The Story of the Reverend Smith’s Wealth  


In Derbyshire in the middle of the 18th century, two young tanners – Paul Hogg and Thomas Smith (the first) – became great friends. Their friendship endured and their families became closely intertwined through marriage over three generations. Their story extends from the beginning of the industrial revolution through the Victorian era to the 1920s when their common great grandson, Dr Montagu Lomax, was to set in motion legislation which changed the face of mental health in Great Britain. 

Paul Hogg declared his intention to marry in 1765, and asked his friend Thomas Smith (the first) to be his bondsman. Paul Hogg’s marriage bond is the first documentary evidence of their connection. A marriage bond was a written notice of intention to marry. A bondsman paid a large sum of money into the parish which became forfeit if it was later shown that there was a legal impediment to the marriage. Normally, a member of the immediate family stood as the bondsman. A friend would have been an unusual bondsman, and it would have implied a degree of trust between the two men. Once the marriage bond had been placed, a marriage license could be issued and this got around the need to have the banns called in the parish church on three consecutive Sundays. Marriage by Licence (as opposed to Marriage by Banns), became viewed as a symbol of social status because it was expensive.

The two young tanners both married and started their families, with Paul Hogg in Clifton close to Ashbourne, and Thomas Smith (the first) based in Wyaston, three miles south of Ashbourne. Thomas’ sons – Thomas (the second) and John (the first) were born in Wyaston, but while the boys were still small in around 1786, he moved his family to Bermondsey in London. 

Bermondsey was the centre of the tanning trade for London, situated south of the river where the stink of the tan pits could be kept away from the gentry.  By 1786, the industrial revolution was in its early stages and people were flooding into the towns. Leather was in huge demand – shoes, harness and saddles, carriage fittings, belts to drive the factories – tanning was a profitable trade. Both Paul Hogg in Clifton, and Thomas Smith (the first) in Bermondsey made money from the industrial revolution. Their wills show that by the time they died, they were both wealthy men and had used their money  to invest in  land and property. Paul Hogg bequeathed £200 to his daughter Mary along with a parcel of land at his death in 1793. It is difficult to gauge the exact value of £200 in todays money but it would have represented considerable wealth for 15 year old Mary Hogg. Thomas (the first) also left money and property to be divided between his two sons, John (the first) and Thomas (the second) when he died in 1800. 

In 1812, the connection between the Hoggs and the Smiths was continued by the marriage of Mary Hogg to John Smith (the first). John and Mary married in  Ashbourne but he took his new wife back to Bermondsey, where he continued to work in the leather industry. This was the time of the Napoleonic wars and once again there was a huge demand for leather to supply the troops and the horses. (By 1838 leather manufacturing had become the fourth sector in the British economy after cotton, wool and iron). John (the first) and Mary were already independently wealthy, and John(the first)  continued to invest in property. They had two sons – John (the second) and Thomas (the third). John(the first) died in 1844, followed by his wife, Mary in 1847. The brothers, John (the second) and Thomas (the third) thus inherited money and property from their parents. 

Thomas (the third) made some very interesting life choices following the death of his father in 1844. He married his first cousin, Harriet Hogg in the same year. Harriet was a frequent visitor to Bermondsey to stay with her Aunt Mary, so the pair  would have known each other from childhood. Thomas (the third) continued to live in Bermondsey working as a currier in the leather trade. His first son Stuart was born here in 1845 and died the following year. Bermondsey was not a healthy place to raise a family – see Charles Dickens’ description below.

Bermondsey Leather Market.—This great leather, or rather hide market, lies inWeston-street, ten minutes’ walk from the Surrey side of London-bridge. The neighbourhood in which it stands is devoted entirely to thinners and tanners, and the air reeks with evil smells. The population is peculiar, and it is a sight at twelve o’clock to see the men pouring out from all the works. Their clothes are marked with many stains; their trousers are dis-coloured by tan; some have apron and gaiters of raw hide; an about them all seems to hang a scent of blood. The market itself stands in the centre of a quiet block of buildings on the left hand side of Weston-street, the entry being through a gateway. Through this a hundred yards down, a square is reached. Most of it is roofed, but there is an open space lathe centre. Under the roofing are huge piles of fresh hides and sheep-skins. There is no noise or bustle, and but few people about. There are no retail purchasers, the sales being almost entirely made to the great tanners in the neighbourhood. The warehouses round are all full of tanned hides; the yards behind the high walls are all tanneries, with their tens of thousands of hides soaking in the pits. Any visitor going down to look at the Bermondsey hide-market should, if possible, procure beforehand an order to visit one of the great tanning establishments. Unless this be done the visit to the market itself will hardly repay the trouble of the journey, or make up for the unpleasantness of the compound of horrible smells which pervade the whole neighbourhood.  (Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens’s Dictionary of London, 1879)

Presumably realising that he was financially secure and needing to take his growing family away from the problems of Bermondsey, Thomas (the third) took the decision to leave the family trade of tanning and entered Cambridge University to study theology in 1851. He was ordained in Chester in 1855.

In 1858, Thomas(the second), died childless, and left most of his estate to his two nephews, Thomas (the third) and John(the second). At this point, Thomas (the third) was a vicar in Harbourne. He used part of his inheritance to buy the living (advowson) of the Harbourne church from the Bishop. The advowson gave him the right to collect the income from his parish and to nominate a parish priest . In the 19th century, an advowson had real value, similar to owning property or land. It stood him in good stead later, when he appointed his eldest son, Percival, as vicar of Harbourne.

The final contribution towards the wealth of Thomas (the third) was the death of his brother, John (the second) in 1874. John was childless and left the bulk of his fortune to his Thomas. The Reverend Thomas Smith (the third) was a businessman. He continued to buy property and land, generating considerable income from rent. His 17-page will detailed properties in Kensington, London and Lime street Birmingham. By modern day standards, he would have been a multimillionaire, and his role as a vicar was probably incidental to his property portfolio.

So we can now see how Reverend Thomas Smith (the third) became  so fabulously wealthy by the time of his death in 1893. His family had been tanners from the start of the industrial revolution through the Napoleonic wars when leather was a crucial part of the economy, and tanners with a good head for business were able to make large profits. Thomas (the third) inherited part of Paul Hogg’s fortune through his mother Mary, and eventually all of the money from his paternal grandfather, father, uncle and brother. 

It is a great story – the making of the middle classes fuelled by money from a working class family!

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