Edmund Rudge - 'A Singular Character'

by C.F. Wicken, 1994

2018 saw the 175th. anniversary of the death of Mr. Edmund Rudge, a notable Tewkesbury character in his day. This brief notice appeared in the Gloucester Journal of October 14th.,1843:

'On Sunday last, the 8th. instant, died, at his humble residence in St. Mary's Lane, Tewkesbury, in the 84th year of his age, Mr. Edmund Rudge, an opulent tanner, who, from his eccentric habits, parsimony, and great wealth, had acquired the appellation of the 'Tewkesbury Jemmy Wood.' He had been a regular attendant at Gloucester market for upwards of half a century, constantly performing the journey there and back on foot; and had even made arrangements for his accustomed weekly visit to Gloucester to purchase hides, on Saturday last. Previously to starting, however, he experienced such an utter prostration of strength, that, although he was wholly exempt from sickness, pain, or bodily disease, he was compelled reluctantly to return to his bed, where he quietly expired the next day. Mr. Rudge was never married; he lived entirely alone, performing himself all the drudgeries of his limited domestic establishment; he laboured unremittingly in his tan-yard until within a few days of his death; he had ever denied himself the comforts and conveniences if not the necessaries of life; and died, as he had always lived, in a mean and filthy habitation and neighbourhood; yet it is generally supposed that his property will very much exceed a hundred thousand pounds! It may hence be inferred - although he was strictly honest and upright in all the transactions of his life - that he was, in the true sense of the term, a miser.'

"The Multiplication table was his creed,"
"His paternoster, and his decalogue. "

The following week the Journal printed a fuller account of Mr. Rudge's life: 

'This eccentric individual, whose death we mentioned last week, has afforded another instance of the tenacity with which misers cling to wealth to the very latest moment of their existence, and the reluctance which they almost invariably evince to making a will, as if the act of saying who shall possess their hoarded gold after their death robbed them of the sense of enjoying it during life. On Friday night, it seems, a friend called upon him, and suggested to him, that if he had worldly affairs which he desired to settle, it would be better, considering his great age, nearly 84, and his growing infirmities, that he should do so, and make his will. He replied, "l must go to Gloucester to-morrow, but on Monday morning I will send for a lawyer and do it." Poor man! - on Monday morning he was a corpse - on Sunday "his soul was desired of him;" and the immense wealth for which for more than fourscore years he had toiled and grieved and denied himself the commonest comforts of life, availed him nothing, but remained behind him a monument of the corroding influence which the love of money has upon the best affections of the heart, and of the vanity of applying the whole energies of life to the heaping together of wealth for no higher purpose than the sordid desire of seeing it uselessly accumulate, without devoting the smallest portion of it to the increase of the real happiness of the miser himself, or of his fellow creatures. Mr. Rudge, "The Tewkesbury Jemmy Wood," had but one thought, that of "increasing his store;" and to attain that end it may be truly be said of him.

"He meanly stole (discreditable shift,)
"From back and belly too their proper cheer."

In the life-time of his father and brother, the three, who seem to have been imbued with an entirely kindred disposition, kept house together, and performed for themselves all the duties of cook, scullion, chambermaid, never putting themselves to the charge of satisfying the clamorous appetite of a servant, With regard to their own board and maintenance, each kept a separate cupboard, and some ludicrous disputes are said to have occurred between them when suspicion arose that either had been furtively making free with a slice from the other's loaf. Their meat was mainly supplied in 'rumps and burs' from the skins in their own yard; the luxury of the butcher's stall being scarcely, if ever, resorted to; though latterly the subject of these remarks extended his indulgence to himself so much, that on Saturday nights he purchased for his week's supply, two pounds of mutton, always stipulating that the quantity should not be exceeded, and that it should he cut from the fat part of the fattest sheep in the shop.

He was always an early riser, and on Saturdays, on which days he walked to Gloucester to transact business in the market there, he would be in his tan-yard from three or four o'clock in the morning till nine, when, having done what might be called a good day's work, he returned into the house, ate his breakfast, consisting of a lump of bread and a farthing's worth of milk, and then started on his journey. His penurious habits accompanied him in his business transactions at Gloucester. Having purchased his stock of skins, he never thought of paying a sixpence to a porter to convey them to the quay, but threw them into a wheelbarrow which he kept for the purpose, and wheeled them himself to the water's side, having sometimes, according to the extent of his purchases, to perform several journeys through the streets with his loaded barrow. Upon one occasion, some years ago, he had walked to Gloucester, having previously worked hard in his tan-yard, - had employed himself in the purchase of his skins, and wheeling them to the quay, and had then walked back home to Tewkesbury, without tasting bit or drop! the consequence was that he fell down on the kitchen floor, to all appearances dead, the effect of bodily exhaustion and long fasting. His last visit to Gloucester was on Saturday, Sept. 30, eight days before his death, and it is supposed that the exertion was too much for his years and strength, and hastened his decease. Having, some years ago, seen in the Gloucester Journal, that a ship had arrived in Ireland - we believe at Cork - with a cargo of hides from South America, he, with a quick eye to the main chance, determined to proceed there to see if he could make a profitable purchase, Do our readers imagine that he immediately took coach for Bristol, and embarked there in a packet, as most other persons on a similar errand would have done? Certainly not. He took his stick in his hand, and walked to Milford Haven, a distance of some 130 or 140 miles, worked his passage over from thence to Cork, bought a large quantity of hides, got them shipped, after driving a bargain that he should lump himself in as part of the freight, and returned home to Tewkesbury, the whole expenses of his journey only amounting to between six and seven shillings!

In this way he amassed together immense wealth. His landed property is estimated at and his personal property at upwards of £100,000 - altogether it is supposed his wealth cannot be less than £140,000 from to £150,000.

His father died, we believe, about twenty years since, and his brother has been dead about nine years; since which time till the period of his death he lived entirely alone, wallowing in riches, but voluntarily undergoing all the practical destitution of the most abject poverty, A servant, a charwoman, or a washerwoman was unknown in his house; and the state of dirt in which everything about him was allowed to remain is almost inconceivable, and to conceive it, would only be to fill the mind with disgust.

"Who would not wish to be from wealth exempt,"
"Since riches point to misery and contempt?"'

In his house all luxuries were excluded - the kitchen in which he resided had a common, brick floor, and furniture of the most meagre and common kind, and afforded a specimen of the sordid antique. It is supposed that no addition had been made to the general furniture of his dwelling for at least seventy years, with one single exception, and that was exceedingly characteristic, namely, a cheap portrait of Jemmy Wood, of Gloucester. This was stuck up in his kitchen in a prominent situation, and the old man evidently looked upon his Gloucester prototype as a distinguished and enviable character.'

Jemmy Wood. A miniature
by an unknown artist
Jemmy Wood. A miniature
by an unknown artistClick Image
 to Expand

Feeling, perhaps, that this account was rather too scathing, and that his reporter had allowed himself to write too intemperately, the Editor of the Gloucester Journal added the following, reflecting a more mature judgement of Edmund Rudge's eccentricity:

'The above particulars of the habits and peculiarities of the deceased have been derived from respectable sources in Tewkesbury; but it is fair to add, that we have been informed that some of the local anecdotes in reference to him are a little over—coloured; — that he did not deny himself necessaries, though he was abstemious in the use of them — that he kept beer in the house, and frequently offered a jug of it to those who visited him as friends or upon business  that he even had wine in his cupboard, which he sometimes offered to his more favoured visitors — that though a 'hard' man, he was strictly honest in all his dealings — and that though his residence was in all its arrangements of the humblest kind, yet its cleanliness received the occasional overlooking of some of his relatives, and the dirt was not by any means so great and offensive as has been described. It is admitted, nevertheless, that his whole household expenses were under rather than over £30 a year.

The predominant feature in Mr. Rudge's character was certainly an eager desire to accumulate wealth, but he never sought to enrich himself by dishonourable conduct, nor was he by any means void of fraternal and friendly feelings. On one occasion, many years since, having established a near relation in business, who afterwards, through inattention, got into pecuniary difficulties, he acted with much generosity towards the creditors, and voluntarily relinquished the whole of his own claim upon the estate. This was by no means a solitary instance of his caring for the wants of others, "especially for those of his own house," either in the early or later stages of his life.

For a considerable period, he seems to have contemplated founding and endowing almshouses, for the benefit of the poor of Tewkesbury, though he never took any decided steps towards carrying the design into effect. Latterly, he evinced a disposition to confine his intended munificence within narrower limits, holding out expectations, if not giving direct promises, of bequeathing a considerable sum to the Baptist Society. Subsequently, however, yielding to the urgent solicitations of the parties interested, he (instead of dooming them to wait an indefinite period in anticipation of a larger sum) consented to give, in his lifetime, a benefaction of 2001. and directed the interest thereof to be appropriated to the use of the poor of the Baptist Church in Tewkesbury for ever.

Mr. Rudge was possessed of a strong as well as an active mind, a most retentive memory, and a vigorous constitution; and although his education had been much neglected, and he never mixed in society, he would converse with extraordinary shrewdness, and without the least embarrassment, on mercantile, political and religious subjects. He did not disrelish general reading, so that it did not interfere with his worldly pursuits, and next to the Bible, perhaps he prized Burder's "Village Sermons" higher than any other book. He had ever shewn a partiality for hearing popular dissenting preachers, and would sometimes relate, with much spirit, many of the homely phrases and quaint sayings which the Rev. Rowland Hill was in the habit of introducing into his sermons. For a considerable period before his death, he had been a tolerably constant attendant at the Baptist Chapel, and might occasionally be seen at the Thursday evening lecture at Trinity Church.

Some years ago, Mr Rudge's house was broken into in the night, but the thieves were disappointed of a booty, and only obtained a few shillings and some useless papers. A short time afterwards, in returning from Gloucester market on foot, he was attacked on the highway at the top of Gubshill Pitch, by two ruffians, whom he repelled with much bravery, and after a somewhat lengthened struggle, escaped with only the temporary loss of his hat.'

Edmund Rudge was buried in the Abbey Church Yard, near the grave of his father and mother, Thomas and Susannah Rudge. who had died in 1816 and 1802 respectively. They had three sons; Thomas died a bachelor in 1835 and was buried nearby; Michael was buried at Fretherne. A raised tomb was subsequently erected to commemorate the deaths of all the family. Whether Edmund Rudge was truly a miser it is hard to say. Perhaps he was rather a Stakhanovite, endowed with abundant energy and a robust physique, who excited the envy of others by his preference for his own company. We shall never know, but a true miser would not have performed the works of charity with which Edmund is credited, and he remains an interesting, if eccentric, character.

Steve Goodchild

Addendum, November 2022

The heir to his hovel, tan yard and extensive hidden wealth was his nephew, also Edmund Rudge. He was also a tanner, but this was the age of the industrial revolution, innovation and opportunity. He showed a talent as an Engineer and inventor, though it isn’t easy to understand how this engine worked: 

1840 'Mr. E. Rudge, of Tewkesbury, tanner, has obtained a patent for a new method or methods of obtaining motive power for locomotives and for other purposes, and of applying the same. These improvements are for the construction and application of a new form of atmospheric engine, which may consist of two, three, or more open-topped cylinders, placed either vertically or horizontally, the piston rods of which are connected with two or three throw cranks. The air below each piston in the cylinder is condensed by a jet of steam, when the preponderating influence of the atmosphere on the external surface of the several pistons produces the available power. The cylinders are lubricated by means of a small funnel on the top of the piston rod, whence the oil flows into a hollow space. within the rod, and thence into a groove turned is the piston. In order to gain a reserve of power, for any particular purpose, a large cylindrical receiver is filled by a condensing air-pump placed on either side, and connected with the main shaft of the engine; thus when the carriage is descending a hill, the air-pumps will compress the air into the large cylinders, which again will supply the air for working the pistons while ascending a hill.'

Unfortunately, his skills didn’t include managing this huge wealth, because he was declared bankrupt thirteen years after inheriting all this wealth. When he was divorced in 1861, his wife alleged that he ‘contracted habits of intemperance and dissipation’. There’s a story, or maybe a sermon, hidden in those words.
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