THE world in which former Northampton MP and Prime Minister Spencer Perceval lived and died is a far cry from the one which British political leaders see nowadays.
It was 200 years ago today when Spencer left his house in Downing Street and took his usual stroll to the nearby Parliamentary buildings.
He wandered into the lobby of the House of Commons, a shot fired and, if reports are to be believed, he realised the gaping wound on his left side and cried out: “I am murdered, murdered...!”
To this day, Spencer Perceval remains the only British Prime Minister to have been deliberately killed; a dubious claim to fame for this country’s political history and for Northampton itself.
The anniversary today is expected to be marked with a wreath laying, attended by local dignitaries such as Michael Ellis, MP for Northampton North, at the Guildhall’s Spencer Perceval statue.
And, in London, a special exhibition with artefacts and documents from Perceval’s life is being held in the Parliamentary Royal Gallery, and documents about his life and work have now been put online to be viewed by the public.
David Prior, clerk of records for the Parliamentary Archives, who led the team which put the display together, said: “The small display will be open to people on visiting tours and that is on for several months and we have also got these web pages too.”
He continued: “One of the things we have got on display is a small red leather case of his which is hinged and we have pretty good provenance he used it in his public affairs.
“One thing we put online was there were some notes which were made by a clerk in the House of Lords, written pretty much immediately after the news of the death of Perceval reached the House of Lords. A shock wave went through the building when people realised that something dreadful had happened.
“The Lord Chancellor made an announcement that something terrible had happened and they locked the building down. No one was allowed out until they had made some enquiries and we have notes of that announcement.
“Spencer Perceval had a huge family of 12 children so he left these 12 children and a widow Jane. The Prince Regent and the Houses of Parliament were asked to make statutory provision for them and an act was passed granting them £2,000 a year and a lump sum of £50,000.”
The murderer John Bellingham made no attempt to flee. He had hidden a pistol in a secret pocket of his coat and calmly admitted to the dreadful deed. Then followed his speedy tranferral to the House of Commons and execution just three days later.
David said: “Bellingham was a man who had a grudge against the Government he was unable to reach a conclusion on. The story we glean from newspapers and eye witness accounts is that he had bought a pistol and had a tailor modify the great coat he was to wear and he was able to slip the pistol into the overcoat.”
After the murder was carried out, there was nowhere to run.
David said: “It was a crowded lobby and someone said, ‘who has done this?’ Bellingham said, ‘I’m the unfortunate man.’ He was then hauled off in front of the House of Commons.”
Born in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, Bellingham was an unsuccessful businessman with a grudge against Perceval and his government. It is known that he has been arrested in Russia, over debt issues, in 1804 and spent five years in prison before returning to England.
The experienced left him angered and embittered about the lack of help he had received from the Government and he pointed the finger of blame at the head of political life in England. His appeals to Perceval and other senior ministers were all unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, Perceval himself was an evangelical Christian known for his dislike of all gambling, drunkenness and adultery, as well as for his support of charities and the campaign to end slavery.
He was succeeded as Prime Minister by Robert Jenkinson, the second Earl of Liverpool, having spent just three years as the head of Government.
To read more about Spencer Perceval from the documents which have recently been put online as part of the Parliamentary Archives, log onto http://www.parliament.uk/about/ living-heritage/building/palace/ estatehistory/from-the- parliamentary-collections/spencer-perceval/
Remembering spencer Perceval
Having been the one-time political seat of the only Prime Minister ever to have been assassinated is a somewhat murky but historic claim to fame for the town of Northampton.
But while many people young and old know the name Charles Bradlaugh, it could be argued that the history of Spencer Perceval is less well known.
Although there is a statue and painting of Perceval on view at the Guildhall, some believe more should be made of Northampton’s link to this political figure whose life was brought to such a sudden end.
Northampton North MP Michael Ellis said: “I think there should be more. Bradlaugh is celebrated in many ways in Northampton with Bradlaugh Fields and a prominent statue in town and the Bradlaugh pub but Spencer Perceval isn’t so well represented. Perhaps it is because it was so long ago, it was more like 200 years ago than 100 but we should know more of his achievements.”
Val Knowles, chairman of the Northampton Heritage Hunters, commented: “I’m for making a lot of anything to do with Northampton and its heritage. It would be nice to have a plaque or something else attached to the statue and some sort of celebration to mark his life.”
She added: “I think there is a minority of people who know anything about the history or heritage of Northampton people, I was speaking to some people the other day who did not even know we once had a castle.”
Extract from the Northampton Mercury, May 16, 1812
“It is with the most deep-felt sorrow we have to record that in the course of Monday evening an act was perpetrated exceeding in atrocity any which has ever before stained the annals of this country.
“The sensation occasioned throughout the whole of the metropolis by the intelligence of the death of the Prime Minister has not been equalled since the afflicting news of the fall of the gallant Nelson.
“But with what different circumstances have the two events been accompanied...?
“About five o’clock on Monday afternoon Mr Perceval proceeded on foot and alone from his residence in Downing Street to the House of Commons.
“On entering the lobby, a man, who had been some time there, held a pistol over him, on his left side, fired and shot him through the left breast, through his heart.
“Mr Perceval walked forward for three or four yards as if nothing had happened, and had reached the midway between the door of the lobby and the immediate door of the house, when he staggered and sunk on his knees, exclaiming in a faint voice: ‘I am
“The assassin, as soon as he had perpetrated this diabolical act, made no attempt whatever to escape but retreated to a bench near the fireplace in the lobby.”