9 February 2014

Raikes's description of Holwood

Thomas Raikes was the son of a former Governor of the Bank of England during the financial crisis of 1797. A prolific diarist, Raikes wrote many years later of his frequent visits with his father to Mr. Pitt's villa in Kent. In a journal entry of 1837, Raikes recollects his memories of Pitt and Holwood:

"I have heard many anecdotes of that great man [Pitt] from my father, who, when Governor of the Bank at a very awful crisis of public affairs, 1797, had frequent communications with him both of a public and private nature, and he always expressed his deep conviction of Mr. Pitt's highly disinterested conduct. It is possible that many of those who enjoyed his [Pitt's] intimacy may have availed themselves of the information which they derived from him to speculate with advantage in the funds; but so ignorant was the Premier of these circumstances, that he once said to my father, with  great naiveté, "So little do public events influence the financial system as I should have expected, that had I been a speculator, with all my means of information, I should have been a ruined man."At that period I was a boy, and how often have I rode over with my father to Holwood 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 Aenied. It may be recollected that the quotations in his speeches were generally taken from that source."

Pitt was fond of reading, particularly the classics, when he could find leisure to do so. The most likely time of day when Pitt had the opportunity to read was in the late afternoon before returning to business in the later part of the evening (Ehrman 1969: 15). Pitt would not always confine himself to reading on a chaise longue by the fireplace, either. As of the late nineteenth century, there still stood on the grounds of the Holwood estate an old oak tree that people referred to as 'Pitt's Oak.' It was so-called because it was Pitt's habit to read under that tree (Walford 1985: 113, Walford 1890: 86). A description of the oak in 1892 stated that it stood "within a stone's throw of Holwood [not the Holwood house Pitt lived in, but a re-built property on the estate bearing the same name] House and without the garden wall. The tree stands upon a conical mound, part of the old encampments, and, though hollow, is in a healthy and thriving condition" (The Garden, Vol. 41: 76). 

Needless to say, I highly doubt the old tree remains. It is, however, a wonderful mental image to think of Pitt casually reclining beneath the oak, reading passages from his beloved Virgil on a warm summer day.


Ehrman, J. (1969) The younger Pitt: The years of acclaim. London: Constable, p. 15.

Raikes, T. (1857) A portion of the Journal kept by Thomas Raikes from 1831 to 1847, Vol. 3. London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, & Roberts, p. 119.

The Garden: An illustrated Weekly Journal of Gardening in all its Branches, Vol. 41. (1892), p. 76.

Walford, E. (1890) William Pitt: A biography. London: Chatto & Windus, p. 86.

Walford, E. (1985) Village London: The story of Greater London, Part 3. London: Alderman Press, p. 113.

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