SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT: A badly worn gravestone, now used to pave a walk way outside the Minster, provides DAVID MORGAN with the first clues to a family history of eminent 19th Century lawyers
Uncovering the stories behind the names found on the worn gravestones around Croydon Minster can be a fascinating exercise. One of the stones which once marked a grave has now been laid flat to create a path outside the south door of the church. It has the surname Dax engraved upon it.
Thomas Dax is the only name decipherable today, although the Victorian records show that three others were also remembered on this memorial. The four were Thomas Dax who died on March 24, 1834, aged 80, his wife Anne (died February 27, 1844, aged 84), their son Thomas, though no date of death was recorded on the stone, and his wife Anne Elizabeth, who died April 19th 1861 aged 62.
The wording on the stone ended with a dedication, Grata et Eterna Memoria: “with pleasant and eternal memory”.
The only other words which were on the stone provide the clue to start our investigation.
Thomas Dax the younger was described as “Senior Master at the Court of Exchequer”.
An alternative name of this court was the “Exchequer of Pleas”.
It dealt with civil disputes, including land, taxation and financial disputes, as well as libel, debt and contractual wrangling.
A newspaper cutting from 1840 reveals much about the younger Thomas Dax’s career and his links with Croydon.
Thomas Dax had been in a partnership with his father. In Johnstone’s 1817 street directory they were in practice at 64 Lincoln Inn Square. Later, at 35 Bedford Place in Russell Square, they were carrying on their business as attorneys and solicitors, as well as being Clerks of Court in the Exchequer of Pleas.
The father and son partnership had also been located in offices in Grays Inn. The article outlined young Dax’s appointments: Deputy Clerk of the Pleas at the Court of Exchequer, Clerk of the Errors at the same court, Master of the same court and a Barrister at Law. It also went on to list where he had lived: Bedfordshire; Brunswick Terrace, Brighton; Bath; and “occasionally and late of Haling Cottage, Croydon, Surrey”.
An entry in one of The Juror confirms this. It stated that in 1841 that Thomas Dax, solicitor, was living in Croydon. He can be found, too, on the 1837 and 1839 electoral registers for Croydon, where he was described as the occupier of the Haling property.
Haling Cottage is situated on land in South Croydon that was purchased in 1920 by the Whitgift Foundation for Whitgift School. The white building, just inside the school grounds off Brighton Road, is Grade II-listed, and until recently it was used as the head master’s residence.
“Sudden death of Mr Dax, the Taxing Master” was the headline in a London newspaper dated April 25, 1853.
“Mr Thomas Dax, the taxing master of the Court of Exchequer, died on Monday evening. His death was as sudden as it was unexpected. He was discharging the duties of his office (taxing costs) on Monday and afterwards went into the City. When near the Mansion House, he was seized of a fit and expired of apoplexy.
“Mr Dax had held the office for a great many years and had been connected with court for about half a century. The appointment is in the gift of the Chief Baron (Judge) and the salary is £1,200 a year.” Such a salary would be worth more than £100,000 today.
Young Dax obviously learned a lot from his father. In 1831 he published a book which went on to be a staple of the legal profession: The Practice on the Plea side of the Court of the Exchequer, to which is added An Appendix of forms in general use, and a table of costs as at present allowed on taxation. Though maybe it could have done with some work to make the title a little snappier…
Old Mr Dax could be found practising as a solicitor in 1794, in more modest offices at 27 Canterbury Row. At that time, he was a side clerk in Mr Jortin’s division of the Exchequer Office of Pleas. Ten years later, among all his other legal work, he found himself acting as banker and legal adviser to James Forsythe, an English traveller and author who had got caught up in the Napoleonic war.
Forsythe was arrested in Italy and imprisoned in France. Dax is mentioned in many letters that Forsythe wrote, as well as receiving instructions from him. In 1803, Forsythe was incarcerated in the dungeons of the Fort de Bitsch in the Vosges mountains. After many transfers around French prisons, Forsythe was eventually released in 1814 and stayed at Dax’s then home, 28 Queen’s Square, Bloomsbury.
Old Mr Dax married Anne Heckford at St Mary-at-Lambeth, right next to Lambeth Palace, on January 4, 1781. They had four children. Young Thomas was born in 1786. Their first child, Ann, born four years earlier, died in infancy.
Their next daughter, Elizabeth Walsham, was born in 1789 and she grew up to marry Dr John Spurgin. Elizabeth died in 1833.
Richard, the fourth Dax child, was born in 1787. He, too, went into the legal profession and wrote a book, published in 1856 outlining the taxation issues of The Common Law Procedure Acts of 1852 and 1854 as well as the Bills of Exchange Acts 1855. He died in 1873.
In July 1816, young Thomas married Annette Lloyd in Ealing. In the 1851 census they were living at 70 Connaught Terrace, Marylebone. From that document we can see that Thomas was 11 years older than his wife. There were two children listed in the census. Richard, aged 30, married, though no evidence of the wife was written down there.
The other was Catherine, unmarried and 10 years younger than her brother.
The family employed a footman, Henry Searle, a cook, Charlotte Hurst, a lady’s maid, Caroline Goddard, and a house maid, Melita Holden.
By the time of her own death in 1861, Thomas’s widow, Ann, was living in 5 Langham Street, Portland Place.
Presumably each of the four Dax funerals in Croydon would have seen a gathering of silks and gowns. Both Old Mr Dax and his son seemed to have been most reliable and hardworking officials.
Previous articles by David Morgan:
- Church career which led Quinn to the not-so-high and mighty
- Martin How: organist who devoted his life to church music
- Mustard keen to unravel the mystery behind Minster memorial
- Proms composer Demuth’s music is overdue an encore
- The church fire that consumed a thousand years of history
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