Monday, August 22, 2011

August 30, 1852 --- The Miser Nield

The eccentric Chelsea miser John Camden Neild dies at the age of 72, leaving his entire fortune in excess of a quarter-million pounds to Queen Victoria.
Neild, whose father made his fortune from a London jewelry shop, was highly educated and - at one time - a practicing barrister in Lincoln's Inn. However, to quote a contemporary report, "the last thirty years of his life were solely employed in accumulating wealth." He resided at 5 Cheyne Walk on the Thames, one of London's better addresses, yet he lived amid squalor, sleeping on a board. He roamed the streets in a blue swallow-tailed coat - which he refused to have brushed for fear of harming the nap - and in shoes that were invariably patched and down at the heels. Often mistaken for a vagrant, Neild never turned down proffered food and lodging, preferring to hoard his ample resources.  His father had invested much of his fortune in land.  Nield enjoyed visiting his country tenants incognito and then begging for lodging and a meal. 
He never married (surprise!)  He had no surviving relatives. In his one-page will, in his own bold hand, Neild wrote that he left his fortune to "Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria, begging Her Majesty's most gracious acceptance of same, for her sole use and benefit, and of her heirs." Meanwhile, his housekeeper of 26 years found herself "without the smallest provision or acknowledgement for her protracted and far from agreeable or remunerative services."  Lloyd's Weekly called him a "dangerous lunatic" who actions should never be emulated.
The Queen accepted the bequest, believing that Neild - whom she had never met - knew that she "would not waste it." She set aside a legacy for the man's forgotten servants and in the village of North Marston, where Neild was buried, she had the village church refurbished and a memorial window installed.
Victoria and Albert used the money to acquire additional land near Balmoral in Scotland and to construct new residences there and at Osborne, on the Isle of Wight. She shared news of her good fortune with her uncle Leopold, King of the Belgians, who replied, "Such things only still happen in England where there still exists loyalty and affection for Royalty, a feeling unfortunately much diminished on the Continent."
In later years, as her children grew and Parliament was asked to provide them with more and more subsidies to live, the Queen was often compared to the miser Neild in the radical Press. One pamphlet, which sold in great numbers, was entitled "What Does She Do With It?"

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