finally bailed in a total surety of £1000. One of the magistrates dealing with the case was none other than Edward Payson Wills. When Thomas came to trial at Gloucestershire Assizes on November 25th, 1892, he was found guilty and sentenced to 18 months hard labour.  The Western Daily Press of December 12th, 1892, advertised the factory to be sold or let, and its machinery and stock to be auctioned.  Further notices in February announced the auction of Thomas’s household effects.  The consequences of the bankruptcy and conviction must have been very severe for both Thomas and his family.

Thomas seems to have bounced back into business quite quickly.  However, he was soon again in trouble with the law.  At the end of December, 1894 he was fined 2s 6d for striking a 13-year-old boy with a heavy stick.  Apparently the victim and others were in the habit of lighting fires on waste land adjacent to his factory and the magistrate had some sympathy for him but ruled that he had over-reacted.  Thomas was quick to prosecute those he felt had offended against him.  There were several instances of individuals convicted of minor thefts from the boot factory and in November 1897 there is a report of a prosecution he brought against a commission agent for seeking compensation by false pretences.  The case failed.

In the 1901 census, Thomas is recorded living with his wife, Annie, and their four sons, in Holly Lodge Lane, St George’s.  He is described as a boot manufacturer.  The Bristol trade directory of that year refers to his factory in Orchard Road, St. Georges. In the census of 1911, Annie was living in Cardiff with three of her sons but Thomas has not yet been found.  Thomas next appears in April 1928, living in Hollywood, Parry’s Lane, Stoke Bishop, and selling two-story, five-bedroom residences there.  Two years later, another advertisement for “charming residences to purchase or rent” refers to him living in Oakhurst Hall, Parry’s Lane.  Thomas had become a builder and property developer.

At about this time he must have come into possession of the property at Havyatt previously called Havyatt Lodge but then known as Langford Hall.  In another court case, in December, 1930, Thomas Fudge was sued for £34 15s for electrical work carried out at Langford Hall that he considered unsatisfactory.  The plaintiff received judgement for £2 5s of the claim.  By May 1933 he was trying to sell Langford Hall by auction.  It is described as comprising three reception rooms and nine bedrooms, as having electric light and water and included 15 acres of land.  It clearly failed to attract the price he expected and was again up for auction in May 1937.

During this period, Thomas Fudge was once more in court, this time answering a charge of slander.  He had engaged the widow of a former town clerk of Jarrow as housekeeper.  She had been so employed for 17 days when, on Easter Sunday, 1932, she returned from an evening visiting friends to be accused of being drunk and dissolute.  When Thomas told the Court he disapproved of her going to dances, the judge said he was “out of date” and awarded the lady £500 damages.

In the early hours of October 15th, 1936, a serious fire destroyed a cottage adjacent to Langford Hall.  Only the efforts of neighbours and the local fire brigade saved the Hall from damage.  It was less fortunate 18 months later when what was described as a disastrous fire did very severe damage.  Thomas’s properties did seem to be somewhat fire-prone.

Thomas Fudge died in a Clifton nursing home on July 17th, 1938.  He had been living with his son, Herbert, at 64 Parry’s Lane, so it is possible that Langford Hall had been sold the previous year.  When probate was granted, Thomas’s estate was valued at £14,136 8s. 9d. Annie died in 1941.

Our thanks are due to Deborah Howells for alerting us to Langford Hall and for supplying most of the detailed material on the Fudge family.

John Gowar
July 2013

[1] Havyatt is variously spelled with one and two “t”s.  In one instance it appears as “Havyet”.  Here we have used the double “t” version throughout, even though that may be at variance with the source.