ROMILLY, Rev. Joseph 1791-1864. Diarist. Stayed at The Willows, Dulwich Common, and chronicled life in Dulwich in the early 19th century. Joseph Romilly was christened at St Anne’s Soho and was the son of Thomas Romilly (1753-1825), who was of Huguenot descent. Joseph had two older brothers, Cuthbert a lawyer, Samuel who was a Lt Col in the Royal Engineers and a younger brother Frank, who lived in Paris. There were three sisters: Caroline married Lancelot Baugh Allen, who had been Warden and Master of Dulwich College from 1805 until he resigned to marry Caroline in 1820; Margaret and Lucy. 

Joseph’s working life was spent in Cambridge, from the time he was admitted to Trinity College, in 1808 until his death in 1864. He became a Fellow of Trinity in 1815, Senior Dean 1829-1831 and in 1832 was appointed University Registrary, the Cambridge term for registrar, with responsibility for the university records. However between about 1811 and 1837, he spent his vacations in Dulwich. His father took the lease of The Willows on Dulwich Common soon after it was built to the design of George Tappen, the College Surveyor. When Romilly died in 1828, it passed to his two unmarried sisters.

To augment his Cambridge salary, Romilly was given the family’s living of the parish of Porthkerry, Glamorgan, where he was the absentee Rector from 1830 to 1837. Other than this he never held a parish and seldom took religious duties or preached. Nevertheless he was sincere in his religious belief, he was courteous, well-read in English and Continental literature. In politics he was a radical, in favour of the Reform Bill and the abolition of slavery. He enjoyed a wide circle of friends, gambled modestly at whist, was fond of good food and wine, especially champagne.

From 1820 until his death, he kept a daily diary and when he went on holiday, he kept a journal. His diaries from 1830 onwards are very detailed, snobbish and provide a unique window into the social life of a bachelor clergyman. They also offer much information on life in Dulwich in the period up to 1837 when his two unmarried sisters settled in Cambridge with him. Even afterwards, the Romilly family retained an interest in The Willows and Joseph continued to make occasional visits to Dulwich recorded in his diaries.

Brian Green