From the Thorley Archives
Life at Thorley Rectory in 1750  

An interesting picture of family life at Thorley Rectory in 1750 is preserved in a letter from William Cleghorn, Professor of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh, addressed to his grandmother "Mrs. Hamilton senior, at her house in the Society" - a nook of houses in the Old Town of Edinburgh.

The letter is dated Huntingdon, October 26, 1750, and describes a visit to Thorley Rectory during the incumbency of John Horsley. Mrs Hamilton was the mother of John's first wife, Ann, and hence the maternal grandmother of their son Samuel Horsley, who went on to become an eminent clergyman and scientist. Samuel was to edit and publish a complete edition of the works of Isaac Newton, become Rector of Thorley like his father before him, and to pick and win a theological fight with Joseph Priestly, the discoverer of oxygen, that resulted in his elevation to the Bishopric, and in him becoming a powerful figure in the House of Lords.



As I must get early into Quarters in these long Evenings, and as a Gentleman who was to have accompany'd me to Scotland is obliged to defer his journey by an accident happening to his Horse, I can find no better way of employing the two or three idle hours that lie on my hand before I go to bed, than in resuming the thread of my letters to you, especially as I foresee that it must soon be broken off for good and all. This Day I have made a Journey of about 40 miles from Mr. Horsley's House at Thorley to this Place. The last Letter I wrote you was from Endfield, from which place the Day before yesterday, I went across the Country by the Ryehouse (so famous for the Conspiracy against King Charles the Second) to Thorley, where the Master and Mistress of the House being gone to make a short Visit, I was welcomed with joyful Salutations by Mr. Samuel Horsley and his eldest Sister Miss Nancey, and introduced by them into the Parlour, where I found four of the younger Children diverting themselves, and whom I presented with some Serpents and Lobsters I had brought with me from London, which they greedily devoured in the twinkling of an Eye, without betraying the least Symptom of Squeamishness or Terror. Miss Nancey is Ten years old, and going in her Eleventh. She is the finest child of her Age I have almost ever seen. Altho' she has a good deal of her father's face, she has not the least of its sternness, and is a good deal like her Brother Samuel. And tho' she had only seen me four or five times five years ago she remembered me at once, and called me Cousin. Her Memory indeed is most surprising, nothing she reads escapes it. She has read over all Shakespear, and has every remarkable Passage by heart, which almost without the least instruction, she can pronounce with the finest manner and the best Grace imaginable. Jackey the 2nd Boy is at school at Bp. Stortford about two miles off, so that I did not see him, and since he had the Measles in Summer he has never well recover'd, and while I was at Thorley he was so ill that his Father and Mother began to be apprehensive, but he was a little better before I came away. He is greatly beloved by all his brothers and Sisters and is distractedly fond of Sam. George the youngest is a very arch youth and is already celebrated in the Country for his shrewd sayings. The rest are all very fine children, but being Girls I suppose you will not care to be tired with a more particular Description of them - so I shall proceed to give you some account of your own offspring Sammy after having given you a slight notion of the Place. Thorley consists but of five or Six houses hardly deserving the name of a Village, but the Church and Parsonage house are distant from it about half a mile. The Situation of the House and Garden is very good and healthy, commanding a Prospect of one of the finest and best cultivated Counties in England. Mr. Horsley has made considerable additions and improvements on the House as also on the garden, and upon the whole it is a very agreeable place. Mr. Horsley is fatter and cleaner Skin'd and much healthier than when I saw him last, but he has lost some of his foreteeth, and in this cold weather which is indeed very bitter he is subject to fresh Attacks of his Asthma ; this was the reason he did not give me a Letter for you, being unable to write it last Night, but he promises to write to you and my Uncle Gavin by the first opportunity or interval he has. Sam sends you a Letter which is in my Pocket, and which I will put the respect upon to bring all the way and present to you with my own hands.

Mr. Samuel Horsley son of the Revd. Mr. John Horsley is now Seventeen years of age, about five foot five inches and a quarter high, about four and thirty inches round at the shoulders, and seven and twenty at the Waist . . . his face very comely, and more manly than it was two or three years ago, owing partly to his approach to Manhood, and partly to the effect of the Small Pox, which however has not lessened the comeliness nor Uniformity of his Features, his eyes and his Complexion dark as a Raven, his nose even set, not giving the smallest Preference to one Side of his face rather than the other, his Brow gracefully projecting a small matter above his Eyelids, begin to shew that they are somewhat capable of assuming his father's frown, but if there is anything amiss according to your Taste of Features in this particular it is over and above compensated by the Coral hue of his Lips, and the graceful Dimples which adorn them above and below and at both Corners, where the Loves and Graces seem to have taken up their Abode ; nor is there wanting a certain Tenderness in his Eye, which already begins to peep out, and discovers that in due time he will not be deficient in those Regards he owes to your honorable Sex. Such is the Portrait of your favourite Grandson whom you have long'd so much to see ; how happy will I be if this slight Outline should in any degree amuse your Curiosity, for I am not so presumptuous as to hope it can be so easily satisfied. As for his mind, Genius, and inward Qualifications, I have not room to enter on this here, but at meeting will relate things that will surprise you.

I propose to pass a day at Dunglass, and a Day or two at Innerwick. The Days being short, I cannot for the most part make above two Stages a Day, so it will be Monday the 12th of Novr. before I can begin my College, Which you may tell my Brother John to desire James Watson to advertise by a Paper on the College Door. Compliments to all friends as usual.

I am, My Dr. Gr.

Yours affectionately,


Philip Hargrave
August 2012

From the Archives