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CHARLES ABBOTT, FIRST BARON TENTERDEN, LORD CHIEF JUSTICE OF ENGLAND

Charles was born on the 7th October, 1762 and grew up in a small and mean house on the left hand side of the western entrance to the cathedral in Canterbury.

His father, John Abbott, was the wigmaker of the town. Charles was described as a scrubby little boy who ran after his father, carrying for him a pewter basin, a case of razors and a hair-powder bag.

He learned to read at the dame school and then at 7 years of age he entered the King's school. He had a sharp ability at school and was described from earliest years as industrious, apprehensive, regular and correct in all his conduct, even in his temper - and prudent in everything. Another school mate described him as grave, silent, demure, always studious and well behaved. It was originally his father's plan to arrange an apprenticeship for him and indeed the indenture papers had already been signed, sealed and delivered but he was put forward for a scholarship at Oxford.

When he was fourteen, his father put him forward as a candidate for a place as a singer in the cathedral. Unfortunately, his voice was husky and he lost out to another boy. Years later, when visiting his home town of Canterbury with a fellow judge, he pointed to a singer in the cathedral and said that was the only other human being he had ever envied.

He went on to Corpus Christi College Oxford. Every year there were only two Chancellor's medals for English and Latin prose. He won the latin prize in his second year and the English prize in his third year. His proficiency in Latin verse was remarkable and at 17 years old, he was captain of the school. It was shortly after that he became the tutor to the son of Sir Francis Buller and it was this that made him consider becoming a barrister.

He married Mary Lamotte (a Huguenot) and it seems to have been a real love match. He enjoyed the domesticity at home and records show love poetry written to his wife. Prior to their marriage, Mary had sent him a lock of her hair. In exchange he wrote a poem for her titled "The answer of a Lock of Hair to the Inquiries of it's Former Mistress".

The couple had four children, two sons and two daughters.

He was an excellent barrister and was called to the bar in 1796. He earned more money during this time than at any other time during his career even though others thought that he was unimaginative and a poor speaker. His recorded income in 1807 was 8,026 pounds and 5 shillings.

In later years it was reported that he had a hasty and violent temper but he controlled it. Occasionally this came out in court and he was particularly caustic and intolerant of unnecessarily complex sentences.

He not only owned the property at 28 Russell Square, London but also bought Hendon Place in 1828. It later became known as Tenterden Hall.

 

It is not in the records, but family tales state that the Baron maintained close relations with his relatives in Canterbury.

He became Lord Chief Justice in 1818 and was appointed to the peerage in 1827. At first he attended the House of Lords quite regularly but he got so angry and opposed the Reform Act of 1832 so strongly that he refused to go again.

Although his health had been failing for quite some time, Charles continued to attend to his duties. Lord Brougham met him at the recorders council and begged him to go home saying "Go, chief justice. You will kill yourself" "It's done already" came the sad reply.

Though ill, he presided over the trial of Charles Pinney the mayor of Bristol for misconduct and neglect of duty during the riots in that city. He was noted to be very impatient during the trial and on the third day he was confined to bed. He returned home on 25th October and died on 4th November 1832 of inflammation of the lungs.

His last words, uttered just before he lost consciousness were "Gentlemen, you are all dismissed".

He was buried, at his own request, in the Foundling Hospital, of which he was a governor
- and he had written his own epitaph a couple of months earlier.

Further information: Provided by David Abbott Fisher:

He was felt by some to be an unusually fair judge and able to demonstrate impartiality where others might not. In the trial of Thistlewood and others (the Cato Street Conspiracy) he was especially scrupulous towards conspirators against whom there was a great hue and cry. It is also believed that he presided at the Royal Divorce Hearing.

He was satirised as Lord Widdington in the novel "Ten Thousand a Year"

See a transcript of his last will and testament

The family motto was "Labore"

 

View Charles Abbott's Family in the Family Tree