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'Old Sarum, The Pitts and their Diamond' - REVIEW


Stratford sub Castle Guild 14 February 2024


David Richards is a local historian and a Blue Badge Guide for Salisbury. He has led tours of Salisbury and surrounding areas for many years. His experience was revealed by the clarity and skill which he displayed speaking to us this evening.


The name Pitt is well known in history in the form of Pitt the Elder and Pitt the Younger. They were both Prime Ministers in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. However,

this talk was about Thomas Pitt, grandfather of The Elder. It was Thomas who made the money in the first place to finance the education of his descendants, the two prime ministers.

He was born in Blandford St Mary where his father was the Rector. His mother had nine children, five of whom survived. A woman had more than her fair share of misery in those days.


He signed on the Lancaster, a merchant ship, presumably by coming across it by chance at Poole, that being the nearest port. This took him to Madras and Calcutta where he jumped

ship and then worked for a man called Matthew Vincent who dealt in Spices, Gems and Tea as well as fabrics including Chintz. He married the boss’s niece, Jane Innes. There was a

son, Robert.


Mawarden Court

In 1710 he returned to England, famous, respected and extraordinarily rich. He bought Mawarden Court. He became MP for Old Sarum, a rotten borough. In the 1720s four members of the Pitt family were in the same parliament. He was immensely rich and bought several more wonderful houses.


In a third attempt to make a fortune he went back to India. In those days there were two companies trading as East Indian. He was appointed Governor of Fort St George enabling him to amalgamate the two as ‘The East India Company’ an immense trading company. Local attempts to acquire this company resulted in negotiations which ‘kept India for England’.


At this stage he acquired a 410 carat uncut diamond. The asking price for this was £100,000 but by protracted negotiations he reduced this to £25,000. This was recut to make a jewel of 141 carats. The offcuts were sold to Peter the Great. It took fifteen

years to sell the jewel eventually to the Regent of France in 1717, to be in the possession of Marie Antionette. It is now in the Louvre.


We know the name Pitt in Stratford sub Castle because Thomas Pitt was responsible for rebuilding part of the St Lawrence Church Tower and the carving of the reredos. He

made sure that his name would be familiar for ever by having it inscribed on the tower in 1711 “Thomas Pitt Esq, Benefactor”. Modesty was not his strongest point. He also paid for the carved coat of arms and the Communion Plate.


The talk ended with resounding approval. And the Chairman expressed the thanks of the audience.


Charles Villiers


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Ed: During the evening an image of an 1805 painting of Mawarden Court was shown to the audience. There is more information here:






 






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