Lower Clapton, Hackney

Misses Farrell's Boarding House, Clapton,

1840-1843




Mary Hays spent her final years in a boarding house run by the Misses Farrell in Clapton Place, Lower Clapton (one of the sisters, Emma Farrell, signed as a witness for Mary Hays's will). Clapton Place was situated about one block to the east of Clapton Square, across from the impressive Hackney Church, which opened in 1797. The homes around the square were impressive at that time, large enough for the Misses Farrell to have as many as fifteen boarders at one time. Some large and elegant homes from the period in which Hays lived in Clapton Place remain along the Square today. A boarding house like that of the Farrells would have had a basement level, then three main floors for living and bedrooms, and finally an upper floor for servants. What was once Clapton Place is now Lower Clapton Road; the original houses are gone, but many that remain on and around Clapton Square provide a fitting glimpse into Hays’s living situation c. 1840.


On 27 January 1840, Crabb Robinson walked to Clapton and called at the Misses Farrells' boarding house but Hays was too ill to see him. She had been confined for 2 weeks to her bed and the servants believe she is dying. Robinson feared that he would “never see her again and one other of the links connecting my early with my present life will be broken. She is an estimable woman, but belongs to the last age. Like Mr. Rutt she is a Unitarian, a lover of the Americans and thinks all political improvement depends on the increasing the power of the people. …” On 17 April he walks to Clapton and sees Hays, now in her 80th year “and a very old woman – quite infirm – She says she finds it a great trial to live and wishes for death - yet she enjoys reading – She still reads without glasses. She was pleased to see me and I may call again but it will not be often.” On 10 December 1840 Robinson calls on Hays and finds her “very infirm and complaining,” and talks of death but only recently as “taken to glasses.”


Hays's move to a boarding house in Lower Clapton was probably determined by two factors: first, her desire to be near Sarah Dunkin Wedd, who was instrumental in the creation and execution of her will (and a primary recipient of portions of the will) and who most likely attended to Hays in her final years; and second, the move by John Hays to De Crispigny Terrace, near Champion Hill, Camberwell, a location that would have placed Hays at a nearly impossible distance from the We


Mary Hays died on 19 February 1843, and the next day Robinson was informed of her death. The next night he wrote in his Diary: “A very worthy woman in her day she had a sort of popularity, that is with those who could tolerate a warm friend of Mrs Wollstonecraft. She was very liberal in her opinions and had stuck fast in them like good Mr Rutt - especially in her love for the Americans. She had for many years sunk in obscurity and lived in a boarding house at Lower Clapton. I had for many years seen but little of her, but I retained a regard for her & her death puts an end to all memorials of my residence in London before 1800. She had ex­pressed a wish that I should attend her funeral next Saturday of which Mr Hays informed me …” On 25 February he meets John Hays (at that time living in De Crespigny Terrace in Camberwell), George Wedd (living in Grove Street, Clapton), and Thomas Hays (still living in Bermondsey) at Hays’s boarding house and they accompany the hearse to Abney Cemetery in Newington for burial.

In his Reminiscences for 1843, Robinson provides a brief – an account of Hays’s death and family:


“But I shod now add that John We Hayes who lived near me then, soon after left the neighbourhood And I lost sight of him – One of his daughters is now known as a translator of Geo: Sands works – Otherwise a respectable person – An ultra liberal And friend of Mrs Geo: Stansfeld Junr but I have not fallen in with her – nor with any of the party –

But I should add that not long since I met at Byles’s a son of Geo: Wedd, praised as a man of exemplary virtues – integrity industry & disinterested benevolence – So said the Byles’s –

But now to add a concludeding word of Mary Hays – She illustrated the Proverb Dans le royaume des Aveugles, les borgnes sont Rois – At the close of the 18th Cent: she was a woman of letters In this generation she would not have been listened to at least her books are not read She might have progressed with the Age She was early an admirer of Robert Robinson but of R: R: the all but Unitarian of his last years – The avowed friend of Mrs Wolstoncraft – She was the object of scorn to puritans – without meriting their reproach – She was employed by Phillips– Sir Richard afterws It was through her I became acquaintdwith Dr Reid, Miss Tooke &c but all this I must have written before – She thought herself ill treated by Frend, And she was, if he were bound to remain a attached to her when he discovered her to be a bore – My latter acquaintance with her but as I was no lover, little was required of me And that little I could still retain the show of –”

My thanks to Susan Doe of Hackney for her assistance in pointing me to the correct location of Mary Hays's final home and for opening me to amazing vistas of Hackney on top of the old bell tower of the Hackney Church.