John Quincy Adams at Little Boston House

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."