Mad Windham

Portrait of Mad Windham as a young man

The only son of William Howe Windham and Sophia Hervey, daughter of the 1st Marquis of Bristol was born in 1840, and was something of an odd child. Christened William Frederick, he acquired the name of 'Mad Windham' in the merciless climate of Victorian Eton. He was certainly distinctly odd and was further handicapped by his upbringing.

Willliam Frederick Windham

Something of an odd child, he acquired the name of 'Mad Windham' in the merciless climate of Victorian Eton. His passion for uniform was encouraged in his early years when his parents gave him a suit of blue and red livery, which the Felbrigg servants had worn since Ashe's day, and allowed him to wait at table. As he grew up he became interested in trains and, having acquired a guard's uniform, could be found on the platforms of local stations causing chaos with unauthorised whistle blasts. On coming of age in 1861 he made his way to London where he dressed up as policemen and patrolled the Haymarket, rounding up the dubious women who poured out of the pubs at closing time.

The 'pretty horsebreaker'

In the same year, on a visit to Ascot, he fell into the clutches of Agnes Willoughby, a glamorous kept woman whose protector, the timber contractor known as ‘mahogany Roberts’ was soon to take an unhealthy interest in the Felbrigg woods.    Agnes was a striking figure who sported a scarlet riding mantle at meetings of the Royal Buckhounds and was perpetually surrounded by crowds of admiring officers.  Her blond hair and china doll complexion captivated Windham, as did the epithet ‘pretty horsebreaker’ which she and her kind attracted. 
Windham assented to a very generous marriage settlement guaranteeing an income for Agnes. In an attempt to protect the estate, his uncle General Charles Windham brought a petition for De Lunatico Inquirendo,  leading to a notorious inquiry which sat for 34 days hearing evidence from 140 witnesses.  However, the case collapsed and Windham was declared sane.  You can read more about this in the book " A Scandal at Felbrigg"  by Trevor Heaton, available in the Felbrigg shop.  The marriage was short-lived and by 1863 Windham's debts were completely out of control and the estate passed into the hands of his bankers.

The final years

Before his death in 1866, William Frederick remained a conspicuous figure in North Norfolk, buying a mail van which he had painted scarlet with the Windham arms, and driving it daily into Norwich for his letters. Then he became the owner/driver of a coach which travelled established routes, pinching the customers of other companies and giving them free trips until, after he had lost everything, he concluded with a spell as an increasingly erratic and dangerous driver of the express coach between Cromer and Norwich.