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Portman Square (7 Lower Seymour Street), for Francis Thomas Fitzmaurice, 3rd Earl of Kerry, 1769, possibly executed (5)

Francis Thomas Fitzmaurice, 3rd Earl of Kerry was born in Dublin on 9 September 1740. He was the only son born to William Fitzmaurice, 2nd Earl of Kerry and his second wife Lady Gertrude Lambart. Following the death of his father in April 1747, Francis succeeded to the title and Fitzmaurice estates at 6 years of age. As a result he was made a ward of Chancery and placed under the guardianship of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. In 1755 he was accepted at Trinity College, Dublin, graduating in 1759.

In March 1768 the earl married Anastasia Daly, the daughter and co-heir of Peter Daly of Quansbury, County Galway. Anastasia had first been married to her cousin Charles Daly, whom she divorced in 1766 in order to marry Francis. As a result the Earl required a special licence to marry. The ensuing scandal led to the couple’s departure from Ireland and they initially set up home in Cross Deep Hall, Twickenham. The couple were married for 31 years and were seen to be devoted one another. When Anastasia died on 9 April 1799, the devastated Earl constructed a magnificent tomb for her in the chapel of St Andrew, Westminster Abbey. The marble tomb sculpted by G. Buckham was fitted with a pyramidal tablet dedicated to ‘the dearest, the most beloved, the most charming and most faithful and affectionate companion that ever blessed man’.

After his wife’s death the Earl lived in seclusion, leasing a property on Pall Mall along with Hampton Court House as his residences.

Francis Fitzmaurice died on 4 July 1818, aged 78. As he and Anastasia had no children his estates and titles passed to his cousin Henry, 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne. Lord Kerry was interred within his wife’s tomb at Westminster Abbey with the additional inscription ‘in death they were not divided’.

Portman Square and its adjoining streets were developed by the Portman Estate, beginning in around 1764 and completed in the 1770s. Built under speculation, several of the sites were sub-leased to the builders Abraham and Samuel Adams who were responsible for several properties on the east and west sides of the Square.

In 1769 Robert Adam produced four ceiling designs for the Earl of Kerry, with the inscriptions allocating them to a house in Portman Square. This has previously caused some confusion as the Earl does not appear on the rate books for Portman Square. Bolton suggested that the designs may have been intended for an unbuilt house on the south side of the Square, which was under construction at the time. King speculates that the drawings may have been incorrectly inscribed and that the ceiling designs were possibly for the Earl’s unexecuted house in Portland Place, designed by Adam 6 years later (SM Adam volume 12/12-7, 48/95-102). However Roberts has recently identified a house leased in 1768 by the Earl of Kerry on the south east corner of Portman Square.

Previously missed from the study of the square’s rate books, Kerry’s house was originally numbered 7 Lower Seymour Street, where Lord Kerry is recorded from July 1770. However, as Roberts notes, the Earl’s lease of the house from Abraham Adams must date from early 1768, as in July 1768 Ince and Mayhew begin to submit bills to Lord Kerry as overseers of works at 7 Lower Seymour Street. This included substantial work undertaken by carpenters, plumbers, masons and bricklayers. Roberts highlights how the Ince and Mayhew documentation records substantial alterations to the interiors of the house between 1770 and 1772, amounting to over £5,300 and all overseen by the cabinet makers. The bill for furniture would prove to be truly extravagant at £12,695 9s 4d, all supplied by Ince and Mayhew. Roberts speculates that this may be the most significant private purchase of furniture of the eighteenth century.

The Earl’s house on the south east corner of Portman Square may also have been previously overlooked due to the astonishing rate that he acquired and disposed of properties. As Roberts highlights in the years 1768-70 he was seen to acquire three houses in England, beginning with South Hill Park in Berkshire, followed by Prior Park, Bath and eventually 7 Lower Seymour Street.

Despite his extensive estates in Ireland, Kent and Durham, alongside Lady Kerry’s own substantial inheritance, the couple’s extravagant lifestyle led to great financial difficulties. In June 1778 Lord and Lady Kerry departed for Paris leaving behind substantial debts. Disputes ensued with several individuals over non-payment, including the firm of Ince and Mayhew. As a result the lease of the house at 7 Lower Seymour Street was taken over by a consortium, which included the cabinet makers.

The Earl of Kerry’s house was demolished in 1927 along with the east side of Portman Square. As a result we cannot know if Adam’s ceilings for the property were ever executed. The records do note several ornamental ceilings, but no further details are given.

E. Walford, ‘Oxford Street and its northern tributaries: Part 1 of 2’, Old and New London: Volume 4, 1878, pp. 406-441; A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 45, 48, 77; C. Cator, ‘The Earl of Kerry and Mayhew and Ince - The Idlest Ostentation', Furniture History, Vol. 26, 1990, pp. 27–33; D. King, The complete works of Robert and James Adam & unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume II, pp. 167, 181; H. Roberts, ‘Precise and exact in the minutest things of taste and decoration: The Earl of Kerry’s Patronage of Ince and Mayhew’, Furniture History, Vol. 49, 2013, pp. 1-146; ‘Francis Fitzmaurice, Earl of Kerry’, www.westminster-abbey.org; ‘Portman Square and Manchester Square’, www.historicengland.org.uk; ‘Hampton Court House’, www.historicengland.org.uk (accessed December 2020)

Anna McAlaney, 2021
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