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How Ilkley Squire's past caught up with him in 1878

William Middelton, Lord of the Manor of Ilkley, must have had quite a shock when he received an unexpected visitor at his home at Myddelton Lodge in 1878. In the second of the articles adapted from his forthcoming book 'The Lords of Ilkley Manor - The Road to Ruin' David Carpenter tells the story.

We don't know much about William Middelton's early life. He was born in 1815 and was educated at Stonyhurst, the Catholic school in Lancashire. He inherited the family estates on the death of his father Peter in 1866 and was soon auctioning off land in the town which enabled him to pay off the debts he and his father had run up in previous years. It was this series of sales which allowed the modern town of Ilkley to develop. Middelton never married but this was not for any lack of interest in the opposite sex. Frequently his amorous exploits landed him in trouble. On one occasion he narrowly avoided fighting a duel over a woman and on another his solicitor had to arrange a payment of 1 a week to a former housemaid who had been seduced by him. Doubtless there was a great deal of gossip about the many unmarried girls who made up the household staff at Myddelton Lodge, his home on the hillside above Ilkley.
An unexpected visitor who called at the Lodge on November 6, 1878 must have caused Middelton a great deal of consternation. Middelton's visitor was Mr William Muhlke, a German. And he had not arrived in Ilkley alone. For waiting in Ilkley were two men in their early twenties, Oscar and Adam Geil. Middelton must have known immediately the reason for their visit. In his early forties he had lived near Worms in Germany, and there he had taken his housekeeper Juliane Louise Bruck as his mistress. The young men were her children. Juliane had since died, and the boys had taken the surname of her husband Friedrich who she had married after they had been born. Though Middelton never acknowledged the boys as his sons and claimed he did not know if they were of his paternity, in 1862 he had signed an agreement to pay certain sums for their upkeep which had clearly not been observed.
Soon Middelton had come to an agreement with Muhlke as to the amount outstanding, and that day instructed his solicitors to draw up papers to release him from any further liability. But it must have been with a heavy heart that he determined not to see the boys waiting for him in the village. Nevertheless Middelton was generous towards them, sending a cheque for 50 only half of which was 'on account', the remainder being a gift to help with their 'travelling and tavern expenses'.
But soon the atmosphere had changed. Middelton received a telegram from Muhlke asking for a further 15, which made him determined to see him no more and give orders that if he came to Myddelton Lodge he was not to be admitted. But by February 1879 the business looked as if it was over. Middelton had paid out 300 in settlement, as well as more than 100 in legal fees, and had obtained signed documents from the Geils that they had no further claim against him. But it seems that the boys continued to ask him for more money. Middelton was so disturbed in 1880 that he hired private detectives in an attempt to discourage them, and asked his bankers to pay particular attention to his signature on cheques in case the boys tried to steal money by forging it. By June of 1880 Middelton's solicitor Thomas Constable was asking his agent to 'assure Geil that Mr Middelton is determined never to give him one farthing more and that if he Geil comes into the country with the object of getting money, he will at once be handed to the police and incarcerated'.

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