His quaint name is recognised world-wide thanks to Charles Dickins seeing it on a Bath stagecoach.
Buried beneath this flat gravestone is Moses Pickwick. He was baptized in Bath on 14th April 1782 in St Michael’s church in Twerton. His mother Sarah (née Pope) was born in Walcot. Curiously, his father had also been named Moses - in fact the name has quite a long lineage.
The Moses Pickwick buried here in January 1869 was the great-grandson of the first Moses Pickwick born in 1694 - who was abandoned as a baby. The baby was given two names: Moses, after the old Testament prophet found in the bullrushes, and Pickwick, after the village where he was found, now part of Corsham. This first Moses Pickwick became a coach proprietor and the landlord of the Hare & Hounds, a staging inn in Pickwick, catering to the passengers on the London to Bath coaches.
The Moses here in Smallcombe was part of a larger prestigious Pickwick family resident in Bath. Moses married Frances Coles in 1815 in Bath Abbey. They had one child, Susanna Clementine Pickwick, who was baptized on 28th April 1824 at St Swithin’s Bath and buried aged almost 12 on 26th January 1836 - also in Bath Abbey.
In the 1841 and 1851 censuses Moses was said to live at Laura Place, Bath. He was described as a coach master, formerly a farmer.
His uncle Eleazer Pickwick, the grandson of the foundling Moses Pickwick, had started a coaching business in 1779 which came to be based at the White Hart Inn in Stall Street opposite the Pump Room. The White Hart was Bath’s oldest Inn, dating back to at least 1503. In its day, it was one of the most famous inns in the country, and noted for its style and efficiency.
Jane Austen used it as a location in her novel Persuasion:
“Surprise was the strongest emotion raised by their appearance; but Anne was really glad to see them; and the others were not so sorry but that they could put on a decent air of welcome; and as soon as it became clear that these, their nearest relations, were not arrived with any views of accommodation in that house, Sir Walter and Elizabeth were able to rise in cordiality, and do the honours of it very well. They were come to Bath for a few days with Mrs. Musgrove, and were at the White Hart.” ( chapter 22)
The White Hart Inn
Jane Austen also mentioned the noise of the inn in her letter to her sister Cassandra dated 15th September 1813:
“Poor F. Cage has suffered a good deal from her accident. The noise of the White Hart was terrible to her..”
In 1793, Parson Woodford, from Norfolk, gives a glowing review of the inn:
“We got to Bath … about six o’clock this Evening, to the White Hart in Stall Street, kept by one Pickwick, where we drank Tea, supped and slept, a very good, very capital Inn, everything in stile.”
Coaching was a business with high costs, high risks and slim profit margins. Like his grandfather, Eleazer worked the coaching business and the inn together and the joint business became very successful. As a result Eleazer made a considerable fortune over the next 40 years. He invested in local projects: including Sydney Gardens (which opened in 1796) and the Somerset coal canal (1800). He was made a freeman of Bath in 1799, and elected mayor in 1826. Possibly because Eleazer’s own two sons died young, he took his young nephew Moses into business with him.
Charles Dickens first visited Bath in 1835 as a young newspaper reporter. He was following Lord John Russell ‘s tour of England. Russell was the leader of the Whig party and later became prime minister in the 1840’s. Dickens stayed at the Saracens Head at the bottom of Broad Street. At that time the name Pickwick would have been seen in Bath on the side of coaches belonging to Eleazer and Moses Pickwick. It is thought that this is the reason why Dickens chose the surname Pickwick for his lead character, Samuel Pickwick, in Pickwick Papers. The book was published in 1837 and satirised the social life of Bath.
“And now,' continued Mr. Pickwick, looking round on his friends with a good- humoured smile, and a sparkle in the eye which no spectacles could dim or conceal, 'the only question is, Where shall we go next?'…
………. 'Well,' said that gentleman, 'if you leave me to suggest our destination, I say Bath. I think none of us have ever been there.'
…….and Sam was at once despatched to the White Horse Cellar, to take five places by the half-past seven o'clock coach, next morning.” ( chapter XXXV)
The Bath Road, (A4) was the main road linking Bristol and London becoming a popular stagecoach route in the 17th and 18th centuries. It took 2 days for passengers to travel between Bath and London. At its peak in 1836, 10 stagecoaches were carrying passengers along the Bath Road but were soon to be replaced by the Great Western Railway.
After his uncle’s death in 1837, Moses Pickwick continued to run a successful coaching business. However, from the 1840’s the business declined, reducing in size as the railways grew in importance.
Moses died on 24th January 1869 at 8 Henrietta Street, Bath, not far from Laura Place. He was buried here in Smallcombe Cemetery along with his wife Frances and sister-in-law Susanna, both of whom had predeceased him.
The White Hart Inn was demolished in 1869, soon after Moses’ death. The only surviving relic of the inn is the figure of the White Hart which used to hang over its entrance and which now stands proudly above the entrance of the White Hart Inn in Widcombe. There is also a plaque on the corner of Stall Street and Westgate Street in Bath, which marks the former location of the inn, and records the proprietors, Eleazer and Moses Pickwick.