Elise ‘Zoo’ Welch

Pat Armstrong’s favourite aunt Zoo remained at Cantreyn House in Bridgnorth, Shropshire, following her husband’s death on the Western Front in March 1918. She never remarried.

Zoo led a quiet and unassuming life until 1955 when, as an 82-year-old widow, she made national headlines by taking legal action against the Bank of England. She and a cousin, Hubert William Maude of Kinlough, Co. Leitrim, had been appointed as trustees of a young relative with special needs and were registered as joint holders of stock, the income from which was used for the benefit of their charge. Zoo was of the generation who believed that women should have nothing to do with business. She frankly admitted that she never took any interest in the trust, did not know what was being done or why, and did not care. She placed implicit trust in Hubert, and signed anything he put in front of her without reading it.

When Hubert Maude died in 1953, it transpired that on seven occasions between 1947 and 1951, he had forged Zoo’s signature to a number of deeds of transfer and disposed of the stock for his own benefit. As he had died insolvent, the money could not be recovered, and Zoo sued the bank in order to restore her name to the register of stockholders as owner of the stock fraudulently sold, to replace the stock transferred, and pay to the dividends accrued. The bank insisted that Zoo should have realised after the first transaction that Hubert had forged her signature and that it was due to her negligence and dereliction of duty that her co-trustee had the opportunity to forge the transfers.

A headline caused by Zoo

A headline caused by Zoo

After a trial of nine days, Mr Justice Harman found in Zoo’s favour in three of the seven cases of fraud and ordered the Bank of England to reinstate her name in the books as the registered owner of £5,502 stocks. In the remaining four transactions the judge found that Zoo was disentitled to recover £4,500 stocks because in these instances she had negligently provided the co-trustee with blank cheques, which was the direct cause of the loss. The case and Justice Harman’s verdict caused much debate in legal circles of the day.

Zoo died at her Shropshire home on 28 July 1964 at the age of 93. Her funeral was held three days later at St. Macartan’s Cathedral in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh.