Select Pelham Miscellany

Here are some Pelham stories and accounts over the years:

John Pelham in Search of a Wife

John Pelham may have come from humble origins in Sussex.  But he was a pushy type.  In 1376 he was brought to trial for an alleged trespass on the land of a royal clerk at Brede and for assaulting a carpenter. 

However, he
had some friends in high places which helped his subsequent rise to public prominence.  His relations in Cambridgeshire provided one source of support, the influential de Vere family.  He also had the patronage of Henry of Bolingbroke who was to become King Henry IV in 1399.

In 1387 Pelham laid siege by night to the house of Sir John Shardelowe
at Fulbourn in Cambridgeshire and gained entry by placing ladders against the walls.  Once inside he abducted Shardelowe’s step-daughter and son’s widow Margaret.  He subsequently married his captive.  She was the principal heir of the estates of her late father, Sir Roger Grey, which came under his possession.

His action was seen as a crime.  But he was able to obtain a royal pardon for this crime in 1389 two years later, thanks to the intercession of Henry of Bolingbroke

The Pelhams and Stanmer House

Thomas Pelham it was, cousin to two British Prime Ministers, who built the new Pelham home at Stanmer House in the 1720’s, having succeeded his elder brother Henry to the family estates.  Thomas had been apprenticed at a young age to a Turkish merchant in Constantinople, from which he got the nickname Turk.

But Thomas did not meet with his cousins’ approval.  They complained of his drunkenness and "imprudent and extravagant" talk when at his cups.  Thomas in fact died in 1737 at the young age of 32 from the effects of alcoholism. 

The house was built of sandstone quarried in the Weald.  Much of the interior decoration of the house was carried out by Thomas's son Thomas who was created the Earl of Chichester.  Both he and his son were skilled in forestry and it was through their initiative that the woods at Stanmer had been so well planted. 

The Pelhams lived at Stanmer House until 1926 when the 6th and 7th Earls died of flu within a few days of each other.

The Pelham Mausoleum

In 1763 at the age of 14, Charles Pelham, having inherited Brocklesby Park, was already extremely rich.  He met his future wife, Sophia Aufrere, during a Grand Tour of the continent while still in his teens.

Though beautiful, Sophia had little fortune of her own and was not considered a suitable match by his friends at home.   Despite this, however, Charles and Sophia were married as soon as he came of age, she being only seventeen at the time.  When she died some sixteen years later, Charles, by then the 1st Baron Yarborough, built the mausoleum to contain her remains.  

The Pelham mausoleum, completed in 1787, was based on that of the Temples of Vesta at Rome and Tivoli. Twelve Doric columns, standing on the plinth formed by the rusticated burial chamber, encircle the upper chamber and support the cornice and balustraded copper dome.  Inside is a statue of Sophia by Joseph Nollekens.  

The memorial also houses fitting memorials to his forbears, starting with Sir William Pelham, a former Lord Deputy of Ireland who died in 1587.  There are also monuments to Francis Anderson, Charles’s father, and to Charles Pelham, his great-uncle from whom he had inherited Brocklesby Park

The Fire at Herbert Pelham's House

In 1641, in the middle of a bitterly cold New England December night, Herbert Pelham’s house in Cambridge almost burned down and his 8 year old daughter Penelope narrowly avoided death.

The dramatic incident was described by Massachusetts Bay Governor John Winthrop in his journal:

Mr. Pelham’s house in Cambridge took fire in the dead of the night by the chimney.  A neighbor’s wife hearing some noise among her hens, persuaded her husband to arise, which, being very cold, he was loath to do, yet through her great urging and pestering he did, and so espied the fire, and came running in his shirt, and had much to do to awake anybody, but he got them up at last, and so saved all.  The fire being ready to lay hold upon the stairs, they had all been burnt in their chambers, if God had not by his special providence sent help at that very instant."

The Gallant Pelham

John Pelham, a young West Point-trained artillery officer in the Confederate Army, was buried in Jacksonville, Alabama, on March 31, 1863.  Pelham, who had been killed two weeks earlier at the Battle of Kelly’s Ford, a relatively minor engagement in Virginia, had been promising and widely respected.

None less than Robert E. Lee had remarked, after observing Pelham’s skills at the Battle of Fredericksburg, where he used two small cannons to disrupt the entire federal formation for almost an hour: “It is glorious to see such courage in one so young.” 

The hagiography began almost immediately.  

According to The Richmond Sentinel, Pelham’s body was placed in a metal coffin and lay in state at the Capitol.  The mourning public poured in to see the man people quickly came to call “the Gallant Pelham.”  

The honors continued after Pelham’s body returned to Alabama.  A lavish funeral, planned by the city leaders, was held at the First Baptist church, after which a procession followed the funeral the few blocks south to the city cemetery.  Nor was he later forgotten.  In 1873 a monument was placed over his grave and in 1905 the Daughters of the Confederacy erected a marble statue on the site, which still stands today.  
Pelham was far from the only promising young officer to die in the war. But the outpouring of collective and official grief over his death, which only seemed to grow louder in subsequent years, underlines how thoroughly Pelham’s memory became a part of the Lost Cause narrative.  

Born in 1838, Pelham grew up in northeast Alabama, in and around Jacksonville and Alexandria.  His father, Dr. Atkinson Pelham, was an Alabama planter with several hundred acres who owned four slaves at John’s birth.  At the time of the Emancipation Proclamation, Dr. Pelham owned 25 to 30.  When John Pelham died, he owned a trunk, a sabre, two servants, and two horses.

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