Many families have a black sheep, and Cotswold families of the past had their fair share. I found a great letter in the Oxford Journal of 1837 that dealt with the black sheep of one elite family in a surprisingly public way.
The magnificently titled Joseph Chamberlayne Chamberlayne had returned to his family home of Maugersbury House, near Stow-on-the-Wold, in the summer of 1837, having spent the previous four years abroad with his family.
On his return, he was horrified to discover that he had been associated with the deeds of his brother, Charles Henry Ackerley – and immediately wrote a letter to the editor of the Oxford Journal, in order to publicise his innocence and, in doing so, also publicised his poor relations with Charles.
The Chamberlayne family had owned Maugersbury Manor House for centuries, but when lord of the manor Edmund Chamberlayne had died in 1831, his nephew, Joseph Chamberlayne Ackerley, had inherited the estate – and changed his surname to Chamberlayne, creating the rather strange name of Joseph Chamberlayne Chamberlayne, whilst his brother, of course, remained an Ackerley.
Until February 1835, Chamberlayne and Charles had been in contact – at least by letter – and the former had given Charles a regular allowance. However, at this point, Chamberlayne decided that Charles’ behaviour had displeased him so much that he would discontinue his annual allowance. He also took steps to evict him from a cottage on Chamberlayne’s estates; Charles had occupied it without permission, and then refused to move when asked to. In the end, legal action was needed.
After stopping contact with Charles, Chamberlayne decided to keep a dignified silence on the relationship, until gossip forced him to go to the press.
“I deeply regret the situation in which he has placed himself, and lest by my silence I should be considered as acquiescing in my name having been so frequently used by him, or as affording him any countenance or support, I have no alternative but to adopt this course of disavowal…” (Oxford Journal, 15 July 1837)
So what had Charles done to his brother? All Chamberlayne said was that the two men’s names had been “mixed up” in public advertisements, and that he had never connived with, supported, or encouraged his brother’s actions.
Intrigued, I tried to find out a bit more about this family, their black sheep, and his dodgy actions.
John Chamberlayne Chamberlayne was the son of barrister John Hawkesley Ackerley and his wife Elizabeth Chamberlayne. He seems to have changed his name from Ackerley to Chamberlayne – creating the rather confusing full name – in the early 1830s, presumably as part of the conditions of an inheritance from his mother’s family (see Gloucester Archives document D1395/II/2/E17 which mentions the change in name).
His brother, Charles Henry Ackerley, had joined the navy in 1810, and was made a lieutenant in 1822.
He seems to have been an eccentric amateur scientist, attempting to merge science and religion through discoveries, inventions, and lectures. He was also had left-wing beliefs, trying to help the poor in his own way. In 1834, he was advertising his newly published book in the newspapers, which aimed to show “safe” plans for vessels navigating the Thames. In 1838, he attempted to enlist the aid of the Lord Mayor of London to help him deliver a lecture on a discovery he had made about Ancient Egypt. He also regularly spoke at working men’s associations, at one, attempting to expose what he saw as a “system of abuse” endemic in British public charities (The Charter, 17 March 1839).
17 years later, in March 1851, the Morning Chronicle recorded that a Captain Charles Henry Ackerley appeared in court charged with killing a Matthew Tingle. Unusually, given the charge, he had been allowed bail, and had stated that he would conduct his own defence when the case reached trial (Morning Chronicle, 3 March 1851). The trial, when it took place, was on charges of manslaughter and assault.
It was the newspaper reports of the trial that shed light on “Captain Ackerley’s character. The Bristol Mercury, on 8 March 1851, reported that the by now retired lieutenant was “well known in London by his eccentric but philanthropic projects”.
Captain Ackerley had, according to the trial reports, visited an Aberdare collier who had been badly burned in a coalpit explosion. He said he was a doctor, was admitted, and proceeded to examine the miner – apparently by sticking a feather down his throat, to “pump gas from his stomach” amongst other things. The poor collier died shortly afterwards, a (real) surgeon stating that if he had not had “rude treatment” from Ackerley, he may well have been OK.
Ackerley frequently interrupted the testimony of witnesses to claim that he wanted to talk about philosophy; and when allowed to enter his defence, produced a series of old books, and then talked for an hour about his medical inventions, Greek philosophy, the New Testament, King Arthur, and Welsh history, until the judge finally forbid him from going on any further. Perhaps the jury were worn out by Ackerley’s monologue, but they very quickly found him not guilty and “the finding was received with loud applause.”
Ackerley seems to have been regarded somewhat affectionately by public and press alike as a great British eccentric. The papers of the 1840s and 1850s recorded frequent court cases involving him, and he always conducted his own defences. In one case, the year before he died, he took his landlord to court for trespass, arguing that the landlord failed to let him move freely around his house. In response, the landlord sighed that, “the captain had been a great trouble”. The judge agreed, and Captain Ackerley lost this fight.
In 1856, the Captain appeared in the Court of Arches in London, offering his views on the meaning of the word “kedge” amongst other things. After lecturing the court, the press noted, “the gallant captain then quitted the court, leaving the spectators not a little astonished at so unusual an interruption of the quiet routine of the Commons.” (The Era, 15 June 1856)
Charles Ackerley died at 1 Laureston Place in Dover on 22 November 1865, leaving an estate worth under £100.
It seems that, to a Cotswold landowner in the 19th century, the last thing one would want in one’s family is an eccentric, socialist, scientist, orator and amateur lawyer, getting regular coverage in the newspapers for his latest exploit. Charles Henry Ackerley may have been an embarrassment to his older brother in Maugersbury, and a possibly lethal surgeon to one Welsh miner – but he gave great entertainment to the British public during the Victorian era.
I hope to follow this post up with a further look at the Chamberlayne family of Maugersbury, as my research for this post revealed a fascinating family who came to Maugersbury not only from around the UK, but from across the Atlantic too!