16 October 2014

Lord Mahon's address on Harley Street: Number 52, now Number 61

Fig. 1: The 1778 Rate Book for Harley Street, showing Number 52: The address of Lord Viscount Mahon
On a recent research trip to Westminster City Archives, I had a look at the Rate Books for Harley Street for the year 1778. I chose that year as it was the period in which William Pitt the Younger was regularly staying with the Mahons on Harley Street. Lord Mahon, later Charles, the third Earl of Stanhope, had married Pitt's sister Lady Hester in December 1774, and the Mahons had a house on Harley Street. This was the exact same property in which their first child Lady Hester Stanhope was born in March 1776.  The property on Harley Street was also where Pitt stayed during the period in which he was arranging and serving as chief mourner at his father William Pitt the Elder's funeral. The exact number of this property has never, to my knowledge, been mentioned in any biographies of Pitt, Charles Stanhope, or Lady Hester Stanhope, so it is a real gem for the 18th century historian interested in tracking down Pitt's exact movements at various periods in time. 

From the image above, we can see that Lord Viscount Mahon was living at number 52 Harley Street, and paying £140 in rent in addition to the costs of repairs, additional rates, and a watch rate. 

Fig. 2: Lord Mahon's residence at 52 Harley Street, from Horwood's 1799 London map

The Mahons lived three houses up from the junction where Harley Street meets Mary Le Bone Street and New Cavendish Street (now both streets are simply called Cavendish Street). William would occasionally sign off his letters to his mother, Lady Chatham, with "Harley Street, Cavendish Square" when he was staying at his brother in-law and sister's house. In fact, the part of Harley Street where the Mahons resided was several street crossings away from Cavendish Square. Captain Alexander Hood lived at 7 Harley Street, which was much closer to the square. As I mentioned in a previous post, Hood was instrumental in getting the naval career of Pitt's youngest sibling, James Charles Pitt, up and running. Lady Harriot Pitt had also stayed at the Mahon's residence, and spent time with the Hoods in the spring of 1776 when she was in London. Thus, in various capacities, Harley Street was well-known to members of the Pitt family. 

Since the late 18th century, 52 Harley Street has become number 61, and the building itself has undergone extensive changes. The house pictured on the right is number 61 (formerly number 52). The house on the left still largely retains its Georgian exterior, and is shown here to give you an idea of how the Mahon's residence must have once appeared.

Fig. 3: A modern-day view of number 61 (formerly number 52) Harley Street

I wonder if the Chevening Estate is aware that Charles, third Earl Stanhope, lived at this address in the 1770s? Lady Hester Stanhope was also born there on March 12, 1776. Despite its significant external changes, the property still retains an historical significance.

Image Credits:

Figure 1: The 1778 Rate Book entry for Harley Street, showing number 52: The house of Lord Viscount Mahon. Westminster City Archives, London.

Figure 2: Lord Mahon's residence at Harley Street, from Horwood's 1799 London map.

Figure 3: A modern-day view of number 61 (formerly number 52) Harley Street (image from Google street view).

"I had not the curiosity to ask what I was to be": Political negotiations in March 1803

In late March 1803, Lord Melville went down to Walmer, ostensibly on a visit to see Pitt, in order to discuss the current political situation. Henry Addington, afterwards Viscount Sidmouth, was in office, and he had been responsible for raising Melville, formerly Henry Dundas, to the peerage the previous year. Affairs on the continent were in such a precarious state that it would not be long before there was a resumption of war with France. Addington, it seems, was anxious for a rearrangement in government, and he employed Melville as his go-between in talks with Pitt. 

Pitt's biographer, John Ehrman, explained the situation in the following terms:

"The leading proposition was certainly quite remarkably inept. Addington and Pitt should be Secretaries of State in a Ministry in which the First Lord of the Treasury should be Chatham [Pitt's brother]." [1] Although I disagree with Ehrman on the point of the arrangement being described as 'remarkably inept' simply because Lord Chatham would be First Lord of the Treasury, I think a large part of the issue at stake here was Pitt's pride. Pitt had been at the head of The Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer for over seventeen years, and now that he was out of office, he could not imagine returning to a position that was not at the head of State. In a conversation between Pitt and Wilberforce that took place soon after the discussions with Melville, Pitt remarked, "really...with a sly severity, and it was almost the only sharp thing I ever heard him say of any friend...I had not the curiosity to ask what I was to be." [2] Pitt simply would not countenance an arrangement whereby he himself was not at the helm. Furthermore, at that time Pitt expressed his wish not to take an active part in government, preferring to stay at Walmer Castle.

Melville wrote to Addington on March 22, 1803, apprising him of Pitt's decision. No doubt the letter was dictated by Pitt: 

“My dear Sir,

I arrived here Sunday Morning, and found Mr. Pitt very much improved in point of health beyond what I expected. He is alone and of course I found no interruption in conversing with him on the various topics touch’d upon in my Interview with you last Friday. As [a] Matter of private Gratification, Mr. P has the reverse of any wish to return to official Situation, and if the present Administration prove themselves in the present Circumstances of the Country, competent to carry on its Government with reasonable Prospects of Success, and are determined afterwards to adhere to those leading Principles of domestic & foreign Policy, which he [Pitt] has long considered as material, his Wishes to be able to support them, out of office, are precisely the same they were at their first formation. He does not however disguise from me that many things have occurred both in their relation to his transactions with foreign Powers (so far as he has the means of judging of them) and with regard to the financial operations and Statements of the Treasury, as to have given him sincere Concern, and if it were not under the Circumstances of the present critical Moment of the Country, he doubts how far, considering the Commotion he has had for these many years with the financial Affairs of the Country, he was at liberty to keep back so long from his distinctly stating to the public the fatal Errors which he is satisfied exist in the statement made, with regard to the Amount of the Natural Revenue compared with the Charges upon it. As things now stand he is induced from all these Considerations, for the present at least, to adhere to the resolution of continuing his Residence where he is [Walmer], and refraining from taking part in the Discussions of Parliament. 

I did not conceal from him the Idea you mention’d, of his returning to a share of the Government with a person of Rank & Consideration [i.e. Chatham] at the head of it, perfectly agreeable to him, and I even specified the Person you had named; but there was no room for any discussion on that part of the Subject, for he stated at once, without reserve or affectation, his feelings with regard to any Preposition founded on such a basis. The uncertain State of his Health makes him still doubt how far, on any call he could be justified in undertaking a lead in public Affairs under the difficulties now existing or impending. The Moment of a Negociation still in Suspence he thinks in every View unfit for his taking part, but in any Event nothing could induce him to come forward except an urgent Sense of Public Duty and a distinct knowledge that his Services (such as they may be) are wished and thought essential both in the highest quarter [the King], and by all those with whom (in consequence of any arrangement that might be formed on that ground) he might have to act confidentially. He is firmly of opinion that he could not on this Supposition have any Chance of answering his own Ideas of being useful to the Country in one of the great points on which he lays a principal Stress, but by returning to the Management of its finances. 

Besides this Consideration, he stated not less pointedly and decidedly his Sentiments with regard to the absolute necessity there is in the Conduct of the Affairs of this Country that there should be an avowed and real Minister possessing the chief weight in the Council, and the principal place in the Confidence of the King…that Power must be in the Person generally call’d the first Minister, and that Minister ought he [Pitt] thinks to be this Person immediately at the head of the Finances. He knows to his own comparable Experience that notwithstanding the abstract truth of that general Proposition, it is no ways incompatible with the most cordial Concert and mutual Exchange of Advice and Intercourse amongst the different Members of Government, and different branches of executive departments, but state of it should some unfortunately to such a radical difference of opinion that no spirit of Consideration or Concession can reconcile, the Sentiments of the Minister must be allowed and understood to prevail leaving to other Members of Administration to act as they may conceive themselves conscientiously call’d upon to act under such Circumstances. During the last Administration such a Collision of opinion I believe scarcely ever happened or at least was not such as the parties felt themselves obliged to push to extremities, but still it is possible and the only remedy applicable to it is solely in the Principles I have explained. 

In a Conversation of two Days which involved in it the discussion of such a Variety of topics it is impossible to give you more than an abstract or any general Outline of the heads of our Conversations. I have made it merely a recital, not intermixed with any Comments, opinions or Suggestions of my own. You expressed a Wish to hear from me without any delay, and I trust the Explanation I have given you is perfectly sufficient to convey to you such a View of the Subject as may enable you to draw your own Conclusions, and regulate your own deliberations.

I remain, etc. etc." [3]

In terms of those particular negotiations, that was that. Unfortunately, relations between Addington and Pitt were seriously diminished. An insight into Pitt's mental state can be deduced in the subscriptions he wrote at the end of his letters to Addington in April 1803. They had been friends since childhood, and Pitt usually signed off his letters with "yours affectionately." However, by mid-April 1803, he was writing "yours sincerely," and then it became merely "your faithful and obedient servant" - a mere cursory expression. [4] 

Despite his protestations to the contrary, by the following spring Pitt would be back as First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer. 


1. Ehrman, J. (1996) The Younger Pitt: The Consuming Struggle. London: Constable, p. 584.

2. Wilberforce's account of a conversation between himself and Pitt. R.I. and S. Wilberforce. Life of Wilberforce, Volume 3, p. 219; quoted in Ehrman, J. (1996) The Younger Pitt: The Consuming Struggle. London: Constable, p. 584.

3. The British Library. Dacres Adams MSS. BL Add Ms 89036/1/10, f. 93. Lord Melville to Mr. Addington, March 22, 1803 (copy).

4. Ehrman, J. (1996) The Younger Pitt: The Consuming Struggle. London: Constable, p. 589.

14 October 2014

The complicated nature of Pitt's debts (the 1780s edition)

Fig 1: William Pitt's handwriting, mentioning Goostree's, from a letter to his friend Edward Eliot

As early as the beginning of the 1780s, William Pitt was already on his way to being seriously in debt. He had regularly borrowed money from his mother in the 1770s in order to pay for his tuition fees at Pembroke College, Cambridge, and she (along with her brother, Pitt's uncle Lord Temple) helped William to establish himself at rented accommodation (the attic rooms of number 4, Stone Buildings) during his time at Lincolns Inn. In an insightful account book spanning the 1780s, there is a sampling of Pitt's debts, and a listing of sums made out to various people. 

Throughout this small book, there are many payments made to an anonymous "Bearer" for large and regular sums of money. Below is a listing of payments Pitt made, including the dates, and to whom:

"July 24 1782 - ‘To James Goostree’ - £100 subscription [the owner of Goostree's gentleman's club on Pall Mall, of which Pitt was a member]

1782 - April 16, 1782 - To the Rev. Mr Pretyman [Pitt's friend] £200, and to James Goostree £200

July 12, 1782 - to James Goostree - £200, ditto on 15th July - £20

1784 - May 6 - to George Pretyman - £72, 3s, 8d, 12th May - £60 to the same

June 15 1784 - to Lady Chatham’s Account - £500 [Pitt's mother]

July 20, 1784 - to Dr. Pretyman - £1,550

Nov 13, 1784 - ‘To Lady Harriot Pitt’s order’ - £275, 13s [Pitt's sister]

Dec 24, 1784 - To Mr Goostree £100" [1]

By the end of 1784, just a year after Pitt became First Lord of the Treasury, he was already in debt by £13,292, 10s, 8d! [2] He was then only 25 years old. Sadly, it does not improve from that point onwards, as the following account from the same book demonstrates:

"April 21, 1785 - to Eliz[abeth]. Sparry - £100 [a loyal servant from his childhood, and a lady who continued in his mother's service]

September 23, 1785 - To Lady Harriot Pitt - £268 [money for Lady Harriot's wedding to his friend Edward James Eliot that month. I recorded the September 1785 marriage entry of Lady Harriot Pitt and Edward James Eliot in a previous post.]" [3]

By the end of 1785, Pitt was in debt by £24,391 19s 3d. Augustine Greenland paid him £4,000, and Pitt’s debts were then £20, 787 9s 8d [4]. Pitt and his older brother John, the second Earl of Chatham, were already known to Greenland from about the year 1780. 

At the end of 1786, Pitt's debts had already spiralled to £38,832 14s 7d! [5] It is from about this point in time that the frequent and large sums of money begin to disappear from Pitt's account book, and are made out to an unnamed "Bearer." 

For example, on July 23, 1787, £800 was paid to "the Bearer." [6] These massive sums - exorbitant by late 18th century standards - continue as follows:

"Mar 30, 1787 - £208 2s to Bearer

£359 to Bearer on Sept 25, 1787.

Dec 6, 1787 - To Bearer £190

Jan 1788 - £1,399 11s 6d “To Bearer”

Ditto - Jan 10, 1788 £40

July 23, 1787 - £800 to Bearer

Sept 25, 1787 - £359

Dec 6, 1787 - £190

Dec 31, 1787 - £1,399 11s 6d" [7]

These are vast sums of money, and although Pitt must have had many creditors by this point, it is unclear who exactly was receiving these payments.

The first entry for “To the Bearer” in Pitt's 1780s account book is for £77 15s on Oct 23, 1784; what is intriguing is that these payments were followed in rapid succession on Nov 15, 1784  for £50, then on Nov 16, 1784 for £300, Nov 17th for £100, and then on January 7, 1785 for the payment of £500! [8]

These payments continued unabated, and there were sometimes four or five in a single month, as in the case of June 1788. A single payment on one occasion in 1788 was £1,428 8s 10d! [9]

What does this tell us? The records for this account ledger ceases after 1788. These are very complicated and highly intriguing debts. There is evidence of bonds, interest paid on these bonds, and money given to various friends including George Rose in 1785. Most of these people, including bankers, are directly named - as is Pitt's mother Lady Chatham, and his sister, Lady Harriot - so “The Bearer” is someone not directly named. In all likelihood, we may never know the full extent of what caused William Pitt to become so deeply embroiled in debt by his mid-twenties.


1. The National Archives. Chatham Papers: PRO 30/8/219, Part 1. 

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

Image Credits:

Figure 1: William Pitt's handwriting, with a mention of Goostree's gentleman's club, from a 1779 letter to his friend Edward James Eliot (Source: Pretyman Papers, Ipswich Record Office, Suffolk, England).

6 October 2014

"Tones of resistless power": Stratford Canning's reminiscences of William Pitt

Figure 1: Stratford Canning as a young man

Stratford Canning, 1st Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe (1786-1880), was a British politician, an ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and a cousin of William Pitt's friend and political associate, George Canning. In his memoirs and private papers, Stratford makes several interesting mentions of Pitt that are worth recording for the little insights we can glean about Pitt's character. 

In his school days at Eton in the mid 1790s, Stratford recalled seeing Pitt and Addington at Windsor Castle, wearing "the new court uniform, of which scarlet breeches were a conspicuous portion" [1]. At around the same time, he was also able to watch Pitt during a debate in the House of Commons, and catch a glimpse of him going to St. Paul's Cathedral for a Thanksgiving service following several British naval victories against Napoleon. 

He presents a vivid image of Pitt as a commanding leader:

"I was old enough to listen with awed attention to a speech delivered by William Pitt. There was something singularly consistent in the principal qualities which combined to form his character as the minister of a constitutional monarch and the leader of a representative assembly. His features, though plain, were imposing; there was an air of natural command in his person; his voice was sonorous; he was at once without effort master of his subject, his language, and his arguments. From a window in Fleet Street I saw him [Pitt] go to St. Paul's with the grand procession of the King,  Lords, and Commons, which went to return thanks for the great naval victories of the time [I believe this dates from after Nelson's victory at the Battle of the Nile]. He [Pitt] was more admired than popular, and his reception by the public partook of both sentiments. At one moment he might be seen bowing to a chorus of cheers and a display of waving handkerchiefs; at another, he slunk out of sight while the dense air of London seethed with hisses, groans, and reproaches. [2]" 

Stratford Canning also brings to life Pitt in the House of Commons:

"Conceive him [Pitt] once more in the House of Commons as my own sight beheld him not long before his death. The House was crowded; all the chief leaders of opposition were in their places; the Minister [Pitt] rose to speak; he was greeted with that sort of insulting noise   from the opposite benches which boys at Eton sometimes make for the annoyance of their master. Mr. Pitt, without more change of posture than was necessary to place his hands upon the table in support of his tall advancing form, looked for a few seconds in silence into the noisy ranks, and said, in tones of resistless power, 'Am I to be interrupted by clamour?' The effect was complete, and an impartial spectator might have perceived in it the triumph of a supremacy sustained on the whole during twenty years. [3]" 

He was a fervent admirer of Pitt, and the impression made upon him as a schoolboy at Eton would last throughout his lifetime. Unfortunately, Pitt died whilst Canning was still at the college. He remembered the day he learned of Pitt's death:

"...I was still at Eton, and I can never forget the impression made on the whole school - masters and boys - by the announcement of his death. A passage in Virgil in the lesson of that day struck me as singularly applicable to the event: Utcunque fervent ea facta minores, Vincet amor patriae, laudumque immensa cupido. [4]" 

Pitt's sense of duty, and a powerful love for his country, was burned into Stratford's memory. Several years after Pitt's death, in about 1810, Canning visited Pitt's niece Lady Hester Stanhope. He was fond of her company, and enjoyed her conversations - especially when she was speaking about her beloved uncle. At the time, Lady Hester was travelling with her much younger lover Michael Bruce, Mr. Pearse, and her physician Dr. Meryon (Canning misspells it as 'Dr. Merriman'). 

Figure 2: Stratford Canning, Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe, in later life

Many years later, he recollected her witty conversations with a surprising degree of clarity.

"She [Lady Hester] told me sundry curious anecdotes of her uncle [Pitt] and others - too many in fact to be remembered at this distance of time. Speaking of Mr. Pitt, she said that during his retreat from office he shewed [sic] no signs of discontent or restlessness; that although she had slept under his bedroom at Walmer [Castle], she never heard the sound of his foot-fall after the hour - an early one - at which he had retired. She told me that he always expressed the highest admiration of his father, taking for himself, comparatively, a more humble position than she was inclined to admit. She spoke of the carelessness with which he [Pitt] often left his papers, either scattered about the room, or at best stowed away under the cushions of his sofa." [5]

Yes, Pitt was not known for the organisation of his papers, and they were found strewn about all over Walmer Castle and Downing Street at the time of his death. His executors, namely Bishop Tomline, took months to sift through (and probably destroy) most of Pitt's private correspondence. I blogged about the fate of Pitt's papers in a previous post. On the direction of Lady Hester Stanhope, Pitt's last private secretary William Dacres Adams arranged for someone to hurriedly gather up Pitt's correspondence at Walmer Castle before Tomline could get his hands on them. Most of these ended up in Dacres Adams' possession for the last fifty years of his life, subsequently being inherited by his descendants until the majority of them became the property of the British Library in 2012. 

In a final anecdote mentioned in Stratford Canning's memoirs, he recalls Lady Hester's fondness for General John Moore, and her ridicule against Pitt's friend General Phipps (a brother of Lord Mulgrave):

"She [Lady Hester Stanhope] added that General Phipps had made a call one day, and the conversation turning upon Sir John Moore, that he [Phipps] had sought to disparage that officer in Mr. Pitt's estimation, and that she perceiving his design had said, 'You imagine, General, that Mr. Pitt does not greatly value Sir John's abilities, but learn from me you nasty kangaroo' - alluding to General Phipps' paralytic infirmity and imitating his manner of holding his hands - 'that there is no one in the King's army whose services he appreciates more highly.' 'Lady Hester! Lady Hester! What are you saying?' exclaimed Mr. Pitt, with an ill-suppressed smile which betrayed his secret enjoyment of the scene." [6] 

Whether or not this recollection of Lady Hester actually took place is open to interpretation, but it was without a doubt a cutting jibe. Even Stratford Canning admitted in his memoirs that "it was difficult to see much of her eccentric ladyship without risk of offending her." [7]

Whatever he thought of Lady Hester Stanhope, Canning would remain a fervent admirer of William Pitt. At the age of 33 in 1820, he wrote that "...there is no concealing that I have a decided leaning in favour of Mr. Pitt's principles, and for this reason I consider them as being essentially principles of conservation applied to the support of a constitution under which, however defective it may be in theory, this country has eminently flourished, and which I have been accustomed from my boyhood to regard with affection and reverence." [8]

Canning remained actively interested in politics and world affairs until his death at the age of 93 in 1880.


1. Lane-Poole, S. (ed.) (1888) The Life of the Right Honourable Stratford Canning Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe, from his Memoirs and Private and Official Papers (Volume 1). London: Longmans, Green & Co., p. 16.

2. Ibid, p. 17.

3. Ibid, pp. 17-18.

4. Ibid, p. 29.

5. Ibid, p. 114. 

6. Ibid, p. 114-115. 

7. Ibid, p. 115.

8. Ibid, p. 288.

Image Credits:

Figure 1: Stratford Canning, 1st Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe, as a young man. Image Source

Figure 2: Stratford Canning, 1st Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe, in later life by Disdéri (1860s). Image Source