13 November 2013

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.

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