William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806)
British Prime Minister, Wartime Leader, Statesman and Orator
Known as William Pitt the Younger to distinguish from his father, William Pitt the Elder, he became Britain’s youngest Prime Minister at the age of 24 and served from 1783-1801, and again from 1804 until his death.
His time in office was dominated by major events such as the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.
Pitt The Younger had no less than two homes in the Westerham area. He owned what is now known as Pitts Cottage (located on the A25 at the western edge of the town) for a time in the late 18th century.
In addition his main home was at Holwood, near Keston, just 4 miles north of Westerham.
It was here that on 12 May 1787, the British politician and philanthropist William Wilberforce held a conversation with William Pitt and the future Prime Minister William Grenville as they sat under a large oak tree (this later came to be known as the “Wilberforce Oak”). Pitt challenged his friend;
“Wilberforce, why don’t you give notice of a motion on the subject of the Slave Trade? You have already taken great pains to collect evidence, and are therefore fully entitled to the credit which doing so will ensure you. Do not lose time, or the ground will be occupied by another.”
A Bill was drawn up abolishing the slave trade and immediately presented to the House of Commons. The slave trade provided an abundance of wealth to many influential families and Wilberforce suspected the bill to be challenged in parliament. To his surprise, the act was passed in 1789 but the terrible slave trade continued for another 20 years before being fully abolished.
The fine oak tree that Wilberforce and Pitt sat beneath when they discussed the slave trade lasted for centuries but perished during WWII. However, in 1969 another was planted in the hollow remains to honour the two men and their courageous stand.
A memorial bench has been erected beside the tree. It is accessible to the public; although it is not easy to find it, the monument is historically important.
The inscription upon it reads:
“Mr. Wilberforce’s diary, 1787
At length I remember after a conversation with Mr. Pitt in the open air at the root of an old tree at Holwood just above the steep descent into the vale of Keston we resolved to give notice on a first occasion in the House of Commons of my intention to bring forward the abolition of the slave trade. Erected by Earl Stanhope, 1862”
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