The extraordinary case of Hannah Tomlinson was recorded in The Times newspaper October 1881 of a case brought before the court in July 1881.
Hannah Tomlinson was a widow residing at Grewelthorpe. She was 84 when she died on 24th Feb, 1868.She made her will on 26th May 1856. She was devisee under her husbands will. After her husband’s death, a woman named Jane Wells waited upon her. who had attended the husband during his lifetime. Mr Richmond & Mr Fryer, the 2 plaintiffs in the action, had both been on intimate terms with the husband, and were co-executors under his will, and with them, Mrs Tomlinson was in the habit of advising upon her affairs.
A Mr. Graham however who lived close to Mrs Tomlinson, managed her affairs for her. and together with Mrs Fisher had got her to make a will, sometime early in the month of May 1866.
After making this will, Mrs Tomlinson became very uncomfortable upon the subject of the will which she had made, and she sent for Mr Fryer. on the 25th May, and told him of the will that she had made. and she sent for a man named Warrier to draw up a paper appointing Fryer & Richmond as executors of her will. That day she went away from her house to Jane Well’s house.
On 25th May Mr. Fryer came to see her, and she sent him to fetch Stephen Metcalfe, the village schoolmaster., to make her will. She also sent for 2 witnesses.
The schoolmaster drew the will & the witnesses signed it. Fryer did not remain in the house while the will was being made. Mrs Tomlinson told him to go away as he would be interested under it.
The will after providing for the debts and just payments of the executors left the sum of £50 to Jane Wells and the rest of her property to Richmond & Fryer equally. and then appointed them sole & joint executors. The will purported to be signed by Hannah Tomlinson by her mark. and there was the usual form stating that the testatrix had signed the will in the presence of witnesses. The will was also signed by Metcalfe as a witness. He died shortly afterwards.
The affidavit had been made by Mr Fisher. the defendant’s attorney, which stated, among other things that Hannah Tomlinson was addicted to excessive drinking for several years. so as to make her incapable of making or understanding a will. It also stated that Mr Metcalfe was a broken down schoolmaster who had died of sheer starvation.
The latter statement was retracted by the learned counsel for the defendant in the course of the case. The question of undue influence was also abandoned, and the 2 issues of due execution and capacity remained to be tried. The property under the will was sworn to be under £1500. and it was stated to be about £1100.
Henry Lofthouse. one of the attesting witnesses, was called and said he was sent for to come to Mrs Tomlinson’s. He found Stephen Metcalfe there.Thackeray the other attesting witness came soon after. He did not recollect anything being said, but Metcalfe read the commencement of the will and the attesting clause. He signed the will close by the place where the testatrix had appeared to have signed it. He could not tell whether her mark was on the will when he signed. Metcalfe had asked her whether she acknowledged it to be her will, but he did not know whether she said yes. He said however that he was satisfied that she acknowledged it to be her will. She did not sign her mark in his presence. He said he had a very bad memory, and could not remember anything, even when things were ordered at his shop he forgot all about them. He had made a will himself, it had been signed by witnesses,, but he could not recollect whether he had signed his own will or not.
The other witness Thackeray was called and said he understood he was called for to witness Mrs Tomlinson’s will. He could not tell whether she said it was her will or not. He had made an affidavit where he had sworn that she had signed it, making her mark in his presence. and that it was read over and she seemed to understand it. He now swore that she did not sign in his presence and that her mark was not there when he signed. The paper was folded down and he did not see the mark. It might have been there. He said he thought he would not sign the affidavit, it was prepared and written beforehand. It was read over to him. He did not say the old woman had made her mark. It “was a good bit before he signed it”. but he considered to sign it before he came away. Though no-one made any attempt to induce him to sign it. While the will was being signed by the witnesses, Mrs Tomlinson was in the room,walking about. She appeared perfectly sober. Shortly after signing the will she told Jane Wells that she had done well for her that day, She had promised in her husband’s lifetime that if she Jane Wells were faithful to her she would be faithful and had it in her power to reward her. She frequently said that she had no relations, and that she had none she would leave a farthing to. Mr Fryer had asked her several times if she had any relations. If she had they had the meet right to her money. She said “That black toad Graham had got Fisher to her and they had drawn up a long paper but they had no authority”. There was no dispute that she was a woman of very drunken habits. Her doctor stated that she was quite capable of making a will in May 1866 but for a year before her death which happened 1868 he had noticed softening of the brain all the witnesses for the plaintiff said she was a shrewd clever woman.
His Lordship reserved the point and gave leave to move in the event of the of the verdict being against the defendant.Mr Fisher the defendants attorney was then called He said that the testatrix had about as little mind as any woman could have.
In April 1866 he had received several messages to go an make a will. He had previously made her husband’s will. Mr Graham came and urged him to go. He told Graham not to stay whilst the will was being made.
Mrs Tomlinson was sober but had doubts about her capacity to make a will. She could not keep her mind upon the will. She frequently repeated that she wanted her property to go to her relations. He asked her “To whom else do you want to anything?” She did not mention Mr Graham.
After a time she began to yawn. Graham ordered her some rum. She became as if unwell. The witness suggested some more rum. It was wonderful how it improved her. She then said she would like Graham to have some money. He drew the will. It left her property to her relations, without naming them. to be distributed as if she were intestate. and £600 to Mr Graham.
She never mentioned the names of Fryer, Richmond or Wells. He read the will over to her 2 or 3 times. She could not tell who her relations were. Raper the defendant was her cousin by the Father’s side. He lived at Ripon. She told the witness to go and ask him who her relations were. The witness had known Mrs Tomlinson for 50 years. and had never seen any of her relations with her.
Several witnesses were called to speak of the habits of the testatrix. They described her as being almost constantly drunk, and of a very feeble intellect when sober. She did not know persons who she had met and known for many years. She threw china ornaments out of the window and broke them. She started out of bed in the middle of the night and lit a great fire in the street. She went out naked into her garden. She paid for some cakes with a bit of stick and a bit of turf. She tried to light her fire with the wrong end of a lighted candle. She used to ask after her brother and husband after they were dead, and used to talk to herself when walking about. She was more often drunk than sober and would consume 2 gallons of rum in 3 weeks.
His Lordship summed up and the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiffs upon all issues.
Researched by B.Bradley.
Last update June 2014.
Looking for Hannah in old records.
In November 1836 Hannah Robinson. married Marmaduke Tomlinson butcher.
Both of Grewelthorpe.
In 1851 in Grewelthorpe she was aged 62 wife of Marmaduke age 49.
In 1861 in Grewelthorpe she was aged 72 born in Grewelthorpe C 1789. The wife of Marmaduke Tomlinson a Landed Proprietor born in Mickley. He was aged 59. Marmaduke died in Jan 1866.