Monday, 22 May 2017

William Cracroft Fooks QC (1812-99), Barrister at Law

William Cracroft Fooks was born on May 5th 1812 in Dartford. He was the fifth of sixteen children born to Thomas Broadley Fooks (1774-1840) and his wife Maria Penelope Fooks nee Cracroft (1789-1850)1. Thomas lived in Dartford and was an attorney at law on the King’s Bench, Westminster. William was baptised on October 10th 1812 at Holy Trinity Church, Dartford.
Thomas Broadley Fooks

Maria Penelope Fooks nee Cracroft
(pictures from Winson Saw)

William began his working life as a clerk in the service of the East India Company2. In 1831 he decided to take up his father’s profession. An Articles of Clerkship document3 shows that William agreed to “bind himself clerk to the said Thomas Broadley Fooks to serve him in the profession of an Attorney at Law and Solicitor at Chancery from the date of the said Articles for the term of five years”. This training resulted in William being admitted as an attorney on the Kings Bench in 18364.

Transport of goods into and out of Dartford by water is difficult as boats have to travel about 2 miles along Dartford Creek, to reach the town. This can only be done at high tide. A document entitled “An enquiry into the present state of the navigation of Dartford Creek and the means proposed for its improvement” was published in 1835. It described a plan to build a ship canal from the Thames to Dartford. A lengthy pamphlet entitled “An investigation of “The Enquiry”” was written by William Cracroft Fooks5 later that year. It argued against the proposal. He urged the people of Dartford to
“Examine the subject yourselves: enquire into it, in all its parts and bearings: and if, as we anticipate, the proposed alterations do not seem productive of any general and permanent benefit, but replete with positive and irreparable injury to all persons but those engaged in promoting them, rise as one man, and offer them your most determined and strenuous opposition.”

A Parliamentary Bill needed to get approval for the scheme was later rejected. An alternative scheme, which involved dredging Dartford Creek and making cuts to straighten the channel, was approved in 1840 and completed by 1844.

On March 1st 1838, William, aged 25, married Letitia Walker at Holy Trinity Church, Dartford. She had been born in Dartford, was aged 26, lived at Bowman’s Lodge in Dartford and was a daughter of Thomas Walker, a solicitor. The witnesses were William’s brother Henry Marshall Fooks and sister Georgiana Judith Fooks.
Extract from the Holy Trinity Church marriage register

William and Letitia went on to have two boys and five girls that survived infancy. They were Ellen Cracroft (b 1838), William Cracroft (b 1840), Walter Pemberton (b 1842), Isabel Georgina (b 1844), Emily Letitia (b 1847), Alice Augusta (b 1849) and Agnes Edith (b 1851). The census in 1841 records that William (a student of law), Letitia and their children Ellen and William were living in Islington with two servants. William was “called to the degree of barrister-at-law by the Hon Society of Gray’s Inn” in 18436.

In 1847, William and his family moved to Bowman’s Lodge, which had been the summer residence of Letitia’s father, Thomas Walker, a solicitor in Dartford. It was a house with an estate of seven acres on Dartford Heath, on a road (then a track) that is now called Swan Lane. It had been used by The Society of Royal Kentish Bowmen from 1786 to 1802. The Society had the patronage of the Prince of Wales, who was elected President in 1789. Members wore a colourful uniform and there were four special archery matches each year7. William’s daughter Isabel (married name Homewood) later wrote an autobiography (published in 1932) called “Recollections of an Octogenarian” in which she described Bowman’s Lodge. She says “It was a queer old rambling place. There were a few lofty rooms and several smaller ones. These smaller ones served as nurseries and later as the girls’ bedrooms. The whole building was rather like a rabbit warren.” 

The 1851 census shows William (aged 36, a barrister in practice) living at Bowman’s Lodge, Dartford with his wife Letitia (36) and children Ellen (12), Isabel (6), Emily (3) and Alice (1). Other records indicate that William was actually 38 and Letitia was 39 when the census was held. There were also three servants in the household. 

Bowman's Lodge in 1910 
(courtesy of Dartford Library, do not copy)

In 1856 William’s daughter Emily died aged 8 and later that year his wife Letitia died aged 44. He married Julia Shears Christy nee Spurrell, on January 1st 1858 at St George the Martyr, Queen Square, Holborn. William was aged 45, Julia was 35. She was a widow, having married Edward Christy in 1847 in Dartford.
Extract from St George the Martyr marriage register

William and Julia later had a daughter, Julia Letitia (b 1859) and a son, Courtenay Cracroft Spurrell (b 1860). The 1861 census shows William (aged 48, a barrister-at-law) and Julia (39) living at Bowman’s Lodge with William’s children Walter (19), Isabel (17), Alice (11), Agnes (9), Julia (2) and Courtenay (1) plus a governess and four house servants. Alice died in 1864 aged 15.
Julia Shears Fooks nee Spurrell
(photo from Jonathan Spurrell)
Tensions rose between the United Kingdom and France following the Orsini affair, an assassination attempt on Emperor Napoleon III in 1858. It emerged that the would-be assassin, Felice Orsini, had travelled to England to have the bombs used in the attack manufactured in Birmingham. Half of the British Army was abroad on garrison duty guarding the Empire. Britain's military defences were stretched invitingly thin and there was a perceived threat of invasion by the much larger French Army. On 29 April 1859 war broke out between France and the Austrian Empire (the Second Italian War of Independence), and there were fears that Britain might be caught up in a wider European conflict. On 12 May 1859 the Secretary of State for War, Jonathan Peel, issued a circular letter to lieutenants of counties in England, Wales and Scotland, authorising the formation of volunteer rifle corps. William was part of committee that organised the formation of a volunteer rifle corps in the Dartford area. He was later appointed to the rank of Captain and commanded the Dartford Corps from 1863 to 18708. In 1870 he was promoted to the rank of Major9 in the 3rd Administrative Battalion of Kent Rifle Volunteers. He resigned his commission in 187310.
William Cracroft Fooks aged 51
(photo from Jonathan Spurrell)

In 1863, William was charged with assault. The details of the case are given separately on this blog. The evidence presented indicates that William behaved badly. He offered to pay compensation and as a result, the case was dropped.

William was a supporter of the Liberal Party. A long item in the 14 April 1866 edition of the Gravesend Reporter begins "On Tuesday last a public dinner of the liberal electors and friends of the liberal cause in the Dartford district took place at the King's Head and County Hotel. The chair was occupied by W Fooks, Esq."

In 1869, William was made a Queen’s Counsel11, an award made to eminent lawyers, normally barristers. Appointments are made from within the legal profession on the basis of merit, rather than a particular level of experience. As members wear silk gowns, the award of Queen's Counsel is known informally as taking silk. In 1882, the number of Queen's Counsel was 18712. William specialised in civil law and represented clients at the Court of Chancery in London. In 1876, he was appointed Treasurer of Gray’s Inn for that year.

William c 1870 outside Bowman's Lodge

In 1871, William (aged 58, a practising barrister-at-law and land owner) was living at Bowman’s Lodge with his wife Julia (49) and his children Agnes (19), Julia (12) and Courtenay (11) plus a cook and two housemaids. In 1881, the household at Bowman’s Lodge consisted of William (67, a barrister-at-law QC), his wife Julia (57) and children Julia (22) and Courtenay (21, a law student at Grays Inn) as well as a cook and two housemaids. In 1891, William (78, a barrister-at-law), Julia (69) and their son Courtenay (31, a barrister-at-law) are listed at Bowman’s Lodge with a gardener, a groom, two cooks and a housemaid.

William died on August 2nd 1899 aged 87. The obituary below was published in the SE Gazette dated August 12th 1899.

The six surviving children were Ellen (who married Frederick George Gibson in 1860), William (who married Catharine Stephens in 1870), Isabel (who married William Henry Homewood in 1867), Agnes (who married Rashleigh Holt White in 1879), Julia (who married Arthur William Newton in 1885) and Courtenay (who married Gertrude Elisabeth Horner in 1889 and Marion Easton in 1903). Both William and Courtenay became barristers-at-law. Their brother Walter went to New Zealand (where he married Frances Charlotte Verdon) and died in 1873 aged 31.

Another obituary2 said of William “For most of his life he lived on Dartford Heath where he devoted himself to country pursuits and was well known as an ardent supporter of field sports, especially hunting.” It also said that William was the Chairman of the South Essex Waterworks Company.

William’s wife Julia died on February 19th 1900 aged 77. They are both buried in East Hill Cemetery in Dartford.
 William and Julia's gravestone

Probate records show that William’s estate had a value of £13,341. This is equivalent to about £5.1 million now, calculated relative to the earnings of an average worker. Julia’s estate was £19,669, equivalent to about £7.4 million now.

Bowman’s Lodge was sold after William and Julia died. Sand and gravel were later excavated from the land behind the house. The pit was subsequently filled with rubbish and the land restored – it is now called Bowman’s Heath. The house was demolished in about 1987 and modern housing, called Bowman’s Court, now stands on the site.

Philip Taylor

2. Dartford Chronicle, 15 August 1899.
3. Accessed from the Ancestry website.
4. The Legal Observer 1836.
5. The text of the pamphlet is in Dartford, Further Historical Notes by S K Keyes, page 635.
6. The Law Times Volume 1, 1843, page 298 (on Google Books).
7. Dartford, Further Historical Notes by S K Keyes, page 494.
8. Dartford, Some Historical Notes by S K Keyes, page 504.
9. The London Gazette, 8 April 1870.
10. The London Gazette, 3 June 1873
11. The London Gazette, 22 June 1869.
12. Queen’s Counsel, Wikipedia article, accessed 14 June 2017.

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