Well, yes … sort of.
This advertisement appeared in The (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada) Daily Colonist in 1907.
As you can see, the advertisement includes an endorsement of sorts by “William Casbon, Superintendent of the Refreshment Department of the House of Lords, London.” This William is an interesting character, arising from humble beginnings in Meldreth, Cambridgeshire before rising to this somewhat exalted position. His ascent reflects the social and economic changes during the transition from the Victorian era into the twentieth century.
We can trace his ancestry back to Meldreth through his father and grandfather – both named William – and then back three more generations to the “original” John of early 18th century Meldreth (see “Stuck on John”).
His father William was born in late 1834 or early 1835, and baptized in Meldreth February 7, 1835. Initially an agricultural labourer like his predecessors, by his later years he was known as a fruit grower and market gardener., It would be interesting to know how he was able to advance above the station of a labourer, but I don’t have any information that would help answer that question. The wife of this William and mother of our parliamentarian was baptized Sarah West at Soham, Cambridgeshire, in 1823. Besides William, they had two other children: Walter (1856–1923) and Priscilla (1862–after 1891).
William’s paternal grandfather was also named William. He was the second son of Isaac and Susanna (Howes) Casbon of Meldreth.
The William of today’s post was born 1860 in Meldreth., I have not found a baptismal record. After appearing on the 1861 and 1871 censuses with his family, he disappears from view for over 20 years. I believe he is the William (Casban, Caskan?), age 23, birthplace Meldreth or Hildreth, Cambridgeshire, who appears in the 1881 census in the village of Breadsall, Derbyshire, as a railway signalman. But there is too much ambiguity about this record for me to confidently say this is the same man. I also think he might be the “W. Casbon,” age 24, seeking a position as first footman in an 1884 London newspaper ad. But again, there just isn’t enough information to make a firm identification.
The next record I can confirm as belonging to this William is his marriage in 1892 to Mary Grace Hoskins, at St George-Hanover Square, London.
William next appears in the 1901 census, living in Chorleywood, Hertfordshire. His occupation is listed as “Golf Club Manager.” This is quite a step up from the son of a labourer in Meldreth. It was in this same year that he received a provisional appointment as Superintendent of the Refreshment Department, along with “a house and certain allowances.” I can only guess that the experience he gained as a golf club manager gave him the necessary skills to qualify and be appointed to the House of Lords position. Perhaps he was able to make some influential friends along the way.
The provisional appointment must have been converted to a permanent position. William and Mary appear in the 1911 census, their address listed as “House of Lords Westminster,” occupation “caterers.” The census also records that they had two servants.
The advertisement at the beginning of this post caused some controversy. This was written in the popular magazine, Truth, in 1906.
It appears that William was providing certificates for products on his own initiative (presumably for a fee). The trouble seems to have arisen in 1905, but as the 1907 advertisement shows, the Scotch whiskey purveyors were still using his certificates well after they had supposedly “expired.” Apparently, the controversy was not enough for him to lose his job. Although not mentioned in the Truth article, William did not limit his endorsements to whiskey. I found this advertisement for marmalade in another newspaper.
All this leads me to conclude that William must have been an energetic and ambitious man who capitalized on opportunities to improve his station in life. I think he must have had a winning personality, as well as natural talent, to advance as far as he did. I don’t know whether he was being astute or naïve when it comes to the use of his position in Parliament to endorse certain products.
William and his wife Mary Grace never had children, so there are no descendants today. William died on September 8, 1939, leaving Mary Grace an estate of about £355 (worth about £21,600 today)., Mary Grace died in 1950.