MARVELS OF THE MINSTER: An aristocratic family which made its wealth through trading with Russia and India had members who came to live in Waddon at the start of the 19th Century. And the evidence is right under your feet, as DAVID MORGAN discovered
Those people with an interest in horseracing will have heard of Peter Cazalet. He trained many of the Queen Mother’s thoroughbreds. One of them, Devon Loch, was winning the 1956 Grand National at Aintree by a considerable margin when, with just 100 yards to go of the exhausting, 4½-mile endurance test, the horse seemed to jump an imaginary fence, flopped to the ground and lost all momentum, and with it the race. That “Devon Loch moment” has become part of sporting folklore, shorthand for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory…
Devon Loch’s unfortunate jockey that day, Dick Francis, went on to become a well-known writer of mystery murder stories with horseracing themes. Cazalet, the trainer, won many more races. But he never again got as close to winning the world’s most famous horse race as on this occasion.
Cazalet, who scored a century at Lord’s as a schoolboy cricketer and was a Major in the Guards in the Second World War, who served at Dunkirk and in the battle to win Normandy, is just one member of a prominent family who have strong connections to Croydon Minster.
Avid readers may have enjoyed The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard. The Light Years is the first book in this series.
Initially set in England in 1937, immediately before the outbreak of war, the novels trace the lives of the Cazalet family over the next 10 years, observing them during the conflict and then into post-war austerity. So successful were the books that the BBC commissioned a television series called The Cazalets, which was first aired in 2001 with Lesley Manville and Hugh Bonneville in the leading roles.
Apart from Peter Cazalet’s own war service, the family’s story at that time was etched with tragedy, with the death of his brother, Colonel Victor Cazalet MC, killed in an air crash in 1943, the circumstances around which are still hotly contested matter.
Peter, Victor (who was the oldest by 11 years) and their other brother, Edward, were born into the aristocracy at the height of Victorian and Edwardian privilege. Queen Victoria sometimes stayed at their family’s home in France. Indeed, the Queen was godmother to baby Victor.
The colonel had won the Military Cross in the First World War, and later acted as a military aide at the Versailles peace conference, before, in 1924, becoming the Conservative MP for Chippenham. Appointed as a staff officer during the Second World War, after the fall of France, Victor was appointed as liaison officer to General Wladyslaw Sikorski, the Prime Minister of the Polish government in exile.
Together with 15 other members of the government in exile, Victor and the general were all killed when their B-24 aircraft crashed shortly after take-off from Gibraltar in July 1943. Only the pilot survived. While officially categorised as an air accident, the incident has spawned a legion of conspiracy theories, suggesting that Sikorski and his government were assassinated – by the Soviets, the British, or even the Nazis.
But the fascinating family story of the Cazalets stretches much further back.
Students Anglo-Russian history may well know of the Cazalets who set up a trading business in St Petersburg around 1780, at the time of Catherine the Great. Initially, the Cazalets traded silks, in one of the earliest recorded instances of Anglo-Russian trade.
Once established in Russia, Noah Cazalet, and subsequently his son Edward, brewed porter beer, ran a rope factory, manufactured tallow and were partners in banking services, an area of business in which the family would prosper right through to the modern day. It was this business success which saw their family become part of the English aristocracy in the 19th Century.
One of Edward’s nephews, Clement Cazalet, enjoyed fame as a star tennis player. Born in 1869, he was a finalist in the Wimbledon doubles in 1897, 1902 and 1906 before winning a bronze medal with partner Charles Dixon at the first London Olympics in 1908.
One less prominent part of the family of Cazalets lived locally in Waddon in the early part of the 19th century. After their deaths four of them were buried at what was then still called Croydon Parish Church.
Their gravestone was removed in the 1960s, when the graveyard had to be reconfigured to provide space for the widening of the Roman Way dual carriageway.
But the gravestone can still be found today, tucked away in the church grounds outside the gate which leads to Old Palace School. For 50 years, the gravestone has served as a paving slab.
The gravestone records the following information:
“Susan, daughter of William and Mary Cazalet, of Austin Friars, died May 14 1825 aged 51;
Maria, her sister d March 4 1827 aged 44
Sarah, her sister d Sept 16 1836 aged 60
Mary Cazalet d Sept 15 1840 aged 68”.
Four sisters, four spinsters, four daughters of a couple with an interesting address.
Austin Friars is the name of a grand house in the City of London. Austin Friars is mentioned in Hilary Mantel’s latest novel, The Mirror and the Light, as the residence occupied by Thomas Cromwell right up to the time of his arrest and execution.
The site of that house was later built on, creating houses and offices for affluent City traders and merchants. Cazalet and Sons was the family firm with an address of 6 Austen Friars, recorded in Kent’s Directory of 1794. William Cazalet, named as the father of the four women on the Croydon gracestone, was a leading player in this merchant business. But he died aged 46, in 1795.
His widow, Mary, and their four daughters needed somewhere else to live after William’s death.
Mary wouldn’t be remarrying, as she was left very comfortably off under the terms of her husband’s will. They chose to rent a house close to the River Wandle in what was then an idyllic country backwater that was still within striking distance of London by coach and horses.
On a Sunday, they could walk along the banks of the river to divine service at Croydon Parish Church. Waddon was to be a Cazalet residence for many years. Mary died in 1812, leaving the four daughters with other family members staying or possibly living there. The baptism registers of Croydon Parish church show that two of children of Peter Cazalet, the brother of the four sisters, were christened here in 1813 and in 1815.
It seems strange to us these days but this family, with some serious financial clout, never bought this property in Waddon. It was rented from Daniel Richard Warrington, a magistrate and subsequent chair of the bench in Croydon. He seemed to own most of the property in Waddon and it is from his past footprints that we have Warrington Road today.
Before returning to the four sisters, there is quite a story to be told about their brother Peter. Born in Penryn in Cornwall in 1781, where the family had another home, aged 16 he joined the East India Company, being described as “a writer”.
He rose through the ranks of the company until he became the Judge and Magistrate of Rajahmundry, a part of Andhra Pradesh in modern India. Peter’s obituary, appearing in fashionable journals of the day, described him as a “Member of the Honourable East India Company’s Civil Service at Madras”. He died in Bath in 1839.
However, a court case, held in Coleman Street in London in 1830, made the newspaper headlines. “A highly respectable special jury was summoned to assess the damages due to the plaintiff Mr Peter Read Cazalet from the Rev James Cazalet.” It was a Cazalet v Cazalet.
Peter Cazalet had married Caroline Wahab in India in 1809. Four children were born before the family returned to England in 1813, staying in Peter’s sisters’ home in Waddon. The family returned to India in 1817 before Caroline Cazalet returned to this country two years later to “superintend the education of her children”.
While she was living here, cousin James, a school fellow of her husband and an Anglican clergyman, began to spend more and more time with Caroline, “alienating the affections of the plaintiff’s wife”. It was said in court that she had had a child by James in 1822 which lived less than 12 months. Five years elapsed before husband Peter eventually returned to England. Caroline initially went to live with him but left him after just a short time.
Soon after that, she gave birth to twins. They were “the unhappy offspring of her illicit intercourse with the defendant”, according to court documents. Peter was demanding £5,000 in damages. He would have been rather disappointed that the jury awarded him just £2,000, with them taking no more than a quarter of an hour to decide the amount.
The will of Mary Cazalet, the last of the four spinster sisters to die, is interesting. She left all of her “3 and a half per cent stock” to her “dear nephew William”. This, it is assumed, was shares in the family business, and was probably worth a good amount, though no value is given.
“Dear nephew William” was the son of Peter and Caroline, born in 1808. He grew up to become an Anglican clergyman but is best known for a book he wrote about the art of singing. The fact that Mary left him her stock showed that she and her sisters had been able to live off the dividends paid out from the shares.
A “Rev W W Cazalet” is listed as living at the Waddon address in the 1830s which goes a long way to understanding why Mary described him as “my dear nephew”.
Mary’s other nephew, William’s brother Peter, was left her pearl necklace and diamonds. Her servant Sophia was left £5, together with some trinkets.
Susan, the first of the sisters to die, wrote a short will. She left her possessions to be divided equally among her sisters, provided they were still unmarried. The capital of her stocks was to be divided between her brother’s children.
There was never a sign of philanthropy in any of the wills that show they stuck together as a family and their money was recycled between them. The children of Peter’s first marriage, before the scandal, were looked after and nurtured in the family fold. Waddon was a place of domesticity for the family for many years.
Much information on the Cazalet family tree was gleaned from a family website. The vast range of talents and influences that they had and still possess, on a global scale is quite remarkable. Look them up and you can work out the relationship of one family branch to the other for yourself.
David Morgan’s researches will form part of a guided talk he will be giving on Saturday September 18 as part of the London Open Houses weekend. Full details, including how to book a socially-distanced place, will be available soon
- To read previous David Morgan articles on the history of Croydon Minster and the people connected with it, click here
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