3 February 2015

Remember William Pitt at Walmer Castle on the 200th Anniversary of Waterloo

Detail of the original covering on William Pitt's chairs at Walmer Castle

Most of the buildings once associated with William Pitt the younger are sadly no more. Whether they've been demolished - like Hayes Place, Lauriston House, or Bowling Green House - or destroyed by fire - as was the case with Pitt's Holwood - little remains to posterity. Even Warren House, Dundas's Wimbledon villa from 1785 until 1806, has been altered beyond recognition. Now called Cannizaro House Hotel, the former Warren House, or 'The Warren,' was ravaged by flames on 14th October 1900. [1] 

By the beginning of 1806, Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville was grief-stricken over Pitt's death, and facing corruption charges due to financial mismanagement whilst he acted as Treasurer of the Navy. His dwindling finances also compelled him to downsize to a smaller property at Wimbledon before returning to Scotland. The fourth Earl of Aberdeen, then Lord Haddo, wrote from Warren House on 25th January 1806, two days after Pitt's passing, speaking of Melville's despair: 

"I never witnessed grief more poignant; he [Melville] almost wished to a general apathy to come upon him as the only relief, and declared that if he lived a hundred years it would be impossible to remain an hour without having the image of Mr. Pitt in his mind. He was glad to hasten out of this house [Melville's house at Wimbledon] where every object recalled him, indeed when I recollect that at the [oe] on which I write, I have seen him a thousand times, the bitterness of grief is past endurance..." [2] 

Around the same time, Lord Melville wrote to William Huskisson to the same effect:

"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 [Pitt's] image to my Mind, I cannot summon up or suggest to myself any Recourse from which I can recollect a Ray of consolation...I must wait for that Species of Apathy which buries every thing past in one indiscriminate Oblivion." [3] 

It is almost impossible not to be affected when one reads this genuine expression of loss. 


The young Lord Haddo took over as the lease-holder of Warren House after Melville could not continue in that place. [4] Many years later, in 1852 the 4th Earl of Aberdeen (the former Haddo), would become Prime Minister, but this was long after his time spent at Wimbledon with his guardians Pitt and Dundas. 

A portrait of William Pitt hangs above his gaming table, chairs, and prints at Walmer Castle

What does remain in relation to William Pitt? In London, there is inevitably Number 10 Downing Street, and number 6 (now number 47) Berkeley Square, the home of Pitt's brother John, second Earl of Chatham. William lived with his brother there for a time. Outside of London, there is Burton Pynsent, the Somerset estate of Pitt's parents, but that is a private residence, and not accessible to the public. What is left? Arguably, the only public space where William Pitt's presence can still be seen is at Walmer Castle in Kent. The castle is currently undergoing major refurbishments in preparation for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Pitt's time as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports was recorded in diaries of local residents, correspondence, and colonels commanding battalions of Cinque Port Volunteers under Pitt. 

There are still items of Pitt's furniture at Walmer Castle, and these include Pitt's travelling camp chair, writing desks, pembroke tables, a dining room table, and about twenty chairs scattered about in various rooms. Although the dining room chairs have been reupholstered in the nineteenth century, several still have Pitt's original green and white striped fabric with interweaving leaves. Pitt was fond of the colour green, the beauties of nature, and experiments with leaves, so it comes as little surprise that his choice of household decoration would match this interest. 

It will be exciting to see the changes at Walmer Castle later this year. Although Mr. Pitt died in 1806, nine years before the Battle of Waterloo, remember the sacrifices he made, and the political inheritances he left behind. Amongst recollections of later Lord Wardens such as Winston Churchill, the Queen Mother, and the Duke of Wellington, please also remember Mr. Pitt.

References:

1. Matthews, T. (2010) Cannizaro: Beyond the Gates. Wesley, Surrey: Wimbledon Society Museum Press, p. 38.

2.  Aberdeen Papers, BL Add Ms 43337. Aberdeen's 'Memorandum on Politics.' Entry for 25th January 1806.

3. Lord Melville to William Huskisson, 28 January 1806. Huskisson Papers, BL Add Ms 38759.

4. Matthews, T. (2010) Cannizaro: Beyond the Gates. Wesley, Surrey: Wimbledon Society Museum Press, p. 35.

N.B.: All images were taken by me during a visit to Walmer Castle.

3 comments:

  1. I don't like Dundas at all--he was, as John called him, a pettifogging lawyer--and he was absolutely nasty to John when it was uncalled for. Whether his grief was real or not I don't suppose anyone will truly know--he was in significant financial trouble because he was a low-class crook and at the end of the day, with Pitt's death, he'd lost his only true supporter. I hope he died impoverished.

    I'm about finished with Jacqui's WIP. so I'm seeing things from that perspective at the moment.

    And even as a committed Francophile, I can still appreciate Will's legacy.

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  2. Thanks so much! I loved seeing the picture of Pitt's furniture. Amazing!

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