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It's not clear, just when William Perrin Talk actually came to live in Walsall. He was born in Middlesex, on the west side of London, in 1824, and had an older brother, James Talk. Neither of them seems to have married, and some time in his early life, he aquired a skill in the Leather Trade. This involved the embossing of Coat's of Arms, and other decorations, into both Horse Harness, and Carriage Handles. His proper title would have been a " Herald Chaser ". By all accounts he was a fine craftsman and a good and honest tradesman, being listed in a Directory of 1865, in Dale Street, Palfry, Walsall. Some time later he moved to Lord Street, but in the early 1880s, he purchased the site in Dale Street, and built himself a most peculiar dwelling house.
The House, which would later feature in an inquest into his death in 1884, was constructed in a strange manner. For a start, it was round, built partly from bricks and timber, and banked up with earth. The roof was made with Tin sheets, and covered in a thick layer of pitch. There were no windows, but the very stoutly built door had a grill, through which Perrin Talk, as he was known, communcated with the few whom he classed as friends.It was viewed at the time, as resembling a giant beehive. It was rumoured, that he had suffered a broken heart over some woman, who had rejected his attempts at courtship, hence his cutting himself off from society in general. Perrin Talk lived like this for many years, only being disturbed at times by small children who threw rocks and stones at his strange dwelling. ( He was reported, at one stage, to have fired a gun at his tormentors through the grill in his door ) The ' house ' had been constructed prior to the Public Health Act, and so the local Board, who knew all about Mr Talk, could take no action over his rather squalid living conditions.
In mid 1884, the Police paid a call on Perrin Talk, not that he done anything wrong, but it had been reported to them that he was unwell and refusing medical assistance. His friends, few as they were, had been alarmed at this. Arriving in the morning, they could get no answer from their hammering on his door, so they called on Mr Miller, who was the relieving Officer for the Council. He paid a visit that morning as well, and although being assured by Mr Talk that he was alright, tried to force an entry, but failed. Now Mr Miller was a compasionate man, and so went back to the Board of Health, where he obtained permission to properly force entry, and later that afternoon, accompanied by the Police, proceeded to do just that. Getting no response this time, they had to use several crowbars and heavy hammers to breakdown the door. As I said, it was a very stout and thick door. They were too late, for William Perrin Talk had breathed his last, although not so long before, as his body was still warm. The extent of how bad his living conditions were, came out at the inquest.
William Perrins Talk was found in a tiny gap between rows of shelves, a space of about 4 feet long, and 2 feet wide. The rest of the hovel, for it couldn't possible be mistaken for a house, was crammed with rubbish of all sorts. The only food in the place, was a quantity of flour and some bread. He hadn't starved to death, for the Doctor said the body was fairly well nourished, his bad chest and heart condition had been the only factors in his death. The Coroner was astounded, that a human being could live in such filthy conditions, in what he refused to believe what was discribed as a " shed ", likening it more to a well. The Police, in clearing the place out, removed from it more than 4 tons of metal dies, the tools of Perrin Talk's trade, and many large cans of other goods. The dies alone had a value of over £200, and the only other items of value were coin's totaling £1.15s and 2 pence. There was no blame attached to the Health Board, for under the circumstances, they had done their best to help Mr Talk, he had steadfastly, and repeatedly refused any. And so ends the rather sorry tale of " The Palfry Hermit ", a man who undoubtedly had a few mental problems, but a man who also, was possessed of a great skill.
While researching this story, I came across another little tale of a " Walsall Hermit ", but it has a strange likeness to tales of today. Charles Lawrence would best be disribed as a " Hoarder " rather than a hermit, for in 1899, the Board of health took him to court, for failing to keep his house and grounds in good order. The property was full of rubbish, infested with Rats and Mice, and stank to high heaven. Charles Lawrence was fined 20 shillings, and the Magistrates granted the Corporation of Walsall an order, that would allow them to enter the premises for regular inspections. Like the case above, Mr Lawrence owned the property, but with the Public heath Act now firmly in place, he couldn't do anything about it.
A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day. ( See my Blog entry )
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