Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Moneylender, the Actress and 'Lady Silk Tights'

Lodene, Shoot up Hill
‘Lodene’ stood on the corner of Shoot up Hill and Walm Lane, a large detached house which was later renumbered as 77 Shoot Up Hill. The first occupant was Daniel Jay who moved there after his marriage to Carlotta Jacobs in 1889. On the 1891 census he described himself as a bill broker and in 1901 as a financier, but in reality, he was a money lender. We couldn’t trace his birth until we saw someone who was researching the family history of Carlotta Jacobs. She suggested that Daniel Jay may have been Daniel Jacobs, which was indeed the case; we discovered he was born in Gloucester in 1859, the son of Henry ‘Harry’ Jacobs. Daniel had changed his name to Jay before he married Carlotta Jacobs (no relation) in the West London Synagogue.

Daniel Jay in court in 1898

‘The Little Dustpan’
For many years his father Harry Jacobs ran a shop at 35 and 36 Westgate Street in the centre of Gloucester called oddly ‘The Little Dustpan’. Apparently he used the name because the house furnishings he sold there were ‘dirt cheap’.

Harry Jacobs’ name cropped up in the press when he was involved in an investigation by a Select Committee of MPs who looked at the buying of votes in the 1859 Gloucester election. Several witnesses said that they had gone to the shop where Jacobs gave them £5 to vote for Charles James Monk. He was elected to one of the two seats in April but unseated in August, after a complaint was made.  Despite this, Monk was re-elected as an MP several times after 1865.

The Committee inquiry found that Jacobs had been given £177 from a total of £1,000 (today worth about £85,000) from the Reform Club to spend on their candidate, Mr Monk.  The Reform Club was set up by Liberal and Whig MPs to counter the Tory Carlton Club. For many years, it was common for political parties to pay people to vote for their candidates and to stop this, Parliament brought in the Corrupt Practices Prevention Act of 1854. In December 1859 Harry Jacobs was charged under the Act, but the judge threw out the case, because Jacobs had given full details of the people he’d paid and been given a certificate of exemption by the Select Committee. 

Harry Jacobs’ ‘Little Dustpan’ was very successful and he opened another shop in Cheltenham, while a relative ran a third shop in Maidstone. Then after 23 years he announced in the Gloucester Journal on 5 August 1876 that he was selling up and moving to London.

Money lending in London
Harry’s new enterprise was very different to the ‘Little Dustpan’. He set up a money lending business with jeweller Samuel Albert at the fashionable address of 128 Jermyn Street. The first advert we found for ‘S. Albert and Co’ was in May 1879. Jacobs, like many other London dealers, lent money on a promissory note. The notes were payable at the end of three months at a rate of one shilling per pound per month, or 60% per annum. But if the money wasn’t repaid at the end of each three month period, the interest was added in and so the sum owed increased rapidly.

Harry Jacobs’ first London home was 27 Randolph Crescent. By 1885 he had moved to 18 Greville Road at the Kilburn end of Maida Vale, where he died in 1903 leaving £16,261 (about £1.5M today), to his sons Daniel Jay and Harry Vincent Jacobs.

About 1883 Daniel Jay had started his own money lending business near his father at 90 Jermyn Street. His clients were often ‘young bucks’, who gambled and ran into debt. Other clients were married woman who overspent their allowance and relied on their husbands to pay their debts to Jay. Like his father, Daniel made money from the business but he had to resort to the law to recover unpaid loans; in all, between 1891 and 1912, he pursued nineteen cases through the courts.  

‘Lady Silk Tights’
One of these court appearances was a very high profile case. In January 1898 Jay sued Sir Tatton Sykes and his wife Lady Jessie for repayment of several promissory notes.

Sir Tatton Sykes, the 5th Baron was born in 1826, the son of a wealthy landowner at Sledmere near Hull in East Yorkshire. As a sickly child he was bullied by his father who said he was good for nothing. As an adult he became eccentric, wearing many layers of overcoats to maintain his body temperature. He was also obsessed with his health, eating a daily diet of milk puddings produced by a cook who accompanied him wherever he went. Tatton’s only real interests were breeding racehorses and building churches. 
Sir Tatton Sykes

He was painfully shy but knew that he needed to marry and produce an heir to the estate. Despite his enormous wealth, he was turned down by several prospective wives. Then, when he was 48, he married the dashing 18 year old Jessie Cavendish-Bentinck, a granddaughter of the Duke of Portland. Jessie’s mother, Britannia, ensured that ‘the wedding of the season’ was a high society event. Held on 3 August 1874, Vanity Fair wrote, very tongue in cheek,
I hear there was a quiet little marriage between Sir Tatton Sykes and Miss Bentinck, assisted by a 1,000 or so other people, at a suburban retreat called Westminster Abbey.

Although Jessie tried her best and threw herself into becoming the mistress of a great country house and travelled with her husband on journeys around the world, the marriage simply did not work. Jessie confided to a friend that it had taken Sir Tatton six months to consummate the marriage, and then only when she’d got him drunk. Not surprisingly, after a few years the couple decided to live apart: she at 46 Grosvenor Street in London while he stayed at Sledmere on his 34,000 acre estate.

Jessie quickly spent her £3,000 a year allowance (worth about £280,000 today) as well as several lump sums which Sir Tatton gave her. She ran up huge gambling debts, and was called the ‘greatest woman Plunger’ of the century, (a plunger was the term for a reckless gambler). The situation got out of hand and in December 1896 Sir Tatton was advised by his lawyers to put an advertisement in the papers which said he would not be responsible for any of Lady Sykes’ debts. He was the first husband to do this by using an interpretation of the 1882 Married Woman’s Property Act, which ironically, was actually designed to improve married women’s rights. Unfortunately for Sir Tatton, the advert alerted all of Jessie’s debtors and they took him to court to try to get the money they were owed. In court Tatton said Jessies’ debts currently totalled £69,000, equivalent today to £6.5 million.

Daniel Jay sued Sir Tatton in January 1898 for £15,872 (about £1.5M today) owed on promissory notes, and the five-day case was reported in all the papers. The public were given an insight into the excessive spending habits of Lady Sykes, which demonstrated that she had no control over money. Sir Tatton’s barristers brought in a stream of witnesses to show that the signatures on the five promissory notes given to Jay were not those of Sir Tatton. The jury decided in Sir Tatton’s favour and Jay lost the case. But if Sir Tatton had not signed the notes, then who did? The obvious candidate was Lady Sykes, but the jury astonishingly never raised the idea that she had forged his signature. It was believed, though never admitted, that Sir Tatton later quietly paid Jay the money that Jessie owed him.

Sir Tatton and Jessie were certainly an odd couple. After fighting each other in the court, they would ride home to Grosvenor Street in the same carriage and sit down to dinner together.  Then the next morning, after breakfast, they would return to court for another day of controversy.

But occasionally, when Sir Tatton became exasperated by Jessie, he could be vicious. When their 16 year old son Mark was returning to Sledmere from boarding school for the Easter holidays, his father ordered the gamekeeper to kill Mark’s beloved terriers. A groom took Mark and showed him the bodies of the dogs hanging from a tree. This terrible act of cruelty was meant to upset Jessie rather than punish Mark.

Jessie had many lovers and held lavish parties at her smart London house. On her first trip to New York she was called ‘the most spirited Lady Sykes’. But later, behind her back, she was dubbed ‘Lady Silk Tights’ and lost her standing in society. She began to drink heavily and became an alcoholic. Her loyal maid, Gotherd, was forced to hide her scent bottles as Jessie would drink perfume if nothing else was available. Apparently, the maid even had to conceal Jessie’s corsets, to prevent her drunken mistress from going out and making a fool of herself.

But Jessie also had another and creative side. She edited two weekly journals and wrote several novels. In November 1899 she travelled to South Africa with her son Mark who by then was an officer, and nursed the wounded in the Boer War, writing a book about her experiences which sold well.

Jessie died in London in January 1912 and was buried in Sledmere. Sir Tatton was overheard leaving the church saying, ‘Remarkable woman, but I rue the day I met her.’ Jessie was however, loved by the people of Hull for her good works and charitable gifts. She had delivered Christmas treats to children in Hull for 25 years. Sir Tatton Sykes died in May 1913 leaving £289,446, worth about £24 million today, to his only child, Lt Colonel Mark Sykes.

For a very good book about his family see Christopher Simon Sykes book, ‘The Big House’ (2004).

The Actress
A few months after the ‘Lady Silk tights’ case, Daniel Jay found himself on the other side of the court as a defendant. He was sued in November 1898 by an American-born actress with the stage name of Jenny McNulty. She said Jay had illegally taken furniture and other items of hers and sold them in her absence. Since 1885 Jenny had been a successful actress on the London stage and earned a good salary, ranging from £10 to £30 per week. In a review of a show at the Gaiety Theatre she was described as, ‘a young and pretty damsel who was greatly admired in ‘Adonis’ and is said to have drawn more money to the show (when it was in New York).’

In 1893 Mary McNulty (her real name) had met William Victor Paulet, who told her he was a wealthy gentleman. After a year they married and stayed at her flat in Iddesleigh Mansions, Caxton Street Westminster, where she had lived since 1885. After the marriage, Jenny discovered that far from being independently wealthy, Paulet was in debt. She tried to pay back some of what he owed, but finding it too expensive to stay in London the couple moved in September 1895 to the large 14-room Spencer House in Aylesbury.

In 1896 Jenny received a telegram saying her father was ill and she sailed to America. Her father died in May and after Jenny had received no letters from her husband for five months, she wrote asking William to send money so she could return to England. But she still got no reply and could only afford to return in April 1897. She made enquiries at his club ‘The Orleans’ in King Street and was told her husband had gone away. She asked Jay, who had loaned William money, if he knew where William was. Jay said no, and explained that while Jenny was in America, Paulet had sold him most of the furniture from Spencer House for £500 to pay off his debts. Jenny then discovered that her home had also been sold. She located some of her expensive stage dresses in the Pantechnicon Repository (a storage facility), but they’d been thrown in a heap and were ruined. Jenny was forced to return to the stage where she struggled to make a living. Jay agreed to lend her more money, because he said the silver plate she still owned was worth £150.

Sketches from the court case
Jay told the court that he had known Mr Paulet since 1891 and had made him many loans. In 1897 about £2,000 was still outstanding. Jay said he had also made loans to Mrs Paulet, at a zero rate of interest. He said he’d become the couple’s friend and that Jenny had confided in him on her return from America that she was penniless and so he lent her small sums of money. But when he refused to lend any more, she threatened him, saying she’d ‘make it hot for him’. Jay denied that he had ever made any improper suggestions to Jenny, such as using her beauty to obtain money from men. He believed that she was blackmailing him and that was what this case was really about. Unfortunately for Jay, after four days of evidence the jury decided in favour of Jenny McNulty and she was awarded £1,000 (worth over £93,000 today).

William Paulet
William Paulet was a man of mystery. We think he was born about 1849 in Hornsey.  But he does not show up on any of the birth records, so perhaps (like Jay), this was not his real name. Paulet first appears on the 1871 census when he was living in Howland Street, St Pancras. In 1875 he had travelled to New York where he married Ada Louise Smith who came from a wealthy Connecticut family. Their first child, Maude, was born in Newquay in Cornwall in 1876. Then their son Henry was born in Saltzburg Austria in 1880 where Ada died seven years later. William Paulet returned to England and he appears on the 1891 census as a lodger in 34-35 Jermyn Street, ‘a widower, aged 41 living on income’. It’s interesting that Paulet was then living very close to Daniel Jay who was at number 90 Jermyn Street. Jay said this was when he first met Paulet and lent him money. Paulet went bankrupt in July 1898 and disappeared before Jenny’s court case against Jay. It’s believed that he returned to Austria and died in Vienna, but we haven’t been able to prove this. We could also not find out what happened to Jenny McNulty after she won the case, but we think she continued acting.

Money Lending
Money lending at high rates, or usury, had been an issue for centuries. Concern grew in Victorian England and when Edmund Yates set up ‘The World’ in 1874, it contained an article by Henry Labouchere (known as ‘Labby’) attacking the so called ‘West-End Usurers’. He named Henry Beyfus and Albert Boss of 7 Sackville Street who had charged an annual interest rate of 60% on loans to Lord Albert Clinton. Beyfus and Boss prosecuted the paper for libel. The case was defended by solicitor George Lewis who called moneylenders ‘base, vile and contemptible’ and it was eventually adjourned. A few years later Labby set up his own paper called ‘Truth’ in which he campaigned against fraudsters. In 1884 he named Daniel Jay and his father Harry Jacobs as usurers.

In 1898 Parliament set up a Select Committee to look at money lending. That April Jay was asked to give evidence. He said he started his business in Jermyn Street fifteen years ago with £2,000 and had turned this into £50,000 - £60,000. But he denied that he charged excessive interest rates or put undue pressure on people to pay. Sir George Lewis, the most powerful lawyer of his time, also gave evidence. He put a strong case against the West-End usurers and pointed out their practice of sending out circulars advertising their services. He was particularly annoyed about a new trend whereby Jay and others, such as Samuel Lewis of Cork Street, preyed on married women and lent them money without their husband’s knowledge. Other targets were young undergraduates who got into serious debt and then relied on their fathers to pay off the loans. The confidant of high society and royalty, Lewis gave examples of the many cases he had defended.

The Committee suggested that controls needed to be tightened and this led to the Moneylenders Act of 1900 which required registration of all lenders and allowed courts to dissolve unfair agreements. A second Act in 1927 forbade money lenders employing agents or sending out adverts. Today we have the Consumer Credit Act (1974) where traders must have full licences with the Office of Fair Trading which can be revoked in the event of irregularities. But similar concerns about payday loans still exist. Wonga was recently forced by the new City financial regulator to wipe out about £200 million on loans to 330,000 people, and scrap interest and charges owed by a further 45,000 customers.

Jay leaves London
About 1909 Jay moved to ‘Lodene Cottage, later ‘Lodene Greys’, Cookham in Berkshire where he died in 1935. He was a rich man and left Carlotta £88,842 (equivalent to £4.7 million today). She died there in 1941.

His old house on Shoot Up Hill was taken over by Clark’s College which had a head office in Chancery Lane. The company was begun by George E. Clark in 1880 and initially prepared people for the Civil Service Examination. The branch at Cricklewood continued as a college at least into the 1960s. Today the building has gone and the site is now a block of flats.

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