16 December 2014

The Diary of Thomas Pattenden of Dover

Fig. 1: The Right Honourable William Pitt, Colonel Commandant of the Cinque Port Volunteers

There is a special, but barely legible, diary of an early 19th century resident of Dover named Mr. Thomas Pattenden. It's worth examining as it gives us a few interesting insights into Pitt’s time as Colonel of the Cinque Port Volunteers. During the interval that Pitt was out of office between 1801 and 1804, he spent a great deal of his time at Walmer Castle. As Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports during a time of war, Pitt took the responsibilities of his post very seriously; as such, he became active as Colonel Commandant of the Cinque Port Volunteers. 

Several of Mr. Pattenden's diary entries, notably during 1803, furnish a modern audience with the ability to see what life was like at Deal and Dover during the Napoleonic invasion scares. Preparations were made at that time, by Pitt and others, in order to meet the potential threat. The diary entries I'm about to cite below also afford us with an opportunity to see Pitt through the eyes of an everyday Kent citizen.

Pattenden's diary was formerly in the possession of the church of St. James the Apostle, Dover. There is a reference to the diary being transcribed at a later stage, most likely at some point in the nineteenth century, by his nephew. These ‘extracts’ are now at The Kent History and Library Centre. 

Pattenden was born in 1747, and he died at the end of 1819 at the age of 72. He was buried at St. Mary the Virgin in Dover, Kent. 

Pattenden was exempt from military service in 1803 due to his advanced age. He was, however, helping to secure the defence fortifications at Dover Castle. It was from here that he first mentions seeing William Pitt. An unfortunate occurrence also took place that day.

On August 1, 1803, Pattenden wrote: “Very fine hot day. About noon HRH The Duke of York, the Dukes of Kent and Cambridge, Wm Pitt, and Gen. Dundas etc came from Deal to Dover Castle to inspect the fortifications and review the Regiments in Garrison. While they were firing a royal salute one of the guns went off and blew one of the poor Artillery men quite over the wall of the Castle and he fell down dead to the bottom of the trench." [1]

Several days later, on August 4, 1803, he mentioned the “fair fresh wind. The Rt Hon Wm Pitt was here at dinner with Col. Churchill who lodged in Wilson’s House in my neighbourhood. The drawing for the Army of Reserve in the Cinque Ports...here has called for Mr. Pitt’s presence." [2] The next day, "the Constables began to deliver notices at every house to make returns of persons liable to serve in the Army of Reserve". [3]

A month later, on Sunday, September 18th, Pattenden saw Pitt drilling the Volunteers. "This afternoon after Church Mrs. P[attenden] and I walked to the field in the Buckland Road where the Volunteers were exercising, and there I saw Mr. Pitt on horseback accompanied by Col. Phipps. There was about 480 men." [4]

Then at the end of October [Sunday, the 23rd], “8 Companies of the Dover Volunteers were dressed for the first time in their scarlet regimentals; they paraded on the Rope walk, and marched from the Maison Dieu fields. The Right Hon. Wm Pitt riding before [them] as Colonel." [5]

November 21, 1803 was, according to Pattenden, a 'rainy and cloudy day,' but that didn't stop Pitt from pushing the men. "This day the Volunteers have begun to exercise and to do duty for three weeks constantly, and to receive pay every day during the whole time." [6]

A final mention in the diary relating to William Pitt was on November 24, 1803. “The Volunteers marched to Free down, to the breast work in Old Stairs bay - to the works of St. Margaret’s Bay, and back to Dover at 5. Mr Pitt [was] with them." [7]

The expected invasion never came, however, and Pitt was back in office a second time by May 1804. These little snippets from a Kent man, whose voice would otherwise be silenced by history, shine a light on Pitt as the dedicated Colonel of the Cinque Port Volunteers.


1. Do/ZZ1/9/3 - Transcribed extracts from the diary of Thomas Pattenden of Dover, 22 August 1802 - 9 May 1805. The Kent History and Library Centre.

2. Ibid.

3.  Ibid.

4.  Ibid.

5.  Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

N.B.: For biographical information on Mr. Thomas Pattenden, I have consulted the ancestry website www.findmypast.co.uk

Image Credits:

Figure 1: The Right Honourable William Pitt, Colonel Commandant of the Cinque Port Volunteers, 28 March 1804 aquatint by J.C. Stadler after P. Hubert. Source


  1. Lord Nelson & Mr. Pitt: Anecdotes from Nelson's nephew, this is something amazing and good to see such great steps by them. A very good job they have done. No doubt!

  2. 'Tho's Pattenden Dover' undated signature appears on the title page of a book dated 1600, ie'antiquarian' during his life time!
    The book was one of a 3 volume set in 2 books covering the Voyages of Richard Hakluyt, and offered by Forum Auctions on 15 July 2021.
    Notably this vol covered the Americas - North and South. it demonstrates Tho's wide interests.