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William Capel Slaughter – family origins and early life

Posted by on March 14, 2015

 Photograph of William Capel Slaughter [ca.1910]

Photograph of William Capel Slaughter

 My great-grandfather was a significant figure in the city of London as one of the founder members of the law firm, Slaughter and May. It still bears his name, though no family members have been associated with the running of it  since William died in 1917.

Born on May 11th 1857, William was the youngest of six children born to Mihill Slaughter and his wife, Ann Erskine Capel. Her father, James Durnford Capel [1773 -1844] was a Bank of England cashier  from 1793 until he died – a tremendously long working life of around 50 years. As well as a very long career, he must have held  a post of considerable responsibility  since he is listed in the London Gazette of 1818 as being one of only 26 cashiers authorised to sign Bank of England notes to the value of £5 upwards.Through him, Ann had many family links with London banking and legal circles, as well as the Stock Exchange.

William’s great-grandfather – another William – had been a cheesemonger in St. Martin’s Lane during the late 1780s and 90s. His wife was Mary Mihill. Their eldest son was given their mother’s maiden name , as was the tradition in many families, so he became Mihill Slaughter, the first of four generations to bear the name. I have been told that this is a common Northern Irish variant of the name Michael, so perhaps Mary came from Ireland or had Irish ancestors.

The first Mihill Slaughter  [b.1781] went into the family cheese business, but died at the early age of 36 in 1817. He left his wife, Esther, and five young children, the eldest of whom had been named after his father. Sadly, Esther herself died in 1825 when the young family of three boys and two girls were effectively orphaned. It begins to sound positively Dickensian, but happily for the children, their uncle [ confusingly,yet another William Slaughter] and his wife Elizabeth, took the children in and brought them up. Having no family of their own, they devoted themselves to the care of their nephews and nieces and provided handsomely for them in their wills.

The eldest son, Mihill,[b.1813]  went into business with Thomas Capel [son of  James Capel of the Bank of England]. From 1835 -44 they were partners as coal-marchants in Blackfriars, but Mihill obviously set his sights higher in terms of his career and prospects socially. Through his connections with the Capel family he must have met Ann [Thomas’ half-sister] whom he married in 1846. By that time, Mihill was an employee of the Stock Exchange, in it’s recently established Railways department.

The 1840s was the height of the railway building boom, and there was a great deal of investment in the business. Mihill  was the editor and main compiler of ‘The Railway Intelligence’ – a half-yearly publication which gave detailed information on British and foreign railway companies and statistics on the  different businesses, mileages, accidents etc , which became an invaluable handbook for any potential investor. As Mihill’s wealth and status increased he moved his family to what were then the comfortable leafy suburbs of south London. It was still mainly open country at that time, with wide tree-lined streets  and spacious  houses . The newly built railways and omnibus services meant they were in easy reach of the city. Mihill and Ann’s first child [another Mihill] was born in 1847, then came four daughters, and finally their second son, William, who was born in the family home in Kennington.

6 Responses to William Capel Slaughter – family origins and early life

  1. Margaret McAlpine

    A good example of that Victorian virtue ‘getting on in life’. In 1863 John Ruskin mocked Bradford citizens for worshipping ‘the Goddess of getting on in life’. Obviously such a materialistic, worldly pursuit was considered philistine!

  2. Diana Devlin

    Are we going to hear more about this chap, and the founding of Slaughter and May?

  3. David

    There is a memorial plaque to William (later Sir William) Capel Slaughter in the church of St-Peter-in Thanet, Broadstairs. It is on the wall near the organ.
    He was a founder-member of North Foreland Golf Club.

    • Susie Gutch

      Thank you so much for letting me know about the memorial plaque. I didn’t know about it, though I did know he was a founder member of the local golf course. One day I hope to visit the church [and the golf course] and see the site where he had his country house, Whiteness, in the early 1900s. Nothing remains of the house today except the lodge, once at the end of the drive.

  4. Steven slaughter

    My name is Steven slaughter,my fathers name was Harry Todd slaughter born in battersea south London in 1917, my grandfathers name was George slaughter born in Chelsea south west London in 1881, this is as far as I can go at the moment with my family tree, but I do know that my father always used to joke that if I ever got into trouble with the law that it wouldn’t be a problem as we had the backing of the family firm in the city, perhaps it wasn’t a joke after all ,can anyone out there enlighten me with some more info please.

  5. Alice Nissen

    James Durnford Capel, brother of Ann and Thomas Capel, was my gt gt gt grandfather. He and his wife ended their days in Abergavenny where his son Canon Bury Capel was vicar. My grandmother left Abergavenny when she left home to study at Cambridge University in 1911 and didn’t return, but her descendants still have strong roots in that area.

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