Home » Uncategorized » John’s later years, Part 3: “the venerable Earl”

John’s later years, Part 3: “the venerable Earl”

Yesterday I thoroughly pillaged the British Library’s excellent 19th Century Newspapers database (… well, *nearly* excellent: I have one or two reservations about the search interface, but that’s another story). I habven’t used it much before, largely because I keep forgetting the 2nd Earl of Chatham clung to life until September 1835, but I found some excellent stuff about John’s later years. Slowly but surely it’s all fleshing out for me, although I still need to find more manuscript sources on the subject.

Beginning, then, with John’s return from Gibraltar in July 1825— because I’m still not quite sure what he actually did while in Gibraltar as governor— I can confirm a few things I already knew, which was that he spent August at Leamington Spa, presumably recovering from whatever illness completely floored him and knocked two and a half stone off his weight (for more see my first post on John’s later years). When in London he stayed at Thomas’s Hotel, 25 Berkeley Square, a fashionable establishment in an area he knew very well indeed.

He then moved on to Brighton, where he rented a house on Marine Parade— from 1830, and possibly earlier than that, it was Number 20 (now a hotel and nightclub— appropriately the kind of place where the patrons probably sleep all day)— and frequented Molineux’s Turkish Baths on East Cliff.

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(This photo of New Madeira Hotel is courtesy of TripAdvisor)

He clearly enjoyed Brighton, as he went back every year from September or October until as late as March or April (one year he was there until May). Although his proxy vote was still deployed in the House of Lords, he does not appear to have attended, and seems to have considered himself retired: fair enough I suppose, since he was by this time seventy years old. What his health was like generally I couldn’t say: the newspapers talk about him being in “pretty good health”, for his age at least, and his main activities at Brighton seem to have included riding along Marine Parade and walking on the new pier. By the end of 1832, however, he was described as having a “weakness in his legs” that prevented him walking unaided: he still managed to ride every day though, at least until 1834, when his strength was described as “failing”.

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Marine Parade, Brighton, ca 1830, from here

(No idea what might have caused the leg weakness, but you will recall from a previous blog post that John seriously injured his leg on two occasions, in 1788 and 1791: perhaps that had something to do with his later inability to walk?)

Otherwise the information pretty much accords with what I had previously found about John. He was reported as having died in March 1831: the newspapers, red-faced, later had to retract their incorrect statement. In August 1834 he had “a paralytic stroke”, but he completely recovered and spent the winter and spring in Brighton as usual. His death in September 1835 seems to have been sudden: he was reported just under a week before his death as being daily expected at his house in Brighton. I suspect another stroke may well have carried him off, as he had supposedly been in pretty good health before that.

Interestingly he seems to have been well-regarded in the press, described from 1830 onwards without fail as “venerable”. The state of his health was assiduously followed, partly perhaps because of all the pensions and emoluments that would fall vacant when he died but also, it seems, because people cared about the last surviving member of the Pitt family. The journalists’ tone was often respectful, even fond, which I found somewhat surprising given John’s reputation even in his own lifetime. The Standard wrote on 8 November 1833:

“The venerable Earl of Chatham is gone to Brighton for six months. This amiable nobleman, notwithstanding the retired habits of his life, and his extreme taciturnity in general society, was held in the highest esteem by his brother, the Right Hon. William Pitt. It was always understood that Mr. Pitt took the advice of Lord Chatham on all important measures relating to finance.”

Admittedly the first occasion I have seen of anyone suggesting John might have had input into Pitt’s financial measures, and I certainly haven’t seen any evidence to support that assertion, but I’d say there is a flavour of truth in the suggestion that Pitt was in the habit of talking things over with John and in any case it makes a nice change from “he was a complete idiot”. (And a quiet giggle at the “taciturnity” comment…)

So much for John’s very last years. I get the impression he faded away, spending most of his life on the seafront at Brighton, contributing funds to local building efforts (he was a subscriber to the chain pier, for example), occasionally using the Turkish baths and hauling himself on horseback long after he lost full use of his legs. His last years won’t make a novel any time soon: but it’s interesting to read, at least for me. I like to think that, after the horror that must, for him, have been the late 1810s, his wife’s death, and the homesickness and depression he experienced in Gibraltar, John finally found his peace on Brighton seafront.

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