Harriot’s Letters

Harriot Dench letters to William Pamplin 1792-1801

 Provenance and Explanation of how these letters came into my possession here.

Harriot’s biography

She was born in Walthamstow on May 9th 1774, daughter of Sarah (nee Perry) and John Dench. She was baptised at St Mary Walthamstow on the 1st June 1774. Harriot had one elder sister born 1769. A brother, born in 1772 had died before Harriot was born. Another brother, Robert, referred to in her letters is not traceable in records.

William and Harriot were married on the 23rd February 1801. They kept a nursery in Chelsea from that time until the development of Chelsea (then a village) into London forced their move. The pineapple on the business card, now in the Garden Museum shows that theirs is a very high class and fashionable establishment.

William and Harriot had five children: Harriet (1803-1875); Sarah (1804-1873); William (1806-1899); Frances (1808-1892) and Robert (1811-?) Their son William became a noted botanical bookseller, printer and publisher. See here.

William (elder) notified his customers of his move to Lavender Hill when building in Chelsea took over the land on which his nursery was situated:

A sad end to Harriot’s story

About two years ago I discovered two records from the Bethlehem Hospital regarding Harriot:


Harriet Pamplin Admitted June 26 183*

Atts/ A Married Woman  (See curable patients books)

Left this Hospital on the 10th October 1834 & has been at Mr.Bradbury’s Earls Court * latterly. At present in a very excited state occasionally refuses her food and obliged to be fed with the Stomach Pump.

1837 Aug. 9th Died of Exhaustion after great cerebral Excitement and the refusal of food. The lady was not examined Anatomically,           Alexr. Morrison

* Earls Court House  Harriot’s family did the best they could for her – this establishment was private and very highly esteemed in its time.



Mrs Bradbury’s Establishment at Old Brompton for the recovery of ladies labouring under affections of the mind with plan and Illustrations




On her sad death, her husband and a relative Charles Batten were recorded in the Bethlehem Hospital’s records:



Here we see the entry in the Bethlehem Hospital for Harriet’s death. She must have returned there from Mrs. Bradbury’s establishment at Earls Court House.




The Letters

We first encounter Harriot in her letters to William Pamplin (1768-1844) The letters commence in September 1792 when Harriot was eighteen and William 24. William, who had been born in Walthamstow had by this time been appointed garden designer to the Welsh Ironmaster Richard Crawshay at Cyfarthfa in Merthyr Tydfil, where Harriot writes to him. All the letters are on one sheet of paper, folder with the address written on the outer fold, and sealed with wax. Some letters are slightly damaged by the breaking of he wax.

Each letter is briefly summarised, and a link is given to the full text.

The first letter, September 1792 – damaged and repaired at an unknown time. Perhaps William carried it about with him. Subsequent letters are in better condition.

  1.  1792 September 11 Not clear how long WP has been in Wales. HD seems to feel upset that WP thinks she has affection for another man over him?
  1. 1793 February 21  ‘your Master’ [Richard Crawshay] in London to renew his lease, WP intends to remain in his employ

Explanation of HD having met a man and danced with him, but feels aggrieved WP suspects her and asks him to tell her who told him of this.

  1. 1795 Jan 8th   Assures him of her continuing affection. Only hears rarely from him. Is comforted by the friendship of his sisters and of his own family.

‘Since your departure from Walthamstow I have never enjoyed anything that might truly be called pleasure except in hearing (from you which has not been very often)’

  1. 1795 July 28th  Once again William had hoped to be free to visit Walthamstow, but is not able to do so. [it is not clear to the editor whether this is because of the harshness of WP’s employer Richard Crawshay, or a decision by WP. However, Crawshay did have the reputation of being a very hard taskmaster, and WP was obviously very fond of HD as he kept her letters.]

HD has seen WP’s sisters and brother. Her own sister, Elizabeth, has been ill. A Mr Sutton, obviously an employee of Crawshay’s in Wales has been in London. HD is disappointed that he has not visited and has returned to Wales. [It appears to be nearly 3 years since WP and HD have been together.]

5 1796 Jan 28th   WP’s last letter has been a great pleasure. She wishes to know more about Wales. Mr Smith (you must [recall?] the old gentleman) frequently jokes me on your account. He says after a Residence of nearly four years he thinks it impossible you can have kept your Heart secure from the charming inhabitants of Wales.

Local news and comment. Some very infrequent news of national significance from HD: We have had Nine of the Hertford Militia Quartered at our House this two months we thought they would have stopped till the summer but they marched this morng. a very glad summons for us; it was said by the Officers they were sent for to be near Town for fear of any Disturbance arising.

She hopes to hear from him soon.

6.1796 April 12th HD and her brother Robert had visited WP’s father. Robert recovering from an accident (with boiling glue!) but hoped to visit WP in Wales. Comments on WP’s descriptions of Welsh landmarks. Local news. She hopes to hear from him. 

  1. 1797 Jan 6th HD had hoped WP would be able to visit. Not so. Local and family news. 

8 1798 March 17th  A couple of intriguing references to events which must have been discussed in the missing letters from William:

‘ The kind answer you made to my last letter was formed (had it being necessary) to have removed any disagreeable impressions that might yet have remained from the recent Misunderstanding that has existed between us.’   [I assume there are letters missing between this and the last. Ed.]

His sister Frances had been married in December. [Married Robert Vale on 23rd Jan 1798 at St Botolph’s Bishopsgate]

‘ I was much surprised to find you had spent so disagreeable a Christmas and of the change about to take place in your family. Hope you my Dr. Friend are not concerned in the quarrel that you wrote off [sic] however, be that as it may, you will most certainly be a welcome visitor at Walthamstow should your determination still continue of leaving Wales’

Account of a dance she has attended. She obviously hopes WP will indeed leave Wales.

[It is now six years at least since WP left London for Cyfarthfa, and I can’t see any evidence that they have met during this time. ‘Misunderstandings’ can only be expected! Ed.]

  1. 1798 August 24th  HD (and brother – see next letter Ed. ) preparing to go to Wales the following Tuesday. Hopes WP will meet them from the Stage(coach)
  1. 1798 Sept. 14th  HD writes to say that they are back in Walthamstow. ‘ After the painful sensation of parting we saw the boat and you on the opposite shore.’

They had visited Bristol and Bath on the return journey. Apoogises for her brother Robert’s conduct [unexpained, Ed. I have not been able to trace Robert Dench, brother to Harriot through any family tree website]

Local and family news.

11 1799 Jan 15th   Upset she has not heard from him. Complains of her brother Robert on the visit they made in Sept 1798 -‘ He was so ill tempered that I really had much reason to wish I had not undertaken the journey with him. ‘

Terms of her father’s will (John Dench had died in December 1798, Ed.)

HD and WP’s father and aunt had spent Christmas with his relatives in Welwyn (Batten family) – ‘ The day after Christmas day we had a dance about 12 couples most of them strangers but very agreeable.   Y’r Father danced all the evening.  [The fact that HD had spent Christmas with WP’s relatives suggests a fairly formal expectation of their eventually marrying]

12 1799 May 12th  ‘ Your letter … gave me real concern. If Thomas has a proper sense of the trouble and Expense he has brought on the best of Brothers, he must be very wretched’.   It would appear that WP’s brother Thomas (1779-1801), and perhaps also his brother John (1783-1804) were working at Cyfathfa with William. HD sends love to them both as she signs of the letter.

It is not clear what has happened to Thomas, but William has obviously had to bail him out:  ‘ I am well convinced how very hard it must be to give up such a sum from the Earnings of Industry to so base an artifice as that which has been practised on Yr. Brother.’  She is concerned for his health and spirits.

  1. 1799 August 26th  It seems that WP is hoping to visit Walthamstow. HD lives in hope. Good and bad news of WP’s brothers:  ‘To hear of your Good Health, the settlement of Thomas’s affairs and the prosperity of Yr. Friend are likewise among the greatest satisfactions I can know, but they were almost lost in hearing of the differences between you and John, it was from a Quarter where I least expected such a complaint,’

News of military mustering etc. nearby. (One of only a few mentions of events outside the family circle)

‘ Robert is just the same, no Prospect of an Alteration for the Better, I fear. ‘

‘ I hope if we are to have this pleasure, you will indulge your Friend with a much longer visit than the last and that you will be freed from the anxiety of coming unbeknown to Mr. Crawshay.‘ [Interesting on two counts – when had he visited previously, and why in secret? Ed.]

  1. 1799 Oct 30th  ‘Yours of October 13 I fear left me almost convinced that we have little reason to hope for the pleasure of seeing you this winter at Walthamstow.‘ [Oh dear, poor Harriot]

Her brother Robert sustained a very serious accident. ‘I hope and trust this serious accident will have a good effect to deter my Brother from drinking to excess and staying out late at night.’    

  1. 1799 Dec 30th  HD thanks WP for Christmas gifts ‘ I fear you have been at much trouble and Expense to procure those things you have sent me, for which be assured I feel myself very much obliged to you. I think them all very Handsome, particularly the Inkstand.’

Here we come to an interesting passage: ‘The drawings I must acknowledge I am sorry to lose, had I been fortunate enough to have received I should have prized them very much, as it is I can only wonder how a man of Mr. Crawshay’s rank in Life can behave so unlike a Gentleman.’

I believe the drawings HD refers to are those by WP now at the Cyfarthfa Castle Museum at Merthyr Tydfil see here.   I believe that they were drawn for Harriot. In discussion with archivists at Cyfarthfa, we surmised that Crawshay had forbidden their gift to HD for reasons of possible industrial espionage. The accurate drawing of the Cyfarthfa water wheel is the only detailed record of its design now available, and the drawing much prized for that reason.

The drawings must have finally reached the Pamplin family (my best guess is that William took them with him when he left Cyfarthfa in 1800) as they were in the possession of William and Harriot’s great grandson, the Revd. Henry Ruddy, who returned them to the National Archives in the 1930’s, and thence they made their way back to the Cyfarthfa Museum where they now hang prominently.

Once again it seems that William will not be coming to Walthamstow. The strain of long parting is beginning to tell on Harriot: ‘you wished your Father to meet you at Bristol where you was coming on Business for two or three days and at this Your Mother and Myself were Hurt as we thought if you came to Bristol a day more [hole from seal] you to London but Yours of Dec 2 altered our Idea of [hole from seal] I hope you will have the Goodness to write to me soon.’

  1. 1800 Feb 4th.  It would appear that in a letter of 19th January, William had proposed marriage. HD’s response appears to be affirmative but couched in labyrinthine terms worthy of Jane Austen: ‘I should wrong you in supposing that thought you have of settling in Life was the result of hasty Judgement though to me I confess it was rather unexpected, You ask an early answer and it would appear strangely capricious in me to remain silent longer to the serious application, which I think of as the demand of Virtuous Affection; having had no cause to retract the good Impressions which in the earliest days of Friendship I had conceived of you, but on the contrary feeling that Esteem increase, I have held myself as religiously engaged to you as if I had confirmed it with my Lips and the Idea would still remain in my Heart whether the confirmation was remote or near.’

It appears that WP’s brother Tom is still a concern. (he is still in Wales) ‘I was extreamely sorry to hear such an account of Thomas and think he must have done something very wrong.’

  1. 1800 April 16th  Thinking about their future together: ‘I am perfectly convinced of what you observe in your letter that settling in Life calls for the most serious consideration in both parties, and I hope you will do me a justice to believe, I can never think of all treat the subject in question otherwise. You have kindly removed those thoughts that I confess have been sometimes unpleasant respecting the wish I imagined you had to settle in Wales. ‘
  1. 1800 June 20th  Where will the couple settle? HD is concerned that it will be too far from London: ‘The frequent mention you have made of your intention to settle near London has prevented me from entertaining a thought to the contrary, and I found myself equally concerned and surprised at the change which has taken place in your determination.’
  1. 1800 December 19th   (Addressed, for the first time, to Mr. William Pamplin Thos. Tyndalls Esqr Bristol) It is not clear when WP left Richard Crawshay’s employment.

Had he once again failed to come to Walthamstow?         ‘Your promise was made in that earnest kind of way which creates dependence, and it would be an untruth were I had to say I felt no concern you did not keep it. As nothing particular appears to have prevented you, it occasioned much alarm to your Friends, they with myself began to think you were unwell.’

Obviously there is a house identified for their future together: ‘the house when you wrote to me not being furnished, will take some time and I hope you will have the Goodness not to hurry me too much in an affair, which I feel is of so much consequence to us both. I am glad to hear the house is a good one, will you inform me if Linen is allowed for its use. ‘

Family news. WP’s brother Tom still causing concern.

  1. 1800 December 26th  Getting down to details about their marital home: ‘respecting the Furniture you propose to buy I can have no Objection to. The Bed it will be necessary to have someone with you who understands buying, unless you can depend on those who sell, as there is great deception in things of this kind. I did not imagine you would have other Linen than Sheets from the House. My Mother will give me a pair of Good ones and Blankets which I think will be as much as we shall want for the present as she has them by Her. ‘

Negotiations about the wedding date: ‘The time you have fixed for coming to London is indeed too soon, I thought about the latter end of February, be assured it was not my wish to propose a time which will Inconvenience you but Hope it will be in yr Power to grant this Particular request.’


  1. 1801 Jan 17th. Quite a tense situation as they make final preparations for their marriage at a distance from one another: ‘The request in my last was, that if the time I proposed there, was any material difference to you I should wish an answer by return of Post. As you did not write I suppose it would not interfere with any Business which you were engaged in. Excuse me therefore from consenting to your coming sooner than the last week in February.’

‘Your last was so much in the note style from its shortness that I fear I am already losing my old Correspondent.’

A brief letter.

  1. 1801 Jan 19th ( 2 days after the last)

She has been ill with a cold. Much ado about a bed: ‘Our friends all think it will be most advisable to buy a Bed at Bristol as a good one in London will make the price you have mentioned,’

WP has suggested she comes to Bristol before the marriage date (perhaps to buy the bed?) but she feels it is too close to the marriage date which is still not completely fixed ‘ soon as you like in the last week of Feby.

Knowing she does not wish to marry at Walthamstow, her aunt suggests they marry at her church) ‘we might as well be asked in Church at her Parish as at this time licenses are so very expensive. ‘   The universal problem of relatives interfering in wedding plans!

  1. 1801 Jan 30th Telling the aunt her wedding plan not accepted: ‘ [Your Father] and my Brother went the next day to my aunt Chamberlain. I believe they met with no Difficulty in the Business respecting the Parish. I believe my Aunt has prepared for that as she has had it in Idea some time, only I never could bring myself to name it to you.’

She has really been ill: ‘I breakfasted below stairs the first time this morning as I have been so extremely weak that I could not bear the noise.’

Continuing strain about the plans: ‘I should be very sorry if I thought you could not stop a week when you do come as remember you proposed the Time Yourself and as I found it would be of no use to complain reconciled myself to it but you will now give me fresh cause if you don’t keep Yr Word with me. ‘

  1. 1801 Feb 13th  It seems that WP is planning only a short stop in London for the marriage, then returning to Bristol without HD: ‘I was extremely sorry to find by yours of February 5th that you think to set off for Bristol so soon in the week as Thursday. Hope you will be able without much Inconvenience to make it Friday. Our Friends all think as the time will be so very short it will be better for me to meet you in Ranelagh Street the day you propose coming to London. I imagine you have not a wish to ask any one but your Father who with Robert could come to London early Monday morning.’

Still trouble about the bed! ‘The Bed I think you had better buy at Bristol. Hope you will be careful to have it well aired before you sleep on it. ‘

  1. 1801 October 9th – and they have been married 8 months!

[From King’s Road (Chelsea) where William Pamplin set up his Nursery. Letter addressed by Harriott to Mr. Wm. Pamplin, Thomas Tyndalls Esqu Bristol. This is written 8 months after their marriage]

Thomas in Bristol (perhaps concluding his work for Mr. Tyndall) Harriot reports on progress at their nursery: ‘Lenny has housed all the Green House plants. He is very steady and indeed very obliging to us.

Peace has been declared: ‘The Messenger brought up confirmation of peace this day about eleven (the Bells are now ringing and Guns firing) and the Populace dragged him through the Town without Horses.’

‘Tho unfortunate in selling out our Money, I hope Peace will be productive of Great Good to us on entering into Business.’