After three separate and frustrating visits to the grounds of Tewkesbury Abbey whilst I was on holiday last week, I finally found the elusive spot I was searching for – the grave of Edmund Rudge. Rudge is referred locally as “The Tewkesbury Jemmy Wood” after James “Jemmy” Wood (1756 – 1836), the owner of the Gloucester Old Bank who became nationally known as “The Gloucester Miser” and who made a fortune of £900,000 which made him "the richest commoner in His Majesty's dominions."
Like Wood, Rudge was fastidious in both making wealth and in keeping it. He was a tanner by profession and lived in St Mary’s Lane opposite the Abbey – funnily enough, the same road in which we were staying! His frugalness appears to have started at a young age and continued into his adulthood. Whilst living with his father and brother, the three were said to be ‘imbued with an entirely kindred disposition.’ They 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.’ They each had a separate cupboard which led to many disputes; often they accused each other of taking ‘a slice from the other’s loaf.’
Rudge never married and tales of his bachelor life are full of mentions of his eccentric habits. Despite his property being worth £100,000 his home was described in the Gloucester Journal in 1843 as ‘a mean and filthy habitation and neighbourhood.’ It was reported that he would never hire a servant, a charwoman, or a washerwoman and that the state of dirt in which everything about him was allowed to remain would fill the mind with disgust. Rudge was also said to have had no luxuries in his house - the kitchen had ‘a common, brick floor, and furniture of the most meagre and common kind.’ No addition was said to have been made to the general furniture of his home for at least 70 years, apart from a cheap portrait of Jemmy Wood which he put in the kitchen. Whether this was actually true or an exaggerated addition to the folklore tale remains unknown!
Rudge was also said to be an early riser. On a Saturday 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 walking journey to Gloucester to conduct business at the market.
He maintained his penurious habits in business transactions at Gloucester. When purchasing his stock of skins he would never pay a sixpence to get the help of a porter to carry them to the quay. Instead he would put them in a wheelbarrow and wheeled them himself, often having to make several journeys, and then undertaking the journey back home by foot to Tewkesbury. On one trip he was so exhausted, and had not eaten or drunk much since breakfast, that on reaching home he fell down exhausted on the kitchen floor.
Another time, on having heard of a ship arriving in Cork, Ireland with a cargo of hides from South America, he decided to see if he could make some profitable purchases. Instead of taking transport to Bristol, he walked 140 miles to Milford Haven and then worked his passage to Cork. On buying a large amount of hides he shrewdly drove a hard bargain for the price of transferring them back to Tewkesbury and included himself as part of the freight! In this way he amassed an immense wealth. His property was estimated at £100,000 and his total wealth was said to be around £150,000.
In his defence, many of the anecdotes surrounding Rudge may have been somewhat exaggerated. He kept beer in the house and frequently offered a jug of it to those who visited him as friends or on business. For his favoured visitors, he kept a bottle of wine in the cupboard. Though he was described as ‘a hard man’ he was also an honest man in all his dealings. As to his living conditions, ‘the dirt was not by any means so great and offensive as has been described.’
Whilst the overriding feature often described in relation to Rudge’s character is that of a miser he was not by any means a man of dishonourable conduct. On one occasion, having lent a relative money for his business and the relation getting into difficulties, Rudge relinquished his claim on the estate so other creditors got the benefit. He also gave the Baptist Society a benefaction of £2001 and wished the interest to be used to benefit the poor in Tewkesbury.
Rudge had a strong, active mind, a great memory and a vigorous constitution. He never willingly mixed in society but if needed he could converse freely on mercantile, political and religious subjects. He was an extraordinarily shrewd man who regularly attended Baptist Chapel. He died at the grand old age of 84 at his home in St Marys Lane and is buried near his father's and mother’s grave.
Gloucester Journal October 1843.