Benjamin Morland was an Abingdon solicitor who has left an enduring memorial in the Old Gaol, which was built probably at his initiative and certainly under his administration.
Morland was born in 1768 to a wealthy brewing family in West Ilsley. His father William died when he was five years old, and it was a cousin, Henry Sellwood of Aldworth, who became his guardian and who in 1784 articled him for five years to a Newbury attorney, Richard Townsend. In or soon after 1789, coming at 21 into a considerable inheritance, he began to practise law in Abingdon, where another kinsman, Samuel Sellwood, was already a prominent solicitor and Town Clerk. His practice was in Bath Street, but after 1812 he made his residence at Sheepstead in Marcham, which had belonged to his maternal relatives, the Bunce family of Frilford.
Sheepstead in 1858. (Artist unknown)
(Courtesy of the Marcham Society)
Morland very soon began making his mark. He proved an effective administrator, and throughout his career was named variously as clerk, treasurer, agent, or commissioner for a great number of public organisations: turnpike trusts, canal companies, militia regiments, enclosure commissions and the like, often working together with Samuel Sellwood. He handled significant amounts of public and private money, and his name is sometimes listed among those of Abingdon bankers which suggests that the money did not lie idle in his keeping. By 1793, he was on the Abingdon Corporation as a Secondary Burgess. At some time, probably in the 1790s and certainly by 1803, he also became clerk to the Berkshire magistrates when they met in their Quarter Sessions . At this time, it was the magistrates in Quarter Sessions who performed the functions that would later devolve on the county council. As clerk, he both provided the magistrates with any legal advice they might need and acted to give practical effect to their decisions, since they had no other executive officers on whom they could call.
The different functions that Morland assumed often gave rise to what would be seen today as impermissible conflicts of interest but which were accepted as normal at the time, and the origin of the Old Gaol was one such case. Here, he was working simultaneously in his personal interest and in those of the county and of the town. In the late 1790s, as a commissioner for land tax redemption, he came to an agreement with Catherine Powell, widow of the last tenant of the dilapidated White Hart Inn at the entrance to the Abingdon Bridge. This seems to have given him the idea that the site would do well for a badly needed new gaol. As clerk to the Berkshire magistrates, he will have conducted the negotiations on their behalf, even though he was also a member of the Abingdon Corporation. It was agreed in 1803 that the magistrates would acquire the site from the Abingdon Corporation for £500, but three leaseholders appeared whom the county would have to pay off: Catherine Powell, Morland himself, and an unnamed person for whom Morland was also acting. They received £800 among them. Morland, as effectively chief executive to the magistrates, then proceeded to organise the building project, engaging contractors and paying them on his own authority. Construction took place over a period of almost twenty years as cash came in from the rates, and he will have charged for his time. The Old Gaol finally cost some £26,000, and remains as Benjamin Morland’s great legacy to the town.
Morland was married twice. His first marriage was in 1796 to Harriet Baster of Newbury. They had one child, a daughter who would become known as the geologist and palaeontologist Mary Buckland. Harriet died in 1799. Morland then married Elizabeth Rose Thornhill of Kingston Lisle with whom he had five sons and five daughters. Three of his sons would become lawyers; one of them, George Bowes Morland, would eventually take over most of his father’s practice and functions. Another son, Edward Henry Morland, would acquire the Eagle and Abbey breweries in Abingdon, making brewing a major local industry. Two sons of George Bowes, John Thornhill and Edward, would become mayors of Abingdon.
Benjamin Morland died in 1833.
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