The Twickenham Museum
People : Writers, Poets and Historians

Laetitia Matilda Hawkins
Nineteenth century local gossip
1759 - 1835

Twickenham House, Heath Lane, as painted by Rosa Lewis in 1887. Courtesy of Richmond-upon Thames Local Studies Library
Obstinate and contentious fatherLaetitia Hawkins was the daughter of John Hawkins, who moved with his family to Twickenham in 1760. His wife having come into a fortune on her father’s death, the family settled into Twickenham House (demolished in 1887, the site now being occupied by Heath Gardens). John Hawkins was the son of a carpenter but had studied law and married well. He was long acquainted with Dr Johnson, acted as his executor and wrote his biography, only to be overshadowed by Boswell. A similar fate met his history of music which was outdone by Dr Burney. He became a local JP, sitting on the Middlesex bench, later as its Chairman and was knighted in 1772. By then he had become unpopular locally. Horace Walpole wrote of him that he was "a very honest moral man, but of no great brightness, and very obstinate and contentious, he grew hated by the lower classes, and very troublesome to the gentry" He sold Twickenham House and moved to London, where he died in 1789.
Twickenham House, facing the garden, as painted by Rosa Lewis in 1887. Courtesy of Richmond-upon Thames Local Studies Library

Laetitia and her brother 'Harry Classic' move to Sion Row

Laetitia Hawkins, the author, had been much influenced by her father. Accompanied by her scholarly younger brother Harry, a Chancery lawyer (nicknamed “Harry Classic” on account of his learning) she moved back to Twickenham early in the 19th Century and settled at No.1 Sion Row. There she and her brother lived until her death in 1835 aged 75. There is a memorial to her (and her brother Henry) in St Mary's Church.

the title page of Matilda Hawkins' Memoirs, volume I, dedicated to Dr Fergusson of Windsor

Anecdotes, biographical sketches and memoirs

In her sixties she wrote three volumes of local gossip, Anecdotes and Memoirs, in which she described Twickenham and its residents.

Amongst those whose activities she described were her father, Horace Walpole, David Garrick, Sir Samuel Prime, the Marchioness of Tweedale at Gifford Lodge and her family, Joshua Ward (”the”quack doctor”), Paul Whitehead, the Vicar George Costard, Richard Owen Cambridge, Kitty Clive and many others.

Living with her and her brother at No.1 Sion Row, was her companion Mary Mitchell. According to Richard Cobbett, the threesome ”formed as grotesque a trio as can well be imagined”. It is possible that Mary Mitchell was the widowed daughter of John Spyers who had owned a house in Sion Row at his death.

Further reading:

R S Cobbett , Memorials of Twickenham, 1872
Donald Simpson, The Twickenham of Laetitia Hawkins, Borough of Twickenham Local History Society Paper No.39, 1978
Laetitia Hawkins, Anecdotes, Biographical Sketches and Memoirs, 1822
Memoirs, Anecdotes, Facts and Opinions, 1824
F C Hodgson, Thames Side in the Past, George Allen, 1913

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