GLADSTONE, William Ewart (1809–1898), PITT, William, 1st Earl of Chatham (1708–1778) & STANLEY, Edward Geoffrey, Earl of Derby (1799–1869)
Plaque erected in 1910 by London County Council at 10 St James’s Square, St James’s, London, SW1Y 4LE, City of Westminster
Politics and Administration
Here lived Three Prime Ministers WILLIAM PITT Earl of Chatham 1708-1778 Edward Geoffrey Stanley EARL OF DERBY 1799-1869 William Ewart GLADSTONE 1809-1898
This unusual oversize plaque commemorates three Prime Ministers – William Pitt the Elder, Edward Stanley and William Ewart Gladstone – all renowned in their time as powerful public speakers.
Number 10 St James’s Square – now home to Chatham House, a think tank on international affairs – was built in 1735–6 to the designs of the architect Henry Flitcroft for Sir William Heathcote, whose family owned it until 1890. The principal period feature of its interior is a fine full-height staircase, which the three Prime Ministers would undoubtedly recognise.
The plaque was put up while the house was lived in by Arthur, Lord Kinnaird (1847–1923) – a notable early footballer and football administrator. His wife Alma, Lady Kinnaird (d. 1923), remarked upon the plaque’s ‘very ugly bright blue colour’. London’s air has certainly toned it down since. Because of the long inscription and large size, its wreathed border is actually a set of surrounding curved tiles.
Pitt the Elder
William Pitt the Elder – created Earl of Chatham in 1766 – occupied the house from 1759 until late 1761. His title was then Secretary of State for the Southern Department, the equivalent of Home Secretary. He was, however, in effective charge of the government, though his spell as Prime Minister came later (1768–88).
Pitt, an impressive orator who had come to prominence as an opponent of Sir Robert Walpole, pursued an aggressive and expansionist foreign policy. He turned around British fortunes in the Seven Years’ War, and secured a series of military victories over France, which was driven from Canada, India and much of the West Indies.
Pitt was therefore an important figure in the development of the British Empire, and was once celebrated for this. More recently this view has been modified by an awareness that Britain’s imperial project – like those of other European countries – involved the exploitation of both the natural resources and the people of the global south.
Edward Geoffrey Smith Stanley, who succeeded his father as 14th Earl of Derby in 1851, served three times as Prime Minister (1852, 1858–9 and 1866–8). He is remembered for the Second Reform Act (1867), which extended the right to vote to many working men. Much earlier in his career, as Colonial Under-Secretary in Earl Grey’s Whig-led government, he piloted the legislation that abolished slavery across British dominions in 1833.
Stanley eventually became the long-serving leader of the Conservatives, and had already crossed to that party’s benches when he took up residence in St James’s Square in late 1837. He was appointed Colonial Secretary in 1841 by Sir Robert Peel. In 1852 – having opposed Peel on repeal of the Corn Laws – he formed, but was unable to maintain, his first ministry. Derby left the address in about 1854, moving to 23 (now 33) St James’s Square, which was his London home until the time of his death.
Derby’s oratory was admired in 1832 by a young Tory MP named William Gladstone at around the time he made his own maiden speech – in defence of the West Indian slave economy, on which his family’s fortune relied.
Having crossed the floor of the House of Commons in the opposite direction to Derby, Gladstone served four times as a Liberal Prime Minister, becoming identified with free trade and reforming measures such as promotion on merit rather than connections in the military and the civil service. Other plaques to him in Carlton Terrace and Marylebone mark London homes of his earlier life.
Gladstone occupied 10 St James’s Square during the parliamentary session of 1890, towards the end of his political career. At that point he was leader of the opposition, and particularly active in promoting self-government for Ireland. He went on to serve his fourth, and final, term as Prime Minister in 1892–4.
After a 60-year political career, the ‘G.O.M.’ (Grand Old Man) finally stepped down at the age of 84 years and 63 days, which makes him still the country’s oldest ever premier. Many members of his cabinet wept at their final meeting.
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‘Pitt, William (1708–78), of Hayes, Kent’, The History of Parliament (accessed 24 Feb 2021)
A Hawkins, ‘Stanley, Edward George Geoffrey Smith, fourteenth earl of Derby’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2009) (subscription required: accessed 24 Feb 2021)
‘Edward Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby’, Oxford Reference (accessed 24 Feb 2021)
‘Smith Stanley, Edward George Geoffrey (1799–1869)’, The History of Parliament (accessed 24 Feb 2021)
HCG Matthew, ‘Gladstone, William Ewart’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2011) (subscription required: accessed 24 Feb 2021)
‘WE Gladstone’, Oxford Reference (accessed 24 Feb 2021)