St. George's Place, Camberwell

9 St. George's Place, Camberwell, 1803-1806

Female Biography earned Hays enough money from her publisher, Richard Phillips, to move in the early spring of 1803 (with one servant) to 9 St. George’s Place, a new row of townhomes along Camberwell Road between Southampton Street and Camberwell Green. St. George's Row was situation directly across from the Rotunda Building, which became the site in 1807 of the Surrey Literary Institution, a place that would have been of great interest to Mary Hays had she stayed in St. George's Place after 1806. to the south of Surrey Square near the intersection of Kent Road and the east end of Albany Road, the dividing line at that time between Camberwell (to the south) and Walworth (to the north). From the rear of her home Hays had a view of what is today Burgess Park, a large tract of open land that allowed Hays the long walks she would enjoy for many years at a series of residences in Islington, Wandsworth, Oundle, Bristol, Peckham, and Greenwich. Her move to Camberwell was also motivated by family concerns. A three-quarter-hour’s walk to the north through Southwark and Bermondsey brought Hays to her original family home in Gainsford Street, where her mother, Elizabeth Judge Hays (c. 1730-1812), and Mary’s younger sister, Elizabeth (c. 1765-1825), had primarily resided. Hays appears as “Mrs. Hays” in Holden’s London Directory for 1805, Private Residences (n.p.). She appears as “Mary Hays” in the Poor Rate Books, St. Giles Parish, Camberwell, 1802-04, and 1807 (GC/3/1/5-6, Southwark Local History Library, London, n.p.), the first time in her life she would appear as an independent woman and rate payer in a Poor Rate Book. During her time in Camberwell two other single women were her neighbors along the one-block row of townhomes at St. George’s Place. Hays disappears from the Rate Books by 1807, having moved to Islington.

Despite being an hour’s walk from her old friends in central London, Hays’s new life in Camberwell was anything but isolated. Directly south of her residence in St. George’s Place, about a twenty-minute walk, was the spacious Champion Hill mansion of her sister, Joanna Hays Dunkin (1754-1805); her husband, John Dunkin, Jr., had served as the guardian of Mary Hays and her siblings since the death of their father, John Hays, in 1774. The Dunkins’ two eldest children, John Hays Dunkin (1775-1858) and Joanna (c. 1777-1864), were already married, and another daughter, Elizabeth (1787-1825), would marry Henry Francis (1781-1847) at St. Giles, Camberwell, on May 17, 1803, just a short time after Hays’s arrival in Camberwell.[i] The remaining five Dunkin daughters were all born between 1785 and 1795, during the years the Dunkins lived in Gainsford Street and then (between 1792 and 1798) at the Paragon in Walworth, where Hays also lived for most of 1794 and 1795, assisting her sister in the care of her large family and even hosting, on occasion, William Godwin for dinner. In 1804, after six years in Champion Hill, the Dunkins moved to Mortimer Woodham Lodge near Maldon, Essex, where the Dunkin and Hays families owned several farms as well as the Beeleigh Mill. Most of these properties had been managed since the late 1790s by Mary Hays’s youngest brother, John (1768-1862), and her nephew, John Hays Dunkin. John Hays Dunkin had married Sarah Francis, sister of Henry Francis, on May 16, 1799. Joanna Dunkin married Nathaniel Palmer (1774-1840) on June 21, 1798. He was the brother of Samuel Palmer (1775-1848), the father of Samuel Palmer (1805-81), a prominent Romantic artist. John Hays Dunkin remained at Beeleigh for most of the first two decades of the nineteenth century. Mary Hays visited her brother and her nephew in Essex in 1801 (her sister, Elizabeth, lived with John Hays in Essex for most of 1801-03) and returned often for visits after the Dunkins’ removal there in 1804.

About the same time Mary Hays moved into her home in Camberwell, Elizabeth Hays returned to London, having lived for a time with her brother, John, in Essex. She soon met Ambrose Lanfear and they married in 1804, taking up residence in Islington. Mary Hays remained at St. George's Place until her remove to Park Street in Islington in early 1806. After the death of Thomas Hills in 1803, Sarah Hays Hills, Mary Hays's elder sister, continued to live either in her home in Gainsford Street or in the Minories with her daughter Mary. They moved to Felix Terrace in Islington c. 1812, only a short distance from where Mary Hays had lived in Park Street and not far from Elizabeth Lanfear, now a widow like her Sarah, living at that time in Church Street, Islington. Sarah's son, William Hills, and his wife, Emma Dunkin Hills, a nephew and niece of Mary and Elizabeth Hays, moved into a home in Canonbury Square c. 1810. Prior to her death in 1812 (possibly as early as 1809, just after the suicide of Ambrose Lanfear), Mrs. Hays had also removed to Islington, most likely living with Elizabeth Lanfear and assisting in the care of her two young sons. Mary Hays had already removed to Wandsworth by the time her mother arrived in Islington; Mary Hays would spend four years living with her brother, Thomas, at Wandsworth Common. By 1805, John Hays had returned from Essex; his name appears on the Park Street house the year before Mary Hays's name appears in the Rate Book. He soon took up residence at 54 Great Coram Street, near Brunswick Square and what would later become the Russell Institution; the Great Coram Street address appears on a few letters addressed to Mary Hays. Crabb Robinson, after his return from Germany, visited Hays at Camberwell on December 10, 1805, writing to his brother Thomas later that month that “Miss Hays lives in retirement, an highly respected character. She pursues literature as a profession; she does not estimate her productions above their value; she is content to be a useful writer and does not lose feminine excellence and virtues while she seeks literary fame….”1

1 Henry Crabb Robinson to Thomas Robinson, December 21, 1805, in Henry Crabb Robinson Correspondence 1806-08, Letter 30, Crabb Robinson Archive, DWL/HCR/5/4/30, Dr. Williams’s Library, London.