Mad Windham the Train-Driving Egg Enthusiast

In a departure from all things early modern, today we have some Victorian fragments, courtesy of my guest blogger, the celebrated cartoonist Adrian Teale, whose work regularly features both on television and in national newspapers. Here, for our delight and amusement, Ade presents the curious story of William ‘Mad’ Windham.

In 1861, wealthy Etonian William Frederick Windham, of Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk, married a notorious Rotten Row courtesan called Agnes Willoughby, promising her an annuity of £1,500 per annum, and spoiling her with jewels and gifts of hard cash. Windham’s uncle was greatly concerned about the damage this would do to the family name, and was very worried about the gold-digging credentials of the courtesan in question. He decided the best course of action was to prove, in court, that his nephew was insane.

In a celebrated case which kept the press on the edge of its seat (The Times alone expended 170,000 words on the story), Windham’s mental state was scrutinized by a Commission in Lunacy, which was presented with examples of his outlandish behaviour. This included his ordering seventeen eggs for breakfast, howling through open windows if his dinner wasn’t ready the minute he asked for it, running naked around the house, and dancing on billiard tables. He had also been known to dress as a police officer and patrol the beat in the Haymarket. His principal obsession was steam engines, however, and he often persuaded railway officials to let him collect tickets and drive the trains.

After his uncle had set out his case, the court subjected Windham to a four-hour mental test, and found him lucid, charming, and – more importantly – sane. At the conclusion of the thirty-four day enquiry, the uncle’s case had collapsed. However, ‘Mad’ Windham did eventually lose the family fortune, and to make ends meet he used to drive the Norwich-to-Cromer express coach for a guinea per week. His marriage to Agnes broke down soon after their nuptials, and she ran off with a short-arsed, sombrero-wearing, Italian opera singer called Antonio Guiglini. So perhaps the uncle had a point.

Subject to editorial approval, a cartoon about this case will appear in History Today magazine….keep an eye on my Twitter page (@adeteal) for details.
See my work & CV under ‘T’ in the Members’ Portfolios section of 



  • Liz
    March 28, 2012 - 9:45 am | Permalink

    Great article, but you missed out my favourite bit – the accusations of bonkers egg-ordering, howling out of windows and running naked around the house turned out to have been fed to the witness by none other than the “well-meaning” uncle…whose son just happened to be next in line for the family fortune. What a story!

  • July 31, 2010 - 4:29 pm | Permalink


  • Anonymous
    July 31, 2010 - 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Good stuff. Great cartoon. A bit of a change from the usual posts, but great story! Guess what I’m having for breakfast tomorrow.

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