15 December 2013

'His unnumbered kindnesses': William Dacres Adams on Pitt's death

                                                                            William Dacres Adams by Sir Thomas Lawrence, c. 1810

In a very moving letter to his brother in-law Courtenay, William Dacres Adams wrote of his anguish following the death of William Pitt. Adams was Pitt's last private secretary, and he was clearly very close to the Prime Minister. Similar to James Stanhope's account of Pitt's final illness, Adams's reminiscences are equally expressive of the grief experienced by those who knew Pitt intimately in private life. I am repeating Adams' letter to Courtenay of 24th January 1806 (the day after Pitt's passing) in its entirety as it conveys the genuine sentiments of a man who deeply mourned the loss of Pitt:

Downing Street, Friday 24th January 1806

"Dear Courtenay,

I wished to have told you something of the manner of Mr. Pitt's death, but really I was not equal to it yesterday. I can hardly yet bring myself to believe that it is true, though everything in this wretched, melancholy house [Downing Street] but too surely impresses it upon my mind. He [Pitt] received the tidings of the approaching event with that firmness which was natural to him, and passed an hour with the Bishop of Lincoln in prayer, and in such directions about his worldly affairs as he thought necessary. He wished to have committed these to writing, but his strength was not sufficient. He therefore dictated what he had to say to the Bishop, and signed the paper. His solicitude seemed to have procured a provision for the Stanhopes and for the payment of his own debts - both of which, I should suppose, for the credit of Parliament and of the country, would be immediately done.

After his exertion, which was Wednesday morning, I do not find that he knew anything, except at little intervals, in one of which he saw Lady Hester Stanhope, blessed her, and took his last leave of her. All the rest was incoherence. He talked a great deal about his affairs in Germany - asked why they did not fight - said he would despatch a messenger - inquired which way the wind was for him to sail. Sometimes he mentioned Lady Hester - called her a good soul. 'I know she loves me.' Then he would begin to pray - which perhaps was during a momentary return of reason - and then he would fancy himself in the House of Commons and cry 'Hear, hear, hear!' - and once he said, 'I am better - I shall not die yet.'

But I will not proceed farther with this dreadful recital. The delirium, I suppose, proceeded from the excess of fever, for his pulse latterly was too quick to be counted. About an hour before his death he seemed to be in a sleep, from which he never woke again; and they only knew that it was over by his having ceased to breathe. I have hardly begun to contemplate the probable consequences of this most sad calamity, or the private and public evils which it must produce. We shall feel them by-and-by. At present my mind is wholly occupied with a grief that I never felt before, and an anguish that is inexpressible. It is not the loss of his vast talents and unexampled public service which affects me now - though they will be 'embalmed in the recollection of a grateful posterity,' but the remembrance of his unnumbered kindnesses - of that goodness and gentleness of heart and manner, and of that purity of mind which I never saw equalled in man.

To my last hour, the time spent with him at Bath will be a source of infinite gratification to me. I dined with him the very last time he ever sat at table. Those precious, precious days will be fixed in my memory to my life's end.

Yours always affectionately,
W.D. Adams"


Jameson, E. (1945) 10 Downing Street. London: Francis Aldor, pp. 257-8.

The Indian Chiefs who met the Pitt children

In 1766, a group of Indian chiefs from North America came over to England. At Weymouth, they met the children of William Pitt the Elder (1708-1778). Below is a snippet from a letter written by Pitt's 10 year old daughter Lady Hester Pitt describing this event:

Lady Hester Pitt to her mother, Weymouth, August 2, 1766

“…The man who brought over the Indian Chiefs came to us on Wednesday night with a message from them to return us many thanks for the kind treatment they had met with. Some of them were gone to Dorchester, and he was going to carry the rest there, and so to London. We found by talking to them [the Indians] that they had Christian names the same as the English. I hear that William’s little horse is dark iron grey, and has a switch tail, they say it is about as handsome as Beauty…If it is fine weather we intend to go to see a compleat Roman Camp about 6 miles from hence.”


The UK National Archives. PRO 30/70/5/330A 

13 December 2013

William Pitt's portrait at Trinity House

In a letter written to William Pitt on May 5, 1796, the artist Gainsborough Dupont asks him to appointment a time for a portrait sitting. The original letter is now located at the UK National Archives. The purpose of the painting was to commemorate Pitt as Master of Trinity House on Tower Hill. Pitt was then just 37 years old, and had been Master for several years. The Trinity House building was newly completed (building work had begun in 1794), and it was now urgent to finish Pitt’s portrait.

Below is the full text of Gainsborough Dupont’s letter to Pitt (PRO 30/70/5 f 365):
Grafton Street Fitzroy Square
5 May 1796 -

“Mr Gainsborough Dupont presents his humble service to Mr Pitt, and hopes he will pardon the liberty he takes in requesting that Mr Pitt will have the goodness to appoint a time for sitting for his portrait that is intended for the New Trinity House. Gainsbro. Dupont has prepared the Face from one of the Pictures Mr Pitt did him the honour of sitting for some time since and has it in such a state of forwardness that if he could be so fortunate as to obtain half an hour for the purpose of touching the Features and sketching the Person it would be sufficient for him to finish the Picture. Gainbro. Dupont would be happy to wait upon Mr Pitt at any time and place he would please to appoint, and from the very anxious desire of the Deputy Master and Elder Brethren that it should be completed and placed up on Trinity Monday with the other Pictures which are nearly finished, G. Dupont is under the necessity of soliciting Mr Pitt to mention an early day.”

Needless to say, Gainsborough Dupont was in a hurry to quickly finish Pitt’s portrait! I wonder when and where the sitting eventually took place? Presumably, it was not long after the date of the letter. Pitt had previously sat to Gainsborough Dupont at Walmer Castle in 1792, so the artist would have been familiar with Pitt’s facial features.

Flash forward to 2013, and Mr. Pitt’s full-length portrait still hangs on the quarterdeck of Trinity House.

12 December 2013

'His life departed like a candle burning out'

I’ve been sitting here crying my eyes out reading Gareth Glover’s superb book "Eyewitness to the Peninsular War and the Battle of Waterloo: The Letters and Journals of Lieutenant Colonel The Honourable James Stanhope" (2010). 

What particularly moved me was the tragic account of James Stanhope’s suicide, of which I had no idea of the particulars when I only just visited Kenwood House - the location of his suicide, which was in one of Kenwood’s outbuildings - this past weekend. The excruciating pain he endured after a dreadful injury he sustained whilst fighting during the Napoleonic Wars, accompanied by the unbearable loss of his dearly beloved wife (Lord Mansfield’s daughter) Frederica in childbirth, must have proved more than he could bear. I respect this man more than words can say. 

Another reason the tears have been pouring down my face is because the book contains Stanhope’s account of William Pitt’s death. I originally read the account during a research trip to the Centre for Kentish Studies in Maidstone, but re-reading it never fails to evoke tears in me. The line “his [Pitt’s] life departed like a candle burning out,” is incredibly poignant, and paralyses any admirer of Pitt with sadness and grief. Stanhope’s account of Pitt’s death is thorough, detailed, and harrowing. For me, it is also the most accurate. Pitt suffered terribly in his final illness. 

A friend asked me the other day where I read about the possibility of Pitt having died of pancreatic disease. It was in a snippet from this book. Here is the particular passage, given in the Notes section at the end of the text [Note 59]:

"It is probable that Pitt was actually suffering from either a duodenal (peptic) ulcer or pancreatic disease and had probably contracted typhoid fever in the later stages. It has been stated that Pitt died of acute liver failure brought on by his heavy drinking. However there is much conjecture over Pitt’s death and current medical thinking is that the most likely cause was a duodenal ulcer which had so narrowed the outlet of Pitt’s stomach that nothing could get through. He would thus have had pain, vomiting and weight loss; this would be caused by stress, alcohol and diet. Since there is no evidence of jaundice, he probably did not die of hepatic (liver) failure or severe chronic liver disease. His liver function may, nonetheless, have been impaired as a result of his drinking. One other possibility exists, that he had acute or chronic relapsing pancreatitis - i.e. inflammation of the pancreas, as a consequence of his alcohol excess." 

I think this account blows Gornall’s 1957 article on William Pitt’s health and final illness out of the water as (I’d like to think, anyway!) medical opinion has advanced considerably since the mid-1950s.
If you’re interested in the Napoleonic Wars, William Pitt the younger, the Stanhope family of Chevening, or indeed the Duke of Wellington, I highly recommend Gareth Glover’s book on James Hamilton Stanhope!


Glover, G. (ed.) (2010) Eyewitness to the Peninsular War and the Battle of Waterloo: The Letters and Journals of Lieutenant Colonel The Honourable James Stanhope. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military.

The 2nd Lord Chatham's final home: 10 Charles Street, Berkeley Square

I consider myself to be what I call an "on-the-ground" amateur social historian, and part of this involves physically getting out to places of historical relevance or significance. Therefore, on a recent trip to London I was looking specifically for John Pitt's (2nd Earl of Chatham) last home. His country seat was in Gedding, Kent, however his obituaries all state that he died at Charles Street. John Pitt was William Pitt the younger's older brother, and he outlived him by over 29 years.

The Gentleman's Magazine, Volume 158 (1835) reported that John Pitt died on September 24, 1835 at his London town residence on 10 Charles Street, Berkeley Square. He was 79 years old, and by far the last surviving member of his immediate family. The earldom of Chatham was made extinct upon his death as he had no children. John's wife had preceded him in death by 14 years. 

Miraculously, the Blitz of 1940-1 did not destroy the 2nd Earl of Chatham's former residence - although many of the surrounding houses were flattened - and thus it survives to the present day. 

Below are several photos I took of the exterior of 10 Charles Street, Berkeley Square:

More than likely, the property has been altered significantly on the interior to what it must have appeared in John's day, however the exterior remains a quintessential Georgian townhouse. As the numbering of London buildings tend to change quite dramatically over the centuries, I felt it was vital to double-check my facts to ensure that the modern-day 10 Charles Street was also the same address in 1835. To do so, I have a digital copy of Horwood's 1799 London map to verify my conclusions. Sure enough, it was also 10 Charles Street in 1799, therefore we can be almost certain that it was the same number 36 years later. Below is a screenshot of Charles Street, showing number 10 in the same position as it is in the present day:

Therefore, it can safely be assumed that what we're looking at today was the very same residence where John Pitt, the 2nd Earl Chatham, took his last breath on the morning of September 24, 1835. 

'A stock made of leather'

A curious anecdote was published in Joe Miller's A New Edition of the Old Joe Miller, or, Universal Jester (1810) regarding a change made to the military dress uniforms of the Volunteer Corps in approximately 1802-4 (my estimation). Pitt died in January 1806. Although this dubious incident was reported several years after Pitt's death, William Pitt was Colonel and Lord Warden of the Cinque Port Volunteers at the time of this alleged occurrence:

"Previous to the inspection of the Dover Volunteer Corps by the Lord Warden, on Monday evening, an order was issued for the men to wear black stocks made of leather, as is usual with troops of the line. Several of the corps objected to this order, alleging, that not being accustomed to such a stiff bandage round their necks, they hoped to be permitted to wear their silk ones as before. Mr. Pitt observed, when the corps assembled, he had never been accustomed to wear a stock made of leather, but he now submitted to that part of the military dress, from which he did not experience the least inconvenience. "That may be, Sir, (replied an honest blacksmith, who was in the ranks) for your neck is, like your head, so very long, that the leather can do you no injury" (Miller, p. 59). Needless to say, I'm highly critical of the authenticity of this account, and it's a rather impertinent remark on the part of the "honest blacksmith." I'm no expert on military attire during the Napoleonic Wars, either. I'm relating this here as it's an obscure Pitt anecdote which I have never seen elsewhere.


Miller, J. (1810) A New Edition of the Old Joe Miller, or, Universal Jester. London: T. Hughes, p. 59.

9 December 2013

Pitt's political inheritance

Six men who had been, or were to become, British Prime Ministers attended William Pitt the younger's funeral in late February 1806: Lord Sidmouth, Lord Grenville, Lord Liverpool, Spencer Perceval, George Canning, and the Duke of Wellington.

Chateaubriand on Pitt: He was 'something above the ordinary line'

Before I commence with Chateaubriand's account of William Pitt, I'd like to make it crystal clear that I'm no admirer of Mr. Chateaubriand. It should also be known that Chateaubriand was never on intimate terms with Pitt, and in actual fact, he barely knew him.

Nevertheless, Pitt held such a significant and powerful position in the landscape of late 18th and early 19th century British politics that we are left with numerous observations of him by his contemporaries. Suffice it to say that not all of these anecdotes and descriptions are necessarily endearing.

Below is an extract of Chateaubriand's assessment of Pitt:

"Pitt, tall and slender, had an air at once melancholy and sarcastic. His delivery was cold, his intonation monotonous, his action scarcely perceptible. At the same time, the lucidness and the fluency of his thoughts, the logic of his arguments, suddenly irradiated with flashes of eloquence, rendered his talent something above the ordinary line."

What is most striking is that although Chateaubriand wasn't overly fond of Pitt by any stretch of the imagination, he still managed to pay him a huge compliment in admitting that his eloquence and oratorical powers were beyond the norm.


Chateaubriand, in Prescott, W. H. (1864) Biographical and Critical Miscellanies. Philadelphia, USA: J.B. Lippincott & Co., p. 289.

4 December 2013

Jane Williams's burial record

Jane (neè Pryce) was Elizabeth and Louisa Jane Williams' mother. Today I decided to research her burial record on the Westminster Archives via findmypast.co.uk in order to follow-up a source. Sure enough, here's what I learned:

Jane Williams was buried at St Margaret's church, Westminster on 27 February 1797. Unfortunately, the source does not mention her age when she died.

St Margaret's church cemetery is no longer in use; in fact, all trace of its former external use as a burial ground has been erased, so it is now impossible to ascertain exactly where Jane Williams's final resting place is located.

I do wonder how intimate the Williams family were to William Pitt the younger. This certainly needs to be explored further.

2 December 2013

Thoughts on Elizabeth Williams

What follows is the product of thoughts which have been passing through my head. Without anything more than the written evidence of Pitt paying for Elizabeth, and her younger sister Louisa Jane's, education, clothing, and boarding for at least the period of 1797 to 1801 (and in Elizabeth's case - until Pitt's death in 1806), this must be viewed as historical speculation.

If William was Elizabeth's father (she was born on August 3, 1785), then she would have been conceived in the autumn of 1784. Pitt had been Prime Minister (First Lord of the Treasury in those days) for a year by the time she was conceived. Elizabeth's mother was Jane Pryce Williams - a married woman. Her acknowledged father was Edward Williams.

Under English law at the end of the 18th century, children were considered to be the property of the mother's husband, and whether the husband was the father or not, the children would definitely have shared the husband's surname. Thus, any illegitimate child borne to a married woman could easily be passed off as her husband's, and Pitt would have been absolved of any responsibility for the child - and Jane protected from the stigma of bearing a bastard. Pitt would have had good reason to be relieved that his paternity of Elizabeth did not have to be acknowledged; he could preserve his carefully cultivated image of being a virtuous minister.

Jane died in early 1797, and quite ironically, it is from this exact period which Pitt took both of her daughters into his house and began paying for every aspect of their upkeep and education. He was a generous man, but there is absolutely no written record still in existence of him extending this same provision to any other children.

More later...

27 November 2013

How to explain a duel to your friends

In a letter sent from Downing Street at 9pm on the night of Pitt's duel with George Tierney (27th May 1798), Pitt writes to Dundas:

"Dear Dundas, You will perhaps hear that I had occasion to visit your neighbourhood this morning, in order to meet Mr. Tierney, in consequence of what passed between us in the House on Friday. We exchanged two shots on each side; and by the interposition of the seconds the affair ended in a way with which, I think, neither party had any reason to be dissatisfied. I am going to [Charles] Long's this evening, and will dine with you to-morrow. Yours ever, W. Pitt." 

What an amusing way to make light of a duel! The duel was fought on a Sunday, which sparked some degree of outrage at the time, and also on the day before Pitt's 39th birthday. Fortunately, neither of the duellists were injured in any physical way, although Pitt was ill soon afterward. 


Stanhope. (1862) Life of Pitt, Vol. 3. London: John Murray, p. 131.

20 November 2013

Lord Melville on Pitt's death

On 28 January 1806, five days after Pitt's death, Lord Melville wrote to William Huskisson about his grief:

"I am certainly very miserable, and as there is not an hour of my life for these twenty four years past, that does not at this moment and for ever continue to bring his image to my Mind, I cannot summon up or suggest to myself any Recourse from which I can collect a Ray of consolation…I must wait for that Species of Apathy which buries every thing past in one indiscriminate Oblivion."

I cannot read this without becoming upset.


Huskisson Papers. B.L. Add Ms 38759.

15 November 2013

Pitt at age 22: 'I never would accept a subordinate situation'

Whilst speaking in the House of Commons in March 1782, William Pitt, then just 22 years of age, stated categorically: "For myself, I could not expect to form part of a new administration; but were my doing so more within my reach, I feel myself bound to declare that I never would accept a subordinate situation" (quoted in Hague 2005: 85; Stanhope. Vol. 1: 70). Many senior politicians were shocked at Pitt's declaration, especially considering he had not yet held even a minor position in government. Horace Walpole recorded "the moment he [Pitt] sat down he was aware of his folly, and said he could bite his tongue out for what he had uttered" (Hague 2005: 85; Steuart, ed. The Last Journals of Horace Walpole, Vol. 2, p. 416).

I'll never forget the first time I read this passage. I had barely any knowledge of William Pitt, and had certainly never before read or heard anything even remotely similar it. Whereas many others think it was a pompous, vain, and certainly an overly confident thing to say given Pitt's age and lack of experience at the time, I was instantly attracted to him. The first impressive qualities of Pitt which appealed to me - even before I saw any portraits or caricatures of him - were his youthfulness, ambition, intelligence, courage, strength of character, incorruptibility, independence from political parties, precociousness, and his refusal to accept anything less than what he desired. 

Skipping forward just a single year - from March 1782 to December 1783 - Pitt's life forever changed. He became First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer on December 19, 1783 at the age of just 24. Most doubted how long he would remain in office. Famously, Mrs. Crewe said to Wilberforce at the time "Well, he [Pitt] may do what he likes during the holidays, but it will be only a mince-pie administration, depend on it" (Wilberforce's Diary, 22 December 1783, R.I. and S.W. Wilberforce, The Life of William Wilberforce, Vol. 1, p. 48). Most derided Pitt's youthfulness, and thought his remaining in office for long was completely hopeless. In fact, when it was first announced in the House of Commons that Pitt was the head of the government, MPs erupted into roaring laughter. 

But here is Pitt's greatness: He stood the overwhelming tests put in his way, and he fought all the obstacles which came his way. In February 1784, Pitt said "the country calls aloud to me that I should defend this castle; and I am determined therefore that I WILL defend it" (quoted in Hague 2005: 153). The young man, who at 24 in 1783 would go on to lead his country until he was forced to resign in 1801 over the question of Catholic Emancipation, and then AGAIN become First Lord from 1804 until his death - still in office - in January 1806, is one that I really believe shall never be surpassed. He occupied No. 10 Downing Street for longer than any other politician in British history, and he sacrificed his life for the greater good of the country he stood for and loved. Pitt's patriotism is another admirable quality he possessed. He was the least vain person, and he repeatedly put other people's wishes before his own. Ultimately, he was a kind, shy man; he was a truly brilliant man. 
We shall never see the likes of him again.


Hague, W. (2005) William Pitt the younger. London: Harper Press, pp. 85, 153.

R.I. and S.W. Wilberforce, The Life of William Wilberforce, Vol. 1, p. 48.

Stanhope, P.H. (1862) The Life of the Right Honourable William Pitt, Vol. 1. London: John Murray, p. 70.

Steuart, ed. The Last Journals of Horace Walpole, Vol. 2, p. 416.

Bowling Green House, Putney Heath

On January 23, 1806, at about half-past four o’clock in the morning, William Pitt died at Bowling Green House on Putney Heath. Pitt had rented the house from 1804, when he moved from his London residence at number 14 York Place (now a branch of the Pret a Manger cafe chain on Baker Street; there is a London Remembers plaque on the outside of the house to Pitt’s memory). On a trip to the Kent History and Library Centre in Maidstone to view some documents in the Pitt MSS, I had a look at Earl (Philip) Stanhope’s notes on Pitt’s fully-furnished, rented house at Putney.

Although now no longer standing, Pitt’s small house was still present in the 1860s, and Stanhope noted a visit he took there with his family. He described Bowling Green House as being on the north side of Putney Heath where it joins that of Wimbledon. Stanhope mentioned that it was a small house, white in colour, and bright and cheerful in appearance. Upon being allowed to enter the premises by the then current resident, he toured the property, stating that the best bedroom, just over the drawing room, is stated to be the room in which Pitt died. He thought the bedroom was ‘airy,’ and mentioned that the room had a handsome raised and embossed ceiling, with no room above it. Now, whether this bedroom was, in fact, the room in which Pitt died is not by any means conclusive. Indeed, it is now impossible to ascertain.

The house was pulled down to make way for a new housing development in the early 20th century. Fortunately, we are left with drawings of the residence to glean an idea of what it would have looked like in Pitt’s day. John Constable did a sketch of Bowling Green House on August 6, 1816. By then it was called ‘The Octagonal House.' Pitt's friend George Rose's daughter also drew a picture of the residence. This would have been much like the house Pitt would have recognised ten years earlier. It depicts the characteristic long, winding road which led to a small, white-coloured, octagonal house surrounded by beautiful, lush greenery.

A memorial to Pitt the Elder & Pitt the younger - St. Mary the Virgin, Hayes

Tucked away in a corner of the church there is a memorial plaque to William Pitt the younger, and his father William Pitt the elder, 1st Earl of Chatham, at St Mary the Virgin in Hayes, Kent.

Pitt the elder had a house, Hayes Place, that once stood across the road directly opposite from St Mary the Virgin church. William Pitt the younger and his older brother John Pitt (2nd Earl of Chatham) were born at Hayes Place, and the five children of Pitt the Elder grew up there and at the family estate of Burton Pynsent in Somerset.

Sadly, Hayes Place was demolished in the 1930s. Of interest, Winston Churchill (Prime Minister during the Second World War) was a huge admirer of Pitt the younger. I fully intend to explore Churchill’s interest in Pitt in a future blog entry. Churchill was one of the subscribers to this Pitt plaque, and the memorial was placed in the church in 1929 by Lady Stanhope.

As the plaque reads, these men truly were “the minds that thought for Britain’s weal.”

William Pitt the younger's frock coat at The Museum of London

Below are several photos I took on a trip to The Museum of London in March 2013. The purpose of my visit was to view the only known frock coat still in existence that was once worn by former British Prime Minister William Pitt the younger. With a bit of sleuth work, I tracked this item down in The Museum of London's catalogue, informed one of the costume curators, and they kindly allowed me to go and view the frock coat in person. As you can see, it was originally a luxuriously deep purple hue, but it has numerous condition issues. The frock coat is thought to have been worn at court in the 1780s.

It was incredibly exciting to see something Pitt once wore! If you're interested in visiting The Museum of London to take a look at Pitt's frock coat, the accession number is A15043:

As a side note, Pitt's breeches (by repute) are also at The Museum of London under the same accession number. If people express an interest, I will add photos of that as well!

Pitt's facial cyst

When I went to The National Archives today one of the things I intended to do was to follow-up on a reference to a return of Pitt’s facial cyst in 1788. The reference was in Ehrman’s The Younger Pitt: The years of acclaim (1969: 594, footnote 6). I managed to have a look at one of the letters Ehrman cites, which was from James Harris (Lord Malmesbury) to Pitt dated 28 August 1788 (PRO 30/8/155).

Malmesbury begins by lamenting that “a return of the pain in your [Pitt’s] face has prevented your coming to Town yesterday.” Whether this indicates that the pain was caused by a return of Pitt’s recurring facial cyst, or another ailment (perhaps Pitt had a bad toothache?) is impossible to glean from that particular letter, and that’s the end we hear of this pain. It may be of interest to mention that Pitt did suffer from “toothaches and swelled faces” as he says this himself in a letter to Wilberforce dated August 30, 1783 (Wilberforce, p. 2). I’d like to relay this particular passage of Pitt’s letter to Wilberforce as it illustrates Pitt’s playful sense of humour despite what must have been a painful experience.

Pitt writes in relation to their upcoming trip, with their mutual friend Edward James Eliot, to France: “…I hope to find it [the air of Rheims] equally sovereign for toothaches and swelled faces, which have persecuted me ever since I have been here [at Pitt’s mother’s house, Burton Pynsent, in Somerset], as if it was the middle of a session. We shall agree excellently as invalids, and particularly in making the robust Eliot fag for us, ride bodkin, and letting him enjoy all the other privileges of health” (Wilberforce, p. 2). From this passage to Wilberforce from the early 1780s, to Malmesbury’s reference to a “return of the pain in your face” in 1788, it’s difficult to tell whether the pain might have been caused by the cyst or a tooth infection. I’m not a doctor, but facial swelling can be caused by a variety of reasons, and an infection is one possibility. On the subject of Pitt’s health, at some point I need to get a hold of another useful article Ehrman had access to which may be enlightening. This is the source: R. Guest Gornall MRCP (1957) ‘The Prime Minister’s Health, William Pitt the Younger,’ If someone can get access to that in its entirety, they instantly become my best friend.


Ehrman, J. (1969) The younger Pitt: The years of acclaim. London: Constable, p. 594, footnote 6.

The UK National Archives. Chatham Papers, PRO 30/8/155.

Wilberforce, W. (ed. by Robert Issac & Samuel Wilberforce) The Correspondence of William Wilberforce, Volume 1. London: John Murray, p. 2.

13 November 2013

Henry Dundas & William Pitt: Two different perspectives

I like Henry Dundas (Viscount Melville), and believe him to be one of the only people in Pitt's life that could have filled the role of a father figure for Pitt. In a public and private sense, Dundas had a dramatic impact on Pitt. William respected Dundas's opinions, with good reason as Dundas was quite a clever politician, however quite a few of Pitt's friends, including the abolitionist William Wilberforce, lamented Dundas's hold on Pitt. Pitt drank far too much in Dundas's company, and increasingly this became such a regular habit that it quite possibly instigated Pitt's increasing dependence on alcohol to function. Pitt relied on Dundas; he was, as it were, Pitt's right-hand man and political fixer. Pitt came to depend on Dundas, and when Dundas threatened to leave office on several occasions, Pitt practically begged him to remain in government with him. Dundas also provided Pitt with a place to stay at his villa - Warren House, now called Cannizaro House (Hotel) - in Wimbledon. When Pitt wasn't at Downing Street or Holwood, he could most probably be found with Dundas in Wimbledon. I've seen numerous turnpike expenses showing Pitt's journeys between London and Wimbledon to see Dundas. They were, without a doubt, close. They shared morning rides on horseback, and evening walks at Wimbledon, mixing political business with the easy informality which suited their friendship. There was no clearly defined separation for them between politics and the convivial hours spent dining and drinking to excess.

For the purposes of comparison, I'm presenting two sides of the role Dundas played in Pitt's life. Firstly, for what it's worth, here is what the diarist Nathaniel Wraxall (or 'Rascal', if you're the Duke of Wellington), had to say about Dundas's control over Pitt:

"As early as the year 1787, Dundas attained a commanding influence which no other individual ever acquired over Pitt's mind. With the members of the Cabinet Pitt maintained only a political union: Dundas was his companion with whom he passed, not merely his convivial hours, but to whom he confided his cares and embarrassments...Dundas guided Pitt on many points, and influenced him upon almost every measure; but he effected it by never dictating upon any matter. When discussing public business, he [Dundas] commonly affected to embrace the contrary to the opinion which he knew or believed Pitt to have formed upon the subject. After contesting the chancellor of the exchequer's arguments, Dundas usually concluded by adopting his sentiments, as if from real conviction. This ingenious species of flattery proved irresistible under the control of judgement..." (p. 318)

On the other side of the coin, however, was Lady Hester Stanhope's (Pitt's niece) opinion of Wraxall's testimony. Her physician Dr. Meryon read the passage I have quoted above where Wraxall asserts Dundas's dominance, and this was her response:

"She [Lady Hester Stanhope] denied that Mr. Dundas had any direct influence over Mr. Pitt, as Wraxall avers. Her words were, "Because Mr. Dundas was a man of sense, and Mr. Pitt approved of his ideas on many subjects, it does not follow, therefore, that he was influenced by him"" (Lady Hester Stanhope, in Meryon: 71).

Taken as a whole, perhaps Dundas and Pitt were very similar men who essentially depended, in their own different ways, upon each other?


Meryon, C.L. (1845) 'Memoirs of Lady Hester Stanhope, as related by herself in conversations with her physician, Vol. 2.' London: Henry Colburn, p. 71.

Wraxall, Sir N.W. (1836) 'Posthumous memoirs of his own time, Vol. 2,' London: Samuel Bentley, p. 318.

Edmund Burke to Mrs. Crewe, Christmas 1796

Edmund Burke, in a letter to Mrs. Crewe on December 27, 1796, mentions the widely-circulated, and highly suspected rumours of Pitt's intended marriage to Eleanor Eden: 

"The talk of the town is of a marriage between a daughter of his [Lord Auckland's] and Mr. Pitt; and that our statesman, our premier des hommes, will take his Eve from the garden of Eden." (Vol. 4, p. 417). 

No smoke without fire! 


'The Correspondence of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke; between the Year 1744 and the period of his decease in 1797, Volume 4,' (1844) ed. Charles William, Earl Fitzwilliam and Sir Richard Bourke. London: Francis & John Rivington, p. 417.

Pitt's love of Port-wine

"Mr. Rogers has left these reminiscences of the statesman’s [Pitt’s] port-drinking: During his boyhood, Pitt was very weakly; and his physician, Addington (Lord Sidmouth’s father) ordered him to take port-wine in large quantities; the consequence was that when he grew up he could not do without it. Lord Grenville has seen him [Pitt] swallow a bottle of port in tumblerfuls before going to the House. This, together with his habit of eating late suppers (indigestible cold veal pies, etc.), helped, undoubtedly, to shorten his life. Huskisson, speaking of Pitt, said that his hands shook so much that, when he helped himself to salt, he was obliged to support the right hand with the left. Stothard, the painter, happened to be one evening at an inn on the Kent Road, when Pitt and Dundas put up there on their way from Walmer. Next morning, as they were stepping into their carriage, the waiter said to Stothard, "Sir, do you observe these two gentleman?" "Yes," he replied, "and I know them to be Mr. Pitt and Mr. Dundas." "Well, sir, how much wine do you suppose they drank last night?" Stothard could not guess. "Seven bottles, sir!""(ed. John Timbs, 1864: 58). I don’t necessarily agree with the authenticity of these ‘anecdotes,’ however it is certain that Pitt enjoyed his port to an unhealthy extent. In fact, that is the understatement of the century!


Timbs, J. (ed.) (1864) A century of Anecdote from 1760 to 1860, Volume 1. London: Richard Bentley, p. 58.

'The severest trial'

I do, indeed, consider the French revolution as the severest trial which the visitation of Providence has ever yet inflicted upon the nations of the earth; but I cannot help reflecting, with satisfaction, that this country, even under such trial, has not only been exempted from those calamities which have covered almost every other part of Europe, but appears to have been reserved as a refuge and asylum to those who fled its persecution, as a barrier to oppose its progress, and, perhaps, ultimately as an instrument to deliver the world from the crimes and miseries which have attended it.
—  William Pitt, 3 February 1800, in Hathaway, The Speeches of the Right Honourable William Pitt, Vol. 4, p.2.

Following up on Ehrman's reference to Miss Williams

I found the reference Ehrman (1996:93) refers to in one of the footnotes from ‘Notes & Queries, 6th Series, 1880, p. 376.’ 
Here is a link to the speculation regarding Miss [Elizabeth] Williams’ supposed relationship to William Pitt the younger.

I know of no such book entitled ‘The Private Life of William Pitt,’ nor who it could have been that originally put forward this theory. 

Printed in its entirety, here is what Notes & Queries (1880: 376) had to say upon the matter:

"William Pitt - Son of the Earl of Chatham - A book entitled The Private Life of William Pitt is said to exist; where can it be obtained? Was there any truth in the report that he was privately married? Who was Miss Williams, and where was she born and christened? She is said to have been at his death-bed, and subsequently to have accompanied Lady Hester Stanhope to Syria. Are any of the descendants of William Pitt’s (the second) private secretary Mr. Adams, living; and if so, where can they be communicated with?”

This speculation does not necessarily suggest Pitt was married to Miss Williams, but rather that there was a link between the two of them. Clearly, someone either got their facts mixed up - which, believe me, can easily happen - or there might have been a Private Life of William Pitt published in the 19th century which I simply cannot locate. Rumours it must be, but it doesn’t surprise me that people wondered at Elizabeth Williams privileged place in Pitt and Lady Hester Stanhope’s households.

Incidentally, my current work in progress is entitled 'The Private Life of Pitt.' 


Ehrman, J. (1996) The younger Pitt: The consuming struggle. London: Constable, p. 93 (footnote).
Notes & Queries, 6th Series, I. (1880) p. 376.

'Miss E & L Williams'

Whilst going through one of the files in the huge collection of Chatham Papers at The National Archives, Kew, I was deliberately looking for references to a ‘Miss E & L Williams.’ Miss Elizabeth and Louisa Jane Williams were under the care of William Pitt from at least 1797, and Elizabeth lived with Pitt until his death in 1806 (Pretyman Tomline Papers Ref. HA 119/4/4/10/5/5).
She is listed as a servant in his household at his death, although she was living with him between 1797 and 1801 without being listed as a domestic.
Now, my knowledge of servants in the late 18th century is far from extensive, but I have some intriguing questions for those who may know much more. For instance: Did servants have servants of their own? Here’s why I ask…


Above is an account (PRO 30/8/213) from Mr. Bullock (Pitt’s manager) to Bradshaw “For a quarters Board & Education for Miss E & L Williams for Michalmas (September) 1797 to Christmas 1797.” This list also includes writing and cyphering, 2 pairs of shoes mended, 2 new Great Coats, tape thread worsted pins, a months vacation, fineing(?), breaking up, and a servant (??).
This is only one such bill for the board and education of the two girls. Ehrman (1996: 93) also refers to other accounts of Pitt paying for or toward the education and upkeep of the girls. It is believed they were the daughters of either William or Edward Williams, both servants of the Pitt family.
But why these two girls? Why were they singled out, as it were, to live and effectively be brought up, by Pitt? Pitt was a kind master to all of his servants, and there are records of him procuring jobs and minor positions elsewhere for his former servants. That’s fair enough, and makes sense. But he also didn’t raise their children, as far as the records show. Pitt was a godfather to many children, and one of his wards (Dundas shared responsibility for the boy as well) was Lord Haddo, later Earl of Aberdeen. Nevertheless, there are no existing accounts for Pitt paying for any other person’s education - servant or otherwise - except for Miss Elizabeth and Louisa Williams. So who were they? I’m afraid we’ll probably never know for certain, unless more information that is hidden away is uncovered (which is unlikely, however, as a researcher of social history I always hold out hope!).


The UK National Archives. Chatham Papers, PRO 30/8/213.

Ehrman, J. (1996) The younger Pitt: The consuming struggle. London: Constable, p. 93.

The Countess of Chatham's birthday in the Gregorian calendar

The Countess of Chatham - better known as Hester Chatham, William Pitt the younger’s mother - was born on November 8, 1720. That is her birthday according to the Julian calendar which was in place at the date of her birth. In the early 1750s, this calendar was replaced with what we use to this day - the Gregorian calendar.

Using this handy little conversion tool, I typed in Hester’s birthday in order to work out what her birthday would have been according to the modern day Gregorian calendar:

Guess what it is? November 19th! Coincidentally, dear Reader, this is the same as my own.

Pitt & Perigord

Wilberforce related an anecdote which had once been told to him by Mr. Pitt concerning the “gaiety of heart” amongst French people despite the horrific machinations of the French Revolution, and the terrible treatment and execution of Marie Antoinette. 
Pitt had once told Wilberforce that “shortly after the tragical death of Marie Antoinette, M. Perigord, an emigrant of some consequence who had made Mr. Pitt’s acquaintance at Versailles, took refuge in England, and on coming to London went to pay his respects in Downing Street. The conversation naturally turned upon the bloody scenes of the French Revolution; on their fatal consequences to social order; and in particular on the barbarity with which the unfortunate Queen had been treated. The Frenchman’s feelings were quite overcome, and he exclaimed amidst violent sobbing, ‘Ah! Monsieur Pitt, la pauvre Reine! la pauvre Reine!’ These words had scarcely been uttered, when he jumped up as if a new idea possessed him, and looking towards a little dog which came with him, he exclaimed, ‘Cependant, Monsieur Pitt, il faut vous faire voir mon petit chien danser.’ Then pulling a small kit out of his pocket, he began dancing about the room to the sound of his little instrument, and calling to the dog, ‘Fanchon, Fanchon, dansez, dansez,’ the little animal instantly obeyed, and they cut such capers together that the minister’s [Pitt’s] gravity was quite overcome, and he burst into a loud laugh, hardly knowing whether he was most amused or astonished” (Wilberforce, 1838: 261-2).


Wilberforce, R.I. and Wilberforce, S. (1838) The Life of William Wilberforce by his sons, Vol. 5. London: John Murray, pp. 261-2.

Pitt and Muzzled Mouths

In The Farington Diary (Vol. 1: 137) Joseph Farington records a meeting held at Downing Street in January 1796 between Pitt and several Lancashire delegates. This is how he describes Pitt at the time: “He [Pitt] was dressed in a worn Blue Coat and Red waistcoat, - a dirty pair of leather breeches, and a pair of old Boots…”
Amongst other discussions, “Mr. Pitt was also informed of a Society having been established by the Jacobins, since the Sedition Bills passed, where the members, at their meetings, sit with a kind of muzzle over their mouths, and converse only by signs and writing. Pitt laughed at the ridiculous description” (Farington, Vol. 1: 137).


Farington, J. (ed. by James Greig) The Farington Diary, Volume 1. (3rd edition). London: Hutchinson & Co., p. 137.

Sir Walter Farquhar on Pitt's drinking

Sir Walter Farquhar, Pitt’s physician for 11 years, gave an account - of which I won’t quote it all here - of Pitt’s health. Farquhar also considers the reasons for Pitt’s premature death. This is printed at the end of Lord Rosebery’s (ed.) (1900) The Love Episode of William Pitt.
In considering Pitt’s health, these particular passages stood out to me as they relate to Farquhar’s views on Pitt’s drinking:

"The very early period in which Mr. Pitt engaged in Public Affairs certainly tended to stretch Nature beyond her accustomed limits, & he wanted Constitutional Stamina to support him through the trying scenes of political Life. The mind was constantly acting upon a weak frame of body, & exhaustion was the consequence of this sympathetic action…The early habit of the too free use of Wine operated unquestionably to weaken the Powers of the Stomach, & thereby to impede its natural & salutary Functions, on which the vigor of the Constitution depends. I therefore recommended dilution with water, which appeared for a time to be attended with good effects; but debility was perpetually calling for new aids & new props, which gave only temporary relief, & at last lost their efficacy (p.47-8)."
At the very end of Sir Walter’s account, in 1816 Lord Liverpool also decided to pass his judgement on Pitt’s health. He wrote this the year after Napoleon’s final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, so Liverpool had the benefit of hindsight and victory on his side.

I’m not quoting the entire passage here, just Liverpool’s verdict on whether or not Pitt’s life could have been prolonged by retiring from public life:

"I doubt very much whether Retirement would have materially prolonged his [Pitt’s] Life - that is Retirement attended by the contemplation of the misfortunes of his Country, & of the want of the success of those exertions which he was entitled to suppose might have led to a very different result. If he had fortunately lived to this day, the case would have been very different, & he might have quitted office with the natural hope of passing some years in a reasonable state of health & comfort (p. 50)."

It’s useless to speculate, but I suppose Liverpool has a point there.


Rosebery (ed.) (1900) The Love Episode of William Pitt. London: John Murray, pp. 47-8, 50.

Mr. Pitt's watch at The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

I received confirmation from The Fitzwilliam Museum that William Pitt’s watch is still there. Unfortunately, an image of it is not currently on the museum’s website as they’re in the process of photographing and cataloguing all the watches in the collection. The images of the watch shown below are the ones I commissioned the museum to photograph for me. I have been granted permission to reproduce them here:

Fig. 1: The front of Pitt's gold fob watch

Fig 2: The back of Pitt's watch. It has the stork and anchor from his crest, and is inscribed 1782

Fig. 3: Two views of Pitt's fob watch

Here’s some info about the watch:

The watch was given to the museum by the Rt. Hon. R.A. Christopher on 16th November 1852. It’s an English watch, made by John Holmes in 1782. In the object folder for this watch there is a letter from a C.H. Watson, concerning an article he wrote on ‘John Holmes - time for a further look,’ which was published in ‘Antiquarian Horology.’ Watson states that the article has photographs of the watch on pg. 653. Unhelpfully, he doesn’t give a volume or a date, but the original letter is dated January 2004. It's a gold fob watch with a gold case. On the back of the watch there is an image of a stork holding an anchor from Pitt's family crest. On the back of the watchcase there is the same image of the bird holding the anchor, and underneath it is written ‘William Pitt 1782.’ This source information comes from the senior technician of the Department of Applied Arts at the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Pitt kept the watch until his death, when it passed to his servant (his valet is a likely candidate), who handed it to Mr. Dundas, M.P. more than twenty years later. That watch, a mourning ring, and a box containing Pitt’s hair were bequeathed to the Rt. Hon. R.N. Hamilton. (Source: Timbs, J. (1864) ‘A century of anecdote from 1760-1860, Vol. 1,’ pp. 182-183.) It must have passed from there to the Rt. Hon. R.A. Christopher, and then finally to The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

Image Credits:

All three images are reproduced by the kind permission of The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Accession No.: M.1&A-1852.

A memorial ring to Lady Harriot Eliot & William Pitt

Above are two views of a diamond and pearl memorial ring commemorating Lady Harriot Eliot and her brother, the statesmen William Pitt. Her hair, with gold wire initials HE, are set in the bezel. Inscribed on the back it says Lady Har Eliot Obt 25 Sept 1786 Aet 28.

The enamelled hoop bears the inscription Rt Honble WM Pitt Ob 23 Jan 1806 Ae 47.

The ring is currently in the possession of Lord & Lady Rosebery at Dalmeny House Estate, South Queensferry, Edinburgh.

Image Credit:

Scarisbrick, D. (1993) Rings: Symbols of Wealth, Power and Affection, p. 186.

The Duke of Wellington on Pitt's early death

In Stanhope’s (1862: 346-7) Life of the Right Honourable William Pitt (Vol. 4,) he notes a conversation he had with the Duke of Wellington at Walmer on October 25, 1838:

"The Duke and I [Stanhope] spoke of Mr. Pitt, lamenting his early death. "I did not think," said the Duke, "that he would have died so soon. He died in January 1806; and I met him at Lord Camden’s, in Kent, and I think that he did not seem ill in the November previous. He was extremely lively, and in good spirits. It is true that he was by way of being an invalid at that time. A great deal was always said about his taking his rides - for he used then to ride eighteen or twenty miles every day - and great pains were taken to send forward his luncheon, bottled porter, I think, and getting him a beef-steak or mutton chop ready at some place fixed beforehand. That place was always mentioned to the party, so that those kept at home in the morning might join the ride there if they pleased. On coming home from these rides, they used to put on dry clothes, and to hold a Cabinet, for all the party were members of the Cabinet, except me and, I think, the Duke of Montrose. At dinner Mr. Pitt drank little wine; but it was at that time the fashion to sup, and he then took a great deal of port-wine and water.

In the same month I also met Mr. Pitt at the Lord Mayor’s dinner; he did not seem ill. On that occasion I remember he returned thanks in one of the best and neatest speeches I ever heard in my life. It was in very few words. The Lord Mayor had proposed his health as one who had been the Saviour of England, and would be the Saviour of the rest of Europe. Mr. Pitt then got up, disclaimed the compliment as applied to himself, and added, “England he saved herself by her exertions, and the rest of Europe will be saved by her example!” That was all; he was scarcely up two minutes; yet nothing could be more perfect. I remember another curious thing at that dinner. Erskine was there. Now Pitt had always over Erskine a great ascendancy - the ascendancy of terror. Sometimes, in the House of Commons, he could keep Erskine in check by merely putting out his hand or making a note. At this dinner, Erskine’s health having being drank, and Erskine rising to return thanks, Pitt held up his finger, and said to him across the table, “Erskine! remember that they are drinking your health as a distinguished Colonel of Volunteers.” Erskine, who had intended, as we heard, to go off upon Rights of Juries, the State Trials, and other political points, was quite put out; he was awed like a school-boy at school, and in his speech kept strictly within the limits enjoined him.”


Stanhope (1862) Life of the Right Honourable William Pitt (Vol. 4). London: John Murray, pp. 346-7.

Emily Eden's letter to Earl Stanhope (1861)

I’m trawling through some notes I took on some of the documents in the Pitt MSS (at the Kent History and Library Centre in Maidstone), and I’ve come across some notes from two letters in 1861 between Emily Eden (Eleanor Eden’s youngest sister - born in 1797) and Earl Stanhope. He had written to Miss Emily Eden to ask for her permission to see the correspondence between Pitt and Lord Auckland relating to Eleanor Eden. Emily wrote back in a rather haughty manner saying that, although she knew the letters were still in Beckenham at Eden Farm, she didn’t allow Stanhope to see them as she said it was a private matter. Emily also told Stanhope that Eleanor (who died ten years before) didn’t like the subject of Pitt being mentioned, and that she [Eleanor] found the subject difficult to discuss… 
And, as far as I can tell, that’s where the correspondence between Emily Eden and Stanhope ends!

Mr. Pitt & the country gentlemen

An incident is related in Captain William Jesse’s biography of George (aka Beau) Brummell of a dinner at Lord Mulgrave’s in 1805 which Mr. Pitt attended. The dinner was preceded by a trial on the banks of the Thames to see a vessel called the Gemini which was constructed by Sir Sidney Smith for use against the Boulogne flotilla. During the dinner that followed, Mr. Pitt “was in great spirits, and amused those near him exceedingly, conversing with them on a variety of subjects politics apparently never entering his head, and he was no flincher at his wine” (Jesse, 1844: 72-3). After the dinner, the cloth was removed, and Colonel (later Lord) Dillon started speaking about the good old times of Sir Robert Walpole [18th century British politician] and the country gentlemen. “”What’s that you say, Colonel,” said Pitt,”of the good old times?” The Colonel repeated his eulogium, finishing of course with a still more splendid peroration. “Ah,” replied Pitt, in his deep sepulchral voice, “ah, Colonel Dillon, those were indeed the good old times, - for they were days when country gentleman were even more ignorant and more obstinate than they are at present!”” (Jesse, 1844: 73). 

Hahaha! Pitt’s sarcastic wit was notorious.


Jesse, W. (1844) Beau Brummell, Vol. 1. London: Saunders and Otley, pp. 72-73).

Mr. Pitt's advice: Don't lose your temper

In Earl Stanhope’s Miscellanies (1863) there is a letter from Mr. Boyd to Earl Stanhope relating a piece of advice from Mr. Pitt that was given to the late Mr. Christmas, who in his early professional life was a confidential clerk or temporary private secretary to Pitt. Mr. Christmas was apparently a man who rarely lost his temper. Boyd was fascinated by Christmas’s ability to remain sanguine in the face of such an arduous workload, so he enquired how Christmas managed to remain so calm. Boyd relates the circumstance as follows:

"…I could not resist the opportunity of asking the old gentleman [Mr. Christmas] the secret. "Well, Mr. Boyd, you shall know it. Mr. Pitt gave it to me: - Not to lose my temper, if possible, at any time, and NEVER during the hours of business"…He [Christmas] also related to me an instance which came under his own observation of Mr. Pitt’s extraordinary powers of mental and physical endurance. Mr. Pitt had been immersed all day with Christmas in intricate accounts (I assume, preparing for the conflict of a War Budget), when, looking at the hour, he said, "I must now go to the House, but shall return as early as I can, although I fear we shall have a late sitting." It proved so, as he did not rejoin his private secretary until six in the morning. He had something kind to say to Christmas for keeping at his work, adding, "I must now have a wash," and going to the end of the room, threw off his coat and neckcloth, and applied a wet towel to his head and face. When this improvised ablution was over, he declared to his fidus Achates that he was quite fresh and ready for business, and for four hours he was hard at work, in going through the accounts Mr. Christmas had prepared during the night.” (Stanhope, 1863: 38-39)

What great advice!


Stanhope (1863) Miscellanies. London: John Murray, pp. 38-9.

'An encysted tumour'

William Pitt suffered much from a recurring encysted tumour on one of his cheeks from the time he was at Pembroke Hall (now Pembroke College) in Cambridge until - as far as is recorded - 1788. Reilly (1978: 47) states that Pitt was in London in February 1779 having “an unsightly cyst” removed from his face. Whoever performed the surgery on Pitt must have given him something which made him drowsy and dulled his senses. The swelling recurred in early 1786, and is recorded in a letter from Lady Harriot Eliot (Pitt’s sister) to their mother Hester Chatham, dated February 28, 1786. Amongst other news, Harriot reassures her mother:

"…I did not say any thing about William’s Face because I was for some time in ye idea that what is to be done to it woud have been done before now, and that I might have had ye pleasure of telling you the swelling was quite removed when I mention’d the Subject. He saw Sharp [presumably a physician] immediately after my coming to Town, who gives a great deal of Comfort as to its being finally cured, and having nothing to do with his Constitution; But he thinks it will be necessary to open it, which he says will not be attended with much pain…though I always knew from ye Little one [cyst] He [William] had at Cambridge what it must come to, I did not like to write to you about it…it was Sharp’s Choice to delay it [the operation], as he wish’d to be certain of a few days, or a week’s Quiet from speaking in ye House. I ask’d him [Sharp] whether it woud at all increase ye Pain of Opening it by Delaying it; and He assured me not, and that even shoud it break of its own accord there woud be a little oozing perhaps which woud heal up immediately…"(Eliot, ed. by Cuthbert Headlam, 1914: 137-138).

It is clear, from Lady Harriot's personal testimony, that Pitt had a facial cyst on his cheek on more than one occasion.

It was agreed to delay the operation, and it was eventually performed in mid-September 1786, not by Sharp, but by the famous surgeon John Hunter at Pitt’s residence on Downing Street (see Hague 2005; Ehrman 1969). The procedure to remove the cyst lasted approximately six minutes, and Pitt amazed those around him (including his close friend and former tutor George Pretyman) by his ability to deal with the pain (considering these were the days before anaesthetics!). The pain from this cyst returned in August 1788, but that is the last that is officially recorded (Ehrman, 1969: 594).
I am consistently impressed by Pitt’s courage and strength against what must have been a very painful experience.


Eliot, H. (ed. by Cuthbert Headlam) (1914) The Letters of Lady Harriot Eliot, 1766-1786. Edinburgh: T. and A. Constable, pp. 137-138.

Ehrman, J. (1969) The Younger Pitt: The years of acclaim. London: Constable, p. 594.

Hague, W. (2005) William Pitt the Younger. London: Harper Press.

Reilly, R. (1978) Pitt the Younger. London: Cassell, p. 47.

Map of Keston, Kent

Further to my previous post on Holwood, I’ve included a sketch map (early 20th century) of Keston, Kent covering the area of the Holwood estate. This map can be found at the beginning of Frederick Sidney Gammon’s 1934 book The Story of Keston in Kent

The dotted line running down next to the Wilberforce Oak was the original road to Westerham which Pitt had diverted in 1790. The location of Holwood House on the map above is different from where Pitt’s Holwood stood, it being on the left-hand side of the Camp rather than on the right (see Gammon, 1934: 51). For those interested in visiting Keston, the Fox Inn is still there, and does excellent pub lunches! Keston is an attractive place, and I can well imagine Pitt going birds-nesting there as a child, and wanting to call Holwood his own (Gammon, 1934: 26).


Gammon, F.S. (1934) The Story of Keston in Kent. London: Thomas Murby & Co., pp. 26, 51.


The word ‘Holwood,’ also known variously as ‘Hollwood,’ originates from the Anglo-Saxon terms ‘Holt Wudu,’ meaning a wood or forest (Gammon, 1934: 13). Holwood is located in the small village of Keston, near Hayes, in Kent. In the autumn of 1785, William Pitt purchased Holwood House from Mr. Randall, a London shipbuilder, and from that time until he was forced to sell it in 1802 to pay off some debts, Holwood was Pitt’s favourite country retreat (Gammon, 1934: 24). Pitt’s great passion at Holwood was cutting and planting in order to create striking views from his residence to the vale of Keston. Amongst Pitt’s alterations, in July 1790 he diverted the course of the Westerham Road and enlarged and enclosed the estate by an additional thirty acres; this was permitted by Keston parish on the condition that Pitt pay a perpetual annuity of £10 for the poor (Gammon, 1934: 24). Below are several engravings of Holwood House as it appeared during Pitt’s time. image
Although the engraving above is from the European Magazine (1800), it must date from before Sir John Soane’s alterations of the late 1790s. Pitt worked closely with the architect Sir John Soane, and an extension was made to the east end of the property, including a new library and dining room. This dining room had “a spacious bow window which he [Pitt] covered with pantiles and curiously variegated stucco, then much in vogue” (Gammon, 1934: 26). His library at Holwood was filled with Greek and Latin texts, and he was fond of reading and quoting from them. Of interest, Thomas Raikes mentioned in his journals that he often visited Holwood. Here are his recollections of the place:

"At that period I was a boy, and often rode over with my father from Freelands, where we lived, and while he was closeted with the Minister I was left to wait in the dining-room, which I had full time to explore. The furniture was of the most simple description; I remember a chaise longue was drawn near the fireplace, on which he [Pitt] might be supposed to have thrown himself on his arrival from town, when jaded by a long and stormy debate in the House; a few books lay on a hanging shelf within reach, amongst which I recollect a pocket Virgil, marked and dogs-eared in every part of the Aeneid" (Raikes, 1857: 119-120). What an evocative description!

The print below represents Holwood as it was in about 1800.

Of interest, Gammon (1934: 26) notes that “the walls of one room [at Holwood] are said to have been covered with Gillray’s and other political caricatures levelled at himself [Pitt], which seemed to afford him much amusement. He [Pitt] used to show them to his friends, and laugh heartily when a particularly good hit at himself was made.” Pitt always did possess a playful sense of humour.
Ehrman (1969: 591-2) describes Holwood thus: “…the drawing room had green cotton curtains and green and white striped covers to the sofa and chairs, the dining room green curtains and a green and pink Wilton carpet, the study green curtains again, while Pitt’s bedroom had white curtains and white coverings to the four-poster bed. The furniture in the larger rooms was mahogany almost throughout. There were five more bedrooms in the back quarters and the garret, and the offices included a still-room, dairy, and laundry. There were also a coachman’s room, and a groom’s room with two beds, over the stables.” Also see the Holwood Inventory of 4 July 1794 at PRO 30/8/219 for a more comprehensive source.

Unfortunately, Pitt’s Holwood is no more, having been demolished to make way for Decimus Burton’s Holwood in the 1820s. Indeed, the present house does not stand at the same site as Pitt’s Holwood (Gammon, 1934: 51).

Fortunately, the remains of the ‘Wilberforce Oak’ (the spot where, after a conversation with Pitt below the old tree, Wilberforce decided to give notice of his intention to pursue the abolition of the slave trade) and a stone bench Earl Stanhope erected in the 1860s to remember that ground-breaking conversation, can still be seen by visitiors strolling through the grounds which are accessible to the public.


Ehrman, J. (1969) The Younger Pitt: The years of acclaim. London: Constable, pp. 591-2.

Gammon, F.S. (1934) The Story of Keston in Kent. London: Thomas Murby & Co., pp. 13, 24-26, 51.

The National Archives, Kew. PRO 30/8/219 - Holwood Inventory of 4 July 1794.

Raikes, T. (1857) A portion of the Journal kept by Thomas Raikes, Esq., from 1831 to 1847, Vol. 3.

London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans & Roberts, pp. 119-120.

Also see this website, which was compiled by Simon Gooch, the author of the privately printed 2010 book ‘Holwood: A Stroll Around the Estate’: http://www.keston-park.org/about/history/

Who is 'Pulchritudo'?

Whilst re-reading The Private Papers of William Wilberforce, I came upon a letter Pitt wrote to Wilberforce from Brighthelmstone (known as Brighton in modern times) dated Wednesday, August 6, 1783. Now, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the letter apart from a name, or rather a nickname, of a person who I’ve never seen in any other source. In the letter, Pitt talks about his upcoming trip to Rheims in France with Eliot and Wilberforce, and then goes on to talk about how he is enjoying his time by the sea.

Here’s the relevant part: “The lounge here [in Brighthelmstone] is excellent, principally owing to our keeping very much to ourselves - that is Pulchritudo, Steele, Pretyman, and myself…and the better part of love as well as valor is discretion…” (Wilberforce, 1897: 5-6). If this was an unknown love interest, Pitt would have had to have been extremely discreet, which he always was, in order to keep it a secret. Am I missing something here? Who is ‘Pulchritudo’? I have yet to find another reference to this person, or certainly the nickname, anywhere else. Of course, I could be overlooking something obvious, and if I am, do let me know.

Also, is this a typo in the printed text? ‘Pulchritudo’ may not be a word in the English language, but pulchritude most certainly is - and it means Beauty. So who is this unnamed beauty?

Again, in the same letter Pitt refers to the value of discretion in matters of love, so perhaps he chose not to write the person's name in the letter? All of this is mere speculation, but it’s intriguing nonetheless as no one seems to have picked up on the obvious before (unless I’ve missed something huge). These are my personal ruminations, but it’s definitely something to ponder.


Wilberforce, A.M. (ed.) (1897) The Private Papers of William Wilberforce. London: T.F. Unwin, pp. 5-6.

Sheridan's laughable quip

A gentleman’s sporting magazine for the month of April 1802 (when Pitt was out of office) relates an amusing riposte made by the well-known playwright and Whig member of Parliament Richard Brinsley Sheridan on Pitt’s supposed secret influence in Addington’s government.
Sheridan said that “Mr. Pitt appears as an outside passenger upon the top of the state coach; where, to be sure, he has no ostensible hold of the reins; yet, if we see him [Pitt] busily employed in pointing out where it is to turn, what road it shall take, and where to bait, it is easy to see who is the real guide…” (Sporting Magazine, Vol. 20, 1802: 111). The commentator remarked that at the time of Sheridan’s speech, Pitt was, in fact, seated on one of the highest seats behind the Treasury bench, causing uproarious laughter among his fellow MPs. Poor Pitt!

Sheridan was one of Pitt’s few witty political opponents, and someone not overawed by Pitt’s frequent, caustic sarcasm. I relate this anecdote as it occurred, and was printed, during Pitt’s lifetime, and as it is relatively unknown.


The Sporting Magazine, or, Monthly Calendar, of the transactions of the turf, the chase, and every other diversion interesting to the Man of Pleasure, Enterprise, and Spirit, for April 1802. London: J. Wheble, pg. 111.

Bowling Green House, Putney Heath

On January 23, 1806, at about half-past four o’clock in the morning, William Pitt died at Bowling Green House on Putney Heath. Pitt had rented the house from 1804, when he moved from his London residence at number 14 York Place (now a branch of the Pret a Manger cafe chain on Baker Street; there is a London Remembers plaque on the outside of the house to Pitt’s memory). 
On a trip to the Kent History and Library Centre in Maidstone to view some documents in the Pitt MSS, I had a look at Earl (Philip) Stanhope’s notes on Pitt’s fully-furnished, rented house at Putney. Although now no longer standing, Pitt’s small house there was still present in Stanhope’s time, and he noted a visit he took with his family to that place in the 1860s. He described Bowling Green House as being on the north side of Putney Heath where it joins that of Wimbledon. Stanhope mentioned that it was a small house, white in colour, and bright and cheerful in appearance. Upon being allowed to enter the premises by the then current resident, he toured the property, stating that the best bedroom, just over the drawing room, is stated to be the room in which Pitt died. He thought the bedroom was ‘airy,’ and mentioned that the room had a handsome raised and embossed ceiling, with no room above it (see the Pitt MSS, under CKS-U1590/S5, for more information).

Now, whether this bedroom was, in fact, the room in which Pitt died is not by any means conclusive. Indeed, it is now impossible to ascertain. The house was pulled down to make way for a new housing development in the early 20th century. Fortunately, we are left with drawings of the residence to glean an idea of what it would have looked like in Pitt’s day.

Below is a sketch by John Constable done on August 6, 1816 of what was then called ‘The Octagonal House’ - aka Bowling Green House - on Putney Heath.


This would have been much like the house Pitt would have recognised ten years earlier. The drawing just below is an 1878 (or later) print of Bowling Green House engraved by John Charles Griffiths. It depicts the characteristic long, winding road to a small, white-coloured house surrounded by beautiful, lush greenery.


Lastly, the drawing above is Bowling Green House by R.B. Schnebbelie (also late 19th century), which is now located at the Wandsworth Museum, London. Similar to the above two drawings, it gives the viewer an idea of this tranquil, unassuming villa. It must have provided Pitt with a place in the country (certainly Putney was the country at the beginning of the nineteenth century!) to refresh himself whilst still being within easy reach of Westminster.

'Originality in any shape'

In the late 1820s, a Mr. Madden went to see Lady Hester Stanhope, Pitt’s famously eccentric niece, who had been living abroad for many years. During this visit, Lady Hester spoke to Mr. Madden about her late uncle, William Pitt, with whom she was very fond. These are Madden’s printed recollections of Lady Hester Stanhope from 1828: 

"When Mr. Pitt was out of office, says her Ladyship, I acted as his secretary, and he had then as much business as when he was in. He seldom opposed my opinions, and always respected my antipathies. In private life, he was cheerful and affable; he would rise in the midst of his gravest avocations to hand me a fallen handkerchief; he was always polite to women, and a great favourite with many of them, but he was wedded to the state, and nothing but death could have divorced him from his country. He was fond of me; he loved originality in any shape. His great recreation, after the fatigue of business, was stealing into the country, entering a clean cottage, where there was a tidy woman and a nicely scoured table, and there he would eat bread and cheese like any ploughman. He detested routs, and always sat down to plain dinners. He never ate before he went to the House [of Commons], but when any thing important was to be discussed, he was in the habit of taking a glass of port-wine with a tea-spoonful of bark in it" (Madden, 1828: 133).

Was this Pervian bark, by any chance?

This is a great summary of Pitt as he was in private life, and it also illustrates the simple pleasures of life which he enjoyed when he could.


Madden, in Berrow’s Worcester Journal (1828) The Poetry and Varieties of Berrow’s Worcester Journal for the year 1828, p. 133.


Goostree’s was a late 18th century gentleman’s subscription club on, I believe, about number 51 Pall Mall, St James. Numbers 49 and 50 Pall Mall were occupied by Almack’s (Sheppard, 1960: Survey of London volumes 29 and 30: St James Westminster, part 1). In the early 1780s, Pitt was a regular frequenter and founding member of Goostree’s. He was joined there by his close friends, all young, politically-minded men, including Edward Eliot (one of Pitt’s closest intimates who he met at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge), William Wilberforce, Thomas Steele, Robert Smith (later Lord Carrington), Richard Pepper Arden, Pitt’s older brother John (the 2nd Earl of Chatham), Bankes, Pratt, St John, and others. Pitt’s best biographer John Ehrman (1969: 106-7) says there were about twenty-five members in total. At Goostree’s Pitt felt he could let himself go, and before taking office he spent a great deal of time at the club. Unfortunately, after Pitt became First Lord of the Treasury he was too busy to go to Goostree’s very often, and the club eventually came to an end in early 1787. 
Of note, below is a snapshot of the 1799 Horwood map of London featuring the area including number 51 Pall Mall where Goostree’s was located (several houses before the turning on to St. James’s Square):

Sadly, the building where Goostree’s once stood is no longer. Ehrman (1969: 106) believed that Goostree’s was “on part of the site now occupied by the British Legion’s offices,” which today stand at 48 Pall Mall. Pitt himself refers to Goostree’s in a letter of 29 August 1781: “I shall return to town with the fullest intention of devoting myself to Westminster Hall and getting as much money as I can, notwithstanding such avocations as the House of Commons, and (which is a much more dangerous one) Goostree’s itself” (Holland Rose, 1911: 89). Let’s imagine him supping there with his close companions, maybe playing at a game of chance, and having a glass or two of port.


Ehrman, J. (1969) The Younger Pitt: The years of acclaim. London: Constable, pp. 106-7.

Holland Rose, J. (1911) William Pitt and National Revival. London: G. Bell and Sons, p. 89.

Sheppard, F.H.W. (ed.) (1960) Survey of London Volumes 29 and 30: St James Westminster part 1.

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