Newton Surmaville House in 1886 from an old print in a Harbin family album. Repoduced by kind permission odf the purchaser of the albums (Dr T Harbin) at the recent auction of the house contents, described in this edition of Chronicle.

This article came from the Chronicle published November 2007.  Pages 75-88



Author: Steve Bartlett

[Steve Bartlett has continued his research into the papers preserved at Hinton Farm. He has transcribed this collection of letters relating to the Goodford family in the later eighteenth and nineteenth century. They constitute an important contribution to the local history of this period. Ed.]

Letter 1: John Old Goodford to Maria Phelips c.1776

Miss Maria Phelips was in love. One hopes that she was sufficiently in love not to have become impatient when she received the following letter from the young man who had just proposed to her:

Will my dear Maria pardon the only seeming neglect of my promise that I would speak to Mr Phelips upon a subject of the utmost importance to me on the first visit I paid at Montacute. The opportunity yesterday seemed unfavourable.I have now written to your father and solicited the favour of a few minutes conversation. I am confident my request will not be so far refused; and I will hope that my most ardent wishes will not be disappointed.To you, Maria, I owe everything for the very open, candid and ingenuous manner in which you have – I fear I may say undeservedly – treated me. Will you believe my strongest assurances that my whole study shall be to convince you how very sincerely and truly I am yours,

JO Goodford.

Perhaps you may think it improper to communicate this to anyone, but you are the best judge

Yeovil, Monday morning.

John Old Goodford, the writer of this letter, was a young man in his early thirties of independent means, who had already in 1774 been High Sheriff of Somerset. But this apparently did not prevent him from feeling nervous at the thought of asking Mr Edward Phelips of Montacute House for permission to pay his addresses to his second daughter, to whom he had in fact already proposed. A considerable landowner, the descendant of an ancient family, and at this date both a Justice of the Peace and one of the Knights of the Shire for Somerset, Mr Phelips must have appeared a formidable character.

Montacute House, one of the finest examples of Elizabethan architecture in the west of England, was completed from the designs of John Thorpe in 1601 by Sir Edward Philips, who became Speaker in 1604. It stood very near the site of a much older house, which had been occupied by the Phelips for several generations. In 1776 when John Goodford visited Montacute, the house was approached by a drive through the park, the main entrance then being through the forecourt on the elaborate and amply fenestrated east front. It was not till ten years later that Edward Phelips reconstructed the west front by adding to it a portion of another Tudor house, Clifton Maybank, near Sherborne. After adding the Clifton Maybank porch a new entrance drive, leading to the west front, was made from the village. Formal gardens were then laid out in the forecourt, whilst retaining the whole remarkable Elizabethan lay-out of garden houses, open temples and balustrades.

In 1776 Edward Phelips was a man of 52. A genial, well built, fresh complexioned man, he and his wife were fond of entertaining. He appears to have belonged to some kind of dining club, which met periodically at inns in different country towns, where his fellow members were farmers, gentlemen, tradesmen and squires. The Squire of Montacute and his lady were in fact friendly with all their neighbours. On learning that the wife of a well-to-do farmer had been taken ill, Mrs Phelips instructed her husband to give the farmer a bottle of castor oil from her medicine cupboard. The farmer presently reported that a single dose had completely restored his wife to her former good health.

Edward Phelips had inherited Montacute on the death of his father in 1734, when he was nine years old. At the age of 22 he married Maria Wright, who appears from the inscription in Montacute Church to have been only 17. Apart from the fact that some editions of Burke’s Landed Gentry give her father’s Christian name as William, the published Phelips’ pedigrees give no clue as to her family. But her portrait at Montacute leaves on in no doubt as to the reason why the young Squire fell in love with her. Edward and Maria Phelips had seven children, four sons and three daughters. Their first child, Elizabeth, was born in 1750. Edward followed in 1753, William in 1755, John in 1756, Maria in 1757, Rhoda in 1759 and Charles in 1765.

John Goodford owned a commodious, early 18th century town house in what is now Princes Street, Yeovil. It is not unreasonable to suppose that his father and grandfather may have owned it before him, since we know that John was the sixth in direct descent from father to son to have lived at Yeovil. He and his sister Mary, who in 1767 had married Thomas Blakemore of Briggins Park, near Ware in Hertfordshire, were the only children of Samuel Goodford of the Inner Temple, barrister-at-law. The latter had died in 1744, five years after his marriage when he was well under thirty. Their mother, a daughter of John Old of Yeovil, died in 1767. John Goodford must have obtained Mr Phelips’ consent to his paying his addresses to his daughter, since he and Maria were married in 1776. They had five children. Their first child, Maria, was born in 1777; Elizabeth in 1781, Harriet in 1783, John in 1784 and Mary Ann in 1786.

Letter 2: First letter from John Old Goodford to his daughter Maria, 1786

When she was quite small, Maria was sent to a boarding school at Weymouth, run by a Mr and Mrs Morris. At nine years old, Maria was already able to write to her mother in French, and her father was much pleased by the reports of her progress and good conduct which he had received. Three of his letters, sent to Weymouth by hand, have been preserved, the first being dated March 13, evidently 1786 since Mary Ann is mentioned as “your new sister”. Short and simple, they throw a pleasant light on the relationship between an 18th century father and his small daughter:

Yeovil March 13th

My dearest Maria

You would long ago have received either your mother’s or my best thanks to you for the very excellent letter written in French, had not sickness or the weather or both prevented poor Taylor from undertaking his usual journey to Weymouth until now, but as it is probable he will be again more punctual in his visits, we hope to hear often from you, and if you please in the language we all wish you would make yourself mistress of, I mean French; though I would have you frequently write in English, not only as it will give you ease and readiness in writing, but you may have many things to say that may be more pleasant to express in your own tongue as yet. We hope to have a line or two from you by Taylor with an account of your health, and I have no doubt of observing your improvement.

Your grandmama was not forgetful of you whilst she was in London. She desires me to send a dictionary she bought for you there, which it seems contains more words than any, even the largest that was ever published. Your grandpapa and mama go to Cattistock [a property belonging to the Phelips in Dorset] tomorrow. You know Taylor frequently calls there, on his return from Weymouth, and I am convinced I need not hint to you what return ought to be made to your Grandmama.

Your Mama and little Mary Ann, your new sister, are quite well. You will have a letter from your Mama very soon. Your brother is almost as big as yourself. Your sisters are as you would wish, and to show you what good example will do, Elizabeth follows your steps, and has her whole delight in her book. Your shawl will be sent the next time Taylor goes to Weymouth. I leave to your Mama all the news of this country, and now, my dearest Maria, I have only to request that you will be as attentive to your French, your reading and all your other improvements as you have hitherto been, and need ask no more.

Accept all out best love and good wishes for you, and ever believe me your very affectionate Father,

JO Goodford.

Letter 3: Second letter from John Old Goodford to his daughter Maria, 1786


My dear Maria   

You would have had your Mama’s thanks for your very good letter, but she has desired me to make them to you, whilst she minds your brother in the chaise for an airing. He has got a return of his ague and is much weakened by it, but we hope he will be better soon.

Your sisters are all well. I continue to amend [sic] and have again to my horse. Your uncle Edward [Phelips] is with us, upon the business of an election for Illchester. He returns to London tomorrow.

I would have you write word what sort of drawers you want and inform your mama of their price. Your Uncle is waiting for me. Therefore excuse my only sending my best wishes and love for you…   

JO Goodford.

Letter 4: Third letter from John Old Goodford to his daughter Maria, 1786

I have sent, my dear Maria, an hare which I killed Saturday. I know she is fond of it, and I am sure from the character I hear of her, she deserves every indulgence. I hope she will continue to improve herself and preserve by her behaviour she has now given her [Sic]Harriet and Mary Ann are quite recovered, but poor little John has a swelling under his arm, which must be lanced in a day or two. Your Mama is still at Chilton. I am just going there with your Coz: John. We have received a very good letter from your Coz: Mary B. She hopes you will continue your correspondence with her.Adieu, my dear Maria, and believe me affectionately yours,    

JO Goodford.

The mention of Chilton shows that John Old Goodford already owned the estate of Chilton Cantelo (some six miles from Yeovil), which was to remain in the possession of his family for four subsequent generations. The house Mrs Goodford was staying in must have been an older one than the present Chilton Cantelo House, which had not been built at that date. It is sad to have to add that John Old Goodford died on Aug 14 1787, not long after writing these letters to his daughter. Maria Goodford was left a widow at 29 with five small children. She never married again, remaining faithful to John Goodford’s memory, and perhaps warned of the dangers of a second marriage by the example of her elder sister Elizabeth who, left a widow after the death of her first husband John Clark of Halton in Cornwall, married as her second husband a young man 18 years her junior and, according to tradition, lived greatly to regret it.

The main part of the correspondence of John and Maria Goodford’s two elder daughters, Maria and Elizabeth, does not begin till 1813, after Elizabeth’s marriage; but from the few family papers remaining attached to their correspondence it is possible to describe something of their life in the intervening years. One of the most interesting of these papers is a letter written by John Goodford to his sisters from Paris at Christmas 1802, during the Peace of Amiens.

Between 1782 and 1802 many changes had taken place in the Phelips family, some of which are marked by the increasing number of monumental tablets in Montacute church. “Uncle” Edward Phelips, the squire’s eldest son, died in 1792; his mother, Mrs Maria Phelips, in 1793; and the Squire himself in 1797. Edward having left a widow but no children, Montacute was inherited by the Squire’s second son, William, who had in 1785 been given the family living of Yeovil, and who continued to carry out the duties of both squire of Montacute and parson of Yeovil until his death in 1806. He had married a clergyman’s daughter, Anne Alethea Paget – whose father, the Rev William Paget, was vicar of Doulting – and had by her a family of seven sons and four daughters.

The two youngest of Edward and Maria Phelips’ children, Rhoda and Charles, were also married by 1802 and had young families. Rhoda married in 1793 William Harbin, a solicitor, second son of Swayne Harbin of Newton Surmaville, near Yeovil, and had three daughters and two sons. Charles married “cousin” Mary, John Old Goodford’s niece, his sister’s only child and heiress of Briggin Park, and had two sons and a daughter. Charles, like his brother William, had taken Holy Orders and was vicar of Piddletrenthide in south Dorset.

Letter 5: John Goodford, son of J. O. Goodford to his sisters Maria and Elizabeth, 1802

Two of the Goodford children, Harriet and Mary-Ann, died young, and it seems clear from the wording of John Goodford’s letter that he was addressing his two eldest and only surviving sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, who were living with their mother at Yeovil. John Goodford at 18 was living in London in Jermyn Street. There seems to have been some urgent reason for his expedition to Paris, possibly to find out for his friends and relations news of missing prisoners of war, and he was well provided with introductions, though one of these proved to be to a rather unexpected individual. John had evidently not visited France before, and the evidence from the letters deal with his reactions to French sanitary arrangements, which compared most unfavourably with those of England. On the other hand, whereas since he had been at school, he spoke and understood French well, and it is possible, from a rather cryptic remark in the letter, that his grandmother Maria Wright had French relations, and that one of the objects of his visit to Paris was to contact them. But, unless research should at any time bring to light some further information on the Wright family, their connection with France must remain a matter of conjecture.

Thursday Morn, 24th Dec   

Hotel d’Angleterre, Rue du Colombine   

My dearest Sisters  

Being now firmly settled in land of equality, and knowing that when you are at Rome you must act as a Roman, I have made an equal division of my bounty in addressing this letter to you both, only requesting that you will not fight over it in your eagerness to comply with French principles. I was obliged to close my letter of last night in such a hurry, that I had not time to request you to direct any epistles you may think proper to favour me with, to Mrs Dorant, desiring her to enclose them in the pacquet [sic] which she makes up for Mr Dorant by the courier.

We had a most uncomfortable journey from Calais to Paris, going at the rate of three mile an hour and not at all relieved by the prospect of the country, which was covered with snow. The accommodations for travellers are vile; every person who proceeds from Calais to Paris is obliged to hire a postchaise at the former place which conveys him all the way, as they never have heard of such a thing as a hack chaise. Three horses abreast are all the go, the postilion’s boots and cocked hat are more than a sufficient weight for any one of them, though their harness is not very burdensome, being generally composed of old rope, which is certain to break at every two miles.

The Posts are regulated by the Government. You must change horses at every six or 12 miles, and as for an inn you may as well search for a guinea. Provisions are always provided in the carriages; beer is out of the question, but good wine is cheap and plenty. At the entrance of every town we perceived the battered remains of convents or churches, which are suffered to remain as vestiges of their present state of religion. Every person is free with respect to religion, but few priests are licensed by the Government, none of the ancient clergy are allowed to resume their situations; however, religion is at present the taste in Paris, which sentiment will no doubt be exchanged within this month for an absolute state of atheism. How would this have accorded with Mr Owen’s plan of worship? You would scarcely suppose from the note of Amiens, that at the best auberge we could scarcely procure any breakfast, which when at last accomplished was set out in a room surrounded by all manner of dirt and filthiness. In England we should account Lord Cornwallis’ hotel most vilainous, but in France it is of a superior order.

The nearer we approached the capital the more we felt the effects of the Revolution in the excessive impertinence and familiarity of the very lowest blackguards, and yet it may appear inconsistent to affirm that this description of the “nobility” are under more restraint and much more miserable than under the monarchy. Formerly if a carter obstructed the way, he was liable to immediate imprisonment and a heavy fine; our postilion, as we entering Amiens, desired one of these gentry to move a little so as to let our carriage pass, his request was only answered by a most violent execration, words soon produced blows and to my infinite entertainment ensued, in which the national impetuosity was exquisitely portrayed.


I have this day attended divine service at the Minister’s. All the English people of note were present, Lord and Lady Catrir/Cahir [??], Lord Arthur Somerset, etc. we were all together about 20. After the service I proceeded to deliver my letter to the Citoyen Lespinasse; after ascending a long, dark staircase je me trouvois chez M L. “M.L, est-il chez lui?” “Ah, ici moi” replied a little apology for a man, opening the door of his apartment. “M Jean Goodford, je crois.”

How the little thief was apprised of my name I cannot divine, but had he lived in former times his appearance would have condemned his for a wizard. First, his room was adorned with four chairs, one of which he occupied, the others were covered with pocket handkerchiefs so begrimed with smut and snuff that my English stomach could not digest their toute ensemble. In this state of affairs I must either stand or sit. The Citizen compelled me to the latter without the previous removal of his nuisance. I would never with to be collared with a more effective backboard. The room stunk of a compound of vilainous smells, and I could never have expected to have witnessed such a scene of bestiality appertaining to a French legislator.

Now for himself, but, alas, the least said of him the better; for I cannot do him justice. You will find it necessary that I promise his not having washed his face that day, and his beard being longer than Mr Pester’s when lie comes from a Devonshire journey. After having read the letter and making no apology for his filth, he expressed his readiness and wish to render me any service in his power. In short, I was perfectly satisfied with this part of the visit. After a little more prose I wished him good morning. I shook hands very heartily with the bon Citoyen, in which contact our palms being moist, received some additional particles of dirt. All this I could have excused, and of course thought the ceremony ended; but some demon put it into the little fellow’s head to be so much struck with my appearance, and so willing to cultivate a most intimate familiarity, that he requested the honour of saluting me. This I was obliged to submit to, and I would readily have forgone his assistance and friendship to have dispensed with this most disgusting and horrible proof of it. I believe nothing but the idea of saving my family could induce me again to suffer this penance, my own existence would be too dearly purchased at this rate….Here you both laugh. You like to hear of my misfortunes, “merry little rogues”…

I cannot learn any tidings of Captain St Ledger, to my great sorrow. I have been more successful in my other application.

We dined today chez Mr Luxembourg, a family party only, everything respectable as to equipage etc, but nothing outre. Mary Dorant is there, and so perfectly happy with her present situation that she never thinks of England. He is an excellent man, and though so long in England knows not a word of out language. They are by no means an handsome family, but very pleasant.

I have so often passed the Thuilleris (Bonaparte’s residence) that I know it as well as Buckingham House.

We went this evening to the Comedie Francalse, the first spectacle I have seen. The house is always full before the curtain draws up; a private stage box enabled us to see it in perfection; the description of it must be reserved for our next happy meeting. Suffice it to say, I was highly gratified.

I have also this morning seen the Louvre, in which is the Gallery of Statues (not statutes!). The Venus de Medici has not yet arrived, but I have seen the Apollo Belvedere and the Laocoon, the latter by Mr Dorant’s management, as it is not at present exhibited. The Gallery is too much for coup d’ocill. Make meets. In your respective pocket books of what I reserve for future discussion.

Saturday is, I believe, the next day to Friday. I remember nothing else remarkable on that day, but our going to the Opera Francaise. I assure you that I was more pleased than at our Italian Opera; because the language I may venture to affirm is more familiar to me and the pageantry much more superb. They miss Vestris, who, I understand here, has joined our capering corps. Linee, their best singer, resembles Braham in his manner and execution, but I was surprised to find that in my opinion he is much inferior, which I believe to be universally allowed.


I fancy you will find my former bon mot stale, but I must assure you it is next to Saturday. We attended service at Mr Jackson’s, ourselves and their family only present. To a Frenchman this would convey no favourable idea of our religion. Went after service to the Panoramas, very much inferior to ours, which indeed I expected.

We dined at the Marquis de Lillere’s; a most superb French dinner, two or three removes of made dishes of various kinds. Had I a spare sheet I might for my Mother’s amusement particularise each. A great deal of the finest wine on the table at once, but little drunk, except by one little fat fellow, whom everybody quizzed. He is a gentleman-like man, and she is a very fine woman. They were both very attentive to me. Apropos I wish you joy of my birthday, and many happy returns of it, if there is no plan in agitation.

Went to the Theatre Feydeau. Methodist Goodford!

Mr Perrian, the English banker, has promised to inform me when he arrives. I long to see him. Mr Dorant is too old for a confidant.

I must promise that this is the last sheet you will receive from Paris. I may be at Yeovil sooner than you expect, so set my hack in order.

Every person is free with respect to their religion. The shops are open on Sunday, and this country is under the dominion of unlicensed control and egalite in many respects. They are cautious in mentioning politics. The mais are afraid of trusting each other, and in short, to use Mr Dorant’s expression, there is no honour or truth in the nation. I am most happy that I have witnessed this scene, but nothing in the present state of affairs should tempt me to a permanent residence. Tell Pester, he need not fear the corruption of my aristocratical principles; everything I se or hear teaches me to appreciate the value of my own country, and to detest those who work to bring us on a level with France. I shall be happy to return to England, though enjoying every positive comfort, and esteem myself most fortunate in arriving at this juncture when the market is not so overstocked with English but that they are considered a rarity. Walking is very unpleasant. There is not a footpath for the pedestrians and not a street in Paris is so broad as Jermyn Street. The houses might be well enough, if the bottoms of them were not stained with different colours, in order to give them a gay appearance, which to my eye is most offensive.

You may direct a letter to Jermyn Street immediately on the receipt of this, with instructions for me on my arrival in Town, only desiring it may not be forwarded to Paris, as that would be a very moderate joke.

My best love to Coffee (has she seen Laniard?), Mrs D, and make my proper compliments to Pester. To all enquiring friends say I am well and happy, which is really the case with your affectionate brother,

John Goodford.

Although John Goodford does not name his travelling companion, we may infer who he was from the fact that John’s choice of a confidant was restricted to the elderly Mr Dorant. Mr Pester was a neighbour of the Goodfords at Preston Plucknett, near Yeovil. He had two sons, Henry and Philip, and a daughter, Susan. Henry was to serve in the army in the Peninsula campaign. He is probably identical with Col. Pester, who married the Goodford’s first cousin Elizabeth, eldest daughter of the Rev. William Phelips.

Whether Maria Goodford completed her education at Mrs Morris’ establishment at Weymouth or was sent elsewhere we do not know. Her surviving possessions, her music books, her sketchbook with its delicately painted flowers, her Johnson’s Lives of the Poets in small and beautifully bound volumes, her handwriting small, neat, apparently especially designed to fit as many words to the page as possible, all bear witness to the success with which she had acquired all the elegant accomplishments suitable to a young lady of the time. Doubtless Elizabeth acquired them too —certainly she was a lively and industrious letter writer. They enjoyed riding, though Maria was the more energetic horsewoman of the two, at least in early days, but both sisters seem to have remained of somewhat small stature. John Old Goodford says that his two year old son was nearly as tall as the sister who was seven years his senior, and John describes his sisters as “merry little rogues”. A fragment of a letter from Mrs William Phelips too describes them as “the little ones of Yeovil” when they were quite grown up. Accomplished and educated the two sisters had acquired many friends, and Maria, whether at school or elsewhere, formed a friendship that was to last her life, with Mary Cholmeley, the third of the six daughters of Mr Montague Cholmeley of Easton Hall in Lincolnshire.

Letter 6: Elizabeth Goodford, daughter of J.O. Goodford, to her elder sister Maria, c.1799

Plate 32 Carved achievement of arms on a house in Mudford Road, Yeovil. They show Goodford impaleing Cholmeley (Drawing L.E.J. Brooke)
One consequence of their friendship was the widening of the circle of the Goodford acquaintances, and another was the eventual marriage
of John Goodford to Mary’s younger sister Charlotte. But this event was still many years in the future when Mary Cholmeley came to stay with Maria Goodford at Yeovil, shortly before her marriage to a Scotch gentleman, James Raymond Johnstone of Alva, Stirling, nephew of Sir William Johnstone, Baronet, of Wister Hall, Dumfries. Mrs Goodford seems to have considered this an opportunity to take Elizabeth on her first visit to London, a visit described with much enjoyment in a long letter to her elder sister. This can be dated by her references to Mary Cholmeley’s approaching marriage, which took place on June 20 1799. Elizabeth’s letter refers, as John does, to Mr Dorant. This mysterious individual, possibly a French emigre, seems to have had a remarkable facility for obtaining permission for his friends to visit places of interest not usually open to the public.

Saturday night   

My dear Sister   

The ardent wish I have entertained that you could have partaken with me the many pleasures I have enjoyed, makes me now address you, to give by my description a faint idea of the noble sights of which I have been a spectator. The day after I wrote to you, we procured by Mr Dorant’s interest an admittance to York House. [The Duke of York lived in Whitehall. The description of York House does not correspond with York House, St James’s] As the Duchess seldom resides in Town, the furniture was entirely taken down, but the rooms are magnificent to an extreme and handsomely ornamented. I think it is worthy to be the residence of its illustrious owners.There were only two full length pictures left hanging, which are portraits of the Duke and Duchess, both of them we were assured were extremely like. That of Her Grace does not convey the idea of the little woman we have been taught to expect; and our conductor told us that as everything relating to great personages is caught at with avidity, the size of Her Royal Highness is greatly exaggerated, though she is certainly very diminutive. There were several very fine smaller portraits the Prussian Family, particularly one of the wife of the late King, which is very beautiful; likewise of the famous Prince Ferdinand, Prince Henry and the present King.

After bestowing, as it deserves, great admiration on the noble building, we went to view the beauties of Spencer House, situated in St James’s Place. Here the most enchanting prospect from every window of the best apartments renders the house lively and pleasing. Its views are chiefly in the Green Park, and the rooms are fitted up very prettily. I much wished for you, as we saw some of the finest pictures, I suppose, that England can boast of at present in any private collection. One of Paying the Labourers a penny a day is most wonderfully executed, and another of Diogenes in his tub expresses by every attitude of the figures their meaning and thought.

A disagreeable thing has just happened to the owner of this mansion, as a Mr Smith has built a house and entirely blocked up, not only air, but almost light from some of the windows belonging to Lord Spencer.

We afterwards went to see the house the Duke of Leeds is erecting in St James’s Square, which is now in an unfinished state, but the form of the rooms, which were all that could be seen, was the most inconvenient and mean that I ever beheld. The ground it stands on is large, but is not disposed of to the least advantage and there is not one good room throughout the house. One in particular has no light, but it partially receives from two doors, and yet was it joined to the drawing room it would make that a tolerable size; whereas at present it can be of no use whatever.

Tuesday evening we went to Drury Lane, and there saw The Jew, and My Grandmother. Young Bannister performed in both, and received the applause he so justly merits. Mrs Goodall was the best of the women, but how far short was her acting to that which used to appear at this theatre. The first actors are not yet arrived in Town, but in general they came off very well, as two or three good ones contributed to enliven the rest.

Of the House I shall say nothing; the recollection you must ever have of it will better suit your imagination than any description I can offer. I am convinced it beggars all account, and shall therefore content myself with observing, that its elegance and taste continue to reflect every possible credit on the conductors of such a perfect work. The House was not full, but at this time of year that is hardly to be expected. [Drury Lane Theatre, which was so greatly admired by Elizabeth Goodford in 1799, was burnt down in 1809. Covent Garden Theatre she admired less than Drury Lane. This too was burnt down in 1856.]

On Wednesday morning we went by water from Redriffe to Deptford, where Mr Hawkins, whom you know, took us on board an East Indiaman called the Bombay Castle, and introduced us to the Chief Mate, who was one of his acquaintances. What a sight was this, my dear Sister! I never was in a ship before, and imagine the pleasure I received. The cabin is really a very elegant room, and wants nothing but height to be rendered every way delightful. The vessel was laden with tea, and has been arrived about a fortnight. My Mother was soon intimate with Mr Paice, the Chief Mate, and I assure you, before parting, the mutual tender of civilities made poor Mrs P rather uneasy.

We then went on to Blackheath, and dined there with Mr Batten, and after receiving a hearty welcome we partook of a dinner, which our London and Somersetshire beaux pronounced to be excellent; and indeed this was most fully evinced by their appetites. We slept there, and did not return to London till the next day. Miss Betsy Batten was there to meet us, and enquired particularly for you.

On our return we were most agreeably surprised by a visit from Miss Smith, who dined with us. I need not attempt to describe to you the happiness we received in her company, which was increased by the observance of her excellent health.

Yesterday morning we went to see the two Mr Smiths’ houses near Hyde Park, which you may remember to have seen building. But here I hardly known how to direct my pen to inform you of the style of these elegant mansions. The largest is by far the most delightful and entirely surpasses and eclipses the other. The greatest beauty you can conceive reigns throughout the whole, and modern magnificence unlimited by expense proclaims the taste of the architect in every disposition. The rooms are lofty, well proportioned and airy; the furniture elegant, but not tawdry and everything corresponds most exactly. Large looking glasses, reaching to the ground, reflect in the most tasty manner, and give a double length and effect to the room. There are many fine pictures, particularly some executed in a masterly style by Mrs Smith. I think they would do honour to the pencil of the first artist in England or even Europe. Her taste has been shown by a copy of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ drawing of Mrs Sheridan singing with the angels, which is done, to my idea, as well as the original possibly can be. Many houses I have seen which I make no doubt have been as expensive as this, but this is so truly tasty that it surpasses everything of the kind from the elegant arrangement of the furniture. The views are amazingly fine; in the front the county of Surrey displays an engaging landscape; and in the back apartments Hyde Park answers as an appendage to the house, and has every appearance of being joined as an additional charm to it.

Last night we went to Covent Garden Theatre and saw the Beaux Stratagem and the Poor Soldier. Lewis as Archer was famous, and Munden was a very tolerable Scrub. The rest of the performers, though Mrs Pope played Mrs Sullen, were barely tolerable. Johnson acted with more than usual merit in the character of Patrick, and sung “The Wealthy Fool” very well. Incledon is, I believe, one of your favourite actors, but he looked very ill in Dermot and sung only one song with spirit. The House has undergone a great alteration, but with all that has been done, it is not only more inconvenient, but falls infinitely short of our favourite Drury in decorations, ornament and effect.

This morn I have witnessed a scene unequalled I suppose in England. Carlton House bespeaks the residence of a Prince, and has every grandeur calculated for that purpose. The entrance is noble and conveys the idea of the magnificence to follow. A larger hall leads to a suite of apartments, which in size are handsome and beautifully ornamental. The ceilings are painted in a fine style, and there is not a corner which is not finished with taste. One room is furnished with pictures of the different horses in the Prince’s stud by Stubbs; there is also one of my friend Mrs Hill. Two most beautiful portraits in full length by Sir Joshua Reynolds are said to be the finest he ever executed; and the colours are now as vivid as at first, which you know is not generally the case with his pictures. Three of these rooms are now fitting up, one of them is entirely of the composition marble; the pillars are rather of a pink hue and the other part green. The staircase exceeds any I ever saw. It is spiral, separating in two paths and again meeting.

On descending below the rooms I have mentioned, is another suite. I admired the finest, how then shall I sufficiently express my pleasure at these. The Chinese Room is the most elegant thing you can imagine. The folding doors open to the garden, and render it cool and pleasing. The chimney piece, candlesticks, commodes etc are supported and formed by figures. At the bottom of the room a light China railing separates a sopha reaching the width of the apartment. This and the chairs are made of white satin embroidered. The paper is in panels, and represents different inhabitants of China in different occupations, with trees and plants drawn from those which are the produce of that country. They are painted by some of the first masters, and are very different from the temples and grottoes we meet with so frequently in what is called India paper.

Every door in the house is folding, which renders the approach lofty and suitable. The Tuscan room has magnificence in every part, but still without being heavy, and is in a style so different from the other that they both can shine with equal beauty. Two paintings in pannels are placed on each side of the chimney, and are worthy to be distinguished in this room. They are finely executed, and have a great richness of colouring, representing two views near Rome. The chairs and sophas are of silk worked in colours, and have a beautiful effect. At the upper and lower ends of the room are two noble glasses under a kind of alcove. There are to be two sophas placed there and two under the pictures. The pannels etc are painted in little groups of figures and devices, and look very handsome from the strength of the colours. The ceiling imitates the sky, and looks very airy and pretty. I preferred it to any other.

The dining room is very large, but has nothing very remarkable in the furniture. There are two sorts of chairs, which are very light and calculated for a large party. The back of some was an harp; the others twisted serpents.

Above stairs, the room in which the Prince and Princess are to sleep is very magnificent. The room is hung with blue silk in pannels and is worked in devices. The chairs are the same and have the effect of tapestry. There is a most beautiful commode in Sevres. The flowers on this are really wonderful, nor would I have believed any china could have had such a natural appearance. The glasses in this room are very fine, and their size renders them invaluable.

In the Prince’s bedchamber there is nothing very remarkable; one odd picture of the Mall many years ago, where every dress of that time is shown in every different deportment.

The Library is very neat, and furnished with new leather chairs, which are very easy, and the bookcases are very compact. In the ante-room there is a lovely picture of Mrs Robinson by Gainsborough, full length, and has a sweet and engaging appearance. I observed that in almost every chimney-piece the ornament was one of those French clocks. Indeed in all the houses we have seen , this seems a predominant fashion. Over the staircase is a large skylight, which is now painting, and looks very well. The ornaments of the whole house are in a most elegant style, and every cornice, door and edge is finished with nicety. How much, my dear Sister, did I wish you could have enjoyed this pleasing and magnificent sight, and I assure you everything I saw contributed to heighten my desire of your company.

I shall make no comments on my Mother’s goodness in thus conducing by every means to my pleasure. It is too evident to pass unnoticed, and every praise I can bestow can only serve to lessen it. If I have at all succeeded in giving you an idea of our amusements, believe me, I shall be truly gratified,

For Johnstone of Alva, Stirling, see Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage. John Johnstone, 1734-1795, 5th sone of 3rd Baronet, acquired great distinction and a large fortune in India and greatly contributed to the victory at Plassey, where he commanded the artillery. He bought Alva and other large estates in Scotland and married Elizabeth Caroline, daughter of Col. Keene, by whom he had one son and one daughter. The son, James Raymond Johnstone of Alva, b 1768 — d. 1830, married 1799 Mary Elizabeth, daughter of Montague Cholmeley of Easton, County Lincoln, by whom he had 16 children, 8 sons and 8 daughters. Mrs Johnstone died in 1843. She was the 3rd of the six daughters of Montague Cholmeley, who also had 5 sons, the eldest of whom was created a baronet in 1806. The fourth of Montague Cholmeley’s daughters was Charlotte, who married in 1810 John Goodford of Chilton Cantelo, by whom she had Jane. The sixth daughter of Montague Cholmeley married in 1811 William Martin Forster.

Letter 7: Mary Johnstone to John Goodford’s wife, Charlotte (nee Cholmeley), 1816

Postmark 6.7.1816


Dated Alva 4th July — My dear Mrs Goodford — I fear you have thought me both ungrateful and forgetful not sooner to have acknowledged your very kind memorial of my dear departed friend, but Mrs Forster kept it to enclose in a box she was sending me containing a variety of articles and it has only lately reached my hand. I postponed writing till the [Brig?] should arrive as I thought it would be more satisfactory and I can only say, with my most affectionate thanks, that it is beautiful and every way worthy of the Donor, the executor and the memory of my much lamented Maria. I received it with tears and can truly say that not only this precious memento but almost every object at Alva recalls her continually to my remembrance, but my loss is so trifling compared to yours that I feel I am selfish even in mentioning it to you. I was happy to find Mrs Bridger was with you and beg my best thanks to her for her kind letter and that she will remember me if she is ever quartered in this country as one of her friends who will have much pleasure in showing her any attention in our power. Every account I have heard of your health has been uniformly good and we must adore the mercy of Him who can support at the same time He sees fit to afflict and we know that “all things are in His hands for good to those who love Him”.Mr Johnstone has been much confined for the last six weeks by gout, which has visited him in various parts of his frame, but I trust he will soon be able to resume his usual avocations, as he is now enabled to bear an airing in an open carriage.

I have collected ten of my little one together and expect your Rugby acquaintances, James and John, home in about a fortnight for their summer vacation. I am thankful that I do not look forward to add the thirteenth to my group till their return to school, which leaves me the enjoyment of their society nearly the whole period of the holidays.

Charlotte, I find, expects to present you will a little grandchild about the same time. Your goddaughter is a very independent lively little girl.

Miss Crook still continues with us and took, as you will well believe, a lively interest in your afflicting loss, as did also Miss Erskine of Mar, who was anxious to hear of you.

My thoughts will follow you wherever you will fix, unless you are with Mrs Bridger, whose affection and abilities will leave nothing I am persuaded unsupplied, but I fear there is little to recommend a residence in France at this time, for the accounts we hear are really dreadful.

I think Mrs Campion proposed being at Clifton with her eldest daughter about this time but I hope there has been no necessity for the journey or that she derived all the benefit hoped for. I have not acquainted Caroline with her friend’s illness, which I will thank Mrs Bridger to tell Mrs Campion, if she visits her, as it will account for her silence.

Signed your affectionate and sincere friend

Mary E Johnstone.

Letter 8: Elizabeth Goodford to her aunt, Rhoda Harbin (ne6 Phelips), 1821

The last series of letters are those written by Elizabeth to her mother from Ireland in 1821. Col. Bridger rejoined his regiment in Cork, and moved with it to Dublin, but this part of his military career was a period of friction which led to his leaving the army. Shortly before leaving Clifton Elizabeth wrote to Aunt Harbin at Newton, and it is clear she was not looking forward to the expedition.


Feb 25 [1821]

My dear Aunt

As you desired to hear from me before my departure, I write before the fatigue of the last few days should make me too busy to comply with your wishes. We are to sail on Saturday and should the present wind continue may exspect [Sic] to reach Cork on Monday; but it frequently is a much longer passage; we have hesitated about going over by what the Irish call the “long sea”, but the land journey would be so expensive, & so long on both sides of the water, that we have preferred the passage which lands us nearest to the place of our ultimate destination. Sick, of course, I must be, but we have a comfortable carriage, which will be on deck, and which I shall endeavour to occupy. I endeavour by constant employment to keep myself from dwelling on the thoughts of parting, and to divert my mother’s attention also; she says nothing & appears unconcerned, but that is no proof with her of the inward feeling.I am conscious that added year makes our separation a more decided loss to both parties and I am gratified to think that my brother’s settling at Bath will place him within reach to be service to her, without being too near for their mutual comfort. I should gladly have deferred my journey to a more genial period, but it is right that Colonel Bridger should not go alone to his regiment; new Masters make new rules and as he is a little [touchy?] upon some of the Col’s proceedings and alterations, I should be sorry he should & a wife’s remonstrance can do much. It is exspected [sic] that the Regt will go to Dublin for the ensuing 12 months, and if so, will move soon after our arrival. I wish I could persuade my Mother to come to Dublin, a place she always said she should like. If the King comes over, I suppose it will be very gay. The Col. is quite well in health and has danced in several quadrilles. He came from London a week since. His uncle has fulfilled his kind intentions towards him, and has placed £1,100 in the 3 per cents, he settled all his business, seemed quite satisfied in so doing, and took leave of the Col with less agitation than was expected. I think his constitution is breaking up; he has very painful eruptions, and they are certainly what now keeps him alive.

You will see by the papers I have lost my kind friend Miss Osbaldeston; a loss indeed to me, for she has been very zealous and warm hearted in all our intercourse. I was a good deal shocked too, by the manner in which I learnt of her danger. I called at her door [in Bath] in consequence of expressing a wish to see me, and I came too late….Mrs Pinney is ill, but I believe it is considered a secret. She is staying with Mrs Jeny Ames [?], and certainly ought not to be left. Mrs Jeny has got a comfortable and smart house, but I remarked that most of the trifling nicknacks which used to fill the tables in Harley Place are no longer seen. Her conversation is very quaint and serious, an odd mixture of her old smartness and of the strict phraseology of her new sect. I believe her sincerely convinced and firm in her plans for the future (at present). She is now studying Hebrew, that she may read the scripture in their original purity. She enquired much for Robert, and seems conscious to be of use to him if he settles near any of her friends in Devonshire.

We spent 3 days with the Pinneys last week, who have a large house in Bath and enter into all the Gaieties. A sumptuous dinner, you know, will do wonders at Bath, and besides Fanny Pinney and her cousin Baillieu are very smart attractive girls. The Col. was a subscriber to the United Service Ball, of which you will see a detail in the Papers. We gave the Pinneys two of the tickets, and as they could not get another for Mrs Pinney, I chaperoned the three girls and Miss Speke of Jordans. There was a great opposition to this Ball among some of the old ones, who wanted a dinner instead, but the point was carried with so high a hand that at least 50 guineas was offered for a lady’s ticket. It was called a Fancy Ball, but there were very few costumes either male or female – all the naval and military officers were in uniform who could contrive it. Col. Bridger, I am sorry to say, was in Ireland. There were two rooms for dancing, very crowded, and the great Ballroom was appropriated for supper, which was really a splendid scene; 5 tables the full length of the room, and well lit by chandeliers and amply supplied, the Royal Standard and Union Jack waving over our heads.

Concluding Remarks

These Goodford letters go much further than providing information about the immediate family. They are also useful in respect of the other families to which the GOODFORD were related, notably Phelips and Cholmeley. They are of value as a social commentary on the period and have a wider relevance, to national and international affairs. It is understood that subsequent letters deal with military campaigns, such as the battle of Waterloo, and it is anticipated that Steve Bartlett will be providing transcripts of those for future issues of Chronicle. [Ed]