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The murderer, the JP, and the man who electrocuted himself

by Debbie Reavell

The acquitted murderer, the reluctant JP and the guy who accidentally electrocuted himself: what did they have in common? They were three generations of the same family, and all were named William Henry. The first was born about 1792. He lived at Nutley. On the 5th of November 1833 this William Henry Blatch was at home with his wife, Marianne. Normally at this time he would have been away from home for about four days, attending the fair at Appleshaw near Andover, and this information was known to one Thomas Gilbert. Gilbert had been employed by the Blatch family some years prior to this, but had been dismissed for stealing from Mrs Blatch, and had fallen in with a very bad crowd. Had Mr Blatch been away, then only women of the family would have been in residence. During the night the family heard a noise.

In the words of the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette:

Mr Blatch immediately took a gun which he always kept loaded, and went down stairs, where after searching a room adjoining a pantry in which china was kept, he entered it , but unlocking the door he found some resistance pressing behind. He immediately stepped forward, and turning around, discovered a man with a cap drawn close over his eyes standing behind the door. Mr B called out “Holloa!” and not receiving any answer fired, and the man fell.

Mr Blatch feared that the man might have accomplices, and went back to his room and locked himself in, but the room filled with smoke. (The wadding in the gun had set the man’s clothes smouldering). The whole family shouted for help, but it was a long time before any neighbours heard and came to assist. When they arrived Mr Blatch went back to the pantry, and, turning him over, recognised his former servant. He was then still alive, but “under extreme pain”. Before a surgeon could arrive, the man died. The jury returned a verdict of “justifiable homicide”. The inquest was taken by Mr Charles Shebbeare, a well –known lawyer in Basingstoke.

William Henry Blatch the next was born in 1820 at Nutley. In 1854 Blatch purchased a brewery in Theale which had been founded in 1830 and in 1861 the family are in Tilehurst – William Henry, his wife, Catherine, nee Edney and sons, another William Henry, Frank, and daughters, Alice, Kate and Agnes. His mother, Marianne and brother Frank were also part of the household. There is also a governess, Maria Graysmark, then aged 34 who later ran a school at Westlands on the corner of Bounty and Winchester Roads. One of her pupils there is Kate Blatch.

In 1877 Kate married William Playter Stark, one time brewery manager, and they lived at Hillstead in Cliddesden Road. William Stark’s brother was Robert Stark, the father of Freya Stark the writer and traveller of renown. Kate Stark, nee Blatch, died in Newton Abbot in 1900, and in 1903 Stark married Evelyn Bayley third daughter of William H Bayley, another prominent Basingstoke citizen – lawyer, town clerk, charity trustee, even noted as a good cricketer!

A good all round player… a powerful batsman… run like a deer

Brewery House, Brook Street

Brewery House, Brook StreetW H Blatch took over the management of John May’s brewery in Brook Street in about 1875. His first wife, Catherine, nee Edney had died in 1863, and in 1868 he married his second wife, Lydia nee Newman. They lived at the Brewery House, Brook Street (left) with four of his five children. His brother Frank continued to manage Blatch’s Theale Brewery Ltd which was owned by the family until 1965 when Ind Coope took it over.

This William Henry Blatch became a stout member of the Basingstoke establishment, being mayor in 1880-1881 and in 1889 a trustee of the municipal charities and the Aldworth Charity. It was perhaps his bad luck to be mayor that year because it also meant that he was chairman of the justices. This was the worst year of the riots in Basingstoke, known as the Massagainian Riots, the cause of which was the fights between the Salvation Army who had come to the town to save the people from the perils of drunkenness, and the brewers whose livelihood appeared to be threatened by the evangelising. There was no way that the mayor and justices could get this right. If they upheld the Salvation Army’s right to hold its services in the Old Silk Mill in Brook Street, then they were attacked for not protecting the rights of the other citizens whose windows and property were damaged by the many fights and scuffles which took place in the streets. The Salvation Army operated by marching and singing. The brewers joined their marches with their own noise.

Our next William Henry Blatch was born in 1851, the oldest of William and Catherine’s children. In 1882 he married a US citizen, Harriot Eaton Stanton, and in 1891 they were living at The Mount, Bounty Road, (roughly where the Conservative Club is today). It was their home for twenty years. Harriot Eaton Stanton Blatch was the daughter of campaigning parents in the US and had a degree from Vassar in mathematics. She lived for twenty years in the UK and was actively connected with the Women’s Suffrage Society, the Fabian Society and other societies. It was on a transatlantic voyage that she and Blatch met. She worked with Charles Booth who was preparing his book Village Life in England which formed the basis of her own master’s thesis at Vassar in 1894. In 1902, (?)William, Harriot, and their daughter Nora moved to the States. Nora, too, was an active suffragist and studied to be an engineer.

William Blatch met an untimely end. He was killed by a broken electric light wire, which had fallen across the path at the entrance to the lawn of the home of Channing Pollock, the playwright at Shoreham, Long Island. The paper reported that Blatch had a large country home at Shoreham, where he had developed one of the largest and finest hanging gardens on Long Island. His daughter has a place of some importance in American feminist history. She was an architect, and had a house built for her parents at Shoreham.

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