Resilient gentry

William Francis Minton Beddoes (1858-1928) – whose real estate passed to his nephew, Zanny Minton Beddoes’s grandfather – was listed in the Domesday Book of 1873 as the owner of 769 acres of land yielding a gross rental income of £925 per annum. It was a modest holding, and the rent – 24 shillings per acre – was less than the 28-shilling average for estates in the 100-1000 acre range. However, £900/year would make a respectable, upper middle class family income close to the salary of a senior City executive or a successful London lawyer.

To use a literary reference: Some 13-14 years after the New Domesday Book, Dr. Watson’s military pension was 11 shillings and sixpence per day, or £209/year – enough to support a bachelor’s frugal yet genteel lifestyle but not to rent an acceptable flat in London, much less to marry. The Man with the Twisted Lip only earned £2 per week as a reporter – roughly £100/year – but his talents as a mendicant would bring him at least £2 per day, or £730/year. That was a comfortable income so he “took a house in the country, and eventually married,” his wife believing he had “business in the City.”

In 1873, W. F. Beddoes was a half-orphan of 14 or 15, which must be why his entry reads “Beddoes, Wm. Minton, Reps. of.” But he wasn’t the only child – he had a sister and two brothers, who were still children and had to be provided for. Unless their late father had arranged otherwise, this money would have to come from the rental income – either directly or as interest on debt taken out earlier to secure an allowance for the non-inheriting children. In addition, agricultural rents began to decline around 1880 and kept going down until WWI.

It’s no surprise that W. F. chose a legal career in London, supplementing his land rent with income from his practice. He wrote A Concise Treatise on the Law of Mortgage, which was popular enough to withstand at least two editions. W. F.’s brothers took up respectable professions suitable for younger sons of their class: Thomas Pugh became a surgeon and Henry Roscoe joined the army. The latter, unless I’m seriously mistaken, was Zanny Minton Beddoes’s great-grandfather.

Having survived the Great War, Lt. Col. Henry Roscoe (Minton) Beddoes was among the 450 people who drowned when the French SS Chaouia struck a mine in the Gulf of Messina in January 1919. His son Edward William, orphaned at 11, would become the owner of the Beddoes’s Minton and Cheney Longville properties, as well as property on the Welsh side of the border, inherited from a relative of his paternal grandmother’s (née Pugh).

Going back to William Francis, his address in the New Domesday Book is given as Shrewsbury rather than Cheney Longville or Minton: in the fall of 1873, he entered Shrewsbury School, one of the seven original public schools in England. Thomas Pugh enrolled a year and a half later. Eighty years after W. F., Stewart William – Zanny’s father – also became a student there. A remarkable family in more ways than one, retaining its membership in the elite’s second or third tier for so many generations.

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