The blog has touched on Benjamin Aislabie a couple of times before, notably him being the last tenant of Lee Place – the first of the country houses of Lee, that was situated in the area bounded by the current Old Road, Lee High Road and Bankwell Road, although its estate extended much further.
The long-term owners of the house, the Boone family, had ceased living in the house around 1770, letting it initially to Thomas Lucas who was to build the Manor House. Aislabie became its final occupant in 1809, taking on a 14 year lease.
(Picture from information board opposite St Margaret’s Lee)
Benjamin Aislabie, son of Rawson and Frances Aislabie, was born in 1774 at Newington Green. By the time he moved to Lee he was a wealthy man, he would have needed to be to afford to rent Lee Place; he had made much of his wealth from the wine trade and was widely reported as having Nelson as one of his customers.
Like a number of the former wealthy inhabitants of Lee, he had links to slavery in the West Indies and the southern states of the current USA, this is something that the blog will undoubtedly return to in the future in posts on Lee Farm, the Manor House and Dacre House. Aislabie was more unusual in that his links with the slave trade continued after it had been abolished in the British Empire in 1807. However, it still existed elsewhere and there was nothing to prevent British citizens having interests in it outside the Empire.
It is known that Aislabie had a mortgage interest from 1812 in an estate in Antigua, and in his will he was owner of two estates in Dominica, one of which had 111 slaves, leaving them to his son Rev. William John Aislabie along with an income to his wife from them of £100 a year.
Unsurprisingly, he was one of those in Lee who did not sign the Lee Petition in 1814 – calling on the government to insert a clause into a treaty with the defeated French to end slavery in their empire.
Picture source – via creative commons
In addition to his interests in wine and slavery, Aislabie was actively involved with the affairs of the parish of St Margaret, both helping oversee the construction of the short-lived second incarnation of the church (which had to be replaced three decades later due to subsidence) and helping dispense the largesse of the parish in the bad winter of 1814. The late 19th century Lee historian F H Hart notes that Aislabie
took a lively interest in distributing the charities that severe winter to the poor; he also placed to the use of the parish the buildings in the front yard of his mansion, for the storage of coals and potatoes, which were given to the poor during the thirteen weeks’ frost; bread was very dear at this time, and Lee had no poor-house.
Aislabie’s erstwhile landlord, Charles Boone, had died in 1819 and when the lease ended in 1823, it was not renewed, and Lee Place was sold. While F H Hart suggests he may have moved to Sevenoaks, it certainly wasn’t his permanent residence; in his latter years this was Park Place, next to Regent’s Park and close to the new home of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), Lords. He was buried in Marylebone church in 1842.
Aislabie had a passion for cricket and was heavily involved in the administration of the game through the MCC, becoming its President in 1823 and secretary from the year before until his death. In cricketing terms he is remembered though as having one of the worst first-class cricket records of all time. In part this was because he continued playing well into his later years – his final match was played against Cambridge University at Lord’s on 1 and 2 Jul 1841 when he was aged 67 years 169 days – the oldest ever English participant in a first class game.
His record suggests that he managed 100 first class innings, with a highest score of 15 and a batting average of a paltry 3.15; he didn’t bowl. The cricket records website, Cricinfo, suggests that
His lack of skill was further hampered by his girth, and towards the end of his career he was so fat that he had a permanent runner who also used to field for him
His record as an administrator seems little better, the same source notes
Under his tenure the club lurched from crisis to crisis, and while not dishonest, he was certainly a dreadful financial controller. He was also, among other posts, Custodian of the MCC Snuffbox.
The MCC at the time though was a little kinder to his memory – it was noted in the Sporting Magazine that
Given his links to slavery it seems strange that a man of Aislabie’s ‘pedigree’ has been remembered with a street name (albeit incorrectly spelled) from the 1890s, although perhaps the late Victorians in Lee and Lewisham were only aware of his past via the rose tinted glasses of F H Hart.
Fancy being regarded as the worst cricketer, a dodgy admin man, a slave owner and having your name spelt incorrectly for a road sign…and yet Custodian of the MCC Snuffbox is a great title. Wonder if that still exists?
Sadly I can find no other Custodians of the MCC Snuffbox – the top two links when I searched on it were this blog piece and the place I quoted from. It was quite an interesting finding out about him – he was a former inhabitant of my garden!
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