Today’s blog concerns a tale of deceit in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Essex.
Henry Cranmer of Quendon Hall in Essex educated and raised Captain Joseph Cranmer Gordon Esq as his own son, and perhaps he really was so. Gordon continued to receive financial support even as an adult, with frequent remittances of money. Suddenly, however, they ceased.
Upon investigation, Joseph Cranmer Gordon discovered that his benefactor was ‘in a lunatic state’ and controlled entirely by a man named James Winton and a Mrs Margaret Greygoose who had cut off Mr Gordon’s allowance. A commission of lunacy was taken out and Mr Gordon was appointed in control of Henry Cranmer’s estate, much to the annoyance of James Winton.
James Winton appeared before the commissioners in a menacing fashion, in full regimental uniform with ‘an immense and massy iron truncheon by his side, and a brace of double-barrelled pistols thrust under his girdle’. He was there to prove the sanity of old Henry Cranmer, but instead James Winton’s own sanity was doubted. A verdict of lunacy against Henry Cranmer was proved, as was the threatening behaviour of James Winton – he was shortly afterwards sent to Chelmsford gaol for antagonising one of Cranmer’s tenants.
Both James Winton and Joseph Cranmer Gordon had served in the Essex Militia; Winton wrote an ‘insolent letter’ to Gordon, mentioning that the pair had met once at a mess dinner and pointedly saying that ‘he had served the King for ten years, had been in battles where he had seen the brave nobly die’ and that he wished to meet Gordon upon his return into Essex. Winton was seen to strut around wearing a brace of pistols, with the intention of provoking his rival into a duel.
Mrs Greygoose had been born Margaret Lacey, the granddaughter of Henry Cranmer’s nurse. Her mother was also named Margaret Lacey and she lived at Quendon Hall, as Cranmer’s housekeeper and his mistress. Brought up almost as one of the family by the gullible Henry Cranmer, in 1787 she married the footman, one James Greygoose – it would appear that Henry Cranmer was oblivious to the fact that his footman had married Margaret Lacey for, in a deed written in 1789 in which he gave her five properties, he described her as ‘Margaret Lacey, spinster, now resident at Quendon Hall’ (her mother had married a man named Gregg and moved out, so it could not be that lady who was referred to). The deed gave the properties to Margaret Lacey in case she survived Cranmer, with a power of revocation during his lifetime. Before long, around 1792 or 1793, Margaret abandoned her husband. Eloping from Quendon Hall to live with James Winton as his wife.[i] A Mr Street was intimate with the household at Quendon Hall at this time and questioned Henry Cranmer about Margaret; Cranmer was anxious for her to return.
Mr Street asked him [Henry Cranmer], as she was a pretty woman, whether he was induced to do this as a reward for kind services: to which he replied, No, – he had never but once attempted to kiss her, and then she had boxed his ears, but he would have married her if she had conducted herself properly.
James Greygoose was buried at Quendon on the 3rd November 1805 (he continued as a servant to Henry Cranmer) and on the 9th June 1806, at St James’ in Clerkenwell, Margaret Greygoose married James Winton. It was this union and, it appears, James Winton’s influence which led to them treating Henry Cranmer as something of a ‘golden goose’. The Commission into his lunacy took place towards the end of July, just weeks after their wedding.
Margaret was, however, well-matched to James Winton. After the Commission had decided Henry Cranmer was a lunatic she took him [Cranmer] out for a ride and contrived to lure him into a waiting chaise and spirit him away, retaining her hold over him. The Lord Chancellor was applied to, and Henry Cranmer and Mrs Winton were eventually traced to a house in Camden. After some resistance, he was eventually taken back to Quendon Hall and Captain Gordon.
Henry Cranmer died in 1810 and, without access to Cranmer’s wealth, by November 1812 James Winton ‘formerly of Somer’s-town, in the county of Middlesex, and late of Quendon, in the county of Essex, gentleman’ found himself a debtor in the King’s Bench Prison.
NB: Joseph Cranmer Gordon is referred to as John Cranmer Gordon in some of the newspaper reports.
Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal, 3rd August 1798
Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal, 20th September 1803
Morning Advertiser, 1st August 1806
Morning Post, 1st August 1806
Bury and Norwich Post, 6th August 1806
Morning Chronicle, 6th August 1806
Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 15th November 1806
Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 13th August 1811
Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal, 16th August 1811
[i] Margaret Lacey and James Greygoose married at St Leonard’s in Shoreditch on the 26th July 1787.
A Trust Maid by George H. Hay, Hospitalfield Arts