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Saturday, 4 October 2014


The London St James Gazette of Tuesday 9th October 1883 carried a small sad announcement:
The death is announced of Mr. William Talfourd Salter, Q.C., of the South-Eastern Circuit, which took place at the Grand Hotel, Varese, Italy. Mr. Salter was prosecuting counsel for the Post Office on the South-Eastern Circuit, to which post he was appointed in June last.

I have written about several of Talfourd’s court appearances here. They were often fascinating, and his conduct of them sometimes surprising – as when, for example, he called a baby elephant as a witness. He was a cousin of my great great grandfather's, and he came across as quite human for a lawyer. So I was saddened when I read the Gazette’s report. Talfourd never married. Was he alone in Varese? I presume he was on holiday, but perhaps he was convalescing. Could he have been hiding? His recent appointment by the Post Office suggests that things were going well for him; but was he happy or unhappy with the way his life had turned out? He was only 56 at his death (on 5th October), the same age as me, and I can find no further details about the circumstances.

The Palace Grand Hotel, Varese, in 1913

And where, exactly, did he die? Today, Varese in the far north of Italy boasts not one but two Grand Hotels, both designed by the important art nouveau architect Giuseppe Sommaruga. What are the chances?! But neither of them was originally called the Grand, and neither of them was yet built at the time of Talfourd’s death. The Palace Hotel opened on a hill in the city in 1911, and the Hotel Tre Croci in the Campo dei Fiori national park northwest of Varese a year later.

The Grand Hotel Campo dei Fiori, Varese, in c1917

As the Palace Grand, the former is still going strong and boasts its own heliport. But the latter relied for its tourist trade on a funicular railway, which closed in 1958; and the Grand Hotel Campo dei Fiori followed suit ten years later. Now it is a sad ruin, used only to support communications masts. Ther must have been an earlier Grand Hotel in or near Varese, but I have found no record of it yet. My email to the Palace has not so far received a reply.

Was Talfourd Salter buried in Varese, or was his body brought home to London? His will was proved (with some alacrity, it seems to me) less than five weeks after his death, in England. He was worth £3531 3s 3d, a tidy sum in its time. I haven’t seen the will yet, so I don’t know about its beneficiaries.

There are still avenues for exploration – the will, a death certificate, a history of Varese perhaps. But it is frustrating that a man whose public life is so well documented in the transcripts of his court cases should have such a private death, hidden away from prying eyes both then and now.

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