William Henry Baldock was a nephew of William the smuggler. His father was Richard Baldock and his mother, Mary Hobday, came from an established Kent family.
On William Baldock’s death, capital amounting to £10,000 and 11 acres of land in the Parish of St Mary Northgate were left to William Henry by the smuggler. It is a bequest designed to establish the young nephew’s future but by 1813 we find him living in one of the finest houses in the county – Petham.
Petham brings William Henry more than just wealth.
William Henry is described as a ‘gentleman’ who was universally respected for his urbanity and integrity. Because of his inheritance and standing in the community, he rose to high office in the City of Canterbury as a Justice of the Peace and then Mayor. By 1818 he is appointed High Sheriff of Kent. Twelve years later William Henry is one of three partners in the Union Bank, Canterbury.
Just how successful he was, compared to his uncle the smuggler, is debatable. William the smuggler had created his own fortune. William Henry, the nephew, had inherited a fortune. Nevertheless, the nephew is described as a gentle and benevolent man of his times. Newspaper reports on his death tell us:
‘It is with sincere grief we this day record the decease of William Henry Baldock, Esq., formerly of Petham House, and of the Union Bank of Canterbury. He was nephew and principal heir to the property bequeathed by Mr Baldock, of Canterbury, who by several large contracts and fortunate speculations, realized an immense fortune. Mr Baldock was President of the Canterbury Conservative Registration Society until the failure of the bank with which he was connected, when he retired into private life. He was for many years an active magistrate of the St. Augustine’s division, and universally respected by a large circle for his urbanity and integrity. Twelve months since he had an attack of paralysis, from which he never recovered, and which gradually undermined his constitution. He was in his 58th year. His remains will be interred this day in the Church of Godmersham, in which parish the lamented gentleman was residing at the time of his decease.’
The report reflects the newspaper’s sympathies not only for his demise but also for the loss of a staunch Conservative. He was at the top table during Conservative celebrations and became a major patron for the Party.
His ‘urbanity’ marked him out as a fashionable man of his times.
The legacy left to him in 1812 suggests that William Henry inherits Petham when the smuggler’s wife, Elizabeth, leaves to live at Leigh Villas (Southend) a short while (1813) after her husband’s death.
On the death of Elizabeth, the House at Petham becomes the permanent home of William Henry and as Elizabeth had inherited Petham for the rest of her life, perhaps it was her wish that this particular nephew should continue to manage the vast estate.
The ‘House on the Hill’ was in the fashionable Italianate style. The surrounding arable land included farms and other outbuildings, secluded enough to offer convenient holding depots for contraband.
(Some idea of the scale and size of Petham Park can be gained from tythe records for 1841. In total there was over 338 acres of pasture, arable, meadow and woodland. Paddocks were extensive and tenancies provided a regular income for the Baldocks with 21 cottages and a schoolhouse as part of the estate.)
William Henry was not the man that William the smuggler would have chosen to manage the vast estates he had built up over the years. According to the will of 1812, another nephew (and another William) was entrusted with a portfolio of estates stretching from Sheppey to the Kent coastline around Deal. Now it could be that these estates were focused around the smuggling activities of the Seasalter Smuggling Company and that the other estates like Petham were distanced from the free trade that had created so much wealth for the family.
A devastating change of fortunes
At the beginning of October 1841 the signatories to the bank’s notes, Messrs Halford and Company, announced that they:
‘…are under the painful necessity of informing their friends and the public that, in consequence of their inability, from peculiar circumstances, to meet some heavy demands which have been made upon them, they are unavoidably obliged to suspend their payments.’
Liabilities were estimated at £100,000 and as one of three partners in the Union Bank of Canterbury William Henry was called on to honour the debts.
The announcement in the Kent Herald described the liabilities as due to peculiar circumstances and without the underlying assets to meet these debts the Union Bank suspended payments to clients.
William Henry never recovered from the disgrace. A year later he suffers a stroke and is paralysed. He dies in obscurity in 1844.
£10 note issued by the Canterbury Union Bank 1831