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Poll: Details of local historian Tony Wheeler’s £3million legacy revealed - but where would you leave your fortune?

12:14 03 September 2014

Tony Wheeler

Tony Wheeler

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Details of the dozens of local charities that shared in a £3million legacy from a humble local historian have been released.

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Sudbury stalwart Tony Wheeler lost his battle with cancer in June 2012 at the age of 84. Friends of the retired schoolmaster, who was described as the “perfect gentleman”, expressed surprise when it was revealed that he had left close to £3m in his will.

And now after two years, the names of the beneficiaries have been made public along with the amounts they received.

It is believed that Mr Wheeler, who never married and did not have any close relatives, amassed his fortune through inheritance and income built up while enjoying a well-paid, live-in post as deputy headmaster at Royal Worcester Grammar School, where he spent much of his working life before retiring to his home town of Sudbury in 1987. Although he lived modestly and didn’t smoke or drink, he is believed to have made some “bold” investments.

David Cocksedge, probate manager at Sudbury-based legal firm Bates, Wells and Braithwaite who were executors of Mr Wheeler’s will, said he had requested that virtually all of his money should go to a number of national and local charities.

In the end, nearly half was left to 16 local organisations, and a similar amount to national or county charitable bodies.

The major beneficiary was Sudbury’s United Reformed Church, where Mr Wheeler’s family were life-long worshippers.

They received more than £215,000, which church secretary Chris Proffitt said had been used for a number of projects.

He said: “No-one dreamt Tony had that amount of money and I’m not even sure if he knew that he had that much.

“It was a wonderful gift that has enabled us to make a significant improvement to our church hall, which is used by around 140 people each week and is the best facility in town, so we have regenerated it to make it much more user friendly.

“We have also illuminated the spire in Tony’s memory, which he used to enjoy seeing from his bedroom window.”

The other major beneficiary is Suffolk Wildlife Trust, which used its £200,000 share of the money to help purchase a 78 acre extension to the Arger Fen and Spouse’s Vale nature reserve site at Assington.

Christine Luxton, head of development at the trust, said: “It’s an amazing nature reserve and over the years, we have extended it greatly through the generosity of people like Mr Wheeler.

“When someone leaves us a legacy like this, we have a huge responsibility to do something fantastic with it. We chose this site because it was close to where Mr Wheeler lived and we felt it would connect to his life, but it is there for everyone to enjoy.”

Gainsborough’s House was also bequeathed £105,000 in the will. Mark Bills, director of the museum and gallery, said: “It was an extraordinary thing for someone to do and has made an enormous difference to us.

“The money has allowed us to think about moving forward and expanding. We are going to put up a thank you board and his name will be at the top.”

Among other things, the money has enabled the museum to extend its shop, which is already reporting increased turnover. A room in the house will also be named after Mr Wheeler.

A keen historian, Mr Wheeler published a book exploring the origins of street names in Sudbury, entitled What’s in a Name shortly before he died. He left his extensive collection of maps and books to the Libraries Museums Records and Amenities Committee at Suffolk County Council.

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