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LANGLEY, Thomas Bolland (1817-1868) – His double life: Reverend Gentleman or Silk Throwster?

Thomas Bolland Langley, silk throwster, lived in Badsey probably for only about a year, but he left behind him a string of problems which helped to sound the death knell of Badsey Silk Mill.  His career as a silk throwster lasted only for the length of time that he lived in Badsey.  Before that, he was a man of the cloth.  So just who was the real Thomas Bolland Langley?

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Early Life

Thomas Bolland Langley was born at Meole Brace, Shropshire, on 2nd May 1817, the second of five children and eldest son of the Reverend John Langley, Vicar of Meole Brace, and his wife, Martha (née Bolland).  

The family moved to Wallingford, Berkshire, in November 1828 when John Langley became Curate of St Mary’s and St Leonard’s-cum-Sotwell.  On the death of the Rector in February 1829, Reverend Langley was appointed to the living, remaining there until his retirement in 1873.

Thomas Langley matriculated 21st May 1836, aged 19, at Worcester College, Oxford, but then went on to study at Trinity College, Dublin where, in March 1842, he was awarded the Vice Chancellor’s prize for the best Greek ode and best Latin poem.  A few months later he again won prizes for a Greek Sapphic ode and an extra prize for a poem on the subject of the birth of the Prince of Wales.  Prizes again came his way in 1843 and 1844.  

Whilst in Dublin, Thomas met and married Sarah Elizabeth Newman on 25th April 1841.  A son, Reginald Bolland Chevallier Langley, was born in Dublin in 1843.

Thomas Bolland Langley, Clergyman

Thomas Langley had returned to England by 1844 as a newspaper report in The Lincolnshire Chronicle indicates that Thomas Bolland Langley, BA, Trinity College, Dublin, was ordained as a deacon by the Bishop of Lincoln on 2nd June.  The following year, on 18th May 1845, the Bishop of Lincoln held a general ordination in Lincoln Cathedral when Thomas was one of three priests of Dublin, along with deacons and priests of Oxford and Cambridge, who were admitted into holy orders. 

Reverend Langley’s first appointment was as Curate of St Mary’s, Hull; in February 1847 he was appointed to the perpetual curacy of the district of St Matthew, Nottingham.  After that, we know no further details of his career in the church.

Thomas Bolland Langley, Silk Throwster

Four years after being appointed a Curate in Nottingham, Thomas Bolland Langley appears to have had a complete change of career.

Reverend Langley’s whereabouts at the time of the 1851 census on 30th March are unknown, but his eight-year-old son, Reginald, was visiting 45-year-old widow, Amy Street, and her family in Derby.

We know from a court case of 1853 that Reverend Langley was living in Badsey by July 1851.  The case was concerning £100 which had been loaned to him.  This may have been when he was setting up as proprietor of Badsey Silk Mill and needed the money.

Thomas Bolland Langley
Scrap of headed notepaper found under the floorboards of Malvern House, Badsey, and now in the Badsey Society Archive.

By the autumn of 1851, Langley was well and truly into his new career.  He had letter-heads with the words “Langley & Co, Silk Throwsters, Twisters, etc” printed.

Several articles in the local press towards the end of 1851 and early 1852 record that Thomas Bolland Langley was in dispute with a fellow silk throwster, Humphrey Brown (who was also the Tewkesbury MP).  Brown was the proprietor of silk mills at Tewkesbury and accused Langley of enticing away some of his employees.  

On 14th November 1851, Ralph Shaw (the Badsey Mill manager and agent) and a Mr Clark (employed in the mill) went to the Oldbury district of Tewkesbury.  Shaw claimed that a boy named Henry Wood asked if they wanted hands at Badsey; he replied that they could do with two or three.  Later in the day, after returning to the area, he claimed that some 30 or 40 boys approached them and said they would like work.

In court, Henry Wood testified that he told Mr Shaw that he could not leave work without a week’s notice.  Wood and a number of other boys were taken to Badsey where they saw Langley who asked if they were engaged at Tewkesbury Mill.  In Tewkesbury they received 3s 6d per week; they were promised more wages and more victuals if they came to Badsey – 3s 9d which, with lodgings, equalled 4s 3d.  Henry Watkins, James Godsall and Henry Kirkham gave corroborative evidence.  Inspector Ryder from the Tewkesbury police went to Badsey Mills in November to serve summonses on the boys.

Thomas Bolland Langley in his defence said:  “I am the defendant in this action and reside at Badsey.  The boys came to the house where I reside and I asked them where they came from.  One of them replied from Tewkesbury.  Asked them where they had been working and they replied at Mr Brown’s mills.  That is all that took place.  I did not understand they had left Mr Brown’s employ at that time.  I saw neither Clark nor Shaw.”

The Judge decreed that Shaw was determined to find hands at any cost and, as Langley was responsible for the acts of his manager, he was required to pay damages of £5 5s to Brown.

Thomas Langley was in further trouble on 1st December 1851 when he was summoned under the Truck Act to Evesham Petty Sessions.  Truck wages were any arrangement under which wages were paid, partly or only, in the form of payment in kind, rather than with conventional money.  He was accused of having paid one of his hands, Harriett Ricketts, a threepenny loaf as part of her wages.  The summons, however, was dismissed.

The final story in the sorry tale of Thomas Bolland Langley’s brief career as a silk throwster occurred the following year.  A report in The Evesham Standard of 23rd September 1852 said that Thomas Bollin (sic) Langley and Ralph Shaw were tried in the County Court in absentia for defaulting on payments.  The Judge said that they must make immediate payment with full costs, but the defendants had already given up the Mill, had disappeared and it is unlikely that the money was every paid.

Allegation of Forgery

We have no idea what happened to Thomas Bolland Langley after he left Badsey in 1852, but his name does appear in newspaper accounts the following year in connection with an alleged forgery dating back to 1851.

In June 1853 an action was brought at Wallingford County Court, Berkshire, against Thomas Bolland Langley’s sister, Elizabeth Langley.  A Mr W C Burt, an attorney practising in Reigate, wished to recover £10 from Elizabeth which was the interest on £100 which she said she had lent to her brother in July 1851 (Langley may have needed money in order to set himself up as a silk throwster in Badsey).  Thomas Langley, who was staying at his father’s house in Wallingford, went to a solicitor’s firm in London on 21st July and applied for the loan of £100, stating that his sister had consented to give a security upon her property.  Three days later, one of the solicitors arranged to meet him and his sister at Wallingford Road Station, but only Thomas attended saying his sister was ill.  The solicitor was satisfied with the inquiries at the interview, so wrote to Mr Burt who consented to advance the money.  The deed of security was sent to Rev T Langley at Badsey and returned signed “Thomas Bolland Langley and Elizabeth Langley”, attested by the Reverend Edmund Boggis, curate of Badsey.  A declaration alleged to have been made by Miss Langley, before the Mayor of Evesham, was returned with the deed.  On receipt of these documents, Mr Burt paid the solicitors who handed the money to Thomas Langley.

Nothing further happened until nearly two years later when, as the interest had not been remitted, application was made by Mr Burt to Miss Langley for payment.  It was only then that Elizabeth Langley discovered that her name had been connected with the loan.  Neither she nor her father would consent to pay the amount, so the action was brought in the County Court.  Edmund Boggis swore that his signature, as attesting witness, was a forgery, and Miss Langley was equally positive that the signature of “Elizabeth Langley” was not in her handwriting, neither had she nor the alleged attesting witness ever seen the deed until that day.  

In a verbatim report in The Berkshire Chronicle, Elizabeth Langley concluded her testimony by saying:  “I have not seen my brother lately.  I cannot really say how long it is since I saw my brother.  I do not know whether or not he is in the country.  The last time that I saw him, I think was about 1851 when he came to Wallingford.  Previous to that time I had been in the habit of seeing him occasionally.  He was residing at Evesham then.”

The judge decided that there was insufficient evidence and judgement was given for the defendant with costs.

What happened to Thomas Langley?

Thomas Bolland Langley, either in his persona as a Reverend Gentleman or a silk throwster, disappears from the written record in the 1850s.  Other than his name featuring in a number of newspaper reports in the summer of 1853, there is no further mention of him in newspapers and there is no record of him in UK census returns or of his death.  There is, however, a death registration for his only son, ten-year-old Reginald Bolland Chevallior Langley, in the second quarter of 1853.

Thomas Bolland Langley’s younger sister, Elizabeth, thought that he might have gone abroad, which is a distinct possibility.  His older sister, Martha, who had married a solicitor, William Adams, in 1840, had emigrated with her family to New Zealand in 1850 (their eldest son, William Acton Blakeway Adams, went on to become an MP for Nelson).

On Ancestry, there are details of a Sarah Langley who was buried at Timaru, New Zealand, on 2nd April 1865, in Row 26, plot 47.  Three years later, a Thomas Langley was buried on 8th April 1868 in Row 26, plot 49.  Was this Thomas Bolland Langley, clergyman turned silk throwster?

Maureen Spinks, November 2020