On Tuesday April 22, 1823 the then-elderly third Earl of Clarendon penned a letter on his thick cream-coloured writing paper from The Grove in Watford.

The watermark ‘J. Whatman’ reveals stationery that was also used by Napoleon on St. Helena, Queen Victoria for her personal correspondence, the Duke of Wellington for many of his dispatches and George Washington for his state documents.

But, perhaps surprisingly, the Earl was not writing to someone in high office. It was more likely to have been to an estate worker; one who had been involved in an accident. The letter reads:


"I this day, received your obliging letter. I am sure that if my little attentions would, in any degree, be acceptable, I have only to wish that they had been more substantial.

"I hardly knew how I would shew [sic] the interest which I sincerely felt in your very serious accident; endeavouring to spare you, at the same time, the trouble of frequent inquiries. I heard of you frequently from Mr. Ward, and occasionally called myself at your door.

Watford Observer: The Earl’s letter. Part of the notable watermark is visible in the top left-hand corner

"I sincerely hope that your recovery will be without interruption.

"I am, Sir, with every good wish,

"Yours sincerely, Clarendon"

Watford Observer: The Earl’s letter. Part of the notable watermark is visible in the top left-hand corner

What particularly struck me about the letter was the genuine and ongoing concern shown by the Earl to the unfortunate recipient, whose name is unknown. The reference to a ‘Mr. Ward’ provides a possible clue to the name of the injured party’s manager, but the only Mr. Ward (Fred) I have found so far with working connections to The Grove was a gardener in the early 20th Century. Who knows, perhaps several generations of the Ward family were retained on the estate throughout the years. I am also aware of a serious accident at The Grove of uncertain date, in which the miller’s arm became trapped by the mill wheel but, after nearly 200 years, it is not easy to put two and two together in terms of records of estate workers. But the sheer fact that the man retained the letter is an indication of its meaning to him.

Watford Observer: John Charles Villiers, 3rd Earl of Clarendon.  Credit: St. John’s College, University of Cambridge

The writer of the letter was the once ‘flaxen haired’ John Charles Villiers, who was born in 1757. He was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1779 and elected to Parliament in 1784 where he earned a reputation for recounting lengthy stories. In 1791 he married his first cousin, Maria Forbes. A staunch supporter of William Pitt the Younger, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer and the youngest Prime Minister in history, the two were related.

John Charles Villiers held high office in the government for some years before he was appointed as Colonel in the Army in 1794 during the rise of the French Republic. In later years he became Envoy to the Court of Portugal and wrote of his experiences in Diplomatic Struggles: British Support in Spain and Portugal 1800-1810. He also wrote Chaubert or The Misanthrope, a tragic drama.

Watford Observer: The Grove, 1906

When his father, the first Earl, died the title passed to his older brother, Thomas. But Thomas died in 1824 without an heir and John became the 3rd Earl of Clarendon, also succeeding his brother as Count of the Kingdom of Prussia. He entered the House of Lords in 1825.

The Earl spent the latter part of his life out of the public eye, undertaking charitable and religious work. He died in Deal, Kent in 1838 and is buried in Watford. His only child, Lady Mary Villiers, did not marry and predeceased her father by three years. John Charles Villiers was succeeded by his nephew, George Villiers, who became the fourth Earl of Clarendon.

After the final departure of the Clarendons from The Grove, the grand house and estate had a variety of uses: a horticultural school; a health centre and hotel; a girls’ boarding school; an insurance office; and LMS Railway Company offices, marking an evacuation from Euston during World War II. The Grove is now a 5-star luxury resort and golf club.

Watford Observer: Grove Mill in the background, 1908

Reverting back to the thick cream-coloured writing paper on which the third Earl wrote his letter, you may be interested to learn that if you had been a guest at The Grove in the late 19th Century, you would have found a supply of the select watermarked stationery in the grand living rooms, as well as in your bedroom. The only difference was that a later Earl’s crest and The Grove address appeared in blue on the top left- and right-hand corners.

  • Lesley Dunlop is the daughter of the late Ted Parrish, a well-known local historian and documentary filmmaker. He wrote 96 nostalgic articles for the ‘Evening Post-Echo’ in 1982-83 which have since been published in ‘Echoes of Old Watford, Bushey & Oxhey’, available at www.pastdayspublishing.com and Bushey Museum. Lesley is currently working on ‘Two Lives, Two World Wars’, a companion volume that explores her father’s and grandfather’s lives and war experiences, in which Watford, Bushey and Oxhey’s history will take to the stage once again.