|The Life and Death of Ealing Prime Minister Spencer Perceval|
New exhibition at Gunnersbury Park Museum
Spencer Perceval was the only Ealing resident to become Prime Minister (in 1809) and the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated (in 1812).
During his three years in office he had to deal with the war against Napoleon, the increasing madness of King George III and the Luddite riots against the spread of factory machinery. He was shot on the afternoon of Monday May 11th 1812, just as he was entering the House of Commons. His assassin, John Bellingham, had a general grudge against the government, rather than with Perceval himself.
This exhibition tells the story of his life and career, his assassination and the building of his memorial Church, All Saints, on land that once belonged to Gunnersbury Park.
Here you will find relics from Perceval’s official life including original letters, parchment documents of appointment and the red despatch box that he was carrying when he was shot, but there is also fascinating material from his private life.
It was in 1808, after 20 pregnancies and 12 surviving children, that his wife Jane encouraged Perceval to buy a bigger house in the “country quiet” of Ealing Common. The exhibition shows watercolours of their 36 acre estate at Elm Grove, which looked down to the Thames and the Surrey hills. Their family life is reflected in a handwritten prayer which Spencer and Jane composed when their first-born baby son was very ill. Thankfully, he recovered and the exhibition also includes a letter which Spencer Perceval wrote to him when he was at Harrow School, recommending that he concentrate on his studies and play less football. The most touching item is Perceval’s actual death mask, made by well-known sculptor, Joseph Nollekens, and used as the basis of all the official portraits.
Ealing residents will be particularly interested in how the Perceval family have left their mark on Ealing. Four of Perceval’s daughters lived for many years at Pitzhanger Manor and are responsible for the Victorian extension to this John Soane house. All Saints Church, in Elm Grove Road, was built by Perceval’s youngest daughter as a memorial to her father. (She was only seven when he died.) Walpole Park is named after Spencer Walpole, Perceval’s son-in-law, while Ealing’s civic centre is called Perceval House.
With thanks to Vanda Foster, Curator
The exhibition is at Gunnersbury Park Museum, Gunnersbury Park, W3 8LQ
October 11, 2009