The Laverton Family.

The Laverton name is a familiar one in Westbury. This family made its fortune through the manufacture of woollen cloth, and its members were generous benefactors to Westbury, funding parks, schools, hospitals, meeting rooms, housing, churches and chapels and of course the town’s famous swimming pool.

A rare image of Abraham in his memorial window in All Saints church

Abraham Laverton was born in Newtown, Trowbridge in 1819 and was one of 10 children of weaver William Laverton. The Wiltshire Times described him as a self-made man and at his death, he was one of the West Country’s biggest mill owners and left a fortune of £75 million in today’s money.

Abraham leased Angel Mill in Edward Street in 1849, converting it from a corn mill back to a cloth mill. Within two years he had purchased it for £1000 and began to produce prizewinning cloth, with distribution greatly helped by the recent opening of the railway.

He purchased Bitham mill in 1856. He also ran Boyer’s mill for a few years from 1875. He extended the mills, introduced new machinery, and won medals in the fine cloth section in international exhibitions in London 1862 and Paris 1867.

Abraham didn’t just concentrate on the woollen industry. He became a JP and a magistrate, a director of Westbury Iron Company and had financial interests in railway companies.

He was involved in politics too – Abraham was a Liberal and stood for parliament to represent Westbury in the election of 1868. He was defeated by the Tory John Phipps but suspected foul play and succeeded in having a public enquiry called to investigate. He was eventually elected in 1874 and served until 1880.

Prospect Square

His success was probably in no small part due to the popularity of his construction of workers cottages at Prospect Square – a square of model cottages built to rehouse people who had been evicted from their homes through voting for him and of his gift of the Laverton Institute in the previous year. Abraham died in 1886 at Farleigh Castle where he lived with his sister Charlotte. He is buried in Westbury cemetery.

Abraham had never married so his considerable wealth went to his nephew William Henry Laverton, who was already involved in the running of the business.

He purchased Leighton House in 1888 and invested in improvements and alterations including the building of a theatre. William was steeped in the world of sport and social activities though he was a generous benefactor to the town, building the public swimming baths, contributing to the building of the town hospital, schools and technical institute. He also transformed what was the old Town Mill millpond into Victoria Garden and presented it to the town to mark Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. He served on numerous local committees, was a magistrate for more than 50 years and was one of the first county councillors.

William Henry Laverton

Visitors to Leighton included famous theatrical stars such as Nelly Melba and Caruso while world-famous cricketers such as W.G.Grace played on the cricket ground. William himself was a very keen cricketer, even playing when he was 70. Large country house style parties were held at Leighton with even Royalty attending.

By 1921 the mills were running into difficulty and William sold Leighton House, moving just a short distance to Wellhead Lane.

At his funeral in January 1935, there were more than 100 floral tributes and he was described as Westbury’s “Grand Old Man”.