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The family name of Fletcher, has long been established in Walsall, well educated, and well respected. Well at least until 1862 it was. Enter Horatio Samuel Fletcher, born in 1807, and there's no need to explain why he got the name Horatio is there. His parents ensured that he got a good education, and he first began work as a clerk in a Merchants office. His marriage was bit hurried, as his eldest son was born in 1827, just a few months ahead of tying the knot. Despite this rather headlong rush into wedded bliss, his education came to the rescue, and he obtained a post in Bilston. In Walsall Street, stood a rather imposing house, it was in fact, the Parsonage of Saint Leonards Church, and Horatio was comfortably living in it in the late1830s. He had managed to become the Parish Clerk, and from the sound of it, was enjoying the prestige that came with being an important figure in the Town. By 1846, he had so impressed the Bishop Of Lichfield, that he was licenced as the Church's Curate, looking after the welfare, if not the spiritual needs, of the vast and varied flock. To be fair, not an easy job in Bilston, where the larger part of the flock, was apt to wander more in the direction of the nearest beerhouse than the Church. The new " Perpetual Curate of Bilston ", did what he could of course, even agreeing to becoming a Trustee of The Bilston Savings Bank. By the 1850s, Horatio had moved into a grander house in Lichfield Street, one more suited to his growing family needs, and room enough to employ two servants as well. They ate well, lived well, and his children recieved the best education money could buy. All this on a stipend of just £200 per annum, the Curate must have been a very thrifty man with the money, spending it very wisely, or he had an another income, that the Bishop was totally unaware of. Just what this other income was, and where it came from, shocked the entire Town in 1862, and finished up in the Assizies at Stafford.
It was possible the move back to the Parsonage in Walsall Street that did it, Horatio being a bit upset, began to rather annoy members of his flock, but more importantly, fellow Trustee's of the Bank. Several began to wonder at how the Curate managed to live so well, given his by now many complaints about the state of the accomodation he now found himself back in. He was demanding better treatment than the Vicar, and it would seem the whole thing had given Horatio a rather high opinion of himself. Complaints were now directed to the Bishop, who had no option but to begin an investigation into the matter, perticulary as there did not seem to have been any permission given, as to Horatio's position as a Bank Trustee. For Horatio Samuel Fletcher, things could only get worse, and in January 1862, they certainly did, the other Trustee's called in the Auditors. The Bank records clearly showed asset's of just over £28,000, in todays money, almost £800,000. Needless to say, a sum of the depositors hard earned crusts were found to missing, £8,840 to be precise, a veritable fortune to the poor folk of Bilston, and a tidy sum, even today. The poor soul had no choice, but to offer to repay the amount, in an atempt to avoid a Court case and the resulting scandal. He failed, and on much to the delight of the Trustee's, found himself at Stafford Assizies on 10th March, pleading not guilty to the theft, and the appalling breach of trust placed in him. His money, or rather the towns money, had purchased the servives of a London firm of Solicitors, who raised several question of Law. The main one being, that he had never officially been appointed as a Trustee, he had simply been allowed to take on the role, and therefore, had breached no trust. Further more, the money had been taken/diappeared over many years, and as the other trustee's had never bothered with any checks, they were as culpable for the loss as the curate. In his own recognisance of several hundred ponds, he was discharged by the Court, after agreeing to repay the amount missing. He never did.
The Bishop revoked his licence as the Curate, and despite pleas from some of Horatio's friends, was ordered to leave the Parsonage. Before this could be accomplished however, another scandal hit the Town. This time, it was the Curate's eldest son, Horatio Lester Fletcher. 34 years old, and like his father, working as a merchants clerk, he had, during the upheaval of the senior Fletcher, been a bit short of the readies. Unwisely, he forged a bill of exchange, for £74. 8s, and was promptly found out. This may not have been the first time he had done this, but as this was such a clear case of outright forgery, off to Court he went. This time, on the 21st July, 1862, he was not so lucky as the old man. Despite the same firm of Solicitors on the case, he was found guilty, and sentenced to 3 years imprisonment. He was very fortunate in not being transported, as forgery was classed as a crime almost as bad as murder. Horatio Samuel Fletcher hurriedly left the district, and headed off to a rather well appointed house in London, 8, Upper Baker Street, Marylebone, owned by his wife, and paid for by......................... .
This was not the end of this sorry tale. It was the custom in Bilston, for the parishoners to elect the Curate/Vicar, just like in a general election. In 1868, an Act had been passed that allowed all former Curate's to call themselves Vicar's, despite having never been ordained, or recieved religious instruction. It so happened, that in 1870, the post at Bilston was vacant, and in a monumental display of crassness, Horatio Samuel Fletcher applied for the post as a Vicar. The Town was in uproar when the news broke, but with the arrogance of the insane, Horatio instructed his friends to campaign on his behalf in the election. His banners proclaimed him as The " Reverend " Horatio Fletcher, but all to no avail, he came in a very poor last. So, his final bolt shot, the " Reverend " gentleman was forced to sit out the rest of life in his comforatble home in London, finally passing away on 30th April,1871. As a last pssing shot at the poor folk of Bilston, who had only recovered just 11 shillings in the pound of their savings, his total personel estate was valued at just £5. The ill gotten gains, which had fueled the families wealthy lifestyle, was well out of reach, of the Bilston Savings Banks Trustee's. Now who was it who said, "crime doesn't pay."
A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day. ( See my Blog entry )
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