Giving it all away

On this day in 1852 there died a man who these days would have been given therapy for his condition. He was, in those unreconstructed times, called a miser. There is probably a pressure group somewhere railing as you read this that the terminally stingy and absurdly mean should never be referred to in such punitive terms as ‘miser’ — but he was. He had inherited a fortune from his father and grandfather and during his lifetime the canny lawyer doubled his money. He lived in Cheyne Walk which has seen as neighbours in spirit at least, DG Rosetti, George Eliot, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Whistler, Mick Jagger, Prime Minister David Lloyd George and Keith Richards

His name was John Camden Neild. His pastime was counting the trees on his extensive estates.

“He has been known to walk from twelve to fifteen miles to a small portion of his property, and, after counting over the few trees on it, to return the same distance, with no other apparent object for his journey.”

He wasn’t what you might call a looker, and in his 72 years on this earth he never did marry. Maybe this is why…”He was short and paunchy, scarcely above five feet in height, with a large round head, and short neck. He always carried with him an old green cotton umbrella, but never, even in the coldest or wettest weather, wore a greatcoat, considering such a luxury far too extravagant for his slender means. Often has he been seen, in a piercingly cold winter’s evening, entering Aylesbury on the outside of a coach without the slightest addition to his ordinary clothing; while a poor labourer, sitting by his side, appeared warmly clad in a thick greatcoat. His appearance on such occasions often excited the compassion of his fellow-travellers, who mistook him for a decayed gentleman in extreme poverty.”

And three years before his death he had wrote his will that would turn the British Royal Family from all but broke Georgians into contenders for the World’s Rich List. He gave all his fortune — and it was probably worth more than £49 million in today’s money — to Queen Victoria.

Admittedly he did not have any close family, but he was a miser and eccentric to the end, doling out £100 each to the servants some of whom had served him for nearly 30 years.

At first Queen Victoria did the right thing and made it known that she was turning down the cash, but then she and Albert fell in love with Scotland and as luck would have it, the spare change was convenient enough to allow them to buy Balmoral Castle as a private residence and the refurbish it in princely style. That probably only cost a tenth of what the Queen  got from the eccentric royal-lover

You have to wonder though, what the miser Neild would have made of such extravagance…

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