Behind Pitshanger Manor here in Ealing lies Walpole Park. Ah, the unwary may think, home indeed to Robert Walpole, Britain’s first Prime Minister from a time when the post of prime minister did not even exist. No ? Well then, no doubt it is named for his nephew Horace Walpole, of Strawberry Hill Forever fame ? Still no ? Well, surely it’s not names after the Walpole Cafe on St Mary’s Road ?
In fact, the Walpole in question is a century later and connected to an altogether different Prime Minister: Sir Spencer Walpole, the grandson of Spencer Perceval, the only British premier to be assassinated. Sir Spencer himself, despite being at times the Home Secretary and charged by Parliament of taking care of the late PM’s widow and twelve children, and indeed despite owning Pitshanger Manor outright, chose to live in what is now Perceval Lodge, forming part of the Manor’s perimeter wall on Mattock Lane.
So why was he content to be a lodge-keeper and not Lord of the Manor ? It appears that he took his duty of wardship to the Percevals very seriously, going so far as to marry one of the daughters, Isabella. Four others would remain spinsters, and it was only fitting that they should be encouraged to move in next door to their guardian. Thus it was that from 1843 the Walpole Sisters took over both the Manor and the poetry group.
Being women of independent means, they were both unconventional and outspoken, and their literary gatherings were by all accounts as prodigious and unattached as they were. Dickens and Thackeray each frequented often, great raconteurs both, although it is no surprise that they are not remembered for their poetry. But no matter, Tennyson and Wordsworth were usually on hand to provide the lyrical, or perhaps the newly besotted Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett. What the altogether more serious Sir Spencer made of it all is unrecorded, although the society archive does note frequent petitions from an unnamed neighbour for “cessation of such unquiet revelry even unto three of the morning”.
The modern Pitshanger Poets alas have no Prime Ministers or their kin in regular attendance (although who knows if we have a future one lurking…) We do, however, have some fine poets. Commencing proceedings tonight was John Hurley with a comic take on a neighbour’s narrow escape from a thorough painting and decoration, followed by Anne Furneaux musing on art in English and chickens in French. Caroline Am Bergris gave us a sobering observation on how much of a person’s life can change in just four minutes, and Martin Choules sought to redirect the passion of sport fans into more productive areas. (He just doesn’t get it, does he.)
And finally, as I’m sure Frances, Maria, Louisa and Frederica Perceval would have said, if you have been, thank you for reading.