Bromley Challenor was born in 1821 in Teddington, Middlesex. He arrived in Abingdon sometime in the late 1840s having worked as a solicitor’s clerk in Newbury, and by 1848 was established enough to be the cash secretary to the Abingdon Literary and Scientific Institution.
In 1850, aged 29 and a solicitor’s clerk, he married Mary Anne Gregory, a local girl whose parents lived in East St Helen Street, and over the years they had twelve children, ten of whom survived to adulthood. Twin girls born in 1854, lived for only a few months.
Bromley qualified as a solicitor early in 1851 and set up his practice in East St Helen Street, later moving to the High Street and finally to Stert Street. During the next forty years, after rapidly establishing himself and becoming well known in the town, he became a mainstay of many local organisations and founded a firm of solicitors that exists to this day.
Bromley was an ambitious man; as well as representing clients in court, he managed to hold a number of posts simultaneously. One example is the post of clerkship to the Petty Sessional Division of the County and another, clerkship to the Commissioners of Taxes for Borough and County. In 1855 Bromley was appointed Solicitor to the Abingdon Building Society by a unanimous decision of the Directors and in 1858 became Honorary Secretary to the Wool Fair. 1860 he was appointed Clerk to the Board of Guardians and held that post until his death. He also, amongst other positions, served as the district registrar and on the audit committee of the St Helen’s Vestry.
As if all this was not enough, he was a town councillor between 1855 and 1874, serving as Mayor in 1863-1864. He was interested enough in identifying with the Conservative party to act as the district agent, which seems to have made him unpopular with some voters; he lost his council seat in the local election of 1874 perhaps as a result. From then on, he appears to have taken something of a back seat in the town.
In 1874, his eldest son, Bromley junior, joined the firm and, by 1875, the name had changed from Challenor to Challenor & Son, which it still holds today. A few years later, a younger son, Edward Marchant, also joined. Having two sons working with him allowed the caseload and extent of the work to increase to include, for example, organising property auctions.
Throughout his life in Abingdon, Bromley was heavily involved in work that impacted on other people’s lives via the Town Council, Workhouse, almshouses and Littlemore asylum, as well as with ordinary everyday legal problems and events such as the Wool Fair. He socialised and associated with many other local prominent dignitaries as a councillor with his membership of the Abingdon Rifles, Masons and Oddfellows; the many newspaper articles of the time about the various dinners and formal occasions that took place make clear these were not necessarily onerous or even decorous.
Bromley Challenor died on 20 August 1888 aged 67 at his home, The Firs, Marcham Road, Abingdon after the “long and painful illness” which had been affecting him for over four and a half years, and is buried in Abingdon Cemetery. He was survived by his wife and ten of their twelve children.
© AAAHS and contributors 2021
The first of Abingdon’s Bromley Challenors arrived in Abingdon sometime in the late 1840s. He was born in Teddington, Middlesex, in 1821 to William Bowen Challenor (about 1792-1835) and Mary née Marchant (about 1793-1870 and from Edburton, Sussex). They may well have chosen the unusual name Bromley for their eldest son to reflect the family link with the wife of Lord Montfort, whose family name was Bromley.
William Bowen’s parents were Thomas Challenor (about 1762-1792) and his wife Ann, née Watts (1759-1804?). Ann’s father ran a sponging house which was a place, usually a private house, where debtors spent time in the hope that they could raise enough money to pay off their debts; these places had a terrible reputation. If the debts owing were not cleared quickly, the debtor would be transferred to a debtors’ prison. The young Henry Bromley, who would later become the third Lord Montfort, Baron of Horseheath, was confined in this sponging house; at the age of about twenty he married Ann’s sister Elizabeth, then about twenty-four years old and known as Betty. One author has commented “The 3rd Lord Montfort, confined for debt in a sponging house in 1793, married Betty Watts the daughter, presumably to make his stay more comfortable”.
By the time Bromley was born to William Bowen and Mary, Betty was aged 52 and the Montforts had no surviving children. Bromley was possibly so named in the hope that the Montforts would regard their great-nephew as an heir. Elizabeth Montfort did indeed include both Bromley, his brother and two of his three sisters in her will. (The third sister is recorded much later as having a marriage settlement.) She firstly left her property in trust for a brother and sister with any income from the estate over £500 per annum to her sister going equally to her great-nephews and great-nieces. Following the deaths of her brother and sister, the property would go to her great-nephews and nieces. At that point, any remainder of the estate was to be divided into five shares of which Bromley was to receive two fifths and his other siblings a fifth each. Interestingly, the Challenor name is spelled throughout this will as “Challinor”. In the end, Elizabeth died in 1847. Her husband, Baron Montfort, who died in 1851, left everything to his wife’s beneficiaries, the title dying with him.
Bromley’s father died in 1835 when Bromley was fourteen. It seems that for several years before receiving the legacies Bromley was employed as a solicitor’s clerk. By the end of 1839, at the age of 18, he is a clerk in the office of Frederick Vincent, a solicitor in Newbury and a Deputy Clerk of the Peace for Berkshire. His experience in helping with arrangements for the county justices would be useful later. What we do not know is why he became employed as a clerk to a firm in Newbury rather than closer to London and his family home. From the Surrey voting lists, he owned a house in Richmond near to where his mother and younger siblings lived. We can speculate that this could have been a bequest from his father.
Frederick Vincent died in November 1846, and sometime during the next two years Bromley moved to Abingdon. We do not know exactly when he made the move from Newbury to Abingdon, but by 1848 he was established enough in the town to become cash secretary to the Abingdon Literary and Scientific Institution in that year.
On 25 April 1850, Bromley, then aged 29 and an attorney’s clerk living in Lombard Street, married Mary Ann Gregory of East St Helen Street in St. Helen’s Church, Abingdon. Bromley qualified as a solicitor early in 1851. Family tradition has it that he was articled to Morland’s solicitors and although this cannot be proven, this seems highly likely. George Bowes Morland was the Clerk of the Peace for the county at this time and may have been Bromley’s patron. It is highly likely that they would have met through Bromley’s work for Vincent and his being involved in the administration of county cases before the move to Abingdon.
The 1851 census records that he was living on the west side of East St Helen Street, probably where No. 39 would have been before St Helen’s Mews was built, and a few doors down from Mary Ann’s parents. The others in the house were Mary Ann, who was then 25, an unnamed infant 16 days old (Bromley junior), a nurse and a house servant. From July 1852 until at least July 1858 the family lived in Boar Street (now Bath Street). Six of their children were born in this house but, sadly, the twin girls, Annie and Mary, died a few months after their birth in 1854.
By 1852, Bromley is listed as an Abingdon solicitor. He first put up his plate outside an office in East St Helen Street, moved later to the High Street and, in the early 1880s, to Stert Street, where the firm stayed for many years. In September 1854, he was appointed auditor to the Visitors of the Littlemore Asylum, and it is obvious that he was making a name for himself in the locality.
According to the Law Lists, Bromley set up in practice without a partner. Although he was described in 1855 as “the partner” of the solicitor Charles Archer Curtis there seems to be no evidence of a formal partnership. Curtis was a Deputy Clerk of the Peace for Berkshire and Clerk to the Justices of the Abingdon Division. The two men probably worked very closely together in this regard, and it is possible that Bromley, using his Newbury experience, was by then already acting as a Deputy himself and helping with the arrangements for the County Court in the Abingdon district.
His big chance came in 1855. On 14 July a letter in the Reading Mercury from “a solicitor” in Newbury regretted the loss of Bromley’s services as a Deputy Clerk of the Peace, which he had been “for many years past” and thanked him for the “kind and courteous assistance which he has at all times rendered us in facilitating our business at the Sessions…”. The letter also noted he had “made other arrangements which I trust will answer his utmost expectations” and proposed a collection for a “token of regard and acknowledgement”. Two weeks later, Curtis died. He had held many “’lucrative’ appointments” and was a town councillor, and all these positions became vacant. In view of the letter, one can only conclude that Curtis’s death had been widely expected and that, in the weeks before his death, Abingdon solicitors were already manoeuvring to get chosen as his successor in all the various positions he held.
Early in August, just over a week after Curtis died, Bromley won the election to fill the vacancy on the Town Council, a position he held until 1874. He had described himself as a “respected friend and partner” of Mr Curtis. He must have been held in esteem by the family too, as he was entrusted in 1860 with the sale of Curtis’ house, following the death of his widow, by J T Curtis, presumably a son.
Bromley’s election to the town council would have given him a ‘fillip’ as a candidate for the well-paid appointments Curtis had held. One example is the post of clerkship to the Petty Sessional Division of the County and another, clerkship to the Commissioners of Property and Income, and Land and Assessed Taxes for Borough and County. The second post Bromley won by a single vote. Meanwhile, in July 1855 at the first general meeting of the Abingdon Railway, in which he held shares, he had been appointed a joint auditor, to be followed in the September by his appointment as Solicitor to the Abingdon Building Society by a unanimous decision of the Directors, another of the positions that had been held by Curtis.
After Curtis died, Bromley also immediately applied for the post of Clerk to the Trustees of the Chilton Pond and Fyfield Turnpike Trusts. In his advertisement in local papers stating his application for the post, he thanks the Visitors of the Littlemore Asylum for the “flattering testimonial” they had given him as their Auditor. It is clear that Bromley did not let the grass grow under his feet. However, this time he was not so fortunate. He had canvassed widely for this appointment but, it seems, too widely. His only opponent, another Abingdon solicitor, T H Graham, reluctantly followed in canvassing widely as well and, in the event, more successfully. Bromley didn’t show up for the voting session and wasn’t proposed for the appointment, annoying the fifty people who had travelled to support Graham.
By 1858, Bromley had also managed to become Honorary Secretary to the Wool Fair, an event at which parcels of wool known as tods were sold to staplers who then graded the tods and sold them on to the relevant manufacturers. The town and local landowners had revived the long-defunct wool fair twenty years earlier to bring business to Abingdon. At the annual dinner of this organisation, there was a mention, in the toasts, of Mr Challenor “to whom much was owing for the increased success of the fair”.
In December 1859, a Volunteer Rifle Company was formed, part of a national movement following the Crimean War and the increasing tension with France. Although Bromley pledged an annual subscription of one guinea, he is not recorded has having made a separate donation as well. However, by 1863, while serving as mayor, he was reported as being a private in the Abingdon Rifles and later served together with his eldest son, Bromley junior.
In late 1860, a vacancy arose for the position of Clerk to the Board of Guardians of Abingdon Poor Law Union which administered the workhouse on the Oxford Road, and Bromley was appointed following an “easy victory “against three other candidates in the vote by the members of the Board. He took over the position in March 1861 and held it until his death.
The 1861 census has Bromley and Mary Ann living in a new house in Marcham Road with six children, a cook, a nursery maid, and a domestic servant. This house, named The Firs, is where the last four of their children were born; it is now 20 Marcham Road and, having had several other uses, became the Unicorn School in 2008.
So far as his workload was concerned, acting as Clerk to the Abingdon Board of Guardians was considered by Bromley to be the most time-consuming of all his appointments, probably because the Board met weekly. The Clerk was responsible for the all administration of the help for the poor, including keeping minutes of meetings, handling correspondence and contracts, such as those for food and other provisions, preparing papers for audit, and advertising for staff. Bromley senior held that post from March 1861 until he died in 1888, receiving initially £90; Challenor & Son held that appointment until the Board of Guardians was abolished in the 1930s.
Although Bromley senior initially practised without a partner, he must have had a well-organised staff of clerks. He represented clients in hearings at the local magistrates’ court and in private transactions, he also acted as Clerk to the Magistrates of the Abingdon Division, Clerk to the Commissioners of Land and Assessed Taxes in Abingdon, Superintendent Registrar of Abingdon, Clerk to the Commissioners for Property and Income Tax, and Clerk to the Trustees of Lyford Charity, which administered the almshouses in Lyford, four miles north of Wantage.
Bromley was also solicitor for the Abingdon branch of the Oxford and Abingdon Building Society and a commissioner for affidavits. He was a freemason and was for a time Master of Abbey Lodge. He served as a town councillor from 1855 to 1874 and as Mayor of Abingdon for 1863-1864.
As a councillor he was involved in the futile final attempt to prevent the closing of Abingdon Gaol after the new Reading Gaol was built. He was one of the seven to six majority at the Town Council meeting in 1867 that voted to continue with a court action against the county magistrates despite the strong legal opinion to the contrary from the Town Clerk, the Recorder and the town’s own counsel. A factor might well have been the strong feeling among the tradesmen of the town that everything possible must be done to stop the gaol being closed. In the event, the gaol was closed in 1868 and Abingdon also lost the county assizes which, in the future, would be held only in Reading. Other major issues facing the council during Bromley’s time as a councillor included finding suitable ways to deal with the town’s sewage and secure its water supply.
There was one occasion when he came in front of the Bench as a defendant himself, on an assault charge. There had been a “considerable disturbance” in the High Street on election day November 1868, outside the Old King’s Head, which was being used as the Conservative Committee Room. A weight had allegedly been thrown from a window which had struck Charles Judd, a farm labourer, on the shoulder, injuring him so severely that he appeared with his arm in a sling in court and had had to take three days off work. Judd claimed that it had been thrown by Mr Challenor who had then immediately shut the window. Bromley denied the charge of grievous bodily harm and had been adamant the case should be heard; he had even offered to pay the fees to bring it in order to clear his name. The case took three hours to hear with both sides offering witnesses to the incident but, in the end, the Bench, despite thinking that it was “a proper case to enquire into”, found that the evidence on the complainant’s case “was not sufficiently strong as to leave no doubt, and they thought it best, therefore, to discharge the summons”. A second charge of assault against another complainant was withdrawn. Election days were often an excuse for merry making with drunken behaviour on all sides; it is hard not to wonder what exactly had happened.
In 1870, at the annual meeting of the Vestry Committee of St Helen’s Church, it was decided to set up an audit committee, consisting of three parishioners to prepare the parish accounts for the inspection of the Vestry. Bromley was one of the three selected, the others being Mr William Pemberton and Mr A D Bartlett.
Never one to miss an opportunity for being involved in an activity that entailed a dinner or an opportunity to administer to the less fortunate, Bromley joined the Oddfellows, a Friendly Society that enabled its members, including “workers” to protect themselves and their families against illness, injury or death. An account of one anniversary dinner, in 1872, describes the local society members processing through the town in their “full regalia” to the Railway Station to welcome their guests Sir George Bowyer and Abingdon’s MP, the Hon. C H Lindsay. The procession attracted “many hundreds of spectators” with an “unusual profusion of flags and banners” and the procession ended at the Council Chamber with a dinner for 170 people.
Bromley’s workload still included dealing with everyday legal issues, one such being the sale of Cassington Mill, on the River Evenlode, the auction being held at the Roebuck Hotel in Oxford. This is the first mention of his being involved in such a sale, although there are further mentions of this activity popping up occasionally during the rest of this decade. In 1872 he is describing himself as a superintendent registrar, making him responsible for the birth, marriage, and death registers for the local district, for the legal preliminaries to marriage for residents of the district, and the ability to officiate at civil marriages.
In 1874, Bromley brought his eldest son, Bromley junior, into the firm and changed the name to Challenor & Son. Sometime prior to 1882, Bromley’s fourth son Edward Marchant also joined the family firm. Having two of his sons working with him must have boosted the firm’s potential greatly. There are many notices in the local newspapers of the cases in which they were involved, from theft to the licensing of premises to serve alcohol to dealing with property auctions.
Bromley junior lost no time in following his father’s example of being nominated to administrative and legal positions as they became vacant; he was district coroner at the age of twenty-five and town clerk in addition a year later. He was still town clerk when, in 1897, he edited and published a selection of the borough records, a work much used by local historians today.
In November 1874, Bromley senior lost his seat on the Municipal Council; it had come up for renewal at the end of his term but he was defeated by 50 votes, coming last of all the candidates. Following the franchise changes in the second Reform Act in 1867 and the introduction of secret ballots from July 1872, it seems that voters had started voting along party lines rather than for the person “most suited to represent them at the Council Board”, something the Reading Mercury deplored in its report of the election.
Bromley was not a man accustomed to being ousted; it is not clear how he reacted to this defeat but, from 1874, there are fewer mentions of Bromley senior in the newspapers, and it is clear he is beginning to take a back seat, allowing his sons to do more, although he was still to be found in court occasionally with ordinary cases.
Sometime between September 1881 and May 1882, Challenor & Son moved from their High Street office to 67 Stert Street; they stayed here until sometime between 1978 and 1980, when the firm moved to Bath Street where they still (2021) have their Abingdon office. 
In January 1884, Bromley resigned as Clerk to the Justices due to ill health, and subsequently he gave up other positions as well.
Bromley Challenor was an ambitious man who obviously enjoyed life and made as much of it as possible. He was prominent in Abingdon for nearly four decades and would have seen and participated in the changes being wrought in Victorian Britain, both physically and socially, through his legal work in so many aspects of his professional life. He was interested enough in identifying with the Conservative party to act as the district agent, and there are hints in a couple of articles that this led to his being unpopular with some sections of the population. He was heavily involved in work that impacted on other people’s lives via the Borough Council, Workhouse, almshouses, and Littlemore Asylum, as well as with ordinary everyday legal problems and events such as the Wool Fair. He socialised and associated with many other local prominent dignitaries as a councillor and with his membership of the Abingdon Rifles, Masons and Oddfellows, and the many newspaper articles of the time about the various dinners and formal occasions that took place make clear these were not necessarily onerous or even decorous.
In reporting his death, the Reading Mercury described him as “highly respected in the town”. The firm he founded has lasted until the present day.
Bromley Challenor died on 20 August 1888 aged 67 at his home, The Firs, Marcham Road, Abingdon, after a “long and painful illness” which had been affecting him for over four and a half years. He was survived by his wife and ten of his twelve children. Six of his children remained in Abingdon, and some of his sons and grandsons followed him in becoming prominent members of the local community.
We thank Marion Cox (née Challenor) for information and photographs.
© AAAHS and contributors 2021
 In this article, birth, marriage, and death information and information from electoral registers is from Ancestry and Find My past unless otherwise noted.
 Sir Egerton Brydges, Collin’s Peerage of England (London, 1812) Vol. VII, pp. 256-7, https://archive.org/details/collinsspeerageof07coll/page/n5/mode/2up?view=theater accessed 18 April 2021.
 John Cannon, The Aristocratic Century, the peerage in eighteenth century England (CUP, 1984) p. 77.
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 Jacksons Oxford Journal, 11 November 1848, p. 3
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 Personal communication, Marion Cox.
 Personal communication, David Clark 5 May 2019, from a comparison of census information for the period 1841 to 1891 for that part of the street.
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 www.workhouses.org.uk/abingdon Accessed 14 April 2015; Reading Mercury 10 September 1881, p. 1.
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 Personal communication Marion Cox.
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 James Townsend, A History of Abingdon, (London, 1910) p. 161
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 https://www.oddfellows.co.uk/about/history/ accessed 29 March 2021.
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 Personal communication Marion Cox. Law Lists England and Wales, 1874 and 1875.
 Reading Mercury, 14 January 1882, p. 5; Reading Mercury, 20 October 1883, p. 2.
 Bromley Challenor (ed.), Selections from the records of the Borough of Abingdon, 1555 – 1897, (Abingdon, 1898).
 Reading Mercury, 7 November 1874, p. 6.
 Reading Mercury, 7 November 1874, p. 6.
 Reading Observer, 17 July 1880, p. 6.
 Reading Mercury, 10 September 1881, p.1; Reading Mercury, 10 June 1882, p.1; Abingdon Who’s Who & Directory 1977-78; Abingdon Who’s Who & Directory 1979/80
 Reading Mercury, 26 January 1884, p. 4.
[51 Reading Mercury, 25 August 1888, p. 5.
 Reading Mercury, 25 August 1888, p. 5.