Legal practitioners at Launceston and a ‘melancholy suicide’

With lingering pretensions to its former glories as Cornwall’s capital Launceston had more than a smattering of professional people among its populace. As befits a place that shared the assize courts with Bodmin there were several solicitors and lawyers active in the town in the mid-1800s. The Victorian Lives database captures one who became a solicitor and another solicitor’s clerk. These provide a contrast with those temporary residents of Lanson’s workhouse who were the subject of the previous blog.

Launceston Castle from the south

Apsley Peter was the son of Richard Peter, a Lanson based attorney at mid-century. After his legal training the young Apsley spent a few years at a practice at Sevenoaks in Kent. He then returned west but not quite as far as Cornwall, working as a solicitor in Holsworthy in west Devon in 1881 while lodging at the house of a farming agent. In 1882 he made the long trip back to Kent in order to marry Sarah Hodges. He and Sarah then set up house at Holsworthy, employing a couple of servants.

After he retired Apsley and Sarah moved to Bude, where he died in 1926. Apsley’s son, also called Apsley, had become a solicitor himself by 1911. Three generations of lawyers showed considerable continuity and the advantages of family connections. Others had to make their way into the legal profession by dint only of their own effort.

William Atkins was the son of an innkeeper at the Ring O’Bells in Fore Street Launceston. In 1864 William’s father cut his throat in a fit of religious mania and it was the 14 year old William who first found his dying father. (For a report of this ‘melancholy suicide’ see here.) After his father’s death William lived with his widowed mother in Tower Street in the town, having become an attorney’s clerk.

The top of Fore Street around 1900. The whole area of Fore Street and Northgate Street was demolished and ‘redeveloped’ in the 1960s. For a full account see the excellent site ‘Launceston Then!’

In 1873 William married Eliza Raddall, also from Lanson and in the 1880s added the job of assistant overseer (of the poor) to his legal work. The pair and their small family of three children continued to live at the small, four-roomed house in Tower Street before moving to Holborn Terrace in Tavistock Road on the outskirts of the town. William was never able (or willing) to employ servants. Nonetheless, he collected a portfolio of occupations that must have made him a central figure in the town’s life: in addition to his post as assistant overseer he was at various times a tax collector and a newspaper correspondent.

One thought on “Legal practitioners at Launceston and a ‘melancholy suicide’

  1. A very interesting account of the suicide, in the link (very graphic and detailed!) but I really wonder if “temporary insanity / religious mania” genuinely describes this man’s state of mind at the time. It is interesting that no one actually says – despite all the detail – why he had been so depressed and unhappy for so long.

    If there was no insight among his family members or doctor, that is really sad.


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