The Hornet (1838)

One of our volunteers, Ted, has been delving into the archives to help someone with a family history enquiry. In doing so, he has a lovely story to share…

MARY ELIZABETH WILLIAMS, a 19th-century miniature by Richard Buckner from the Ebony Bedroom at Charlecote Park.©NTPL/Derrick E Witty.

©NTPL/Derrick E Witty.

Mary Elizabeth Lucy wrote an account of all of the accidents she was involved in. The reason for making the account was to let her grandchildren know that you can get over accidents. You will find the story about the hornet is a true story and mentions John Foster the butler.

‘One hot summer’s evening in 1838 I was busy working on the cover for Queen Elizabeth’s chair, and your Grandpapa was reading the newspaper when I dropped a small ball of yellow wool. I stooped to pick it up without looking. I picked it up, as I shook my hand over the table, when, to my horror, I saw it was a great hornet, and not the little ball of yellow wool. I jumped about, and cried to your Grandpapa – ‘Kill it, kill it!’

‘Kill what?’ he said, ‘What’s the matter?’

‘Oh! A hornet, a great hornet. See – it is crawling on the table. Oh! I have just picked it up off the floor instead of my wool’
‘Well! Are you stung?’
‘No, but I feel as if I was’

He rang the bell, for he was afraid of touching it himself, and Thomas the footman came, and I said ‘kill that hornet’. But he looked at it, left the room and called Foster the butler who brought a glass cloth and threw it on it and carried it off. I declare all that night I kept tossing about till I was quite in a fever, dreaming that I had got it in my hand’

Ted, House Volunteer


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