Chapter Five

Move to Harper Street – Cholera – Omnibuses – A Walpole


At Christmas 1832 we had to leave Stratford, and we went to London, where my father had taken a large old house, 16. Harper Street, Bloomsbury. It was very commodious, stone staircase, and large rooms; the neighbourhood was no longer a fashionable one, and though the rent was low, the taxes were enormous, and it was a most expensive house to decorate and repair.

My eldest brother Stewart had been articled to my father and Uncle at Swithin’s Lane, but he hated the idea of being a lawyer and the drudgery of reading Law; his whole desire being for the sea. He bought little ships, rigging them beautifully, and always wanting us to have sails and put on proper shrouds to them.

In the spring of 1833, we gave up Mary Anne Sherer as a governess, and a Miss Silberrad was engaged. She had been with the families of a Captain Rice and then of Sir Clayton East at Hall Place, Berks. She came down to Stratford in the evening and on the following morning her father, living in London, destroyed himself. The sad news was brought to her by my father, who at once took her home for a month. I had been very sorry to lose Mary Anne Sherer, but of course, Miss Silberrad was far more accomplished, according to the teaching of those days. When Miss Silberrad had decided to return to us, my mother told me I must try to amuse her, and do all I could to make her recover from the shock this sad event had caused. So I used to read aloud, Southey’s Poems, or Scotts or his Novels, and such books, questioning her on what I read, so as to prevent her thoughts from wandering. This was not an advisable course to adopt, with a clever forward girl of 11 years old, who had been always too much “en evidence”. But my governess, for many months continued our plans, and was most grateful to me. However, by degrees, she began to recover from her nervous shaken state, and found that her pupil had held the reins long enough. I suppose I did not accept this change of government, and consequently Miss Silberrad and I always were in opposition, though she really liked me as far as tuition was concerned. She was a very religious woman too, and was far more attached to my sister Louie, who admired her. Lessons were never any trouble to me. I could learn any amount, but I hated control, and she could not rule a pupil of a stronger will than her own.

I ought to have spoken of the terrible advent of the cholera which occurred in the summer of 1831 and lasted through the winter.

When we were at Tottenham, we all went to a children’s party at a Mr. Vaughan’s, a barrister, who had 12 children, the three elder charmingly pretty girls – indeed all were handsome. After a very merry evening of which Mr. Vaughan was the life, we went home delighted. On coming down to breakfast next morning, Sunday, we were told Mr. Vaughan had died from cholera in the night. It was an awful shock, but many such came afterwards. Though many people died of this scourge whom my parents knew, I do not remember that any of our own immediate connections were taken. The fear of it was very great, and many people increased their risk by complete panic.

In 1832 we had the first visitation I recollect of influenza, somewhat different in detail from the attacks of later years, more of catarrh with fever, and very infectious; whole households were prostrated by it at once, servants could not leave their beds, and it was considered a fortunate thing if a charwoman would come in for a few hours, so as to get nourishments for the sufferers, or make their beds comfortable. From time to time we have had returns of epidemic which we call influenza, but I think its present form, attacking the nerves and even the brain differs much from that in 1833.

At Christmas 1833 we removed to London. I had all the books to pack in cases. My mother, not hearing anyone moving in the bookroom looked in to see what progress I had made, and saw me seated on the top of the high steps, absolutely immersed in an old novel, called “San Sebastiani” which I had found behind other books, and for some time she watched me, I being ignorant of any creature, save in my book. Of course, I was very severely scolded, and a servant was sent to help and keep me to my packing. It was very long ere I was able to go on with my beloved novel which was carefully removed. My sister was so devoted to it, that she read it every year in after days.

Harpur Street

Harpur Street (now spelled with a U). The houses on the right are nos 9 and 10. The Pearces lived at no 16, which is no longer there.

It was hard work settling in Harper Street, the rooms were so lofty and large, and so many windows, in those days all the usual upholstery was done at home. Young as I was, little over 11 years, I had to do my share in the needlework. I did not care for our London life, though there were open spaces and good broad streets near us, but we had many more visitors than before. People came less often to London then and were always glad to stay at a friend’s house. My parents were very hospitable, and always liked guests, and we children usually saw all who came in the evening, though we dined early and had tea in our schoolroom.

About the year 1833 or 4 the first omnibus was started by a man named “Shillibeer,” and as up to this date the only mode of going about in London was by Hackney Coaches, always expensive, the omnibus offered great advantages. By degrees others were started and a company formed, and I recollect seeing the long procession of these vehicles, as they paraded the streets on first becoming general. About that time too, a cab was started on two wheels, different from the high cabriolet, for two, with seat at the side for driver. The new ones were low, like a slice of an omnibus opening at the back, if an accident happened to the shafts or wheel, the cab fell backwards on the doors, and the occupants were shut in. I used to enjoy going with my father in the high cabriolets which he always used, with a good horse, it was delightful travelling, and being so high, one saw all the country well, but they were dangerous if the horse stumbled or fell. It involved the passenger in a certainty of being shot out, a very risky process.

I know my father more than once met with this accident, but was never hurt.

St George's, Queen Square

St George’s, Queen Square

We attended at a large Church, St. George the Martyr in Queen Square – very dull – The Rector, Dr. Martyn was of the old school, and his sermons were dry and uninteresting to children. Miss Silberrad, our governess was a strict Churchwoman, and taught us well as regards religious training. We learnt a great many hymns and poetry as my father liked us to repeat it to him. But Sundays were a dull time in those days, and in a London house, so few books were published for Sunday reading, we had begun to tire of Mrs. Sherwood and her style, and Miss Yonge and her school had not arisen. My parents having been brought up among Dissenters though baptised into the Church of England, and having returned to it, were not accustomed to observe its Fasts and Festivals, indeed Easter was but rarely observed, and Good Friday was not a holiday. Usually on that day, we had a carriage and post horses and went down to Uxbridge for the day to see my brothers when at school at Dr. Beasley’s, my father asking their companions to dine with us at the Hotel.

But in 1834 Stewart had gone into my father’s office, and William was with a Mr. Anderson, the Incumbent of a Church at East Dulwich, a friend of Uncle Charles. He was there for 18 months, and only John was at Uxbridge. We often in the summer went down to Hampton, where a friend had a very large old house furnished and we spent the day in the grounds, or at Richmond, where my father fished in the Thames, his health was bad, and he disliked being in London or in the office. In those years we children paid visits to our Uncles at Peckham Rye, and at Hampstead where Uncle John then lived, or to friends at Peckham and Stratford, but as a family we did not go to the Sea in 1834 or 1835.

In the May of 1835 my father was dangerously ill, and in the early Autumn he and my mother went to Dover, posting there and took Louie with them. She was always delicate. One day, being on the pier at Dover, my father saw the Duke of Wellington coming on, and he said to Louie, “Look up Louie, that gentleman is the Duke of Wellington.” “Oh, Papa,” she cried out, “is that the Great Duke of Wellington?” His Grace was near enough to hear the child’s query, and smiling, lifted his hat and bowed to her. Afterwards he always noticed her. He was Governor of Dover Castle and Warden of the Cinque Ports.

In that year our friend Dr. Cannon lost his wife at Gerrards Cross, Bucks, and my mother began to take great interest in his children. Fanny and little Margaret used to come to us in their holidays, and my mother treated them as her own. The eldest son Stephen, was placed on the Stock Exchange, and lived with us in Harper Street, Mr. Cannon coming to our house when in London. We were like one family. After Fanny left off mourning, she and I used to beg for the same dress and to look like sisters. Fanny and her sister were at school at West Brompton.

During 1835 we were usually in Harper Street and our schoolroom life went on. My mother wished me to learn flower painting, and had met at the house of our friend Mr. Fry in Montague Street, Russell Square, Mr. Bartholomew who was the best painter of the day in flowers, perhaps Harding equalled in colouring, but were not so natural. I enjoyed the lessons, and learnt something of colors, but never pursued it, as I preferred figure drawing. Miss Silberrad shared these lessons. She had drawn after the old-fashioned style, working up a surface like flowers on a tea tray, but Bartholomew’s style was to put in shadows first and then flat washing of color. He was an R.A. – Mr. Fry, a lawyer, knew my parents at Stratford, when he and his one child lived with his wife’s sisters; the three Miss Loxleys on the Green. All were great florists. Next to them was Mr. Allcard, a friend, whose glass houses were full of the choicest flowers and shrubs.

In 1834 Mr. Fry married a second Miss Loxley, infringing the new marriage law, as to marrying a wife’s sister. He had to take Miss Loxley to a country Church, where they were married the day the Bill passed in the House of Lords, and I believe from our house. I was always devoted to Mrs. Fry, and she often had me to see her. About the end of 1835 we made more friends, as two Indian Officers, John and William Earle, begged my father to take some interest in their children who were coming home for education. Major J. Earle had married a Miss Lempriere, neice of Dr. Lempriere who compiled the Classic Dictionary, he and his family had been friends of the Pearce family, so knew my parents well. A sister of Major Earle married Dr. Lempriere later. He had died, and I remember Mrs. Lempriere and her sister Mrs. Raine coming to stay in Harper Street that year.

The Earles, did not, I think come over till 1836, Susan, Louis, and John first, Major J. Earle’s family. Afterwards William and Mary Anne, Captain W. Earle’s. Their mother was niece of Vice-Chancellor Shadwell, but her mother had been a half-caste. They were sent to schools for Indian Officer’s girls at Clapham, the boys were all to be trained for the Army. They came to see us in their holidays, my mother looking after their requirements. In the end, John passed for Artillery and went to Woolwich, and William for Infantry, Louis gave up the Army.

In June 1836 my Grandmother Mrs. Pearce, died at 84. She had become very feeble; but her four sons were deeply grieved at her loss. She was a very Christian woman, and clever. She had a young girl who had been entrusted to her care, Georgina Walpole, a daughter of George, second Earl of Orford, but he never acknowledged the marriage, as his brother Horace was so opposed to it. The Lady was called Mrs. Walpole, and her daughter bore her name. It was very curious that Horace Walpole did not allow this marriage, as he afterwards accepted all the family of a younger brother, Edward, under the disadvantage of their mother being only a servant girl in the house where Edward Walpole lodged. Horace Walpole, first Earl of Orford, introduced all three of these girls to society who made splendid marriages, one connected with Royalty.

Miss Walpole was devoted to my Grandmother, and I suppose, ought to have married one of the sons. She was very clever and sarcastic, like Horace Walpole, and resembled him. She was full of fun even when I saw her, quite an old woman I thought.

One day Mrs. Pearce being ill, was attended by the then famous Dr. Arnold. Feeling a little better, she said she should like to have some bacon and cabbage from the servant’s dinner table. It was brought up to her room and on her bed, when Dr. Arnold’s carriage drew up. “Oh,” said Grandmama, “what shall we do, Georgina?” “Put the tray under the bed,” exclaimed Miss Walpole, and did so. On Dr. Arnold’s entrance, he sniffed for a moment. “You’ve some very savoury odour here, Mrs. Pearce,” he said. Georgina roared with laughter, dragged out the tray, and the trio enjoyed the ‘Savoury Mess’ in my Grandmother’s room. Miss Walpole married Mr. Bucke. She had four children. When I first saw her I was about 15. She was a widow, and we were at Uncle Charles’ to meet her. My mother took me up to introduce me to her. Mrs. Bucke was a handsome, brilliant looking old lady, she put up her gold “pince-nez” and exclaimed, “By George!” “The girl has fine teeth.” I was furiously angry. I recollect Augusta Bucke staying with us in London later on, and our misery, as young girls, in having to promenade West End streets with her dressed in the most noticible colors, and country-made garments.

I think it was in 1836 that Mr. Cannon took a house at Brighton, for the summer holidays, 1. Brunswick Terrace, and we were all to spend six weeks with him. He had his four children, Stephen, Fanny, Harry and Margaret, with his orphan nephew and niece, John and Mildred, and servants. Our parents, we six, Miss Silberred, two maids and a man.

We had holidays – a liberal allowance to all the elder ones, to spend on any amusement preferred, and constant excursions with other friends in Brighton. We rode, boated, and walked. It was a good time. One of our grandest picnics was to the ruins of Bamborough Castle, all the Simon’s, the family of the present Sir John Simon, the Surgeon, joining us. The boys made my father scramble with them up the very steep hill on which the castle stood, they dragging him through the bushes and underwood. When the top was reached he fell forward on the grass so utterly exhausted that the boys were terrified, and it took a long time to recover him.

All the spring of 1836 my Grandmother failed more, and died in June of that year at 84. She left me her gold watch.


Continue to Chapter Six: The case of the missing hair – Move to Cheshunt and back to St Swithin’s Lane – Engagement – A near riot