George Wheelhouse was born in Scarborough on 22 Aug 1772 the fourth and youngest recorded child of John Wheelhouse and Ann Graham who had married in the town on 15 Nov 1764. George was baptised in Scarborough on 4 Nov 1772.
Little is known of his first forty years, but by 1814 he was a distiller in Deptford, appearing in a list of creditors of bankrupt marine stores dealer Thomas Fleming that appeared in the London Gazette on 18 June 1814. Fleming's business had been in Broomfield Place (now Evelyn Street) but he had been committed to the Fleet prison.
In 1851, at the age of 78, he was described as a Distiller on the census residing at Deptford Bridge. George had never married and his household consisted merely of James Leask described as a Distiller's Clerk and house servant Maria Wells.
By the 1861 census he was described as a retired distiller, although he still lived at Deptford Bridge. His household now comprised of cook Mary Ann Platt and Housemaid Fanny Ellis. Next door neighbour William Holland was now the Distiller.
On 12 August 1863 the 90 year old George made a new will, but with no close family he made numerous charitable bequests. However, on the same day as he made the will he also made a codicil leaving four figure sums to each of his named executors and granting them discretion over what do with the residue of the estate.
This is the last will and testament of me, Geo. Wheelhouse, of Deptford-bridge, in the county of Kent. I direct my just debts, and funeral and testamentary expenses to be paid. I give, devise and bequeath all and every my property, estate and effects to my trustees and executors hereinafter named, upon trust to get in and convert such parts thereof as are not money into money, and I direct that their receipts shall be good discharges for the same, and thereout I give the following sums: To the British and Foreign Bible Society, £1000; to the Westminster Hospital, Middlesex Hospital, Charing Cross hospital, Royal Free Hospital, North London Hospital, St Mary's Hospital, Metropolitan Free Hospital, Seamen's Hospital Society, Royal Hospital for Incurables, Royal Infirmary for Children and Women [and three other charitable institutions. £500 each]: to the Great Northern Hospital [and four other charitable institutions. £300. each]. I give to the Royal National Life-boat Institution the sum of £250, for a life-boat for Bridlington, near Scarborough. I give to the Scarborough Dispensary £200, to be expended in annual sums of £10 each year until exhausted. I give to the poor of the parish of Deptford, to be expended in annual sums of £30 each year until exhausted, for bread and coals at Christmas, the sum of £500. I give the sum of £2500 to be expended by my trustees in erecting forty-three dwellings for the poor of Scarborough, and in paying the sum of £1 10,s. aunuully at Christmas to the. occupiers of such dwellings. I give the residue of my property (after payment of the foregoing amounts) upon trust for my executors, to hold the same for such uses and purposes as I may by codicil or deed direct or appoint, and in default thereof then for the same to be expended and appropriated within three years after my decease, in such way and manner and for such purposes as they, or the majority of them, may in their judgment or discretion agree upon. I devise all my estates vested in me as trustee or mortgagee to my executors, upon the trusts affecting the same. I appoint Alfred Rhodes Bristow (tho solicitor of the Admiralty), John Flesher, of, &c, Wm. Hodgson, of, &c, Wm. Roundtree, of, &c. aud Edward Welsh, of, &c, executors and trustees of this my will Witness my hand this 12th Aug. 1863.
This is a codicil to the will of me, George Wheelhouse. I give to each of the three first-named executors of my will, viz. Alfred Rhodes Bristow, John Flesher and William Hodgson, the sum of £5000 apiece; to my executor Edward Welsh the sum of £2000; and to my executor William Roundtree the sum of £1000, which said five several legacies I (five as tokens of my esteem; and I direct them severally to be retained by my said executors for their respective absolute benefit, free of legacy duty over and above and in addition to any sum or sums they, or any of them, may owe to me or my estate (and which sums I give and forgive to them accordingly), and I also give such live legacies, irrespective of any interest they my said executors may ultimately take in the residue of my estate. I give to Mr. Gay Shute, my surgeon. £600: I give to my friend Mrs. Verney (wife of Mr. George Verney), Mrs. Noble (wife of Mr. Samuel Noble), Mr. Simpson, of New-cross, Mr. Thompson, of Deptford, the sum of £500 apiece; I give to my friend Mr. George Hooper Hartnoll the sum of £600.; I give to Alfred Isaac Bristow (the. son of my executor) the sum of £500; I give to the charity of Christ's Hospital (otherwise called the "Blue-coat Schoolat Newgate-street, in the city of London. £500; I give to the Rev. Mr. Money, of Deptford, the sum of £100; I give to Mrs. Welsh (the wife of my executor) the sum of £200: I also give and devise all my freehold estate at or near Deptford-bridge, in part whereof I reside, to my executor Alfred Rhodes Bristow. for his absolute use; and so far and as to such freehold estate at Deptford-bridge only I alter and revoke my will, and in all other reapects I ratify and confirm my said will, and declare this a codicil part thereof. Dated this 12th day of Aug. 1863.
George Wheelhouse died on 28 Apr 1864 at his home at Deptford Bridge. On 5 July his five executors met and with the exception of the Revd Flesher voted to divide the residue of the estate amonst themselves.
Presumeably prompted by the Revd Flesher, George's only surviving cousin Elizabeth Buckle, nee Wheelhouse, and her husband Ambose commenced proceedings in the High Court of Chancery. The matter came before vice-chancellor Sir William Page Wood on Saturday 5 Nov 1864. Sir William was unimprssed by the executors behaviour pointing out that if George had intended that the executors should take the residue personally he could have simply declared that at once; George clearly contemplated some other act to be done. The vice-chancellor found for the Buckles and ordered the appointment of a receiver to administer the estate.
If George had made two or three large bequests then his name would probably be better remembered, but he spread his money around.
It would appear that the only institution that still bears George's name is the Wheelhouse Square Flats charity in his native Scarborough. The accounts lodged with the Charity Commission state that it was formed as The Almshouse Charity of George Wheelhouse, comprised in a declaration of trust dated 6 January, 1865. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution received government stock with a nominal value of £200 (which may have been worth the £250 stated in the will) but this seems to have gone into the Institution's central funds (in January 1865 a new £390 life boat at Bridlington was bought out of money raised by the Manchester RNLI branch).
William Holland who took over the distillery in the 1850s and other Holland family members formed Holland & Co, and at some point an inscription was made in the distillery's stonework stating "Established 1779. Holland and Co's Distillery and Bonded Store." The 1779 is possible, as a distillery, but not Holland's, as the previous use of the site as a sugar refinery may have ended in the mid 1770s when the owner James Salway went bankrupt. However other sources including archaeological excavations carried out in 2007 suggest that the distillery is early 19th Century, which means that distilling on the Deptford Bridge site could have been started by George. Holland & Co sold out to Seager Evans in 1922 and gin production continued. Seager Evans were taken over in 1956 and the distillery was closed. The names Holland and Seager will be remembered in the current development, but George Wheelhouse sadly will not be.