Sandpit near Sudbury, Suffolk by Joshua Kirby (1716-1774)

Sarah Trimmer née Kirby (1741-1810), author, critic and educational reformer

Sarah Trimmer née Kirby, author, critic and religious and educational reformer, was born in 1741 at Ipswich, the only daughter of the Suffolk landscape painter Joshua Kirby (a close friend of Thomas Gainsborough) and his wife Sarah née Bell. The Kirby family, including Sarah’s younger brother, William moved to London in 1755 where Joshua Kirby tutored the Prince of Wales (the future George III) in perspective.

Sarah Kirby (née Bull) and her husband (John) Joshua Kirby by Thomas Gainsborough, c.1751-52. © National Portrait Gallery, London
Sarah Kirby (née Bull) and her husband (John) Joshua Kirby by Thomas Gainsborough, c.1751-52. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Many well-known personalities of the day counted the Kirbys as friends, including William Hogarth and Samuel Johnson and, as befitted the daughter of an artist, and one with social connections to the best artistic and literary talents of the day, Sarah later had her portrait painted three times, by Henry Howard, George Romney and Thomas Lawrence. She herself was a talented amateur artist, and several miniatures by her survive.

Sarah Trimmer by Sir Thomas Lawrence, c.1790. © National Portrait Gallery, London
Sarah Trimmer by Sir Thomas Lawrence, c.1790. © National Portrait Gallery, London

In time, the family moved to Kew when Joshua Kirby was appointed Clerk to the Works of the Royal Household at Kew Palace and it was at Kew that Sarah met her future husband, James Trimmer whose family owned a brickmaking business at Brentford; the young couple married on 21st September 1762, at Ealing. The notice of their marriage in the Ipswich Journal reveals the name by which Sarah was known to her family.

MARRIAGE – At Great Ealing, Mr. James Trimmer, of Brentford, to Miss Sally Kirby, of the Chapelry of Kew.

A View of the Palace at Kew from the Lawn, in the Royal Gardens at Kew, 1763. This plate was engraved after Joshua Kirby for William Chambers’s Plans, Elevations, Sections and Perspective Views of the Gardens and Buildings at Kew, published in 1763 and dedicated to the Dowager Princess of Wales.
A View of the Palace at Kew from the Lawn, in the Royal Gardens at Kew, 1763. This plate was engraved after Joshua Kirby for William Chambers’s Plans, Elevations, Sections and Perspective Views of the Gardens and Buildings at Kew, published in 1763 and dedicated to the Dowager Princess of Wales. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

The Trimmers had twelve children in all, equally divided between boys and girls and – as she was responsible for their education – Sarah, both a mother and a teacher, discovered a lifelong passion for education. She founded the first Sunday school for poor children in 1786 and began to write and publish books, initially treatises on how to establish Sunday schools with a sub-text of social reform and then branching out into instructive works and fiction for children, such as her Fabulous Histories. She also reviewed children’s literature in her periodical, The Guardian of Education, with the aim of influencing both authors and publishers and redefining the content of these books.

She used to say, that as soon as she became a mother, her thoughts were turned so entirely to the subject of education, that she scarcely read a book upon any other topic, and believed she almost wearied her friends by making it so frequently the subject of conversation. Having experienced the greatest success in her plan of educating her own family, she naturally wished to extent that blessing to others, and this probably first induced her to become an author.

After James Trimmer died in 1792, Sarah and her unmarried daughters moved to Brentford, and it was there that she died on 15th December 1810, in the act of writing a letter.

Sarah Trimmer by Henry Howard, c.1798. © National Portrait Gallery, London
Sarah Trimmer by Henry Howard, c.1798. © National Portrait Gallery, London

She had been known to fall asleep at her desk in her study, and so when her daughters found her, with her head bowed forward onto her bosom, they assumed she merely slumbering and it was some time before they could be made to believe that she was dead. This gave rise to a few ‘Chinese whispers’ which were reported in the newspapers, with a slightly more lurid take on poor Sarah’s demise.

MRS TRIMMER – This authoress died under circumstances of a peculiar nature. Having received intelligence of the death of a favourite sister, she sat down to write a letter of condolence to her family; but soon after, on her female servant going into the room, she found her mistress sitting, apparently in the utmost composure, with her pen in one hand, and her head reclining on the other; in this attitude it appears that she died. What added to the singularity of this extraordinary occurrence was, that although she had been dead three weeks, her countenance had not changed in the least, and in consequence her relatives had directed that no interment should take place, in the hope (a vain one, it is feared) that the body might be recovered from a trance.

Sarah had no sister, favourite or otherwise, and her sister-in-law – and her brother – had both died some years previously. She was buried on the 5th January 1811, in a family plot in St Mary’s churchyard, Ealing, the delay between her death and burial probably being more to do with the weather and the season rather than any fanciful notions supposed to have been entertained by the children of such an eminently sensible, moral and instructive mother.

Portrait of Sarah Trimmer by George Romney (1734-1802). Image taken from Illustrated Catalogue of the Fifth Series of 100 Paintings by Old Masters, being a portion of the Sedelmeyer Gallery, Paris, 1899.
Portrait of Sarah Trimmer by George Romney (1734-1802). Image taken from Illustrated Catalogue of the Fifth Series of 100 Paintings by Old Masters, being a portion of the Sedelmeyer Gallery, Paris, 1899.

One of Sarah’s daughters, at least, followed in her footsteps; her daughter Selina was appointed by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire to be the governess to their daughters and their cousins, including the future Lady Caroline Lamb. You can read more about Selina and her life as a governess in the Cavendish household here, in a blog post by Lauren Gilbert.

 

Sources not mentioned above:

Ipswich Journal, 25th September 1762

Chester Chronicle, 1st February 1811

Chalmer’s General Biographical Dictionary, volume 30

Brentford High Street Project: The Trimmer family

 

Featured image:

Sandpit near Sudbury, Suffolk by Joshua Kirby (1716-1774)

What became of Charlotte Williams, illegitimate daughter of the 5th Duke of Devonshire?

NPG D1752; William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire by John Raphael Smith, after Sir Joshua Reynolds
Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

You may be aware that just before William Cavendish, the 5th Duke of Devonshire married Georgiana Spencer in 1774 he had had a relationship with a Charlotte Spencer (no relation to Georgiana) and that as a result of this liaison a child was born. This child was named Charlotte, after her mother and Williams after her father, but not until her mother had died in 1781.

During the early part of her life she was provided for by the Duke but raised by her mother, a milliner, until she died. At this point Charlotte was taken into the Cavendish household and lived with him and his wife Georgiana as an ‘orphaned member of the Spencer family’. Georgiana always treated Charlotte as if she were her own child.

NPG D35170; Georgiana Cavendish (nÈe Spencer), Duchess of Devonshire published by Excelsior Fine Art Association, with permission of Henry Graves & Co, after Robert Graves, after Thomas Gainsborough
Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

Everything went well until Charlotte acquired a new governess, Elizabeth Foster, who later became the Duke’s mistress. Soon after this Elizabeth took Charlotte to France, partly for her own health and partly for Charlotte’s education. Elizabeth was fond of socializing and preferred to party rather than spend time with Charlotte and so at this point Charlotte was sent to Paris until the start of the French Revolution when she returned to England.

Elizabeth Christiana Cavendish (née Hervey), Duchess of Devonshire when Lady Elizabeth Foster. Image from The Two Duchesses by Vere Foster, 1898.
Elizabeth Christiana Cavendish (née Hervey), Duchess of Devonshire when Lady Elizabeth Foster. Image from The Two Duchesses by Vere Foster, 1898.

So, what became of Charlotte?

This question has been asked numerous times and the answer has always been that she was married off, then simply vanished. Given our love of solving mysteries we simply had to investigate. We had read in Amanda Foreman’s book, The Duchess, that Charlotte married – if that were true, who was her husband? Did she have her own family? What happened to her?

Well, on the 28th February 1793 Charlotte did marry. In fact she married the Duke of Devonshire’s agent, John Heaton’s nephew, Jonathan Kendal, at St James The Less, Thorndike Street, London.  The Morning Post of the 1st March 1793 noted that they were both of Old Burlington Street.

According to his baptism Jonathan was some nine years older than Charlotte and Robert Athol, the Archives and Records Manager at Lincolns Inn Library, says that Jonathan was ‘admitted on 21st February 1784, the nephew of John Heaton, also a member of Lincoln’s Inn. He is not listed in our bar books that list members of the Inn who have been called to the bar, however, nor does he appear in any of the Law lists for the time which suggests to me that although he was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn, he didn’t pursue a career in law’.

We know from the Land Tax records that the Heaton family were living in property owned by the Duke of Devonshire on Old Burlington Street so it seems highly likely that Charlotte, shortly after her return from France, moved there and that is where she met her future husband.

If, as assumed, Charlotte was born 1774, then she had not reached adulthood when the couple married, i.e. she was under 21-years. That being the case it is usual to see parent’s permission on the marriage entry but there was no such reference as you can see. Does that mean that she was actually born earlier than previously thought, or did no-one check her age at marriage?

Charlotte Williams marriage

The couple lived at Barrowby in Lincolnshire for the majority of their married life as Jonathan appeared on Polls books and electoral registers in that village for many years.

According to the Clergy of the Church of England Database, on the 10th March 1800 Jonathan became a curate and served in the church for the remainder of his life; the living of Barrowby was in the gift of the Duke of Devonshire who was Lord of the Manor. One interesting entry against his name is that he was also appointed as Domestic Chaplain to the 6th Duke of Devonshire.

The 1841 census shows the couple still married and living at Barrowby at the Rectory House, along with 7 servants. Their son was born 1797 and followed in his father’s footsteps. After graduating from Trinity College, Cambridge he became the Rev Charles Edward Kendal, stipendiary curate of Barrowby in 1821.  Charlotte was to see her son be married by her husband to a Miss Catherine Downing in Barrowby church in 1825.

As the parish vicar and his wife, Jonathan and Charlotte would have led a life typical of any rural cleric, spending time tending to his flock, supported by his wife. According to the parish register at Barrowby Jonathan was buried there on the 11th May 1849.  Charlotte outlived Jonathan by just over 7 years.

It certainly appears that the couple were happy together and Charlotte specified in her will that she wished to be interred in the vault alongside her beloved husband at Barrowby.  However, after Jonathan’s death we find that Charlotte had moved to Leamington in Warwickshire, and on the 1851 census she was visiting a relative in Dover. The  census recorded her as a widow, aged 78 and her place of birth as London, although as yet no baptism has been found, but as to what name she would have been baptized under remains a mystery, if she were baptized at all!

Barrowby_Lincolnshire,All_Saints_Church
All Saints Church Barrowby, Lincolnshire

The next and seemingly final record of Charlotte appeared in The Standard of Saturday 13th December 1856 with the record of her death:

On the 8th Inst. in Newbold Terrace, Leamington Charlotte, the relict of Rev Jonathan Kendal, Rector of Barrowby, in her 84th year.

For some reason her wish to be buried in the same vault as her husband in Barrowby was not carried out and she was buried at Leamington Priors on the 15th December 1856.

Charlotte Burial

Overall, it would appear that Charlotte led a quiet and happy life and the mystery is now solved.

Women in 18th Century Politics – 1784 Election

A Borough secur'd or Reynards resource: a caricature featuring the Duchess of Devonshire and Charles James Fox
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

As we all know the ‘well to do’ women of the Georgian era were regarded as objects of beauty that simply swooned and fainted at the sight of a gallant gentleman. They wore stunningly beautiful clothes and shoes and spent hours on their hair and beauty regime. They paraded around Georgian London, Bath, Brighton etc. in their finery and partied into the early hours, but on the whole they were regarded as fairly vacuous creatures.

STOP RIGHT THERE!

OK, so we’ve done the whole film thing, now let’s move on and dispense with that image. If we’re being totally honest that is, to a certain extent, the stereotypical image held of women from that period as, let’s face it, they had very few, if any ‘rights’ during that time. Only those in what was regarded as the lower class, worked, the remainder were kept in comfort by their spouses or parents if not married, they had no voting rights, rarely any disposable income of their own unless they had inherited money that was solely for their use and their husband could divorce them with minimal discomfort on their part.

The Duchess of Devonshire and Charles James Fox
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Whilst women were maybe not able to publicly ‘have a voice’ in the world around them and how it worked it, appears from reading the newspapers of the day that actually they took more than a passing interest in the arts, science and politics. Many of the names we have become familiar with over the years did in fact take a more active role in politics than we had at first assumed with many of them engaged in gathering support for their chosen politician during elections using whatever methods were at their disposal.

One of the most famous election campaigns that took place was that of the 1784 Westminster election.   If you thought politics and political campaigning today was vicious then take a look back to the Georgian era when things were far worse!  We came across a book written October 1784 that provides a detailed account of all the events during the campaign – History of  the Westminster Election from 1st  April to the 17th May.  

A meeting of the female canvassers in Covent Garden
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

The Westminster election was of paramount importance as this was one of the key boroughs for two reasons – firstly every male homeowner could vote and secondly due to the number of voters it was equally important to both the Whig and Tory parties. There were two seats to be had and three candidates, so the battle was between Cecil Wray and Lord Hood, both Tory’s, and Charles Fox, Whig, therefore the candidates needed to use every weapon in their armoury to achieve success; none more so than Charles Fox. The battle then commenced.

The Duchess of Devonshire by Joshua Reynolds.
The Duchess of Devonshire by Joshua Reynolds.

The Duchess of Devonshire led the female canvassers accompanied by her sister Lady Harriet Duncannon, as she was titled at that point, later to become Lady Bessborough. The list of women involved in the election included Albinia, The Countess of Buckinghamshire, the Duchess of Portland, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s wife, Elizabeth née Linley, Lady Jersey, the Honourable Mrs Bouverie and the Scandalous Lady Worsley,

Lady Worsley by Joshua Reynolds
Lady Worsley, Joshua Reynolds

Perdita aka Mrs Robinson, The White Crow, aka Maria Corbyn,  The Bird of Paradise aka Gertrude Mahon, Lady Archer, Lady Carlisle, Mrs Crewe, Mrs Damer and the Miss Waldengraves,  Lady Grosvenor and Mrs Armistead, the future Mrs Fox,  so quite a little collection.

NPG D42052; Harriet Bouverie (nÈe Fawkener, later Lady Robert Spencer); Frances Anne Crewe (nÈe Greville), Lady Crewe by Samuel William Reynolds, after Sir Joshua Reynolds
Mrs Bouverie & Mrs Crewe Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser of 6th April 1784 confirmed that the

Duchess of Devonshire along with Lord Derby & Lord Keppel are the firm of Mr Fox’s responsible committee.

This seems to imply that her role was a little more than just to ‘look pretty’; presumably she was there to help to obtain votes however she could. It is reported that she canvassed every day and that she arranged for a thousand coalition medals to be struck, one of which she gave to every voter who agreed to support Fox.

NPG D9540; 'A coalition medal struck in brass' (Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford; Charles James Fox) by James Sayers, published by Edward Hedges
Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

Just over a week later The Bath Chronicle reported that

‘ It was observed of the Duchess of Devonshire and Lady Duncannon, while they were soliciting votes in favour of Mr Fox, on Saturday last, they were the most lovely portraits that ever appeared upon a canvas’.

Like most people we had heard the story that the Duchess secured votes for Charles Fox by offering kisses in exchange for their vote, but until now we had assumed this was simply a myth that has evolved over time due to the astounding number of caricatures of such a scene, but it does seem from this letter written by a certain Duchess to Fox that there was some truth in it*.

‘Dear Charles

Yesterday I sent you three votes but went through much fatigue to procure them. It cost me ten kisses for every plumper.  I’m afraid we are done up – I will see you at the porter shop and we will discuss ways and means’.

Yours

D_____e House

NB Clare Market is a filthy place – keep up your spirits. I have a borough – you know where.’

The was much printed in the newspapers about her ‘method’ and many derogatory comments made about morals. The reality however, was that amongst the public she was a very popular figure, not only because of her looks but also because she did actually engage with the public and by all accounts was able to discuss eloquently and put forward information about what Fox stood for.

As a campaigner for Wray we have the much quieter and more demure Duchess of Rutland, needless to say we don’t have a plethora of caricatures for her!

‘we can assure the public, that the beautiful and accomplished Duchess of Rutland does not drive about the streets and alleys, or otherwise act in a manner unbecoming of a lady of rank and delicacy’.

Procession to the Hustings after a successful canvass.
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library Duchess of Devonshire, Lady Duncannon and possibly Mrs Crewe

Despite the mocking and caricatures of these women, predominantly  of the Duchess of Devonshire, and the vile abuse they apparently received from Wray’s supporters and the press, the only person who apparently clearly objected to her participation in the election was her mother who felt that she was being used by Fox, no-one else appeared to have any objection which is quite telling; it appears that even the Queen was a supporter of the Duchess of Devonshire –

Her majesty has all the morning prints at breakfast every day and the Princesses are permitted to read them. Her eye caught the indecency of that one which attacked the Duchess of Devonshire. She gave it to an attendant and said let that paper never more enter the palace doors.  The story got round and the same orders were given everywhere else.’ 

There were even comments made that women’s participation in politics could result in them wanting to vote – shock horror, how times have changed!

The Duchess of Devonshire suffered greatly at the hands of the press, but she clearly had a passion for politics and felt that the country would benefit by Fox’s appointment. We are aware from The Cavendish Family by Francis Bickley, that she wrote to her mother advising her of how miserable she was, but that she had begun her involvement and that she would see if through to the end.  Given that the odds were stacked against Fox winning the election from the beginning, it could be argued that  a win from Fox was highly unlikely that without the help of these women!

Election te^te-a`-te^te
1784 Election Tete a Tete

15th May of 1784 The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser printed the following letter purporting to be from Lady Worsley to the Duchess of Devonshire, whether it was genuine or not we have no idea, but it is nevertheless interesting

Madam

Before the General Election in the year 1780, the name of Lady W____y stood fair and respectable; the gay world derives no entertainment from her follies. The forms of decency and decorum had not been neglected, and, therefore men of gallantry felt but little encouragement to make approaches.  Sir Richard found not Cassio’s kisses on my lips, for neither Cassio nor Roderigo revelled there. But, Madam   in the general Election of that day I acted like yourself – like a woman of life – a woman of spirit, but how unlike a politician! As you set your face against Sir Cecil Wray, I opposed my influence to that of Jervoise Clerk Jervoise.  I coaxed, I canvassed; I made myself, in the language of Shakespear ‘base, common and popular’. I was charmed with the public attention I received from the men; they talked to me of irresistible graces; the pressed my fingers; they squeezed my hand and my pulse beat quicker; they touched my lips, and my blood ran riot; they pressed me in  their arms and turned my brain. O, the joy! The rapture, the enchanting, thrilling, aching sensations, which beset my soul! They banished in an instant, all ideas of a cold, a formal education; they drove from my mind all decent forms which time and observation had copied there. Your Grace is apprized of the sequel. Before the canvas – Was your Grace strict? So was I. Was your Grace modest? So was I.  And if after the canvas, your Grace should find a violent metamorphosis in your feelings; I am ready to confess – so did I.

I am, Madam

Dorothea W____y

Did our favourite 18th century lady, Grace Dalrymple Elliott, interest herself in politics?  Please do subscribe to our blog to receive updates on the progress of our forthcoming book An Infamous Courtesan: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott in which we will reveal all.

 

* History of the Westminster Election, 1784