Updated 26 May 2004

WIRKSWORTH Parish Records 1600-1900

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The Great Matlock Will Case

Here are details of a Court case from around 1858 that Frank Dunn found among his mother's papers. If anyone knows any more details, please contact Frank Dunn. Read The Times report 1864. Thanks to Rob Burns for the transcription.

From: "Lorraine Marshall" {lorrainemarshall@deltic15.freeserve.co.uk}
To: {DERBYSGEN-L@rootsweb.com}
Sent: Saturday, January 25, 2003 9:52 PM
Subject: [DBY] The Great Matlock Will Case

Does anyone know anything about The Great Matlock Will Case? (is Michael
Spencer an expert on wills?). I have an ancestor Luke WILSON, whose 1853
will was, I think used as evidence in this case but don't really know
anything else.

Can anyone help?


From:  Frank Dunn {Frank.Dunn2@btopenworld.com}
Subject:  Re: [DBY] The Great Matlock Will Case 
Date:  Sun, 26 Jan 2003 21:16:17 -0000 
To:  {DERBYSGEN-L@rootsweb.com}  

Hi Lorraine,
You just rung a bell, so I looked up my mothers old papers, (she has been
dead over 20 years) and I found an old newspaper article, unfortunately no
date or name of paper. On this she had written "George Nuttall was great
aunt Hannah Nuttall's husbands uncle" Hannah Nuttall was Hannah Mountney
before marriage and I have full family history for her. I transcribe below-
Frank from Pembrokeshire


The Matlock Will Case

by Roy Christian Just a century ago the Matlock Will Case was in full flight, bouncing in and out of court like a tennis ball in a series of long rallies and frequently hitting the headlines in the national and local press. Over a period of nearly six years, ending in March 1864, it was heard twice in the Chancery Court, twice in the Derbyshire Assizes and once each in the House of Lords and the Queen's Bench and when it was all over there was still a doubt whether justice had been done. The case concerned the will of a Matlock surveyor named George Nuttall (or Nuthall according to some accounts), who died in 1856 leaving a pleasant nest-egg of about 10,000 and some property worth around 1,200 a year. He was a bachelor living, as the "Annual Register " for 1860 put it "on terms of more than cousinhood" with a female cousin. His will, found in a locked cupboard after a frantic search, left the bulk of his fortune to this woman and their illegitimate children and the residue to various other relatives. It was a perfectly straightforward document containing no surprises. The only odd thing was that a duplicate copy, which should have been with the original could not be found. The duplicate turned up on the day of the funeral. It was in the same cupboard, but had rather mysteriously been overlooked. It was in an envelope marked in Nuttall's writing, "This is my right will". But the snag was that it was not an exact copy of the original, various amendments having been made between the lines. One of these additions left property to a young man named Else, a clerk in Nuttall's office, who had married the younger sister of Nuttall's mistress. Before her marriage, Mrs. Else had worked as a housemaid in this slightly unconventional Nuttall household. The second will was not accepted as legal and the matter would have closed there but for the embarrassing epedemic of codicils. For there followed a period when fresh codecils kept shooting up from nowhere with all the persistence of weeds in a wet summer. The first one appeared after Nuttall's papers had been transferred to Else's house. One of the legatees died and the family solicitor, a man named Newbold asked Else to look for a particular document. In his search he turned up a sealed envelope containing apparently in Nuttall's handwriting a codecil to the previous wills. This revoked certain legacies and gave Else a much fatter slice of the original cake. Newbold, left out of the earlier documents, was now rewarded with an annuity of 50, while his son received some property. Both Else and Newbold must by now have developed a keen eye for odd scraps of paper, but their next find was attributed to sheer good luck. They searched together for some highway accounts, thought to be in Newbold's possession. When they found them, in a cheap exercise book, they also discovered a piece of paper pinned inside the book. It was - and they can hardly have been surprised by now - another codecil, leaving a great deal more to Else. The third and last codecil turned up in October 1857 after Else had moved into Nuttall's former home. Else apparently anxious to demonstrate that where there was a will there was a way and possibly by now convinced that where there was a way there was often a will, was helping a boy to open a window in a room he was using as a study. Putting too much force into his efforts, he pulled the window seat away from the wall, revealing an opening in which was a stone pickle jar. Wrapped round the outside of the jar was a bag of sovereigns and a paper marked "third codecil". This codecil, properly witnessed as the others had been, gave Else the residue of the estate after various sums had been paid out. By this time the original legatees had become restive and indeed suspicious. They went to Law. The Court of Chancery heard the case and decided it belonged more properly to the Courts of Common Law. So the Matlock Will Case ws heard at Derby at the Summer Assizes in 1859, where the jury, satisfied apparently of Else's excellent character - he was a local churchwarden - and of that of the various witnesses to the codecils - who included a doctor and a quarry owner - found that the codecils were genuine. But the Master of the Rolls was not convinced and ordered a new trial At Derby the Spring Assize jury in 1860 decided that the codecils were forgeries. There was an appeal against this decision, but as the Lords Justices failed to agree, the case moved on to the House of Lords, the Court of Chancery having had another look at it somewhere along the line and hurriedly passed it on. The Lords ordered that the Lord Chief Justice should hear a new trial in London. This last hearing occupied a week or so in February-March 1864. it must have worried the Lord Chief Justice considerably as several important witnesses had died during the previous six years, including Newbold and the doctor who had been a witness to two of the codecils. Nor was his task made easier by the unhelpful attitude of some of the witnesses. The two labourers who had witnessed one of the codecils must have gone close to contempt of court on occasions. The case hinged mainly on the question of spelling. Nuttall. it was said "was a sensible and intelligent man and took the Times", but the codecils contained 150 spelling errors. The word "daughters" was spelled wrongly in each case. But Else when asked to spell it in court, got it right and it was pointed out that Nuttall's original will, which was not in dispute, contained spelling mistakes that were quite out of character. The Lord Chief Justice (Cockburn) summed up for seven hours. The jury were much quicker. They took only half an hour to decide that the codecils were forged. Looking back of the case from a hundred years range, one must agree that the jury were probably right, yet it is only fair to say that legal opinion at the time and for many years after was far from unanimous. The forgeries were extremely skilful, although Else acknowledged quite openly in court - and it is perhaps a point in his favour - that he could do a good imitation of Nuttall's writing. But if the codecils were not forged, one can only feel that Nuttall was an extraordinary changeable character and that Else would have been a formidable opponent at "hunt the slipper" ======================================== Frank Dunn writes again Hello again John. You may remember posting me some 1891 census fiches some time ago. These have been most useful with my relatives from Elton area etc. I looked up your web entry for the Matlock Will case and it would appear to be all in order and up to your usual good standard. As far as I am concerned, you are most welcome to put this on the site but I have not checked for copyright from the author or newspaper concerned with the original article. I have, however looked up the 1881 census for the name Else and found the following- FHLfilm1341825 PRO ref RG11 Piece 3450 Folio 114 Page 31 Matlock Bank, Matlock Derby John Else Head, Auctioneer & Estate Agent M. Age 61 born Dethick Eliza Else Wife M. age 62 born Darley Derby Alfred C Else Son.Auctioneer & Estate Agent U age 32 born Matlock Hephzabeth L Else Daur. U age 34 born Matlock George N. Else Son. Auctioneers Clerk U age 22 born Matlock Harold C Newbold Grandson age 12 born Matlock Adeline M.E. Newbold Grand dau. age 11 born Matlock Eliza A. Wilmot Servant U age 22 born Darley There is also an entry which may, or may not, be for the housekeeper. If it is, she certainly moved well away for the births of her children- FHL Film 1341825 PRO REF RG11 Piece 3450 Folio 61 Page 18 Matlock Bridge Matlock Derbys. Anne Nuttall Head, Annuitant W age 62 born Scotland Anne B. Nuttall Daur. Income from Intrust on money U 29 born Edmonton Middlesex William Nuttall Son Income from Intrust on money U 28 born Lambeth Surrey Margaretha Pree Serv U 14 born Germany Frank from Pembrokeshire

From the Times Friday May 20th 1864 Page 11 Issue 24877 col C.

The Great Matlock Will Case.

When the special jury delivered their verdict in court of Queen's bench in favour of Mr. NUTTALL's will, and against the disputed codicils, most people said, "Well, the great Matlock Will case is settled at last." Therein they were wrong. The wonderful romance was then incomplete, and another chapter, equalling in vivid interest any of its predecessors, had yet to be added to the long, but well sustained history. The excitement which was originated by the first, reborn at the second, trial at Derby, and culminated at the searching trial before Lord Chief Justice Cockburn, has been lulling for a time, but only to rise up with greater force that ever at a time when the history of Mr. Nuttall's testamentary intentions was thought to be perfect. A new aspect has been laid open, and probably the prolonged litigation will again be reopened. It cannot have been forgotten that for some years past Mr. John ELSE has resided in the house in which Mr. Nuttall died. He has done so under the rights conferred upon him by the disputed codicils, but subsequent to the termination of the last trial he resolved to leave the house. On Friday his furniture was sold by auction by Mr. George MARSDEN, auctioneer, Wirksworth. The bed upon which Mr. Nuttall "left his life for another" was supported by a Tudor Bedstead, and this was purchased at the sale by Mr. CROFTS, a cabinet-maker at Matlock Bank, and brother in law to Mr Else. From the top rail at the head of the bedstead to the cross rail which which runs at the bottom of the " head board" was, as is usual, strained a sheet of linen or other texture, and after the purchase Mr. Crofts and his boy were engaged in taking off this sheet by pulling out the tacks binding it to the cross rail. While this was being done a packet of papers fell out. They were handed almost immediately to Mr. Stone, solicitor, who was attending the sale, and he found that the packet contained two separate documents. The first was a draught of a will not signed, but evidently intended to be a series of instructions to a professional man, upon which a will should be drawn up. This draught among other bequests, gives the Bonsall and Ashover estates to John NUTTALL; the Matlock and Sniterton estates to John Else, and several legacies to different persons in the parish and neighbourhood. Under the will declared valid by the court of the Queen's Bench, the Sniterton estate, for which Mr Nuttall paid somewhere about 16,000l, was conveyed to Elizabeth SHELDON, and in this draught this is as we have said, transferred to ELSE. The draught was to be laid before Mr. Green (Mr. Newbold's clerk), and his name is frequently mentioned in it. The second piece of paper bore many memoranda all relating to the disposal of the testator's property, and the codicils found at Mr Newbold's office, at Else's house, and in the Jar placed in the wall. The memoranda are very curious. In one spot the finder is directed to go into No. 2 cellar, and look in a spot particularized with the utmost minuteness. Each Memorandum is dated, and one complains of Mr. CHINERY, the testator's surgeon, and of Catherine Marsden, who are accused of having kept him from his friends, more especially Mr. GREEN and Mr. Job KNOWLES, and another says that, as he cannot get his friends to witness his last will, he calls upon god to witness it for him. and he adds in pencil. " May God forgive my former sins, and take my soul to heaven." In another sentence the memorandum directs the finder go to his toolhouse (the room where the jar was found), and adds that the third codicil will be found, and two others in a cupboard. The codicils found by Else and at Mr. Newbolds offices were supposed to have been among papers take out of the deceased's cupboard. The toolhouse is behind the room where Mr. Nuttall died, and upon his deathbed he frequently said, " Look behind, Look behind, John." These words were at first supposed to refer to the toolhouse, but they are now believed to refer to the two documents so strangely discovered last Friday, in a place where it was quite easy for a person lying in bed to put them without assistance. In the memorandum there is mention made of "the reserve," and in the deceased's books it is beyond dispute, we believe, that he wrote frequently of his "rust reserve," which, it is now thought, alluded to the papers and money found on Friday. In another memorandum Mr. Green is requested to give Elizabeth SHELDON a " lump sum - say 500l. and have done with her;" and the writer adds " Burn all the other documents and don't let the world know what a fool I have been." Mr Crofts upon discovering these documents at once communicated with Mr. Stone, who was in the house, and when they had read the memoranda they at once proceeded to "No.2 cellar" where at the very spot named by the writer they took out bricks, and found built into the wall an old rusty saucepan without handle and covered in a network of cobwebs. The saucepan was examined, and it contained several spade ace guineas, gold and silver foreign coins, and old English coins amounting to about 10l. The accumulated dirt was examined and among it were particles of sealing wax. On Saturday another search was made in the cellar, and another spade ace guinea and a half-guinea, similar to those in the saucepan, were found on the floor. Else was not in the house when the discovery was made but Mr. Stone was assisted by Mr Marriott. It is almost needless to say that the discovery as excited great speculation in the neighbourhood, and all kinds of exaggerated rumours are current. On Saturday Mr. Stone went to London with the documents, but no steps can be taken to re-open the case till other parties have been consulted. Mr. Parkin, one of Mr. Cresswell's executors, is in France, and Mr. Washington, a barrister, to whom mainly Mr. Cresswell left the management of the suit he did not live to see closed, as also to be communicated with. In the meantime the house and cellar have been locked up. We may add that the documents are written in a style closely resembling the running hand so often referred to in the protracted trials as Mr. Nuttall's ordinary writing.

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