Extract from Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge’s London Travel Diary

Sunshine & showers—April weather in February. Have received letters from home—one from my dear Randolph.

Sunday I accompanied Mrs Bates to the Cemetery on the Harrow road, called I believe Kensall Green. It is a pleasant morning drive from the West End, is well situated and commands a fine view. Except that it wants that air of seclusion which one likes in a place of tombs, and which it would be hopeless to look for within five miles of London, this spot seems well adapted to it’s purpose. At present however, it looks too new. The trees are but lately planted and have no height or size beyond mere shrubs, but the turf is green and fresh, the gravel roads & paths smooth and dry and, even at this early season, the crocus & snowdrop are blooming within the small enclosures which surround some of the monuments. This new Cemetery is already well peopled and three funerals, one of a child, arrived whilst we were there. Many of the monuments are simple, & there are rows of headstones, flat tomb-stones, urns, small obelisks & the like. But others stand aloof from their humble fellows & look purse-proud & ostentatious. Two of the most presumptuous of these exclusive tombs, as elaborate as bad taste can make them, are, first, the family monument of the Ducrows, (Circus riders I believe they are or were) in the Egyptian style, guarded by an immense Sphynx on each side of the door—second, a tomb erected in honour of a Quack doctor whose murders became so manifold as to attract attention and create scandal. A Grecian temple encloses, as in a cage, a statue of Hygeia with a serpent in her hands, whilst an inscription on a pedestal below entreats that the stranger who respects the repose of the dead, will read without comment the name of John St John Long. Such tombs as these are in the style & taste of the villas which one sees in the neighbourhood of London. The Cockney whether from the City or the West End, the Ostro or the Visigoth, builds a villa for his living body near the high road, & another for his dead body in some conspicuous Cemetery.

Here, at Kensall Green, lie the remains of the only son of Mr Bates, killed in a shooting party by the accidental going off of a gun. The Monument is an obelisk of white marble on a square pedestal, simple and with a simple inscription. I am very sorry that I did not know until after I had left the place, that Mrs Lockhart, the daughter of Walter Scott, lies buried here. I should surely have sought for her tomb.

When Mrs Bates & myself left the Cemetery we took our way home through Hyde Park, which begins to fill even as early as February when a fine days calls out the Butterflies.

Count D’Orsay was making himself conspicuous by his dress and equipage, as he does whenever and wherever he shews himself. It was nearly five when I reached home, and I had then to dress & dine and be at Christ’s Hospital by half past six. It was one of the days when the Blue Coat boys eat in public, and we had tickets of admittance to the Governor’s seats. We went accordingly, Mr Coolidge & myself, taking Jefferson with us, and calling for Mr Adam. My interest in the Blue Coat boys was first excited by Lamb’s writings, and the appearance of these miniature monks as they walk the streets, with a grave air, in the dress of the sixteenth Century, is well calculated to awaken curiousity in a stranger.Through the kindness of a most kind family, that of Mr William Vaughan, from whom we have received numerous civilities, we were, after some hinderance from the crowd, inducted into good seats, from which we had a view of the fine old Hall, and of the boys in their long blue gowns, open in front & shewing what looked like a yellow petticoat beneath.

The ceremonies began with a lesson from the New Testament read (from a pulpit placed at one side,) by one of the elder boys; next came prayers & a hymn. The boys, except those who were in the Organ Gallery just opposite to us, were seated with their backs turned to the long tables covered with clean cloths, at which they afterwards supped. The religious services being over, they took their seats at table and we descended to get a clearer view of their operations. Each boy had a large piece of white bread with a small pat of nice-looking butter upon it. There were little wooden pails filled with water or small beer from which they drank as they pleased. A comfortable meal eaten in a comfortable manner. The tables were lighted by candles placed at intervals, whilst a number of chandeliers hung from the ceiling & being lighted up, when seen from the street, through the great Gothic windows, produced the effect of an illumination. Supper being over the boys stood whilst an anthem was sung, and then began the procession and the salute given to the Lord Mayor. This dignitary in his scarlet robe, with his mace-bearer in attendance, occupied a large seat just below the Gallery, whither we had returned & from whence we enjoyed a full view of his person and that of Lord Morpeth who sat at his right hand. In front of the Mayor’s chair, inlaid in the floor, was a long narrow plate of brass to mark the line beyond which it was not necessary for the boys to pass. They came up in procession, two and two, and having “toed the brass line” made profound bows to the Mayor, approaching & wheeling off in couples, except a few who advanced singly. These were large boys with baskets on their backs, or small ones with candles in their hands; for I should have said that as soon as supper was over, the tables were cleared, the table-cloths rolled up, the knives, forks &c put into large baskets, the candlesticks brought together, and all these things taken up by a certain number of boys appointed to the service of carrying them from the Hall. Thus the procession advanced, first several couples empty-handed, then a single large boy with one of the great baskets on his back which rather interfered with the gracefulness of his bow, then boys in couples carrying table cloths, trenchers &c, then a small boy with a candlestick & candle in each hand, next one of the matrons in attendance upon the boys, afterwards a renewal of the same order, until the seven or eight hundred boys with baskets, table-cloths, trenchers, wooden pails, candlesticks &c &c &c, had all made their bows and filed off marching with their burdens out of the room. His Worship the Mayor made a slight inclination of his head to each pair or single boy as they advanced & retired. More of a bow could scarcely be expected when we remember that it was to be repeated upwards of four hundred times. I should have had the rheumatism in my neck for a week after such an infliction. It was altogether a curious & interesting scene. There was the grand old Hall with it’s Gothic ceiling & a row of immense windows on one side, whilst the other was adorned by a picture of mammoth proportions, the largest piece of painted canvas I have ever seen, but what the subject of the painting was, I could not make out, as the great size of the Hall rendered it gloomy in spite of the many lights. I saw heads & bodies & limbs confusedly, looking liking a painted procession, but nothing distinctly. Within the Hall I had seen from seven to eight hundred boys clothed in a peculiar but not unpicturesque dress, decent in their appearance, orderly in their manners, sober in their movements, evidently under close discipline, but with no external evidence of undue strictness in that discipline, apparently well-fed, and as the New Englanders say, “well cared for.” These boys are mostly the children of respectable parents, many of them sons of clergymen. This charitable institution dates from the time of Edward 6th, and still receives munificent donations from private liberality. It has a sort of branch school in Hertfordshire, making the whole number of individuals who receive the benefits of a very thorough education, from a thousand to eleven hundred. They are taught good Greek, Latin & Mathematics, & have sent forth such men as Charles Lamb & Samuel Taylor Coleridge. What antiquated notions the majority may imbibe, what ideas of the 16th Century, I do not know, but it is a noble charity and carries a most imposing face. We did not get home until nine o’clock.—I must say that I thought Lord Morpeth ugly, awkward & most unaristocratic in his appearance.

MS (MHi: Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge Diary, Ms N-1027); in Coolidge’s hand. Published in Thomas Jefferson’s Granddaughter in Queen Victoria’s England: The Travel Diary of Ellen Wayles Coolidge, 1838–1839, Ann Lucas Birle and Lisa A. Francavilla, eds. (2011), 258–63.