The Escutcheon

Volume 11

Number 1 – Michaelmas Term, 2005

Bleak House

Tim Cockerill

The recent adaptation of Charles Dicken’s Bleak House has reminded me that great uncle William’s pamphlet on chancery reform in 1848 partly inspired Dicken’s great novel.

William Challinor (1821-1880) of Pickwood, Leek, Staffordshire, solicitor was the son and grandson of Leek solicitors and came from an old established family originally spelt “Challenor” (although many variants existed). They were yeoman of Horton in north Staffordshire, in the reign of Henry VIII. They married into several well-known local families, including Adams of Tunstall, Wood of Burslem and Wedgwood, all masters potters, as the Challinors themselves became in the eighteenth century. Their arms are "Sable on a chevron between three cherubims’ heads Or as many garbs Azure".

In Foster’s Life of Dickens (Volume 3, page 29), he says that Charles Dickens was encouraged and strengthened in his design of assailing Chancery abuses and delays by receiving, a few days after the first instalment [of Bleak House], a striking pamphlet on the subject containing details so apposite, that he took from them without change in any material point, the memorable case [of Gridley] related in the fifteenth chapter. Briefly the case had already lasted five years, there were seventeen dependants, the dispute involved a £300 legacy and by then the legal costs were between £800 and £900.

I cannot claim that Jardyce v Jardyce was inspired solely by William Challinor since Dickens had already written the first three parts of the novel when he received the latter’s pamphlet on Chancery reform. However another family dispute at the end of the eighteenth century, Lewthwaite v Lawson, two Cumbrian landed families, also exemplified the enormous delays and expense consequent upon Chancery proceedings. Nevertheless I am not going to complain about this case since my ancestor, William Lewthwaite, of Broadgate, Millom, Cumberland, eventually won the suit and was awarded £100,000 and much property besides, all because of a badly drawn-up will of a childless cousin, a rich West Indian merchant in Whitehaven.


*Inscribed copies in author’s possession.

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