Little Boston House

Little Boston Yields Its Secrets

Pigot's 1839 directory

One of the most fascinating aspects to be revealed in 'Little Ealing a walk through history' was that John Quincy Adams, a future American president, lived in Little Ealing for a short period in the early 19th century. Whilst Adams was American minister to Britain from 1815 to 1817, he and his family lived at Little Boston, a house that was situated on the northern corner of the Ride and Windmill Road on the borders of Brentford and Ealing.

Little Boston House at that time formed part of the lands of Boston Manor which were owned by the Clitherow family from 1670 until the 1920s. It appears on the John Rocque map of 1746 (the first detailed map of the area) and on subsequent parish and ordnance survey maps until the 1920s. From 1923 the Clitherow family had begun to sell off the manor estates; Boston Manor house and the immediate parkland was sold to Brentford Council, what is now part of Blondin Park was sold to Ealing Council and other parts of the estate were sold to private developers for housing development. From what we had learnt from older residents and word of mouth, Little Boston house had been acquired at this time by a builder called Jackman who subsequently demolished the house and built the present houses in Windmill Road on the site. One of these, 236 Windmill Road on the corner of the Ride appears to be on the site of the 'old' Little Boston House and is itself called Little Boston.
Little Boston drawingLittle Boston drawing
Old Little Boston House remained something of a mystery to us. There were only two photos we were able to locate, both at Ealing Local History Library, and which were included in the book. These were a very faded small photo of the house in the distance from Windmill Road which we would thought would have been taken in the 1920s and a photo of the Brentford 'Beating of the Bounds' of about 1900 on the corner of the Ride where the side of the house is just visible in the background. The fact that the house was on the boundaries of the old parishes and then boroughs of Ealing and Brentford and from time to time was in each made research into who lived there difficult.

Obviously Little Boston House was a significant house in relation to the Boston Manor estate. The Ride (or Colonel's Drive as it was also known – after Colonel Clitherow) was, until the 1920s, a private road and would have been the original driveway up to Boston Manor House from Ealing. Early 20th century photos show the Ride still with a gate across the entrance from Windmill Road. From its position therefore, one might deduce Little Boston was a lodge house for the estate. However the house seemed too large and in fact there was a smaller house called Boston Lodge on the opposite side of the Ride. Boston Lodge appears to have been built in the mid-19 th century and survived until the 1970s (latterly as a Territorial Army headquarters) when it was demolished for the building of Gunnersbury Roman Catholic Boys School.

The occupancy of Little Boston in the early 19th century led us to conclude that Little Boston was probably used as the 'dower house' for Boston Manor. A dower house (which derives from the old custom of the marriage dowry) was typically made available to the widow of the lord of the manor when the eldest son inherited the manor house. However in practice it would probably have been occupied by any relative who was in some way dependent upon the lord of the manor. In the early 19th century it was mainly occupied by Lady Seymour who was a sister of the fourth James Clitherow, lord of Boston manor from 1805 to 1841. When it was not required for members of the family it would be rented out, as was the case with John Quincy Adams.

John Quincy Adams at Little Boston House

John Quincy Adams, age 49, 1816 by Charles Robert Leslie

Just after the publication of 'Little Ealing' we were fortunate to have passed on to us extracts from Adams' diaries and correspondence which are held at the Library of Congress in Washington DC. These paint a detailed and charming picture of Adams' life at Little Boston.

John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) was the son of John Adams who was the second president of the USA from 1797 to 1801. He was destined for a life in politics accompanying his father on envoys to St Petersburg and Paris and was successively Minister to the Hague, London, Lisbon and Berlin. He was elected to the Senate in 1803 and became President from 1825 to 1828. As a member of the House of Representatives from 1830 he was a leading exponent of anti slavery legislation [in the 1997 film 'Amistad' about the historic American slave ship rebellion Anthony Hopkins features in a cameo role as Quincy Adams].

On one of his earlier visits to London Adams had met and married Louisa Johnson at All Hallows church by the Tower of London. Louisa was English though her father was the then American representative to London. After their marriage she accompanied Adams on all his travels. She sounds an equally remarkable woman, on one occasion she travelled alone with her three young sons for forty days across Europe in the latter stages of the Napoleonic wars to join Adams in Paris.

Adams, his wife and their sons moved from Cavendish Square, London to Little Boston in August 1815. Packing and loading two carts and a wagon with their baggage, furniture and wines took a whole day. The servants accompanied this convoy to Ealing which then returned to pick up the Adams family in the evening – the journey time out to Ealing taking about an hour. Little Boston house was described in his diary by Adams:

The house we have taken is not large but neat and elegant and fitted up with all that minute attention to comfort which is so characteristic of English domestic life'. We have a coach house and stable, dairy, fruit and kitchen garden. After breakfast we walked in the garden and before dinner I rode out to enquire for a school for our sons

Louisa Adams herself wrote to in equally glowing terms to her mother -in-law in America remarking upon the coincidence of the name of the house - when they had earlier lived in Boston Massachusetts.

We have at length procured at a village called Ealing about seven miles from London; the situation is beautiful, the house comfortable and the distance from the City supportable… the name of the house is highly appropriate …we are within an hour's ride of Kew, Richmond, Twickenham and Harrow and a variety of other beautiful places and the situation is said to be perfectly healthy.

John and Louisa were determined that their sons should have the benefit of as good an education as possible. The eldest, George Washington, was tutored privately by his father for entry to university and Adams appears to have been a hard taskmaster….

I roused George this morning at six and we began upon the course of studies which he is to pursue under my own direction. He read three chapters in the French Bible, while I had the Latin Bible to follow him as he read; after which we changed books and I read three chapters of the French while he held the Latin book to compare it - I propose to pursue the same course every morning – I began at the place I was in the course of my own reading. At the 44th chapter of Jeremiah I gave him also Gibbon's Journal of his reading to make translations of it into French

As regards the younger sons, John and Charles, the Adams' were perhaps fortunate that less than a mile away was Great Ealing School, a private boys' school, which then under the Rev. Dr. Nicholas was reputed to be comparable to Harrow school. The school was situated in the former rectory of St Mary's parish church where Ranelagh Road is today. Charles aged 8 wrote to his grandfather John Adams, full of breathless boyish enthusiasm, that:

There are 275 boys in the school of which I know 140 … it is the fashion in Ealing for ladies to ride on donkeys which is the genteel name for asses.

The Adams became friends with the Nicholas family, dining with them regularly and through them were introduced into Ealing society.

We all dined at Dr Nicholas's. The company at dinner consisted of the doctor's eldest daughter and two eldest sons and several ladies and gentlemen of the neighbourhood… Our entertainment was the most elegant and sumptuous of any that I have been at in England. After dinner the ladies retired and the Gentlemen sat upwards of an hour longer. On returning to the parlour we found there Dr Nicholas's three younger daughters. There were cards and one whist party was made. Mrs Copland and the eldest Miss Nicholas played upon the piano and the harp and sung very well. Dr Nicholas' two sons had been shooting partridges since four o'clock this morning. The season for shooting begins this day…'

Through his tenancy of Little Boston House Quincy Adams had the benefit of a pew at the parish church of St Mary's in Ealing village. This seemed to be another introduction for the Adams' family into Ealing society:

This morning the Colonel (Clitherow) sent us word that there was a pew at the Church for the use of the house and another for the servants if we should think proper to use them. We accordingly went to the Church at Ealing. The Church Service was read by an old clergyman, Dr Carr the father of Colonel Carr who married Mrs Perceval… The Church was well filled and Dr Nicholas with his school constituted a considerable part of the auditory…The beadle who was clad in a showy scarlet gold lace livery showed us to the pew where we found two of Colonel Clitherow's officers. There was however room enough for us all.

Mrs Perceval was the widow of Spencer Perceval the English prime minister who had been assassinated in the House of Commons only three years earlier in 1812. At the time of Perceval's death he and his family were living at Elm Grove a large mansion on the south side of Ealing Common. Ealing in the first quarter of the 19 th century is quite remarkable for the number of then famous people who were living there. Besides an English prime minister and a future American president, Prince Louis Philipe the future king of France had taught at Great Ealing School and would have almost certainly known General Dumouriez the French counter revolutionary who in exile and living at Rochester House in Little Ealing. Sir John Soane, the leading architect of the day, had rebuilt Pitzhanger Manor as his country home and lived there until 1810. Prince Edward the Duke of Kent was living at Castle Hill Lodge on Castlebar Hill from 1801 to 1816 prior to the birth of his daughter in 1819 who was later to become Queen Victoria.

Adams only lived in Little Ealing for two years but it seems likely he would have met many of these people. The diaries in August 1815 record:

I paid a visit to General Dumouriez who is almost my next-door-neighbour

We all went to church and heard a charity sermon preached by a Dr Crane before the the Duke of Kent for the benefit of the charity school in the parish of Ealing

Adams did a lot of walking in the vicinity. One evening before dinner he and George walked to Brentford Fair.

We saw one of the shows, a double jointed ox, between two and three feet high, a sheep with five legs, an armadillo, a jackal, and a baboon. We also stopped and saw people through a magic lantern, the showman of which announced it was a view of the burning of the city of Washington, by General Ross. He said there was not a house in that city but was in flames. And his next show was the battle of Waterloo, where he said the British army had lost thirteen thousand wounded.

Whilst we were listening to him in the crowd I felt a hand making a plunge at my coat pocket and was in time to prevent it getting in – this was another kind of British hostility from which it was expedient to remove and we returned home. The fair is confined within the limits of the market square and is frequented only by children and the rabble. It continues three days.

Brentford Fair was not Adams' only experience of crime and poverty in the locality whilst on his walks.

The day was fine and I walked to Ealing, Acton Gunnersbury and Brentford. In the lane from Gunnersbury down to the Brentford road I saw a man, decently dressed, lying stretched by the side of the road, his face downwards and apparently asleep or dead. There was on the adjoining field a man trimming a hedge of whom I enquired whether he knew anything of this person. He said he found him lying there, had attempted to get him up but could not get him to speak. I asked him if the man was in liquor. He did not know. I requested him to come and repeat the attempt to get him up.

I then spoke to him and he answered; said he was not in liquor but had a bad leg; had walked from near Windsor going to Lambeth to try and get into the hospital for which he had a certificate from the physician. He had found himself faint and laid down there. I asked him if he was in want. He said he had eaten nothing for two days. By this time two other persons had come up. I gave him a shilling and advised him to stop at the public house at Turnham Green and take some nourishment. The number of these wretched objects that I meet in my daily walks is distressing. Many of them beg. They are often insolent and sometimes exhibit figures that seemed prepared for anything.

It is not a month since a man was found dead, lying in a field by the side of the road between Dumouriez's house and Dr Goodenough's. Not a day passes but we have beggars come to the house, each with a hideous tale of misery. The extreme of opulence and of want are more remarkable and more constantly obvious in this country than in any other that I ever saw.

It is apparent from Quincy Adams' diaries that he and his family were very happy at Little Boston and that there was seems to have been a certain sadness when they left. His diary entry of 28 April 1817 records:

We finally removed this day from Little Boston House, otherwise called 'Nightingale Hall' at Little Ealing where we have resided since the first of August 1815…. I have seldom, perhaps never, in the course of my life resided more comfortably than at the house which we now quit and which I shall probably never see again.

Present Day Developments

Being able to advertise the book on the Ealing Fields Residents Association website yielded many interesting enquiries including people researching their family history. Most astonishing was a lady from Ottawa in Canada, Sue Bellefeuille, who contacted us on behalf of her mother, Joan, to tell us that Joan had lived in Little Boston as a child.

Joan Bellefeuille, now in her eighties, was the daughter of Charles Jackman the builder who had bought Little Boston and developed the site for the present day housing. As the following extracts demonstrate Joan has a remarkable memory of her childhood at Little Boston. She was able to confirm that Little Boston House must have been demolished in about 1930, whereupon her family had moved into the newly built 'Little Boston' (no. 236 Windmill Road). She was brought up in Ealing and attended St Anne's Convent School and Ealing Art School (what is now T.V.U. in St Mary's Road). She met her husband, a Canadian, in the air force during the war and they married in 1943 before moving and settling in Canada in 1946.

Joan Bellefeuille writes:

My memories are those of a child living there. The house had three floors and a basement. The top floor was like an attic and was used as servants' quarters. The second floor had many bedrooms and one very large room which was the ballroom with large windows each of which had a small iron balcony overlooking the garden. Downstairs there was a living room, dining room, morning room and drawing room. The large kitchen was in the basement, also a good sized wine cellar. The kitchen had a big old black stove, large cupboards and an old granite sink with a wooden plate rack over it.

Since this was to be a temporary home for us, we only used the rooms necessary for comfort. The attic and kitchen were not used and a makeshift kitchen was made in the morning room. My two brothers, who were ten and twelve years older than I, swore they could hear footsteps up in the attic at night and were scared that it was a ghost.

A view of the back of Little Boston House, c 19xx.  Provided by Joan Bellefeuille.A view of the back of Little Boston House, c 19xx. Provided by Joan Bellefeuille. Conservatory at Little Boston HouseConservatory at Little Boston House

The grounds around the house were quite extensive stretching from the Ride along Windmill Road to the sports field and going down the Ride to Boston Manor Road. To one side of the house was a cottage and a carriage house, probably for a groom and gardener. At the back of the house was a large conservatory which produced a beautiful white rose every Christmas. The rest of the garden was much neglected and overgrown but there were the remains of a walled garden used for growing vegetables and fruit. It was fascinating because the fruit trees had been trained with their branches tied to the wall so that the sun could heat the brick and so hasten the ripening of the fruit. In this way even peaches were grown. There were many trees in the garden, one cedar of note was reputed to be 500 years old.

Little Boston House conservatory, c 1927/1928.Little Boston House conservatory, c 1927/1928. Cedar tree at the back of Little Boston House.

I loved the old house and was very sad when it was pulled down. The row of houses that my father built did not have a name, but were built in two blocks of 4 or 5 along Windmill Road starting from no. 244 and ending at no. 260 where there was a passageway leading to the sports ground (today still a sports ground now belonging Durston House school). Later he built a new 'Little Boston' on the site of the old one (number 236) and we lived in it for about 9 years. He also built another six single houses in the grounds; no.238 next to the 'new' Little Boston then no's 240,242 and 242A set back along a passageway behind Windmill Road and two more in the Ride.

Boston Garden Tennis Club 1912.Boston Garden Tennis Club 1912.

Joan was able to explain the strange configuration of the site with no's 240, 242 and 242A set back on a cul de sac from Windmill Road. Initially Charles Jackman had built tennis courts here on what was the garden of Little Boston House which were used by the Boston Gardens Tennis Club. In the late 1930s the three houses were built over the tennis courts (to which a fourth no. was added in the 1990s).It had been Charles Jackman's intention to build houses on the grounds for all his children when they grew up, but the house intended for the youngest Joan and her husband on a spare site in the Ride ran into planning difficulties with Brentford Council – hence their ultimate decision to move to Canada.

CW Jackman Builder & Contractor plaqueCW Jackman Builder & Contractor plaque

Joan Bellefeuille's memories prompted a particular interest from the Langley family now living in Elers Road Ealing. The Langleys had lived at 240 Windmill Road (one of the set of houses set back from the road) until 1992 and had known Joan's late brother Ron who had lived at no.242. Ron had told them that his father Charles had moved into no.240 in his retirement so it was no surprise when they found a Jackman builders sign in the garden.

The garden bench from Little Boston HouseThe garden bench from Little Boston House

They also inherited an old garden bench which moved with them to Elers Road. What was a surprise was to discover that this was the self same bench which Joan Bellefeulle was sitting on in the photo of the garden of Little Boston over 70 years ago – Joan was delighted that the old family bench had given such sterling service over the years.

The discoveries didn't end there. A casual search through unidentified pictures at Ealing Local History Library produced a copy of a picture which, when compared to the only surviving photo looked remarkably like the frontage of Little Boston. The picture had no date and being itself a copy it was difficult to say whether it was a drawing or a painting. The picture was duly sent on to Joan Bellefeuille in Canada as she was probably the only person now who could confirm that this was Little Boston.

Previously unidentified picture of Little Boston HousePreviously unidentified picture of Little Boston House

Joan was delighted with the discovery and able to confirm that this was indeed Little Boston House remembering the line of the roof, the situation of the chimneys and the eloquent front windows. She recalled that the roof was made of lead and that her father was very pleased about this as it meant he would gain a substantial amount of money for this when it was sold! Joan was doubly pleased to see the picture as she had no illustration of the front of the house and it immediately became a cherished family heirloom.

As to the source and date of the picture Joan was unable to shed any light. However she did remember the house had many trees surrounding it when she had lived there, so it would seem the landscape around the house had changed very little from when the picture was executed until her family came to live there.

Little Boston Census Records

1861 census

Transcribed from the Middlesex 1861 Census CD published by
Archive CD Books

  Marr Age Sex Birthplace Relation to head Occupation
Robert S Evans M 50 M Lambeth, Surrey Head Clerk Admiralty & P.S. for Westminster
Elizabeth Selina Evans M 41 F Clerkenwell, Middlesex Wife
Frances Evans U 21 F Kensington Daur
Robert Henry Evans U 17 F Kensington Son Student Kings College
Elizabeth E ? U 20 F Feltham Neice
Henrietta Downman U 21 F South Wales, Carmarthen Visitor
William Thomas Evans U 17 M Lambeth Nephew Civil Service clerk
Amelia Stocken U 22 F Fulham Servant Housemaid
Elizabeth Evans U 27 F Hayes Servant Cook

1871 census

Transcribed from the Middlesex 1871 Census CD published by
Archive CD Books

  Marr Age Sex Birthplace Relation to head Occupation
Henrietta Cotton W 55 F Northampton, Daventry Head Landowner
Alice Harrington   26 F Cambridge, Hildenshaw Daur
Lydia Harris U 21 F Essex, Havestock Servant Housemaid
Martha Johnson M 26 F   Servant Cook
Eliza Harris U 23 F Essex, Havestock Servant Ladys maid
William Johnson M 31 M Sussex Servant Coachman
Mary Richardson U 17 F W England Servant Housemaid

1881 census

  Marr Age Sex Birthplace Relation to head Occupation
W.Douglas Philips M 54 M St Marylebone, Middlesex, England Head Retired Officer Of The Army
Geraldine Philips M 42 F Wiltshire, England Wife
Geraldine Philips   12 F Luton, Bedford, England Daur Scholar
Henrietta Philips   9 F St Georges Hanover Sq, Middlesex, England Daur Scholar
Agnes Philips   5 F Little Ealing, Middlesex, England Daur
Augusta Philips   4 F Little Ealing, Middlesex, England Daur
Gerald Philips   3 M Little Ealing, Middlesex, England Son
Mildred Philips   2 m F Little Ealing, Middlesex, England Daur
Flore Roupelle M 53 F Dunkerque, France Servant Nurse Dom Servant
Kate Eacott U 37 F Compton, Berkshire, England Servant Cook
Ellen Clark U 17 F Blackmore, Essex, England Servant Nursemaid
Arthur Sheppard   14 M Wiltshire, England Servant Gen Servant Dom