Letters from Harrow

November 24, 2014 at 1:49 pm (a day in the life, books, diaries, history, news, people, places, research) (, , , , , )

When is being inundated with letters and transcribing an especial blessing – when it brings a new voice into the mix!

Over the eight years I’ve dug and scraped to bring more primary materials under my umbrella, I’ve found what mainly belonged to the women of the Smith & Gosling family: Mary’s travels, Emma’s diaries, Mamma’s letters. Even when I’ve known about some “manly writings”, I’ve given them a bit of a backseat position. Doesn’t help when some of it is so sketchy – both in terms of content AND in terms of the hasty scrawl employed… (Yes, Sir Charles Smith, I’m talking about you!!)

But I’m currently in the midst of transcribing schoolboy / young man SPENCER SMITH letters – and am quite enchanted with them.

Drummond Smith, the youngest of the three brothers [Sir Charles (born 1800) – Spencer (born 1806) – Drummond (born 1812)] has long had a “sisterly following” due to his early death, aged only 20. In fact, a journal of his writings was sold at auction at the firm DOMINIC WINTER in July 2013:

  • 294 Grand Tour. A manuscript fair hand journal of a European
    Grand Tour undertaken by Drummond Smith in 1832, 286 pp.,
    travelling [from Tring, Hertfordshire] through France, Germany, Italy
    and with most time spent in Sicily, a total of seven weeks, partly in
    the company of Mr Odell and Lord Ossory, the latter half containing
    copy letters sent home, all in a neat and uniform hand written up
    soon after (paper watermarked 1832), contemp. morocco gilt, lacks
    upper cover, 4to     (1) £200-300

I am familiar with an alternate copy of this same journal – how I WISH I had heard back from the auctioneer’s, or the current owner! I have so much to offer regarding the “history” of Drummond Smith and especially this “last” journey.

But I digress.

Spencer Smith, heretofore, was seen solely through the eyes of his sisters and mother – I knew a few things about him, but rather the basics of where he was, or what he liked to do. I’d never “HEARD HIS VOICE”. And yes, as the only long-surviving member of the Smith family (later, his children use the surname of “Spencer-Smith”, which evolved into Hamilton-Spencer-Smith and back to Spencer-Smith again), there were impressions I had of him that I could not have of his brothers.

His letters are less joking, less consciously “witty” than those of young Drummond; more matter-of-fact – they are touching in their very quietude. Who knew the young man had such depth; certainly not from sisterly tales of his mis-placed gun or his newly-acquired horse! Or the image Mamma put in my brain of the lolling youth enjoying 6 Portland Place, London, on his own. The letters are mainly to his sister FANNY SMITH (Mrs Richard Seymour), some to his brother – especially when Drummond, following Spencer’s footsteps, was a student at Harrow.

Some Spencer letters were written from his tutor’s, at Iver; some from Harrow; a few from the abodes of later tutors – Mr Blount at Clare and Mr Boudier at Warwick; the ones I’m currently transcribing hail from Oxford (Balliol College).

All of this came at a most opportune moment: for I was thinking about girl versus boy education; home versus institution.

Finding – about six or seven years ago – Christopher Tyerman’s A HISTORY OF HARROW SCHOOL is how I came across a copy book of young Drummond’s letters: they were quoted in a chapter covering Butler’s regime (1820s). When I first found the citations there was just NO DOUBT it was the right family: Drummond’s correspondent was his sister, Fanny Smith.


Due to Spencer Smith’s letters from Harrow, I recently re-read this particular chapter.

And I’m not sure I wouldn’t have preferred the “girl” route to education! My… what rowdy goings-on… among these boys. I invite you to read Tyerman’s History for yourself.

Unlike Drummond, who was in Dr. George Butler‘s house, Spencer Smith was at Hog Lane House, with Mr Evans. Mr Evans – Spencer tells us to pronounce the name “Ivins”, to differentiate him from another Evans “higher up in the town” – figures in Tyerman’s book: He was a rival candidate in the headmaster search that ultimate brought Butler into the position.

The Smith boys, of course, would never have envisioned that their Letters from Harrow could one day tell historians about little lost episodes in the school’s life – as well as in the lives of several “boys” resident therein during the 1810s and 1820s.

* * *



  1. Charlotte Frost said,

    Was Spencer’s tutor at Iver the Rev Edward Ward? Former naval chaplain, passionately against slavery? If it’s the same man, he owned the Blendworth living for a while.

  2. Janeite Kelly said,

    Hi, Charlotte — thanks for the ‘heads-up’ with a name; I’m not sure. Usually it’s Emma commenting “Spencer left for Iver” or “Spencer returned from Iver”. HIS letters, from Iver are merely headed with that — it’s letters addressed to the boys that usually give me more information (b/c the house or the tutor’s name is part of the address).

    I’ll have a look – and report back.

    Interesting, indeed, that there is a BLENDWORTH connection – one never knows how, in this case, for instance, Mamma found such a place to board her boys at.


  3. Janeite Kelly said,

    Hi, Charlotte – in one short word: YES!

    I never had more than a last name to go by – but if you can put Edward Ward at Iver, I can say Iver’s “Mr Ward” must be the Rev. Edward Ward.

    I’ll have to do some digging about the man.

    I have a few letters, with mention of “Iver” and “Mr Ward”:

    July, 1809 (a letter from Mamma to her daughter Fanny): “we mean to contrive on tuesday to call at Iver, to see Charles; not to bring him home, for his Holidays are not to begin till the 20th but only to stop there for an hour, & talk to him. Mr. Ward writes that he is a good Boy.”

    Charles would have been nine-years-old; Fanny not even six!

    In December, 1826, there is a more curious comment – from Augusta to her sister Fanny: “Mrs D. {Drake} has taken Eliz:th to be measured for a pelisse & to fetch Wilmington who is a very dear, intelligent, gentlemanlike little boy — he says he is much happier here than at Mr Wards, but I have had no opportunity of asking him any particular questions about Iver nor should I care to do it before Elizabeth as I think she is hardly fair upon Mr Ward.”

    Wilmington references the eldest Compton (Spencer and Margaret, Lord & Lady Compton) son, which means Elizabeth is Lady Elizabeth Compton, his aunt. Not sure why she’s taken again Mr Ward – unless it has to do with his slavery stand!

    Needless to say, you’ve given MUCH food for thought on what seemingly was a very minor “throw-away” character. THANK YOU for the information – and for providing, also, an earlier than anticipated connection to Blendworth.


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