William Batchelor - The Ewell Miser

The Miser By Arthur Rackham
The Miser By Arthur Rackham

In December 1901 the neighbours of 82 year old William Batchelor became concerned that they had not seen him for a few days and broke into his home to find him semi conscious, lying on the floor. He was "deplorably dirty and very weak, and the house was in a wretched condition" so was taken to the Epsom Union Workhouse Infirmary where he died "practically of starvation".

The Miser's House
The Miser's House
Image source The Tatler

The Workhouse Guardians needed to see if William could afford to pay for his own funeral so his house was searched. This was not a pleasant task as the house was very dirty, run down with rotten timbers and surrounded by a wilderness of rank vegetation. However the search revealed a number of caches of coins including 2000 sovereigns, 12 in silver, together with a 1 note dated 1819 and a 10 note dated 1852. In addition to this money the searchers found silver plate and gold and silver coins, some dating back to Elizabeth I, Anne and Charles II, together with several watches hidden in all sorts of long untouched nooks and crannies. William also had some gilt edged securities and his total worth at the time of his death was estimated to be between 12,000 and 14,000. The contents of the estate were sold at auction in Epsom and attracted dealers from London. There were over two hundred lots which also included valuable furniture, books and old china. Excellent prices were realised. For Probate purposes the records show that William's estate was initially declared to be worth 4363 16s 8d (4363.83) but it was subsequently declared to be worth 5277 18s 6d (5275.93) (equivalent to about 600,000 at 2016 values).

Probate Register
An extract from the Probate Register

When William was younger he was a hale and hearty carpenter and known locally as "Gougy" and in a good way of business. William had been born and lived in Ewell all his life. He had built and owned 16 of the wooden clad houses in the area and lived with his unmarried sister till she died (this was probably Sarah Batchelor who was buried in St Mary's Ewell on 13 Feb 1893 aged 77).

William left no will and news of the "Ewell Miser" was well reported so there were many claims from all over the UK, to the money William left, but it was his cousin (once removed) Edwin Burgess who inherited it.

Edwin thinks that William was twice unlucky in love with Edwin's mother being his first sweetheart. Although she married another man leaving William bitterly disappointed, she kept on friendly terms with him, even taking her son Edwin down to Ewell on visits to him. William's second love was a local Ewell woman but she too decided to marry another man. Being twice disappointed seems to have dramatically changed William into the miserable old man he became.

Towards the end of his life some of the houses he had build and let out had become very neglected, and were windowless. Others he would not let and the rest he pulled down, refusing to sell the salvageable materials. He had even boarded up his own windows. He was rarely seen in the village and when he was he walked about in dirty rags and wore no boots giving the appearance of a miserably poor and eccentric recluse. Hardly surprisingly this dirty, grumpy old man was not well liked.

Another view of the Miser's House
Another view of the Miser's House
Image source an undated, untitled newpaper cutting.

There were many tales of Gougy including one when a booking clerk taking pity on his miserable appearance gave him his penny ticket to Epsom adding a generous two pence. William took the ticket and money. The booking clerk was later subjected to the merriment of his colleagues but was later able to extract his revenge. The old man wanted a cheap 8d (3p) workman's ticket to London but was told he was no workman and was charged the full fare of 2s 2d (11p). Having to pay the full fare nearly broke the miser's heart. William would occasionally travel to London to collect his dividends on his investments and even had a solicitor but repeatedly refused to leave a will.

Edwin thinks that William was not the typical miser, gloating over his money, but someone who stashed away his money and documents and then forgot about them. This may have been a family trait as Edwin's mother also put money way for a particular purpose and then forgot its existence.

Peter Reed 2017
Assisted by Margaret Jones.

Main Sources:
  • The Surrey Mirror and County Post 27 Dec 1901
  • The Derby Advertiser 07 Jan 1902
  • The Surrey Mirror and County Post 10 Jan 1902
  • The Tatler 15 Jan 1902
  • The Derry Journal 03 Feb 1902
  • The Daily News 19 April 1902

An aside

Edwin Burgess, who inherited the misers hoard, was a patent medicine proprietor who sold Burgess' Lion Ointment.

An advert for Burgess' Lion Ointment
An advert for Burgess' Lion Ointment
Image source Grace's Guide.

This product was first sold in 1847 by the partnership of a doctor and an Edwin Burgess, a former South London jeweller. They claimed that it would cure "all diseases of the skin (including) tumours, fistulas, shingles and venereal sores " and that the use of the product would save the need for amputation of limbs. After a few years the doctor left the partnership and the business was developed by Edwin into a thriving concern selling the ointment, and a new line in Lion Brand pills, to 70 countries!

Burgess Business Premises
Burgess Business Premises
Image source British Library.

His son (our Edwin) took over the business when the father died of "softening of the brain". The family business made and sold its products from premises in Grays Inn Road from the 1870s to 1954. It continued to be controlled by members of the family till 1975 when it was taken over by Leo Laboratories. Burgess' Lion Brand Ointment is still on sale today but using a different recipe to the original which included a form of lead. (Interestingly the use of lead was discontinued when lead was needed for wartime munitions, it was replaced by a zinc product).

The lid of a wooden Lion ointment box
The lid of a wooden Lion ointment box
Image source not know, date not known.