by Peter Hammond, Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 11 (2002)
At some time early in 1754 Mr Frederick Ernst and Dorothy, his wife, came to live in Chiswick, in a house in Burlington Lane very near to that of John Ranby. Little is known about them apart from their residence in Chiswick although from the Germanic name it is likely that they were connected with the Hanoverian court. It has not been possible to prove this but the supposition is supported by the fact that the wills of both of them are dated from St James’s Palace, obviously their main place of residence.
They had three children, George, Augusta and Charlotte, but they lived together in Chiswick for only 13 years because in 1767 Frederick died, and from 1768 the rates were paid by Mrs Ernst. The Ernsts must have been relatively young when they came to Chiswick because Mrs Ernst paid rates in the parish for another 42 years, until 1810 when she died.
Fortunately we know more about Dorothy Ernst’s long widowhood than its length. In late 1777, a few years after her husband’s death, she moved to a different house and immediately found occasion to write a letter to her landlord’s agent about the house. This letter has fortunately been preserved. In the transcript the punctuation has been modernised but the idiosyncratic spelling and capitalisation left. It is addressed on the front fold to ‘Mr Eaton’ and on the outer fold it is inscribed ‘Mrs Ernst about her House at Chiswick’. His Grace, referred to in the letter, is the Duke of Devonshire, the owner of the house; Mr Eaton was his solicitor.
The house sounds rather awful and one wonders why Mrs Ernst moved into it in the first place. Perhaps Messrs King and Forrett were very persuasive. On the other hand it appears from the Parish rate books that she lived there for the remainder of her time in Chiswick so perhaps it was not as bad as she said it was. Perhaps the brickworks were not as bad as she represented them to be, either.
It is difficult to be sure but it seems very likely that her first house was very near to her new one. We know from the rate books that a near neighbour of hers, both before and after her move was a Mr Pocock, and their living near to each other is confirmed by an entry in the Vestry Minutes for 27 August 1778 about an encroachment by Mr Pocock on the ‘Church way leading from Strand on the Green to the Parish Church’, that is Burlington Lane. The members of the Vestry went to look at this encroachment and agreed that ‘it appeared to them that the former hedge stood 36ft 9ins from the opposite wall near to Mr Pocock’s house and 36ft opposite the garden gate occupied by Mrs Ernst.’ A map in the Chatsworth archives shows Mr Pocock’s land and house to be roughly where St Mary’s Convent now stands in Burlington Lane, so that Mrs Ernst’s house was opposite this on the north side of the road. By 1802 she was renting an extra garden behind her house as well as a garden ‘opposite to the house, on the other side of the road’. This latter was perhaps part of Pocock’s land and the site of the noxious brickworks which she presumably had closed down and the ‘low fellows’ dismissed. She was then renting over 3 acres of land.
As seen from her letter, Dorothy Ernst’s move was partly inspired by the wishes of her late husband. He had provided money in his will to buy the house that they lived in, or any other house that she wished. She may indeed have bought their house and decided for some reason to move into the other when ‘Mr King’ moved as she and Frederick had apparently wished. The ‘we’ in her letter probably represented herself and her daughter Charlotte. We know that Charlotte lived with her mother, or at least lived in the house sometimes, since in 1793 Charlotte paid the rates. Dorothy’s ‘loving daughter, Charlotte Ernst’, was left her mother’s estate after the funeral expenses were paid but judging from the rate books did not continue to live there after her mother died.
Ernst letter, Chatsworth MSS, Currey Papers, L114/35, published by permission of the Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement; Chiswick Parish Rate books 1752-1816 and Vestry Minutes 1777 -1817; Chatsworth MSS, L51/30 (details of Mrs Ernst’s estate in 1802), Chatsworth MSS. L.21/22 (map showing Mr Pocock’s land); will of Frederick Ernst, PRO PCC will, 8 April 1767; will of Mrs Dorothy Ernst, PRO PCC will, 30 June 1810)
Peter Hammond is the Editor of The Complete Peerage and co-author of both Chiswick (1994) and Brentford (1996) in the ‘Old Photographs’ Series from Tempus Publishing Ltd.