21 Russell Square, Bloomsbury WC1*

*This plaque was erected privately by the Duke of Bedford in 1919 in response to an LCC suggestion. It was incorporated into the official plaques scheme by the GLC in 1983. The plaque itself is rectangular and made of bronze.

Naomi Clifford, historian, wrote on her website on 2 August 2015:

“On Thursday 29 October 1818, on the Isle of Wight, where she had been taken in an effort to find a cure for her long-standing and painful illness, 45-year-old Anne Romilly died. Her children were bereft, but it was her husband, Sir Samuel Romilly, who felt her loss most acutely.

He and members of his family set out for his London home in Russell Square the next day, but during the journey his companions grew increasingly alarmed at his state of mind. Stephen Dumont, his best friend, said later that during the journey to London Romilly was continually wringing his hands and complained of heat in his head. Dumont described him as a man “dying of an internal wound.”

By the time they reached Russell Square concern was so great that the family was reluctant to let him out of their sights. Romilly’s nephew Dr. Roget insisted on sleeping on a couch in his bedroom and called in Doctors Marcet and Babington, both of whom lived locally, to see him. He said his uncle was “uttering expressions in a strain of great perturbation.”

Early on Monday morning, Romilly’s 18-year-old daughter Sophia brought tea up to her father in his bedroom, while Dr. Roget went down to the drawing room. Romilly asked her to fetch the doctor up. In those few seconds, he slit his throat with a shaving razor. The footman Thomas Bowen, alerted by a commotion upstairs, saw him shooing Dr. Roget out of the bedroom. It was only as the door closed that he saw that his master was bleeding profusely. He and Roget forced the door and saw Romilly leaning over a basin, blood everywhere. He had severed his gullet. He could not speak – he could only make inarticulate signs and the pen and paper he was given were useless – so Dr. Roget laid him on the floor and sent for John Knox, a surgeon, who started to sew up the wound but he soon saw that it pointless and stopped…

Romilly was born in 1757 in Soho, London in relatively humble circumstances. His grandfather, Etienne Romilly, had fled Montpellier after the revocation of Edict of Nantes in 1685, which removed all legal protection for French Protestants. In London Etienne married another Huguenot and his second son, Peter, worked as a watchmaker and jeweller to the King based in Broad Street. Samuel was from an early age noted for his intelligence and application (he has been described as “almost self-educated”) but he also had a gloomy disposition and a morbid imagination.

Romilly was no stranger to depression. As a child he had been subject to dark and morbid thoughts. As an adult, he worked exceptionally hard and, unlike many lawyer-politicians of the age, had few “pursuits” outside his family, to whom he was devoted. He was well aware of his melancholy nature. A few days before Anne died, fearing that he would buckle under the strain of the inevitable, he put his affairs in order and made arrangements for his children, the youngest of whom was only eight.

The Observer devoted almost two pages to the death of Samuel Romilly, an account of the inquest held the day after he died at the Friend in Hand public house in the Colonnade, Bernard Street off Russell Square, before Thomas Stirling, a long summary of his career, details of his funeral arrangements and a poem. The inquest found that Romilly had cut his throat in a state of temporary mental derangement. Dr. Roget was too distressed to attend.

Sir Samuel and Lady Anne Romilly were buried together at Knill, where they had married.

Romilly’s children lost both their parents in the space of four days, and the nation lost a gifted and compassionate law reformer. We can perhaps speculate that the emotional frailty of this upstanding, loyal and principled man gave him insight into the lives and motivations of those who transgressed.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: