Cesar Picton (c. 1755-1836) was an ingenious businessman and coal merchant who, for much of his life, lived close to the Thames in Surrey. His origins are as remarkable. In 1761, as a small boy, he was plucked from his home in Senegal where he was probably part of the slave market. He was transported to Britain on Captain John Parr’s ship and presented as a gift to Sir John Philipps, along with a parakeet and an African duck.
Remarkably, Cesar, as the boy was christened (6th December 1761, in Norbiton), was welcomed as an equal member of the family, since Philipps’ family was not in need of additional personal servants. However, he was treated rather differently. Like other black servants of upper class employers, he may have been dressed in an exotic fashion and worn a turban. Cesar lived with the Philipps family for many years and received training as a high servant in the family home at Picton Castle, Pembrokeshire.
Eventually, he grew independent of the family and took the name of Picton for his own, evidently remembering his time at the castle fondly. Though a servant, Cesar had grown to be an integral part of the family’s social life. He lived with them in Norbiton Place and inherited £100 from Lady Philipps in 1788. It was with this money that Cesar started his coal trading business in a house which he renamed ‘Picton House’, located on Kingston High Street, with a wharf on the Thames at the rear.
Sir John’s daughters also left some of their wealth to Cesar, and in 1816, having inherited a small fortune he purchased a house in Thames Ditton, which also adopted the name ‘Picton House’. Both fine houses still stand today, bearing Cesar’s name and now heritage plaques.
Cesar Picton – Exploring Surrey’s Past Picton House, High Street, Thames Ditton
Cesar Picton – Exploring Surrey’s Past Blue plaque on Cesar Picton’s house in Thames Ditton. © Peter Hills
Cesar may have started life destined for slavery but he died in June 1836, a thoroughly successful businessman, known to Surrey society as a gentleman. Discover Cesar Picton’s full story by clicking here.
Picton House in Thames Ditton is included in Surrey’s Historic Environment Record, click here to see details.
Sources at Surrey History Centre:
Deeds of Picton House, Thames Ditton, 1709-1841 (SHC Ref. 8263/1/1-15).
Press cutting: Surrey Comet, 2nd October 1976 (SHC Ref. 8263/2/6).
Record of inquiries by Joan Wakeford into funeral arrangements of Cesar Picton (SHC Ref. 8623/2/7).
Kingston-upon-Thames Archaeological Society, ‘Picton House and the People Connected with It’, Occasional Papers 2 (1979). (SHC Ref. 8263/2/7).
Catalogue record for an 1802 lease for 30 years 1) George Glenny 2) Caesar Picton of Kingston, coal merchant (SHC Ref. 203/14/2).
Two illustrations of Picton House in Thames Ditton are included in the Historic Buildings and Antiquities of Surrey collection: click here to see details.
Surrey History Centre’s Local Studies Library also includes copies of bulletins and chronicles, containing articles related to Cesar Picton, produced by the Kingston upon Thames Archaeological Society. Click here to find out more.
Sources held elsewhere:
- The following documents relating to Cesar Picton are held at The National Archives: PROB/11/1184/4, HCA32/872/168, CO 700/WESTAFRICA1E, MPI/1/111, MPH 1/625;
- Kingston Local History Room: Kingston-upon-Thames Archaeological Society, ‘Picton House and the People Connected with It’, Occasional Papers 2 (1979), (KX79/54)
Dabydeen, Gilmore & Jones, The Oxford Companion to Black British History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
Jones, Patrick, Pembrokeshire and the slave trade : the strange case of Cesar Picton (Pembrokeshire Life, 2008)
Websites (click on the link to open the website):
For details of two short films comprising an evocative narrative of Cesar’s early life by Anna Brass and Lily Mehrbod, Kingston University, based on records held at The National Archives and in Kingston’s Local History Room, click here http://vimeo.com/93257425 and see the University blog [email protected].