Tuesday 2 June 2020

Mrs. Walmsley v. Guardians of Bury School

This text below was originally written for our book on Egerton, but didn't make it into the final version.  It concerns James Walmsley of Turton, his dealings relating to Bury School, and the legal proceeding following his death in 1648.

An extract from the section of
James Walmsley's will that relates
to Bury Grammar School

One particular aspect of Walmsley’s financial transactions was set to vex and hang over his widow for the next forty years. This affair has been very thoroughly covered by I.B. Fallows in his book Bury Grammar School: A History, from which the following information has been summarised.

Walmsley's brother-in-law Roger Kay had been friends with Rev. Henry Bury of Bury, who died in 1634. In his will Rev. Bury left a £300 endowment to found a school at Bury, and named his friend Roger Kay as one of the executors. Roger Kay then 'let out' £155 of the money at interest with the intent of increasing the amount of capital available, nearly all of it lent to governors of the school. When Roger Kay died in 1637, his brother-in-law James Walmsley became chief executor, therefore taking over responsibility for Henry Bury's endowment.

In his will Walmsley acknowledged that he had been entrusted with some money for the school, and said that he had 'put forth' that money (lent out at interest) in his own name, as well as £8 which he had in cash. His will directed his wife to turn-over the relevant documents and money to the nominated executors so that they could obtain for them what money they could for the benefit of the school 'as I myself should or ought to have done.'

Accordingly, Elizabeth dug out all the bonds she could find which were connected with her late husband’s loans of the school money, and offered them to the Governors with a bond for £100 which had been loaned to John Greenhalgh. They refused to accept them on the grounds that the documents didn’t specifically mention the school. Again, three years later, she tried to resolve the matter, enlisting the help of her son-in-law William Hulme to negotiate, but again they refused the bonds which were offered, saying that they were in poor physical condition, made no mention of the school, and most importantly were looked upon as insufficient and not good securities.

There was disharmony between the Governors of the school which resulted in a failure to act – embarrassed no doubt by the fact that some of the money in question had been loaned to them themselves as individuals. 'James Walmsley meddled more than he ought.' said one. They suspected that he had used the school money for himself. One of them had witnessed him making payment of part of a £1,000 settlement which he had paid to the Earl of Derby for estates at Turton and Chipping.

In 1653 the Governors made a claim against Mrs. Walmsley at a hearing of the Commission for Pious Uses. The commission recognised that James Walmsley had received £200 and had invested it in his own name, and that no principal interest had been paid to the school. They ordered her to pay £200 with ten years interest. Having already made offers which had been rejected, she did nothing, and the ruling was not enforced. The surviving executor of her husband's will refused to act, and things stood still.

In 1665 Thomas Whitehead formally renounced his role as executor of James Walmsley's will, opening things up again for a case to be heard at the Consistory Court at Chester. Elizabeth Walmsley gave over a packet of bonds ('rotten papers' as they were described) and £8, which she said was everything that she had ever had in her possession relating to the school. This was begrudgingly accepted and the case was closed, but suspicion and resentment still simmered.

In 1683 a new case was heard at the Duchy Court of Lancaster, and a ruling was given that Elizabeth Walmsley should pay £825; the original £200 and £625 in interest. She objected and threatened to appeal to the House of Lords which would be cripplingly expensive for both sides. The threat worked, and an appeal was allowed at the Chancery Court, which resulted in the original decision being over turned. She was now in the clear, and the Governors had no hope of recovering any money from her.