Saturday, September 12, 2015

A 19th century Check-out Inventory: Lord Chatham and Abington Hall

by Jacqueline Reiter

I moved house rather less than two weeks ago, never a stress-free experience. One of the most stressful aspects of moving is the compiling of the “check-out inventory”. Essentially, the landlord hires a company to go through the house, peer with a magnifying glass at the floors and walls and note where damage has occurred and needs to be “made good”.

Abington Hall around the turn of the 19th century

We have hopefully escaped with our deposit intact, but the same cannot be said for John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham's renting of Abington Hall in Cambridgeshire. Chatham, the elder brother of William Pitt the Younger, had sold all his inherited estates and therefore tended to rent his country retreats. On 15 March 1816 he signed a lease with the banker John Mortlock, undertaking to rent Abington Hall and 40 acres of parkland. The rent was £300 a year for a period of ten years in the first instance (with a 12-month break clause after the first five years).[1]

After his wife died in May 1821, Chatham went out to Gibraltar to take up his appointment as Governor there. He did not return until July 1825, but sublet Abington to William Wellesley-Pole, Lord Maryborough (another famous man's elder brother: his younger sibling was the Duke of Wellington). Maryborough moved into Abington Hall in the autumn of 1821 and, as Chatham had done before him, used it as a hunting retreat.[2]

Abington Hall today (now the headquarters of TWI)

Perhaps Mortlock should have thought twice before renting his house to Chatham. Quite apart from his notoriously straitened finances (I did not manage to discover whether his £300 rent was “well and truly paid or caused to be paid unto the said John Mortlock his Heirs or Assigns” as per the terms of his contract), Chatham had not been the best tenant in the past. According to Earl St Vincent, who moved into Admiralty House in London in 1801, seven years after Chatham had moved out following a six-year stint as First Lord of the Admiralty:

I have every comfort and rooms sufficient for my purpose, insomuch as I mean not to go into the Admiralty House until it has gone through a complete scouring and painting, very much wanted, for the servants of Lord and Lady Chatham were very sluttish...[3]

In the case of Abington Hall, Lord and Lady Chatham suffered a fair few private problems during their tenancy, and it's possible Lady Chatham was frequently unable to exert much control over her servants due to ill-health. It's also possible that Maryborough trashed the joint, and possible, too, that the property stood empty for some time prior to the end of Chatham's ten-year contract. But looking over the two “Surveys of Dilapidations” compiled for Abington Hall in January 1824 and May 1826, Chatham seems not to have lost his habit of taking poor care of his rented houses.

The house was roomy but not especially large, consisting of three storeys: a basement with cellars and a kitchen; the entrance hallway and the grand rooms – a library or study, drawing room, dining room, and breakfast parlour on the ground floor; a first floor with the main bedrooms and the servants' quarters. 

One of Abington's formal rooms

The 1824 dilapidation survey counted nearly 40 rooms, including the kitchen, servants' quarters, scullery, pantry, and “meat larder”.[4] Mostly this survey focused on the physical works that needed to be done to the house, which were extensive. Many rooms suffered from damp, suggesting that Maryborough had moved out some time before. Most of the doors needed their mechanisms oiling and the sashes nearly all needed “easing”. Alarmingly, a number of windows were broken, or even just missing. The housekeeper seems to have made off with all the keys, although only the door to one of the wine cellars was left locked.

Plasterwork throughout needed repairing; the staircase walls needed repapering; the ice house casing “appears decayed, and probably the Ice House itself which must be examined & reinstated accordingly”. The roof needed to be relined with lead; the brickwork (which had been whitewashed by Chatham[5]) needed repointing. 

Abington Hall's whitewashed exterior

Many rooms had cracked marble hearths (no idea what happened... maybe poor quality marble?). The floor in the pillared entrance hallway was “settling” and the “enrichment” of the cornices needed reinstating. 

Some original plasterwork at Abington Hall

All the privies needed their cesspools emptying and a number of the outhouses – the dairy, coachhouse, harness room, and beerhouse, for example – needed new paving and interior flooring.

Two years later, in May 1826, Mr Elliot Smith was hired by Thomas Mortlock to compile a “Statement of Delapidations [sic] in the Furniture &c at Abingdon [sic] Hall … late in the possession of Lord Chatham”.[6] The survey went through each room in the house and offices, noting the condition of the furnishings. The findings were interesting. The chairs seem to have taken the brunt of Chatham's tenancy: ten mahogany chairs needed recovering and nailing together again in the study, along with three more in the dining room, “some painted warm[ing] chairs” in the breakfast parlour, and several more in the bedrooms and servants' quarters. Many fire screens needed recovering, and a number of “rolling sunblinds” had been pulled off their mechanisms.

Some of this damage was due to bad maintenance: the cotton curtains in the “nursery” were described as “quite worn out from neglect” (unsurprisingly, as the Chathams had no children), and a leather sofa in the butler's bedroom was “quite destroyed by moth or Rats”. The bedhangings in the servants' quarters, and their blankets, all had to be replaced wholesale, “having gone much to decay”. The entire “patent cooking apparatus” in the kitchen was ruined and had to be replaced. Chatham's “sluttish” servants from the Admiralty had clearly followed him to Abington.

Not only were the servants “sluttish” – they were also thieving. “Gone” appears as a comment in nearly every room. Fire screens and bellows appear to have been irrestible. A “Wedgwood ink stand” was taken from the study. Five chairs were missing from the nursery, along with the coal scoop and tinderbox. Every bedroom was missing its blue and white basins, ewers and even “chamber [pot]”. A picture of Boston Harbour was taken from the butler's room. Carpeting was taken from several attic bedrooms, along with “1 ½ yards of 4/4 figured floor cloth” in the attic passage. One of the servants was clearly a bird fancier: “six stands and a breeding bird cage” disappeared from the “Dark Room next to Roof of House”. 

The dining room

Anything that looked like it might be brass also disappeared: hooks in the maidservants' room; candlesticks and hearth equipment, teapots, bellows, and bottles of all sizes in the kitchen. Two “japanned spittoons” went missing from the “China Closet”, which seems an odd thing to steal (perhaps Chatham didn't like the pattern and threw them out?). In the basement, ironing boards went missing from the scullery and laundry room, along with an assortment of odd items: a copper hand bowl; a coal scoop; seven tin saucepans; a warming pot; a dripping pan stand and pair of tongs; and two shelves.

Outside the story wasn't much better. “Dig, clean and cultivate the whole of the Garden Ground which is in a bad state & entirely without Cupping, also prune & train the present Trees and plant new ones when wanted,” the survey noted, adding: “There has [sic] been 5 men doing this near a month”.

Part of Abington's walled garden, near the house

In his favour, Chatham had had some work done to the house, particularly to the stables – he was a keen rider – and this was deducted from the final bill. Smith and his assistant Thomas Cockett calculated, overall, that Lord Chatham owed £109 15s 6d for everything that had been done to (and removed from) the house during his ten-year tenancy.

It doesn't seem like much, but given the yearly rent was £300 it was a sizeable enough sum. I wonder whether the Mortlocks would have agreed to rent to Chatham again!

Below is a list of the main rooms and outbuildings listed by the two Dilapidations Surveys. Now the headquarters of The Welding Institute (TWI), Abington's ground floor retains many of its original features, but the bedrooms and attic quarters have been converted into open-plan offices and changed beyond recognition.

Ground Floor:

Housekeeper's room and store room


Drawing room

Dining Room

Breakfast Parlour

“Billiard Room”

Hall and Principal Staircase

Attic rooms (bedrooms):

Recessed room (and dressing room)

Checked Bedroom


Butler's room

Men and maidservants' rooms

Housekeeper's bedroom

“Miss Mortlock's Room”

Striped Bedroom

Chintz Bedroom and dressing room

Green Recessed Bedroom

“Mr Mortlock's Bedroom”

“Mr William Mortlock's Bedroom”

South Angle bedroom

North Angle bedroom

Three further bedrooms


Coal Cellar and two wine vaults and a beer cellar

Larder and Meat Larder




Housemaid's room


Laundry and Mangle Room

Servants' Hall

China Closet

Butler's Pantry

“Shoe House”




Coachhouse, chaise-house and stables, with separate harness room, “nag stable”, and straw house


Cowhouse, pigsties and henouses (complete with “turkies” and “fowls” [sic])

Dog kennels

Keeper's House


Many thanks to Lee Pretlove and Hazel Jackson of TWI for showing me around Abington Hall in July 2014.

[1] The lease is in the Mortlock Papers at Cambridgeshire Record Office (many thanks to the staff for unearthing it for me): ref 509/T158

[2] Lord Maryborough to Lord Chatham, 6 September 1822, National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/368 f 17

[3] Letters of Lord St Vincent I (Naval Records Society Vol LV), 376: St Vincent to his sister, 16 Feb 1801

[4] “Survey of Dilapidations committed on the Mansion House, Offices, Buildings & Premises at Abington, Cambridge, on lease from Jno. Mortlock Esq. deceased to Jno. Earl of Chatham, Surveyed January 1824”: Cambridgeshire Record Office 296/B29

[5] David Brown, “Heritage Assessment of effects on the historic landscape associated with Abington Hall”, July 2010, paragraph 2.12

[6] Cambridgeshire Record Office, 296/B60 ff 46-56


Jacqueline Reiter has a Phd in 18th century political history. She is currently working on the first ever biography of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, due to be released by Pen & Sword Books in September 2016. When she finds time she blogs about her historical discoveries at, and can be found on Twitter as

1 comment:

  1. Remember what the celebrities on the late Twen Cen did to rentals. I think of several rock groups and Roseanne Barr. This was a fun post.


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