William Pitt the Elder (Kadwell Portfolio, Bromley Historic Collections)
15 Nov 1708 – 11 May 1778
William Pitt married Hester Grenville of Wotton Hall, Bucks on 16 November 1754. An active politician, he wanted a home in the countryside but within easy reach of London. He leased and then purchased John Harrison’s house in Hayes [Hayes Place] in which he had stayed during the previous tenancy of Edward & Elizabeth Montagu. He tried to return to Hayes for at least a few nights each week.
He had great plans to develop the house and its grounds. In 1756 Mrs Montagu received a report that ‘Mr Pitt is doing great things at Hayes, he has bought the house and the house hard by, and some fields. He has built a wall towards the public road 13 feet high. He intends to pull down the old house, and build another in the middle of the garden’.
He commenced by buying and demolishing the cottages and an inn that were nearby and incorporated their grounds into his landscaped garden. He acquired some of the Glebeland. Buildings that spoilt his view were replaced and neighbours were asked, not always successfully, to cut down trees that spoilt his vista. Agreement was given in 1758 to move the road to Beckenham that he felt was too close to his house further to the south and in 1761 he wrote ‘from our Hovel of Hayes … new Hayes rises apace to … something I must ever love’.
By this time Hester had given birth to three sons and two daughters. The entries for the two older sons, John (1756) and William (1759), are in the Baptismal Register for Hayes Church. It was also a time when Pitt was very involved in the successful conduct of the wars against France. In September 1759, General James Wolfe dined with him at Hayes the day before his departure to North America and the capture of Quebec. Over the following years many important political figures made their way to Hayes to discuss matters of state.
In 1765 Sit William Pynsent died and left him his estate of Burton Pynsent in Somerset. He decided to move there and sold his Hayes estate to Thomas Walpole. He was appointed Prime Minister in 1766 and became Earl of Chatham. After two years, however, he decided to return to Hayes and eventually persuaded Thomas Walpole to sell Hayes Place back to him. It continued to need a large sum of money spent on it and his plans for the grounds expanded with more trees being planted and rivers diverted. A dishonest bailiff, tea smuggling, financial difficulties and ill health were some of the events to plague him in the early 1770s. One happy event was the marriage at Hayes Place, 19 Dec 1774, of his elder daughter Hester to Charles Lord Viscount Mahon.
Chatham was always interested in American affairs, often disapproving of some of the government’s actions. He received several visits from Benjamin Franklin who, in 1774, bought him copies of the First Continental Congress’s address to the British people and the petition to the King. In 1778 he rose to speak in the House of Lords on the subject of American Independence but collapsed and was brought back to Hayes where he died on 11 May.
See also: PITT, William the Younger