“THE facts of the case are very simple,” a solicitor for the Queen said 150 years ago this week as Maxwell v Maxwell started in London’s Probate Court.
So simple that it would take nearly a decade to solve; so expensive that it would indebt a widow; so intriguing that it had a pantomime villain named Eugène du Boison, and so fascinating that it would end up being settled for love by the king’s financier who was one of the richest men in the world.
As reported by the D&S Times, the case revolved around the will of Robert Thompson Maxwell, a master seaman from Saltburn who had drawn up the will just seven days before his death on June 28, 1871, at his home in Croft House, Hurworth Square.
His cause of death was given as gastric fever, but the D&S said his condition worsened after inhaling “poisonous material while monitoring certain changes at Croft House”.
An Edwardian postcard of the view from Croft Bridge towards Hurworth Place. The white building on the left is Croft House and you can just make out the quirky Tees View Cottages behind the trees. Sir Ernest Cassel would have added
The newspaper said Robert went to sea at an early age and had three children with his first wife before he married her. She had died in 1849 and two years later, aged 52, he married 17-year-old Mary Annie. She told the court the marriage was initially “underground” but despite the age gap their relationship was very “loving” and produced three more children.
From the D&S Times from 150 years ago this week
As he approached death’s door, with a doctor and a lawyer at his bedside and fortified by a glass of milk, the weak Robert changed his will to write his first three children and leave everything to Annie and her offspring. .
The three older Maxwells, who previously had high expectations of their father’s will, alleged that he was “impaired of mind” and acted under the “undue influence” of Annie in his final days, and asked the court to annul the will.
The D&S valued Robert’s estate at £40,000 – or £3.3million in current values at Bank of England inflation – and said it included Croft House and his summer retreat from The Towers in Saltburn – a clever villa built in a prominent location next to the Zetland Hotel.
The towers near the Zetland Hotel in Saltburn were the clifftop home of Robert Thompson Maxwell when he was not living in Croft
He built the two Pease buff brick properties in the early 1860s when, as master seaman, his boat had to enter.
Things took an unexpected turn when, five months after Robert’s death, Annie remarried a Frenchman named Eugène du Boison, described as a “traveler in Roman Catholic clothes”. In the D&S report she is referred to as Madame du Boison and she told the court that she was living with her new husband in Regents Park in London.
After going through all those juicy details, the D&S Times ends its report by saying that the case has been adjourned. In fact, he seemed to disappear from the news pages for a few years, and when he resurfaced, he had taken another unexpected turn.
Because Annie realized that Eugene wasn’t all he seemed. Indeed, in 1870 when he was called Eugène Marchand, he had buried two children – supposed to be his – at St Pancras in London.
Croft House was demolished in 2017 and replaced by five executive houses, but its name remains on its old post
She concluded that he was, in fact, a gold digger who had hastily married her not for love but for her late husband’s handsome fortune. In 1874 the High Court dissolved their marriage and Eugene was arrested a seventh time for making false statements in an attempt to obtain an English naturalization certificate.
But, despite being in prison, Eugene launched a counterclaim in the will case in an attempt to wrest something of value from the estate for himself, and thus the case Maxwell v Maxwell v Du Boison turned into a Dickensian epic along the lines of Jarndyce versus Jarndyce.
As the decade drew to a close, costs had eaten away at Robert’s estate so much that Annie had to re-mortgage Croft House for £4,000 to pay her solicitor in London, and her eldest son, Arthur, fled to the Channel Islands to avoid liability. .
Annie died in 1879, leaving only debts to her children.
But help was at hand from an unexpected side.
At this time, South Durham and North Yorkshire were considered some of the best hunting ground in the country, and many large houses were rented for the season by London speedboats. For example, for one season in the 1870s, Walworth Castle near Darlington was reportedly rented by financier Ernest Cassel.
Sir Ernest Cassel, was so influential with Edward VII that he became known as “Windsor Cassel”
Cassel had arrived in Liverpool aged 18 in 1869 from Cologne with only a bundle of clothes and a violin.
Using Jewish connections, he soon made an international mark, financing railroads in America and iron ore mines in Sweden.
Hunting was his favorite pastime, although the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography notes that this was despite “his certain aversion to horses and his incompetence in riding them”.
It is believed that at Walworth, with Zetland or South Durham, he met Annie’s daughter, Annette.
They married on September 3, 1878, the day Kassel became a naturalized British subject.
After a year of marriage, his indebted mother-in-law died, and he was so wealthy that he was able to eliminate all of the Maxwells’ financial difficulties.
Arthur has returned from the Channel Islands to take up residence at Croft House and next door Tees View Villa – the first house in the village on the A167 from Darlington – was built apparently for another member of the family.
The quirky Tees View Cottages were apparently decorated by Sir Ernest Cassel
It is also locally said that Cassel himself transformed the groom’s quarters of Croft House by embellishing them with battlements and large stone unicorns and lions. Now called Tees View Cottages, they remain spectacular oddities.
On December 18, 1880, Annette gave birth to a daughter, Maud, but she then contracted tuberculosis. As she lay on her deathbed, Cassel agreed to convert to Catholicism so they could meet again in the next life, and the priest summoned to give her the last rites baptized her in her bedroom instead. .
After Annette’s death, Cassel devoted himself to developing his international business – he financed the Nile Dam and the central line of the London Underground – and adored his daughter. He befriended Edward VII and was the last visitor to the royal bedroom on the night of the king’s death in 1910. The next morning, it is said that an envelope filled with a fortune in banknotes was mysteriously found on his pillow.
Despite all its wealth, Cassel’s life is tinged with great sadness. Having lost Annette to tuberculosis, her beloved daughter, Maud, succumbed to the same disease at the age of 33, shortly after giving birth to Edwina, Kassel’s granddaughter, named after the king. She has become the apple of his eye.
A hunt takes place outside the Croft Spa Hotel in January 1909 – the area was a center of hunting and many wealthy men, such as Sir Ernest Cassel, rented large country houses for the season.
Due to his German origins, Kassel fell on hard times during the First World War and was never fully accepted into British society. He died in 1921, leaving a fortune of £7.3m (worth almost £300m today) after donating £2m to charity – that’s one of the greatest fortunes ever amassed in a single lifetime in Britain.
But Cassel was deeply saddened that his marriage to the love of his life, Annette of Hurworth Place, only lasted three years and that his daughter Maud also died young. He said, “I got everything I didn’t want in the world, and nothing I did.”
A year after her death, Edwina, who was a great society beauty, married Queen Victoria’s great-grandson, Lord Louis Mountbatten.
This ended the family’s connection to Croft House, which had been built by Edwina’s great-great-grandfather and had been saved by Sir Ernest. It was auctioned off in 1923, and since its demolition in 2017, only its pole remains to tell of its curious connection to one of the richest self-made men in the British Empire.