Tag Archives: estates

Handsome Devils and Their Digs: John Mortlock & Sons

Today & 1750 

The history of Great Abington Hall originates in the 13th century with the Earls of Oxford, though the house was then a medieval manor built around one large room.  Around the end of the 16th century the original hall gave way to a rebuilding project on the same site and the deed passed through several owners, including Thomas Western, ironmonger to the King, and Mr. Pearson, a Riga (or Baltic sea coast trader).  John Mortlock, our handsome devil, purchased Abington in 1800.

John Mortlock by John Downman

Born in 1755 to a wealthy draper, John inherited the family business along with land in Pampisford and Whittlesford when he was just nineteen.  As the sole son and heir–and a handsome one at that–women must have swooned in his wake, but it didn’t take long for one to snatch him off the market.  The year he reached his majority he married Elizabeth Mary Harrison, the daughter and sole heiress of a rich grocer.  She provided him with a plentiful dowry and together the couple had two girls and seven boys, including the young John Cheetham pictured with his mother below.

 Elizabeth Mortlock and her son, 1779, by John Downman.  Touching, isn’t it?

Although already moneyed and well settled, John had ambitions.  He established the first bank in Cambridge in 1780, and as man of questionable morals, found clever ways to order his environment as he saw fit.  A placard attached to the building on Bene’t Street near where his bank once stood reads: That which you call corruption, I call influence.”  The quote appears to be an abbreviation of his statement, “without influence, which you call corruption, men will not be induced to support government, though they generally approve of its measures.”

John became Mayor of Cambridge in 1785 by asserting this influence and held the office for 13 terms before his death in 1816.  He was a politically astute individual, using his power to maneuver his constituents and to always, always obliterate his enemies.  As Gray and Stubbings write in Cambridge Street Names, Mortlock issued “letters of credit to travelers who feared to be robbed of their cash by highwaymen if they approached town at dusk . . .”  But he was a highwayman of his own sort.  He bullied and blackmailed his opponents, and there was even rumor that the highwaymen’s pockets around town were padded courtesy of Mortlock Bank.

Clearly, the man had enemies as well as friends.  During his multiple terms as mayor, he used land from the city and sold it to his cronies at attractive prices.   Skullduggery, it seemed, was in the family blood.   He and his sons retained mayoral influence from 1785-1820 with scarcely an interruption in between.  Among his sons, one, John Cheetham, became a knight, and another, Edmund, a reverend, but it was his grandson who stole the attention in the papers.

Experiences of a Convict by John Frederick Mortlock.  Originally published 1864/5

John Frederick Mortlock’s story begins in a most un-knightly way.  After his father’s death in 1838, the man we shall call Freddie decided that to be an heir-at-law without actually inheriting an estate had caused him a great unhappiness.  Following a series of incidents, including breaking the windows at his family’s bank, he was accused of setting to fire his uncle Thomas Mortlock’s house at Little Abington.  Romilly’s Cambridge Diary of 1832-1842 recalls the arson suit of 1837: “There seems to be no evidence, though all the world is convinced to it being fact.  If it came to a capital conviction the misfortune is that [Thomas] Mortlock is to be sheriff.”  Thomas did indeed become high sheriff of Cambridge in 1840, and although Freddie was found not guilty, he was warned to keep the peace with his other uncle, reverend Edmund Mortlock, as in 1835 he had written the reverend a threatening letter.

His and the reverend’s dispute over a “standing complaint that he was barred from certain information respecting the disposal of his father’s property” was never resolved.  Come 1843, Freddie stormed to his uncle’s domicile, lashed out in reckoning, and after what must have been a repetitive argument at this point, drew his pistol and fired.  Horrified by his actions, fearful of the repercussions, or both, he gave chase and shot his two pursuers (inflicting only “bruises”) before he was reprimanded.  He was around 28 years of age at the time but despite the excuse of volatile youth, attacking his uncles was not the last of his contumacy.  For wielding a pistol with the intent to murder, he gained the occasion to write his Experiences of a Convict.  Sentenced to twenty-one years transportation for his crimes, he spent his sentence on Norfolk Island and New South Wales in Australia tutoring the son of an Agricultural Superintendent and Deputy Commandant.

Despite his rather extended holiday, Freddie returned to England with his old grievances intact.  Mortlock v. Mortlock appears in court records in July 1869 with a bill in forma pauperis.  This was the fifth bill filed with the Court by Freddie asking that a new trustee be appointed to complete the trust of his father’s will. By this point, Freddie was desperate.  In 1868 he published the tell-all How I Came to be a Bankrupt.  He needed the inheritance dispute settled and settled quickly but his uncle, the defendant, filed a motion asking the suit be discharged on account that Freddie had “designedly” and “improperly” omitted the fact of his bankruptcy and mention of his material deeds.  In the end, the bill was taken off the Court’s files and costs, as requested by his uncle in the motion, were paid by Freddie.

The Mortlock Legacy

Whether we would call the Mortlocks corrupt or entrepreneurial, the lot of them are a fascinating example of a landed gentry family in the 18th and 19th centuries.  They were wealthy and powerful, and like all big families, were given to squabbling about inheritances or otherwise.

If you wish to learn more about the Mortlocks and their history, the pdf file The Banking Mortlocks covers their pursuits from 1453 to 1755.


Follies: An 18th Century Fascination

My interest with follies began in the early summer of 2001.  I had hiked up a long, sloping hill in Barcelona to visit Gaudi’s Guell park, seeking to bask in the artist’s vision beneath a sweltering midday sun.

I knew what to expect.  I had seen the apartment he’d designed along the busy street far from El Carmel Hill, strolled through the perpetually-in-progress La Sagrada Familia.  In the light of his creations, I understood one thing: magic pervades his work.  The symmetry feels utterly foreign, as though you’ve stepped in Dali painting and are unsure whether you wish to find your way out.  His world is at times sinister, at other times stricken with childish delights, but despite its fantastical elements, Gaudi’s buildings would not be considered follies.


The demarcation between fantasy and folly lies in the buildings intended use.  Upon approaching the nineteenth century, however, follies were increasingly allocated to activities beyond titillating one’s family and friends.

A confusing and ambiguous definition, when you get down to it.

Essentially, the strict definition of a folly distills down to two components.  One: does the buildings express purpose lie in ornamentation?  Two: is the nature of the structure symbolically relevant in terms of ideals and/or values?  Answer yes to both and you have genuine folly on your hands.

Sir Thomas Tresham’s Rushton Triangular Lodge, built 1593-1597.  This is what gets built when you imprison a Roman Catholic for not converting to Protestantism.   Throughout the design, you’ll see symbols of the Holy Trinity with its enthusiam for threes.

In addition to being expensive and impractical, follies were imitative in desgin.  Art wanted to reproduce a life already lived.  Like most trends, the initial concept of follies started with the privileged and trickled down to all who could afford historical aspirations, including the actor David Garrick

Garrick’s Temple by Johan Zoffany, 1762.  As a Shakespearean actor, Garrick desired to commemorate the playwright with a temple in his honor. Located on the north bank of the Thames in Hampton, London on what was once land adjoining Garrick’s villa, it’s the only known tribute devoted entirely to Shakespeare.   

Aristocrats whose estates boasted authentic ruins were envied by peers who viewed their lands as aesthetically barren.  To honor the upper class dictate of do thy neighbor one better, the 18th century—the last great hurrah of the landed aristocracy—saw a renewal in folly construction, although the trend was born some two centuries before.

Conceit was the lifeblood of these fantasy constructions.  Roman and Doric temples illustrated a desire to emulate classical virtues.  Nods to faraway cultures gave way to Egyptian pyramids, Chinese temples, and Tatar tents.  Travelling abroad, one might say, without ever leaving home.

Désert de Retz near Chambourcy, France

Simple peasant virtues, like those expressed in Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet at Versailles, were somewhat rarer but appeared in the form of mills, cottages, and rustic villages.  As the eighteenth century progressed, exoticism surfaced much the same way Chinoiserie did in textiles and home décor in the early 1700s.  Chinese pagodas and Japanese bridges were favored in lieu of castles and ruins, furthering euphoria over displaying one’s wealth through useless landscape ornaments.

 Brizlee Tower, from A Description and Historical View of Alnwick, 1822

Many notable follies were built to commemorate a loved one, particularly a woman.  Brizlee Tower, located on Hulne park near Alnwick Castle, was commissioned by Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland, after Lady Elizabeth Seymour’s death in 1776.  In high gothic style, the tower sits atop a hill and rises 26 meters for a clear birdseye view from the north, east, and west.  As with a number of the tower follies, a beacon is surmounted at its heights.  When lit the fire can be seen for miles around.

Broadway Tower via Wiki Commons 

This is likewise the case with Broadway Tower.  Built in 1799 for Lady Coventry, the tower functioned as a sort of test to ascertain whether or not she could see its beacon from her house in Worcestershire, 22 miles away.  She could.

Stancombe Lake and Temple from The Temple

Among the most romantic examples of a folly is the temple at Stancombe Park in Gloucestershire.  Although its creator, the reverend David Purnell-Edwards, was newly married and more pointedly a reverend at the time, the temple was supposedly an ode to his secret lover. The legend surrounding its construction is something of an amusing tale.  Apparently, when Purnell-Edwards married, the dowry he received was as equally generous as the physical proportions of his bride.  We are left to imagine they didn’t take well together.  Mismatched personality, sizist attitude, no love lost–well, irrespective of the facts, Purnell-Edwards had a beautiful gyspy on the side and no suitable place to engage in trysts with her.

His solution?  Construct a romantic walk around a two acre lake, conceive a series of tunnels too narrow for the wifey to fit through (they measured just over three feet in width), and at the walk’s end, erect a temple outfitted with snuggling quarters and a boudoir.  The good news is that for £300  a night, the lover’s tryst is all yours to re-enact.  The bad news, however, is that considering it was once voted the most romantic place in Britain, that re-enactment has been set on repeat for quite some time now.

Happy 2012, readers, and thanks for being among the first visitors of the new year!  Your comments and faithful readership are very much appreciated!

Stepping Outside Cà d’Zan: More Ringling Photos

Approaching the bay–isn’t the marble beautiful?  It looks like a Missoni pattern.

Journey straight through the simple stained glass windows and you’ll be in the Great Room again.  Turn around and there’s the bay.

The unsual looking glass continues throughout the house–come to think of it, I don’t believe the house has a single clear window.  They’re all like the one below.

The view from the Great Room

The Secret Garden north of Cà d’Zan

Secret Garden second view

Statues like this boy are everywhere around the estate.  I like how he’s being taken over by one of the many banyan trees on the grounds.

Missed the first Cà d’Zan post?  Find it here.

Interested in the layout of the estate?  Find it here.

On tap for tomorrow: The Prettiest Circus Drawings Ever

Cà d’Zan : The Ringling Mansion

Cà d’ Zan , the Venetian Gothic mansion belonging to the famous circus owner John Ringling, is a house unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  It’s part circus cheek, part Venetian elegance, and all at once oddly charming.  Built in 1924 and finished around Christmas 1925, it set John and Mable Ringling back 1.5 million–a princely sum in those days.  Situated right on Sarasota Bay, this 36,000 square foot home is on prime real estate and with a Belvedere tower rising 81 feet, the view is a sight to behold.  In total the house boasts 41 rooms and 15 bathrooms, although in person it doesn’t quite feel this large.  All in all it has five stories, including a basement, and stretches two hundred feet across the waterfront. 

The Mansion on the Bay

Approaching the house from the secret garden.  Although on a clear day, the house sparkles, it’s particularly moody with overcast skies.

From the Main Walk

 Facing the golden door where one enters the house

Turn 180 from the view of the golden door I just gave you and you’re facing an anteroom that looks into the great room to the right and a dining room which is not shown.  The red is dramatic, isn’t it?  Perfect for a circus family, I think.

The room directly beyond the foyer looks onto the bay.  It’s a big room full of nothing too interesting except an enchanting ceiling jam packed with vignettes.

The 1920s vignette is a nice ode to the time the house was built.

The Great Room and looking up. . .

I’m a sucker for detailed ceiling work as I am alway craning my neck.  Ca d’Zan does not disappoint in this regard.  Everything is finished with a discriminating eye.

Hand painted on wood


View towards the bay

I think I’ll post a few more photos tomorrow as this is running longer than expected and due to other obligations I’m getting to the post rather late.  So tomorrow then . . .

Handsome Devils and Their Digs: Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, 8th Duke of Hamilton

Douglas Hamilton with Dr. John Moore and Sir John Moore, 1775-1776, by Gavin Hamilton (yes, a relation–son of James, Duke of Chatellerault)

Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, 8th duke of a headache-inducing number of titles– including Duke Hamilton of Scotland, Duke Brandon of England, Duke Chatellerault of France, Marquess of Hamilton, of Clydesdale, of Douglas; Earl of Angus, Arran, and Lanark; Lord Macanshire, Polmont, Abernathey and Aberbrothock of Scotland; Baron Dutton and Hamilton in England . . . Still got your attention?  Good.  Our handsome devil (more devil than handsome, a certain lady wife might say), whom we shall call Double Douglas just once in this post, lived in a big, lovely house called Hamilton Palace.

Hamilton Palace, built in 1695, demolished in 1921. 

**Much of the Hamilton fortune derived from the coal industry.  The mining that took part on the property resulted in the property being deemed unsafe.  So sad!  It once housed priceless art works which in 1882 were sold for £397,562, including a throne from St. Petersburg, floors and doors of black Galway marble,  a grand Corinthian portico, and green porphyry columns taken from the Basilica di Semproneo originally from Ancient Rome. More here.

He was the second son of the 6th duke who had the keen misfortune of dying from a cold after a hunting expedition.  His brother, James, the heir apparent from age two onward, died from consumption–or if we are to trust Dodley’s Annual Register , “his growing so exceedingly fast is said to have been the cause of death”–before reaching the age of 15.  The 7th duke was already 5’8 in his early teens which was apparently thought to be a medical condition on account of vertical largess (5’8 or so being the average male height during C18).

Having lost her first heir, Hamilton’s mother panicked and shipped the newest duke off to the Continent as he was also known to suffer from a delicate constitution.  After four years touring Europe with his tutor, Dr. John Moore, Hamilton returned to England, his vitality restored, his mother happy, and all well and right with his world.  The parson’s mousetrap, however, caught up with him.  Two years after his homecoming, Hamilton entered into an imprudent match with Elizabeth Anne Burrell, daughter of a Mr. Peter Burrell.  This is where the road gets bumpy.

Duchess and Duke of Hamilton, a now extinct portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, painted 1779, a year after they were married.  A sweet portrait; the affection between them is palpable.

To say the least, Mother Duchess was not pleased.  Given the inequality of the untion, one can only assume this relationship between Miss Burrell and Hamilton began as a love match, but it quickly descended into unhappiness.  From Famous Beauties of Two Reigns, it is said of Hamilton,

One gets the sense he was not exactly a gentleman of moderation, at least not when it came to women.  Like many Georgian-era lords, Hamilton did have a regrettable tendency to be the paramour of his loose lady friends–one of the reasons his duchess later divorced him.  Although divorces were rare for the period, the action brought before Parliament by Duchess Hamilton was not an overwrought dramatization of a marriage gone wrong.  On the contrary, it was a sensible move without much bitterness involved.  It is described thusly in Alienated Affections:

“The case of Her Grace Elizabeth Anne Burrell Duchess of Hamilton and Brandon against Douglas Duke of Hamilton and Brandon was extremely amicable and had clearly been agreed on beforehand.  They had been married in 1778, and the libel stated that his adultery began in 1787, without naming the ‘Lady or Woman’ with whom he was then guilty.  The case was founded on another affair, carried on over the months preceding the summons in November 1793.  His mistress was ‘Mrs. Eisten the actress’, and he brought her to Hamilton and took her along to Arran where they could be seen together by all the servants.  Her Grace, having left Hamilton a year earlier, had no trouble obtaining her divorce.  She remarried, but not until 1800, so that could not have been the motive for bringing the divorce action.”

In the Duchess’s mind, this divorce action had roots in Hamilton’s previous affair with the Earl of Eglinton’s wife, neé Frances Twysden, around 1787.  The then 31 year old Hamilton would visit Lady Eglinton at night, including when Lord Eglinton was shortly away at supper.  Their congress occurred with such regularity that the Earl’s servant, Montgomery Lawson, was boldly asked by Lady Eglinton, “if he would admit the Duke of Hamilton into her bedchamber”.  He refused.  She admitted the married duke anyway and so continued her not-so-discreet affair.

For another 12 years, Hamilton continued in as much the same manner as he had before his divorce.  Despite the duke’s stimulating lifestyle, however, he failed to remarry and died at the age of 43.  He did have an illegitimate child with the actress Harriet Pye Bennett (at the time called Mrs. Esten), but never produced issue.  The title passed to his father’s youngest brother, Archibald Hamilton, the 5th duke’s eldest living son.  Archibald Hamilton, the 9th duke, was only 16 years older than the 8th duke, and unlike dukes 5 through 8 who succumbed to illness before their mid-forties, Archibald managed to overcome what had proven to be a delicate constitution in the exalted line and lived until the ripe age of 79.

Handsome Devils and Their Digs: 4th Earl of Aberdeen

George Hamilton-Gordon was not only a hottie, he had a big heart.  Upon visiting his Scottish estate of Haddo house in 1805 for the first time since childhood,  he was stunned by the impoverished conditions surrounding his tenants.  His father and grandfather had accrued large debts during their lifetimes and instead of squandering what little money he had, George invested his inheritance in agriculture and husbandry to improve the welfare of those under his protection.   Impressive for a man who ascended to the earldom at age 17.

George also appeared to be a softie in the love department.  At age 21 he married Lady Catherine Elizabeth Hamilton, daughter of 1st Marquess of Abercorn.  She died of tuberculosis in 1812, their heir and only son having died two years prior.  Without issue, George did marry his widowed sister-in-law Harriet Douglas in 1815 at the insistence of his father-in-law.  The marriage was a disaster.  George remained in love with his previous wife and had a strong dislike for Harriet saying she was one of the stupidest persons he had ever met.  Ouch!  Harriet hated Haddo house, the Aberdeen ancestral seat, and was unkind to his daughters from his first marriage.  By 1819 they were already living apart.

Marital difficulties aside, George’s life had its satisfactions.  After the death of his parents, he appointed William Pitt the younger as his guardian, a relationship with evolved into a close friendship.  As promissed by Pitt, he gained an English peerage in 1814, allowing him access to the House of Lords (Scottish peers did not have rights to a seat) and a secure, if ultimately rocky, future in politics.  He was also a devoted father, a fellow of the Royal Society, a scholar with interest in archaeology and Greece from his Grand Tours days, and Prime Minister from 1852 to 1855.

For more on today’s handsome devil:

Handsome Devils and Their Digs: 5th Viscount Chetwynd

On account of the summer heat, I’m feeling blog malaise and so I thought, what better way to revive myself and all of you than a bit of aristocratic eye candy?  Wigs notwithstanding, there were some striking faces in the bunch, especially if you like serious looking fellows.

Without further ado then, I invite you to unearth your inner gold digger (in the 18th century, this was no crime!).  Kindly allow me to present what might have been your future prospects if you were a) a lady of the ton living in Georgian England or b) a romance novel heroine.

First off, Richard, 5th Viscount of Chetwynd.

By Thomas Gainsborough, 1780s

(c)  Gainsborough’s House.  Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Chetwynd Digs (I’m misleading you here.  I’ll explain below):

The magnificent Ingestre Hall actually passed down to the 2nd Viscount Chetwynd’s daughter, Hon. Catherine Chetwynd, by testementary will which allowed the estate to pass to Catherine and her eldest male son, who  later became the 1st Earl of Talbot and Viscount Ingestre .  During this time, women could inherit if no male heirs remained.  As this was not the case, I’m not exactly certain what happened regarding the estate falling out of succession with the next Viscount Chetwynd.  In all likelihood, the estate was not entailed.

The 2nd Viscount’s sons having predeceased him, the title of Viscount Chetwynd passed to his brother, William, who was the heir-at-law.  Richard, our handsome devil of the day, was the great- grandson of William and was born at Heywood Park, Staffordshire.  Given that I couldn’t find any pictures of Heywood, Ingestre Hall is what you get to associate Chetwynd with for now.  I’ll aim for full-on accurancy next post.  Promise.

What else might you like to know about the Chetwynds?

  • They hail from Bearhaven, County Kerry, Ireland
  • The viscountcy was created by King George I in 1717
  • The family motto is Probitas Verus Honos: Probity is true honor
  • 6th Viscount Chetwynd, Richard’s son, was known as “Oroonoko Chetwynd” due to his dark complexion.  Oroonoko was the enslaved African prince in Aprha Behn’s 1688 novel of the same name.

On Entailment

Entailing property ensured the ancestral seat of any given aristocratic title  remained in the family, thereby retaining the rank, both in wealth and history, due to the peerage.  A number of problems existed when daughters inherited.  Firstly, in the case of several daughters, the estate would be broken up into equal portions.  When only one daughter was present to inherit, the estate would pass to her husband’s male descendants and out of the original patriarchal line.  Where primogeniture ruled, however, the estate was guaranteed to remain whole because entailed property could not be sold or deeded outside the succeeding male line.  This is exactly the dilemma of the Bennet family in Pride & Prejudice with Mr. Collins.  See Land, Law, and Love from the Jane Austen Society of North America for a more comprehensive  explanation of entailment.

The Bones of Holkham Hall


Holkham Hall is the ancestral seat of  Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester, and his descendants.  As one of the most notable examples of 18th century Palladian revival, which celebrated the symmetrical style of ancient Greece and Rome, its construction lasted a total of 30 years, between 1734 when its foundation was laid and 1764 when the great house was finally completed.

This early blueprint is based on the principal plan of the piano nobile, or first floor, drawn by Matthew Brettingham in 1761.  For purposes of understanding what an 18th century country estate might look like to the bones, it’s fantastic.  The reception rooms are situated around two courtyards.  Wings extend from the heart, comprising the bedchambers and the family’s various private rooms.

Upon close review, Holkham Hall might look familiar to you.  The 2008 film, The Duchess, was set on location here.  The Great Hall in particular was the setting for many of Georgina’s emotional interludes, including her  argument with Charles Grey after she’s returned from their love affair in Bath.

The Library

The Chapel

The Salon or Saloon

For more information, see:

360 degree view of Holkham Hall

Visit Holkham Hall

More pictures