Sir John Stuart Knill
(1886- 1973) achieved a minor degree of fame because he was poor — and because he also happened to be a Baronet and so was part of the UK's hereditary aristocracy. As the British media often described him, he was "England's only Baronet in public housing." As Sir Knill struggled to scrape by, moving from one low-paying job to another (street sweeper, postman, cat breeder), the media gleefully reported each time his circumstances sank slightly lower.
Knill was born into wealth. It was his grandfather, Stuart Knill
, who was made the first Knill Baronet
in 1893 (official title: Baronet Knill, of The Grove, Blackheath and Fresh Wharf, London
). The 1st and 2nd Knill Baronets both served for a time as Lord Mayors of London.
Sir John Stuart Knill became the 3rd Baronet after the death of his father in 1934. However, he never actually registered the title, which meant that his Baronetcy was officially considered to be dormant, but that was a minor detail overlooked by the press.
Knill's fortunes began to go south after World War I. He lost his family's ancestral estate, Knill Court in Herefordshire, and fell back on his knowledge of antiques to make a living, opening an antique shop in Brighton. However, the shop failed to make a profit, so by the mid-1930s he had closed it and began operating a "bric-a-brac stall
" in London's Caledonian market. On the weekends he swept streets.
The Burnie Advocate - Apr 12, 1937
A job as a postman followed during the 1940s. His wife, Lady Ruth Evelyn Knill, supplemented the family income by working as a mill girl. Interviewed in 1950, she said, "We've lived hard and now we are down to rock bottom. I'm living up to my name. Of money, we have: Knill."
The Knills earned extra cash by breeding animals in their rented apartment, but due to failure to pay the rent they were evicted in 1951 and moved into public housing.
Sydney Morning Herald - Mar 1, 1951
The next time Knill made headlines was in 1962 when it was widely reported that he was "trying to recoup his lost fortune by hypnotizing his wife so she can win the weekly soccer pool." As reported by UPI:
Each Sunday, Knill, 75, puts on his best tartan kilt, sets his wife in a chair facing a blank television set in their tiny living room and hypnotizes her. She stares at the blank screen and tries to "see" the winning combination.
So far the pursuit of riches in England's national pastime has failed to yield the results they hope for but this has not dampened their enthusiasm...
Both feel that their lack of success may be due to poor reception by Lady Knill.
"It seems to depend on the weather for accuracy," she said. "On a dull day I have a job to 'read' the results. Normally, when he hypnotizes me the TV set appears to be switched on. Sometimes it seems so bright that I have to ask him to tone it down."
The Indianapolis Star - Mar 10, 1962
Knill died in 1973 at the age of 87. His son John (the 4th Baronet) was also quite a character. He was a long-time campaigner for the preservation of canals and was known around the city of Bath as a local eccentric, "propelling himself in a wheelchair operated by an astonishing system of levers, pulley and - it has to be said - cranks." More info about him here.