James Watts Peppercorne (November 1804 – 9 December 1861)

In mention of James Watts Peppercorne, Walton and Weybridge Local history Society have, in the past, used the phrases "a somewhat shadowy figure" and "about whom nothing is known".

We have have come to the conclusion that the first is undoubtedly a reasonable description of this enigmatic man who, whether by design or circumstance, seems to have left very little evidence of his passage through history.

It is to be hoped that what we have discovered negates the second statement, at least in part. Although we have so far unearthed far less than than we would have expected for a man of his standing, we have now begun to collect  sufficient information be be able to put together some sort of fragmented picture of the last private owner of the Oatlands Mansion.

Baptism of James Watts PeppercorneHe was Christened on the 2nd of December 1804 in the church of St Mary at Lambeth, so is likely to have been born after the middle of November.

William and Harriet Letitia Peppercorne produced seven sons, all of whom were christened at St Mary, Lambeth, between 1803 and 1813, and James Watts was second to William Henry who was baptised on the 18th of January 1804). His younger brothers were Edward (chr 7 Nov 1805), John (chr 2 Aug 1807), George Ryder (chr 11 May 1807), Francis (chr 12 May 1811) and Frederick Septimus (chr 6 Mar 1813).

William was a stock broker and, at the time of Frederick's christening, the family were living at Walcot Place, Upper Kennigton Green - described as "linking Westminster Bridge Road with Kennington Common". This was a large three-storey house with a basement but even so, may have proved something of a tight fit as the boys grew up.

james watts peppercorne-south london waterWe currently know nothing of James' schooling and his next appearance occurs with a letter to The Times, dated 10 May 1830, when he is Secretary to the South London Water Works. (read more about them here - opens in a new window)

He is known to have been acting as a stock broker at the time, possibly in business with his father and his cousin Charles, and his father, William, was on the board of the water works - this type of duality seems completely usual for this period.

The next incidence we have for James Watts Peppercorne is, on the face of it, typical of the seemingly bizarre life that he led as far as the remaining documentary evidence is concerned.

There is a hand-written note, dated 7th June 1833, within the National Archives that reads as follows:

"James Watts Peppercorne of Kennington Green in the County of Surrey Gentleman Sworn and Made free by Redemption" at the top of the sheet, above the date, it reads "Innholders Hall".

In other words, on payment of a sum of money (the "redemption"), he had been released from an apprenticeship as an Innholder and now, as a freeman of the livery company, had the "Freedom of the City of London"...

It is a virtual certainty that James never "pulled a pint" in his life, so this would appear to be a route to elevating his status and it may have been necessary for him to have "the Freedom" to head up the family stock broking firm when his time came, but we haven't yet learned enough about stock broking in that time to know it this would have been the case. It seems highly likely that the apprenticeship was only ever on paper and lasted the minimum possible amount of time required for the freedom. But why an Innholder?

There is at this time a William Peppercorne who is an innholder in Broad Street. This is not James' father but possibly his father's cousin (we haven't worked out that part of the family tree yet) and it is highly probable, though unproven, that this is who James was apprenticed to.

Around this time, James married Louisa Price. The Prices were a wealthy family from Monmouth and it is likely that Freedom of The City would have been a very desirable credential with which to impress his future in-laws.

In 1840, father William became the subject of a legal dispute involving the sale of shares to a client and this had become a "legal precedent" (Gillett v Peppercorne - 3 Beav 75, 1840) and is still regularly quoted in British courts. Essentially, William, knowing his client wanted to buy certain shares, gave the ones that he personally owned to a third party (in addition to a small fee for their trouble) and then "purchased" them for the client - thereby making a profit on his own shares and being paid whatever remuneration was due for the transaction under the normal terms of business.

In the abstract of the case, the Master of The Rolls (Lord Langdale) used the word "fraud" on six occasions and very clearly stated that William had acted in that manner. However fraud was not a crime at that time and no prosecution was brought against William, though he had to make good the situation by taking back the shares and refunding the purchase price plus interest at 5% and pay the full cost of the court proceedings.

Bid to oust William PeppercorneWilliam remained as a stock broker and as a director of the water works but not for long. He left the stock broking business on the 22nd pf December 1842 according to a notice in The London Gazette, presumably with his reputation somewhat in tatters, and by the time of the 1851 census, he and wife Harriet were living in Bexhill and his occupation was listed as "Retired Stock Broker".

James, meanwhile, had been busy in other areas. He and Louisa had produced three daughters  in the intervening years - Louisa Harriet Peppercorne was born on the 19th of June 1835, Emily Price Peppercorne in the middle of 1839 (baptised on the 25th of September) and Madeline Birkett Peppercorne on the 8th of July 1842. There also appears to have been a son born in the first half of 1845 who didn't survive. Louisa was christened at St Mark's Kennington and both Emily and Madeline at St Mary's Lambeth, but there is no sign of a christening for the son, who also fails to appear in any census.

In 1846. James Watts Peppercorne established his connection with Oatlands - by purchasing 14 lots directly at the public auctions of the Oatlands Estate in 1846 and at least two more in private deals, including the mansion and its grounds.

He has been described elsewhere as "a property speculator" and while that may not be strictly accurate, as he seems to have been in no great hurry to offload any of the land he'd acquired, he certainly would have made money from the purchases. The big question remains as to how he'd paid for it all.

The most likely explanation, for which there is some evidence, is that he was using money invested by clients of the stock broking business and, in the process, living rather well at a personal level. He certainly seems to have lost little time in moving his family into the mansion.

In 1848, he continued his 'slightly unusual' ways with a letter to The Illustrated London News on the topic of "The Provisional Government of France" in which he uses phrases like "Quaker Sturge and his fellow actors in buffoonery". It was signed "Faithfully yours, J.W.P. Oatlands Park, Saturday Night".

Oatlands from an undated printIn the years that followed the 1846 auctions, he seems to have acquired various other parcels of land in Oatlands as his name crops up in later documents relating to areas that were known to have been purchased by other people at the sales.

So far, we have been unable to uncover any details relating to possible investors except for one - and that one was less than happy.

Within the archives at Surrey History Centre is a set of letters. The first of these, dated 29th of June 1857, is from Richard Lambert (solicitor to George and Isabella Young) to Messrs Piper and Co, (builders), informing them that the trustees of G A Young, the beneficial owners, have not given permission for the works which Piper and Co have contracted to carry out on York House and Oatlands House on behalf of James Watt Peppercorne; that the trustees have called in the mortgage; that Piper and Co will be held responsible to them for any works; and that the trustees intend to apply for a restraining order against such works being carried out.

Peppercorne then replies on the 13th of July and suggests an arrangement for paying off the mortgage before "going on the continent in a weeks time". This letter is written on paper headed "South Western Hotel Company Limited, London: 2 Royal Exchange Buildings E.C.".

The third document in the collection, dated 6th of March 1856, reveals that George and Isabella Young, via their trustees, invested £8,000 (loaned to Peppercorne) of trust fund monies from their marriage settlement, in a mortgage security comprising: Oatlands mansion house, which had been divided into 2 mansions:- Oatlands House with 21a of land, and York House and 12a of land - Woodlawn House, lodge, and stabling (8a), Rose Cottage Garden and stabling (1a 1r 25p), Grotto Cottage Garden and stabling (1a 3r 18p), The Grotto and land (4a 3r 8p), a meadow adjacent to Woodlawn House (7a 2r 32p), "land by the railway" (3r 3p) and "sheep pen land" - this was on the eastern side of Ball's Road/St Mary's Road (1a 1).

South Western Hotel 1857At the time of this affair, James Watts Peppercorne and Charles Peppercorne were trading as "Stock and Share brokers" from 2 Royal Exchange Buildings, which we feel is slightly more than coincidental...

It would appear, and we stress "appear" (there is, currently, very little information of any description) that James had followed somewhat in his father's footsteps but, rather than a devious share deal, had funded the hotel deal (of which he is later listed as "manager") using the £8,000 from the Youngs (as their investment in the property itself) and benefited directly from being a significant part of the hotel company. Whilst not fraudulent per se, it would seem that he was being less than honest with the Youngs in relation to their money.

On the 15th of June 1860, the partnership between James Watts Peppercorne and Charles Peppercorne was "dissolved by mutual consent"  but, however mutual the consent may have been, there was some undercurrent, as the following year, Charles was suing James in the High Court of Chancery. We are not yet sure of the details of this but will update this page when we obtain a copy of the documents.

Peppercorne - 1861 CensusBy the time of the 1861 census, the family were living, still in considerable, if less flamboyant,  style, at "The Hollies" which had been built on the site of the Estate Farm which James had acquired at the final Oatlands Auction in September of 1846.

James Watts Peppercorne died on the 9th of December 1861 in Gloucester, leaving "Effects less than £5,000" according to probate.

Whilst it is usual for death to draw a neat line under someone's part in history, this appears not to have been the case with James Watts Peppercorne.

Charles' legal action (Peppercorne v Peppercorne) was still active in the High Court of Chancery and that would most likely have fallen onto the shoulders of James' widow Louisa.

In 1863, the Peppercorne name was back in Chancery - three times...

In the first action, widow Louisa was suing "Edward Atkinson, James Wilkes otherwise Hackson Wilkes. Louisa Harriett Wolkes his wife, Emily Price Peppercorne and Henry Atkinson" - in other words, two of her daughters, her only son in law (at that time) and two people named Atkinson.

In the second, Louisa is suing all three of her daughters and her son in law (but nobody else).

In the National Archives' description of the third action, it lists the plaintiffs as "Joseph Price (deleted) and another and later Marianne Price" and the defendants as "Louisa Peppercorne widow, Charles Peppercorne and Charles Price" and then goes on to record that the action was "Amended by order 1864. Charlotte Peppercorne widow, James Wilkes, Louisa Harriett Wilkes his wife, Emily Price Peppercorne and Madeline Bisholt [Birkett] Peppercorne added as defendants. Amended by order to carry on 1864. Joseph Thomas Price, Henry Pride and Thomas Joseph Addams Williams added as plaintiffs. Provincial solicitor employed in Monmouthshire."

It would be both unwise and irresponsible to speculate on the purpose or content of any of these until we have obtained copies of the documents. Louisa was a Price from Monmouthshire and, just to muddy the waters further, we know that Joseph Thomas Price married Madeline Birkett Peppercorne in Cuckfield, Sussex on the 20th of June 1865, even though they were 'on opposite sides' of the dispute.

Louisa Peppercorne was declared bankrupt in 1866 and in the 1881 census, she and daughter Emily Price Peppercorne are shown living at Ventnor Villa in Princes Road, Weybridge - as lodgers.

Nothing was ever simple if it involved the man who signed himself JWP Signature

Louisa Peppercorne died during the first quarter of 1898 in Weybridge and Emily price Peppercorne passed away on the 14th of June 1929, she died a spinster.

Louisa Harriett Peppercorne and James Jackson Wilkes produced 8 children prior to his death in 1880. Louisa Harriet died during the third quarter of 1902. We have yet to trace their part of the family tree downwards.

Madeline Birkett Peppercorne and Joseph Thomas Price produced three children. Madeline died on the 31st of May 1916. We are in contact with two of James Watts Peppercorne's great, great, great grand-children on this line of descent.

It is quite usual to not locate a date of birth, or death, in the days before civil registration was introduced in 1837. There is a saying amongst family historians "baptism is evidence of birth and burial is evidence of death". Baptism usually, though not always, occurred shortly after birth and burial, for obvious reasons, was very rarely delayed.