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The riches and poverty of Norfolk's biggest names

PUBLISHED: 11:47 16 August 2010 | UPDATED: 11:56 16 September 2010

THEY paint a fascinating picture of a bygone era, a time when industry was changing the face of Britain and prosperity beckoned for a very lucky few.

Among the super-rich was Norwich industrialist Jeremiah James Colman, who transformed his family's mustard business into a world-renowned dynasty.

THEY paint a fascinating picture of a bygone era, a time when industry was changing the face of Britain and prosperity beckoned for a very lucky few.

Among the super-rich was Norwich industrialist Jeremiah James Colman, who transformed his family's mustard business into a world-renowned dynasty.

When he died in 1898 he left an estate valued at £687,024, the equivalent of about £39m today, according to new online records.

Jeremiah James was born in 1830 and grew up to join J&J Colman, founded by his great uncle Jeremiah Colman.

He was responsible for moving the firm to larger works at Carrow in 1856 and devoted his life to the business and to public interests.

He enjoyed an active political career and married Caroline Cozens-Hardy, the eldest daughter of William Hardy and Sarah Cozens.

By contrast, Black Beauty author Anna Sewell, who died five months after her novel was published, left an estate which was valued at under £2,000, the equivalent of about £96,000 today, when she passed away in 1878.

Anna, who was born in Great Yarmouth, died a spinster and was so weak when writing her book that she dictated the text to her mother. She lived long enough to see the book's initial success, but never knew that it would become one of the best-loved classics of all time, selling millions of copies around the globe.

These famous Norfolk names are among the official summaries of more than six million wills from 1861 to 1941 which have been put online for the first time.

The probate calendar books for England and Wales have been put online by family history website Ancestry.co.uk, an American company.

The records reveal a fortune of more than £20bn in today's money, but despite this impressive figure, the average legacy was worth just £3,400 at today's prices.

According to the records, Henry Rider Haggard, who lived at Ditchingham and wrote King Solomon's Mines, left about £1.8m in today's money when he died in 1925.

Prince Frederick Duleep Singh, one of the sons of the Maharajah Duleep Singh of Lahore, who came to England and lived at Elveden Hall in Suffolk, left the equivalent of £904,000 in today's money when he died in 1926.

Author George Henry Borrow, who was born in East Dereham, left a personal estate of £519, the equivalent of £25,000 in today's money, and famed Egyptologist Howard Carter, who was raised in Swaffham, left £2,002 when he died in 1939, the equivalent of £57,000 today.

But despite well-known names leaving large sums, times were hard in the Victorian era for ordinary people.

The records show that Frederick William Henry Colliver, of 10 College Road, Norwich, left £24 when he died in 1897, the equivalent of about £1,300 today.

The same documents reveal that naturalist Charles Darwin left funds equating to about £13m today and Charles Dickens £7m.

Anti-capitalist philosopher Karl Marx died a poor man, leaving £250, or £23,000 today, when he died in 1883.

Once-rich polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton left even less than Marx, the records show. By the time he died back in 1922, he was down to £556 or just £20,000 today, having lost most of his fortune in a series of failed business schemes.

Ancestry.co.uk international content director Dan Jones said that the value of the records is immense.

“The probate calendar books provide countless new leads for family historians to explore as they move beyond being about family members to long-gone fortunes, mysterious beneficiaries and valuable objects, all with connections back to our ancestors which are just waiting to be explored.

“Anyone able to find an ancestor in the probate calendar books will be able to find out a great deal about how their ancestor lived, what they bequeathed and to whom.

“This means that we will be able to find out so much more about what their lives would have been like.

“In some cases, the records also reveal the beneficiaries, making known those people they were closest to.

“Norfolk has a rich and varied history which is illustrated within these records.”

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