We are inundated this year with anniversaries, jubilees, centenaries, bicentenaries and a large international sports festival. It’s a shame that some are in danger of being overlooked. One such, perhaps, is the assassination of Spencer Perceval (1762 – 1812) on 11 May 1812, our only Prime Minister to suffer this fate. Perceval was shot at point blank range in the lobby of Parliament by one John Bellingham, a merchant suffering hard times. Bellingham was arrested, tried and despatched at the Newgate gallows inside seven days, no messing.
The life, death and career of Perceval is well enough documented. I’m mainly interested in him because he has an important local connection. Perceval owned a town house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Like his neighbour Sir John Soane, he bought a property in Ealing in 1808, the year before he became Prime Minister. Elm Grove and its grounds cost £12,000. After his demise, Perceval’s wife Jane, and then his son continued at Elm Grove until the mid 19C. The house was eventually demolished and the site redeveloped, partially by the Rothschilds of Gunnersbury Park. Then, at the dawn of the 20th Century, Perceval’s youngest daughter Frederica left provisions in her will for a church and tower to be built on the site of Elm Grove, All Saints, Ealing.
All Saints has important Perceval artefacts, some of which are on show this week. They are hosting a talk tomorrow evening by local historian Jonathan Oates: The Life and Times of Spencer Perceval and on Saturday holding a concert of contemporary Georgian music followed by Evensong. Details here. They have further Perceval pages here.
Author Andro Linklater has written a book about the Perceval assassination, Why Spencer Perceval Had to Die, which was reviewed in yesterday’s Sunday Times, unfortunately behind a paywall. But the gist of it was that although the story is nicely covered and in diligent detail, Linklater then embarks on some conspiracy speculation for which the evidence is circumstantial at the very best. Reviewer Andrew Holgate points out that it is the mundane nature of the murder which, when taken at face value, explains why Perceval is barely remembered today.
However, update: The Spectator has just published an article by Linklater himself.