Church Monuments Society

hastings geo fernando grave 96


Month: September 2022
Type: Ledgerstone  
Era: 18th Century

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Westminster Abbey
Deans Yard, London

More about this monument

Monument to two sons of the Hastings family who died while the family was living in Downing Street – and whose funeral may have been attended by John and Charles Wesley.

In the north transept of Westminster Abbey is the grave of George and Ferdinando Hastings, two of the sons of the 9th Earl of Huntingdon. Usually members of the Hastings family were buried in the family vaults in St Helen’s Church in Ashby de la Zouch. However, the two boys died of smallpox. The family were living in Downing Street at the time (where they were neighbours of Sir Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister) so the boys were buried in London.

The gravestone (fig. 1) is made of black marble and consists of a coat of arms together with an inscription: “Here lie Interr’d the Bodies of the Hon GEORGE and FERDINANDO HASTINGS Second and third Sons of THEOPHILUS and SELINA Earl and Countess of Huntingdon FERDINANDO 3rd Son Born Jan 23rd 1732/3 departed this life April 21st 1743 in the 11th year of his Age And GEORGE 2nd Son Born March 29th 1730 died Dec 20th 1743 in the 14th year of his Age”.

It is not known who the stonemason was but it may have been Joseph Pickford whose workshop was at Stone Bridge, Hyde Park Corner. When the 9th Earl died in 1746, his monument was designed by the architect, William Kent, and constructed by Joseph Pickford. Kent and Pickford worked extensively together. The Earl and Countess had known William Kent for some years, having rented a house in Saville Row from him at one time.

The bill for George’s funeral has survived and it includes the following: “Paid for a Large Marble Stone on Which is Cutt the Inscription of his Lord’s two Sons and a Large Coatt of Armes, and Expenses in Removeing other Stones and Laying itt Down….24 : 00 : 0”. This is equivalent to over £4,000 at current prices.

The funeral bill also contains the following items (fig. 2):

“For 2 Rich Silk Scarves for the Rev. Dr. Westleys………………………………………………..02 : 08 : 0

For 2 Pr of Loopt Shamey Gloves and 2 alamode hatbands for Ditto……………………01 : 05 : 0”

Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon, was a close friend of John and Charles Wesley at this time. Could they be the Rev. Dr. Westleys referred to in the bill? In his Journal for 19th December 1743 Charles Wesley recorded that “I was mostly employed for some days past in comforting an afflicted friend, whose son lay dying of smallpox”. Charles does not name the friend but since George died the following day it must have been Selina that he was writing about.

The deaths prompted the family to inoculate their other children against smallpox. On 16th January the Earl’s brother-in-law, Granville Wheler, wrote about “the happy progress of inoculation in Downing Street”. He also commented: “Oh that nine months ago we could have had the same sentiments and the same resolution!” Inoculation was a cruder process than vaccination. Lady Francis Hastings, the Earl’s sister, told him on 18th January that: “It seems several were inoculated last Spring at Burton, and I never heard of any there dying under the operation”.

Lady Francis was also concerned by what she saw as another risk to life. In a letter of 28th January to the Earl she said: “Sister Anne and brother Wheler every night hazards getting their death by gazing at the comet”. This was the Great Comet of 1744. It was one of the brightest comets ever recorded and was visible to the naked eye for several months.

Ian Scruton