Chapter One

Mary’s family background – St Swithin’s Lane – Peckham – Highwaymen

Sunday, July 29th, 1895
Dapdune Crescent,

“I was born in the County of Surrey” – So John Evelyn of Wootton began his Diary 300 years since, and it suits me equally as the commencement of the account which my Children ask me to write of my life, and our family history. My birthday dates September 24th 1822, and took place at Peckham Park, in a semi-detached house recently erected in this, then small and quiet village – yet of sufficient importance to have its own Annual Fair.

Before I begin the history of my life and its surroundings it may be well that I clearly state who I was, and to whom I belonged. My father, Stewart Peter Pearce was the 6th son of William Pearce – a lawyer of some eminence, of 10, St. Swithin’s Lane, London, and of Mary Walker his wife. It was known that my father was a great nephew of Dr. Zachary Pearce, Bishop of Rochester, and he thought, naturally, he was of the family of Pearce to which we belong, but curiously enough, we learnt he belonged to my Grandmother’s family, the Walkers of whom I know little.

10 St Swithin's Lane, Richard Horwood map of 1799

10 St Swithin’s Lane, Richard Horwood map of 1799.
(Kindly provided by Motco Enterprises Limited. For full version and more historic maps of London visit

In Lyson’s Environs of London, I have lately traced the Bishop’s family to their house in Ealing, W. of London, and find the names are identical with those of my father’s family whose history is told on their tombstone in Bunhill Fields – all Dr. William or Dr. John Pearce, but these were dissenters, whereas of course the Bishop’s branch was Anglican.

All the Walkers were dissenters, as was my grandfather William Pearce, so I establish a theory that some of the Bishop’s large family left the Church of England, and one married Mary Walker, by this we all trace our descent to the Bishop on both sides. My grandfather and his wife died in membership with the dissenting body of Independents, but all their family returned to the English Church. My grandfather’s family consisted of eight sons and one daughter.

William born 1782 died at Madeira in 1803 of decline
John Meriscoe born 1783 died Clapton 1871
Stewart born 1783 died young
Charles Thomas born 1787 died at Grove Hill, Surrey, 1847
Stewart Peter born 1790 died at 10, St. Swithin’s Lane, Dec 22nd 1840
Henry died young
Mary died from effect of a fall – aged one year
George born 1794 died at Sheffield 1875
And another son died young

Of these, William was educated with his three younger brothers at the Merchant Taylor’s School in Suffolk Lane, City, and intended to enter his father’s office as a lawyer, became an invalid, and was sent to Madeira, dying there at 21. The next son, John Meriscoe, who should have gone up to the University for Holy Orders, was then required for his father’s successor, and became a lawyer of much eminence. The third, Charles Thomas, originally was brought up in Child’s Banking House, where his acquaintance with foreign languages, secured a high position, he left them to go on the Stock Exchange about the year 1816 or 1818, and was connected in partnership with Mr. Whitmore who married a daughter of Lord Ashburton (a Baring) with the Lawrences, and Mr. Philip Cazenove. My Uncle was much respected and was three times Chairman of the Stock Exchange Committee.

My father, Stewart Peter had gone to school at Uxbridge in Bucks, and intended to go to Sea, but his eldest brother saw more opportunity of advancement for him, by taking him into the office of his father and self, so it was settled, but the life was uncongenial to him, and he disliked the drudgery of the profession, loving open air amusements and country life. His health also failed as he advanced in life, and he avoided all public attendance on business.

Mary, the only daughter died in consequence of a fall, her nurse, who had been long in the family of my grandfather Pearce, in 10, St Swithin’s Lane, always denied that any accident had occurred, but she gradually became insane, and used to sit at my grandmother’s door saying “Poor thing, no Mary left, no baby.” At last they placed the poor dear under proper care till her death.

George Pearce was also educated at Uxbridge school, and then went into “Lloyds” as a Ship Broker.

In 1812 my Uncle John Meriscoe Pearce became acquainted with a family named Barton, also living, as was then usual, in a large old house in London, in Tower Street.

The Bartons were a very old family of the County of Cheshire, where they had some property, of the Class of Yeoman farmers or as they would now say, “gentleman farmer”. Records of this family, filling the same station, have been traced from the 16th Century. Gradually it became usual among well to do Yeomen, to send younger sons to push their fortune in London, and accordingly Samuel Barton of  —–  sent his son John to London where an Uncle was well placed in Kensington’s Bank. An opening for John Barton was found in the house of John Sherer of Mark Lane, a Wine Merchant. In those days there were but few in this business, only wealthy people could afford good wine, and the necessary Capital for such trade was large. Mr. Sherer, my great grandfather was partly of foreign extraction, he had sailed as Purser in a great East Indian vessel, when the trade with the East Indies was in its first successful days, all the produce novel, and largely bought up by the upper classes in England. Mr. Sherer made a large fortune, and permanently established himself in London as a Wine Merchant.

Mrs. Sherer’s mother was Mdlle. Regnier, her brothers had left France on the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, in 1685, one, I think taught either dancing or the violin in London, the other became the Pastor of the French Hugenot Church in London. Miss Regnier had married a Mr. Fayting. After his death she married again a Mr. Hickie, her daughter Ann Fayting was at a school near London, where also was a sister of Mr. Sherer, my great grandfather. During his visit to his sister he met Miss Fayting, and at length induced her to run away with him to be married, she being 16 years old. I gather she did not find her after life a bed of roses, for Mr. Sherer was a hasty hot-tempered man, who had the gout often, still he was generous and upright.

Mr. Regnier the Pastor, had been devoted to his niece, but never forgave her hasty marriage. He refused ever to see her, each year he called in Mark Lane and asked if she were alive, and if another child had been added to the family. At his death, he cut her off “with a shilling” but had divided his property among her children. I have a mourning ring which Mrs. Fayting had at his death aged 78 in 1784.

Mr. and Mrs. Sherer had a large family –
John – who was father to Mrs. Greenwood.
Louise – married John Barton – my grandfather.
George – married. I did not know them.
Mary – married Mr. Bean, a doctor in Camberwell, and had ten children.
Ann – “Aunt Ann” died 1855.
Another son Henry and a daughter much younger than the five I knew, of whom I know no good.

As I said, John Barton came from Cheshire and was introduced to Mr. Sherer who took him into his office, a London Wine Merchant. At that time my great grandfather Mr. Sherer lived at Norbiton Park, near Kingston in Surrey. I think it still stands, and I have a letter from him to Mr. Joseph Barton complimenting him on his kindness to his nephew in giving him so fair a start in life, and hoping “he would repay his good Uncle’s liberality.” After a time John Barton became intimate with his employer’s family, and soon attached himself to the eldest daughter Louisa. She must have been pretty, but judging from some stories handed down, of her extreme simplicity, she would be very different from girls of our day.

The young couple were placed in Mark Lane 66, where business was carried on – a fine old City mansion – married in 1793, and my mother was their first child, born April 15th 1794. In 1795 on the 30th May, was born Mary, who subsequently was married to John Meriscoe Pearce, and in June 1797 a son was born, and lost the life of the poor young mother.

My grandfather thus left with three little children was helped much by “Aunt Ann” Sherer and the children were much at old Mr. Sherer’s for country air, though London was not then crowded as now. Mr. Sherer had left Norbiton Park, and was living at Ewell in Surrey, near Epsom. When my mother was about 7 it was advised she should go to school and the children were all at Ewell previously. A fire broke out in the house at night, and the weather was so severe, all water was frozen. With difficulty, all in the house were got out, but the house and contents were burnt. The only thing saved was a bedstead with two great dolls, belonging to my mother and Aunt, which an Irishman seized up and carried out saying, “but the cruel craytures have left their dear children to burn”. The Laundry was at the top of the house, and the mangle crashed down to the basement. All the plate too was melted into a mass, in the plate chests. No lives were lost, my mother rejoiced in an entirely new outfit for school.

In 1803 my mother being nine years old, her father John Barton married a second time. His wife was a Miss Sarah Lowe step daughter of a Mr. Edward Butcher who was a Unitarian Preacher, she had 8 or 9 children – I knew only seven – Edmund, Eliza, Jonathan, Emma, Joshua, Philip Henry and Lucinda.

Edmund was with his father and eventually married a Sophia Russell.
Eliza married Thomas Wickstead 1830 one of the first water work Engineers.
Jonathan, in the Courier Newspaper Office, married in 1838 Mary Berkeley.
Emma married John Wicksteed, elder brother of Thomas Wicksteed, was sub Editor to the “Spectator” and clever.
Joshua went to America and died there.
Philip Henry married twice – died some years ago.
Lucinda or Lucy as we called her was my great friend – died about 1854 to 1860.

Their mother, Mrs. Barton was an indolent, but pleasant kindly woman – of whom I saw much as a child – her connection among Unitarians brought my mother into knowledge of families holding such views – Aitkens – Mrs. Barbauld, Coghus, Wicksteeds, Priestleys, Worthingtons and others. As my grand-mother Louisa Sherer, had been one of an old-fashioned Church of England family. This second marriage of my grandfather’s gave them great dissatisfaction – all the children of the first family, though Baptised into the Church of England being brought up in an unorthodox Communion – attending Mr. Aspland’s Chapel in Hackney, Middlesex, where my grandfather had removed from Mark Lane.

My mother and Aunt were at school sometime at a Miss Davis in Tryon’s Place, Hackney. Then my mother went to a Miss Spencer’s in Hackney, and her sister to Wem in Cheshire where a relative of Mrs. Barton had a school. At 16 my mother came home to live and being a most capable girl, quick and intelligent, she had no very easy life, much demand being made on her, by the large family of step brothers and sisters – as well as the many domestic duties common in these days. She was never very friendly with Mrs. Barton, but my Aunt Mary was fond of her, as was their brother John.

When my mother left school her home was again in London. Mr. Barton having returned to the city from Hackney, then a pleasant country suburb – full of large houses with lovely gardens and fine trees – few shops. He took a house in Tower Street, E.C. where his business as Wine Merchant was carried on. In 1813 as I said before, some casual events had introduced John Meriscoe Pearce to Mrs. Barton, and he was soon intimate with the family, was a man nearly 30 – clever, stern looking, and highly educated. He met my Aunt soon afterwards, Mary Barton, then 16, who was very pretty – a blue-eyed, pink and white complexioned girl, with brown hair – merry as a child, but shy with strangers, and as ignorant on all points as can be imagined of a school girl in those days, who had avoided learning when possible.

My Uncle at once fell in love – and they were to have married when she was 17 – but she had the measles badly and so the union took place in 1813.

10 St Swithin's Lane

St Swithin’s Lane – the office block at the end is still “New Court, the offices of the wealthy firm of the Rothschilds”, which has now expanded to fill the site of no 10.

The young couple settled into the old house in St. Swithin’s Lane, belonging to my grandfather William Pearce, to which he had brought his bride, Mary Walker in 1780. In this fine old mansion all his family had been born – and some of the happiest memories of my childhood are connected with it. The back of the house looked upon the garden and Hall of the Salters Co., and on the other side, it had windows to New Court, the offices of the wealthy firm of the Rothschilds.

The Lord Mayor had used this house many years earlier, during the repair of the Mansion House, but when my Uncle married, the fine old entrance Hall had been enclosed and wainscotted to make a large Clerks Office, and a small office also was taken off on the other side. So the wide flight of stairs to the first floor was approached by a small square entrance only, with glass doors. There were two fine rooms, dining and drawing rooms, the latter extended all along the front of the house, four windows looking into the narrow old lane, in which two vehicles could not pass. At the end was a fire-place and mantel of carved statuary marble in the forms of heraldic shields – the marble was surmounted by a similarly carved looking glass, the frame at the bottom, fitting into the marble chimney-piece, small shelves for ornaments were in various parts of the gilt frame. As I write, this old glass is close to me, it became ours when we went to South Fields in 1877.

New Court

New Court has changed a little over 200 years. No 10 would have been around the immediate left of this photo.

The dining room in St. Swithin’s Lane had two windows to the Lane and two towards Salters’ Hall, and on this floor also was a good sitting room – once my father’s office – out of it, one of the old fashioned light closets, with windows to New Court. Above this floor, up the wide low staircase, was a large landing – a morning room, and four bedrooms, curiously shut off, wasting much room up at the top, several large attics. I describe this house because it is so clear in my recollections, and now there are perhaps none of these old City Houses standing – No. 10 was sold in 1882, and pulled down immediately – under the ordinary cellarage there were others found.

On my Uncle’s marriage in 1813 his father and mother left London for a very pretty property they had taken at Peckham Rye, Surrey. It was about five miles from London Stone – perfectly in the country. At Camberwell three miles from London a large fair was held often – and at Peckham, the village about a mile from the Rye, there was an Annual Fair, which tradition asserted had been honored by the presence of the “Merrie Monarch.” My grandfather’s house was small – but surrounded by fields, and had three separate gardens and a piece of wilderness. The windows opened to the lawn. It was one storey high, a good entrance hall, sitting rooms on each side, and bedrooms over – but all too low. Later on, a large drawing-room was added and more bedrooms. My Uncles Charles and George had their rooms here, though the former had a room also in Swithin’s Lane. Our Stage Coach travelled up from Peckham Rye and the Mansion House every morning – returning in the evening. It went by the Old Kent Road to the City, and the guard always carried pistols as there was still a fear of highwaymen attacking them in this very lonely road. Now I imagine, there is not one yard of space uncovered by bricks and mortar.


Continue to Chapter Two: Mary’s parents’ marriage – Fire at the Custom House – Mary born – Hanover House – Night terrors and a beetle