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Thursday, 31 October 2019

The Oaks - birthplace of the Epsom Derby

The Oaks from Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey by GF Prosser (1828)
The Oaks from Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey by GF Prosser (1828)
When I was a girl, I lived on Woodmansterne Road in Carshalton, Surrey (though my husband argues that it is really in London as it is part of the London Borough of Sutton). I often visited nearby Oaks Park with my brothers.

Deep in the depths of the park lie the ruins of The Oaks – the villa of Edward Smith-Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby. The Earl had a passion for horse racing, and it was here that two of the British Classic horse races were conceived: the Epsom Oaks and the Epsom Derby.

Lambert’s Oaks

According to Prosser's Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey (1828), The Oaks
… is pleasantly situated on Banstead Downs, in the parish of Woodmanston; the healthiness and convenience of the situation for the enjoyment of field sports, attracted the notice of a society of gentlemen called the Hunter’s Club, to whom the land was leased by Mr Lambert, whence it was long known as ‘Lambert's Oaks’. They built a small house, designed for the festive meetings and general convenience of the society to partake of the diversions of the chase.1
General Burgoyne

The Oaks by John Collet c1762 © British Museum 1875,0814.961  under a Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
The Oaks by John Collet c1762 © British Museum 1875,0814.961
under a Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA 4.0   
The house was occupied first by Mr Simmons and then by Sir Thomas Gosling before General Burgoyne bought the lease of the club.

Hughson’s London (1808) described The Oaks:
General Burgoyne purchased the lease, and built a dining room forty-two feet by twenty-one, with an arched roof, elegantly finished; twenty-eight small cased pillars of fine workmanship, and a concave mirror at each end. The dining table is of plain deal boards, in conformity to the style of a hunting seat. The red hall entrance is small, but elegant: it contains two landscapes, and a few other pictures. The drawing room, on the first floor, is an octagon, ornamented with a variety of small pictures. It commands a prospect of Norwood, Shooter's Hill, many churches in London and its environs, Hampstead, Highgate, &c.2
Prosser also described The Oaks: 
On the ground floor is a good dining-room, built by general Burgoyne, forty-two feet in length by twenty-one in breadth, including an arched recess at each end; and eighteen feet in height. It is ornamented with twenty-six small cased Corinthian columns, bearing a cornice; various medallions also adorn the walls. Adjoining the west end is a drawing-room thirty-three feet by thirty-eight. The other apartments though not spacious are numerous, and replete with convenience; those on the north front command a distant view of London and its neighbouring eminences. The exterior of the building, from its ancient style of architecture, and being entirely clothed with ivy, presents a pleasing and venerable appearance.3
General Burgoyne extended and improved the estate before selling it to his nephew, Edward Smith-Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby. He
… planted the grounds, and created here a pleasant summer retreat, admirably adapted for the pursuit of his favorite amusements, hunting and shooting. He also purchased some adjoining land; and the whole tenement, in its improved state, he sold to the present earl of Derby.4
The Oaks from London by D Hughson Volume V (1808)
The Oaks from London by D Hughson Volume V (1808)
The Earl of Derby

The Earl made his own improvements to the house:
The earl … added, at the west end, a large brick building, with four towers at each corner; and there is a similar erection at the east end, which renders the structure uniform, and gives an elegant Gothic appearance.5
Despite being only a hunting box, the house must have been of a considerable size as, according to Hughson:
His lordship can accommodate his guests with upwards of fifty bed chambers.6
The Earl also extended the grounds:
The pleasure grounds his lordship has much enlarged, by enclosing a part of the common, which has since been planted, and the whole, nearly three miles in circumference, has been arranged with much good taste. A short distance south-east of the house is a remarkable old beech tree, the boughs of which are curiously interwoven and grown into each other.7
The Fête Champêtre of 1774

To celebrate his imminent marriage to Lady Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Hamilton, sister to Douglas Hamilton, 8th Duke of Hamilton, the Earl of Derby held a Fête Champêtre at The Oaks on 9 June 1774. For this elaborate alfresco entertainment, a magnificent temporary pavilion, designed by Robert Adam, was built in the grounds.

Inside view of the supper room and part of the ballroom in a  pavilion erected for a Fête Champêtre in the garden of the Earl of Derby  at The Oaks, in Surrey, on June 9th, 1774 - Robert Adam, Architect -in  The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam by R&A Adam (1773)
Inside view of the supper room and part of the ballroom
in a pavilion erected for a Fête Champêtre in the garden of the
Earl of Derby at The Oaks, in Surrey, on June 9th, 1774
Robert Adam, Architect - in The Works in Architecture
 of Robert and James Adam by R&A Adam (1773)
Mrs Delany described the Fête Champêtre in a letter to Mrs Port of Ilam:
I think it a fairy scene that may equal any in Madame Danois; nothing at least in modern days has been exhibited so perfectly magnificent – everybody in good humour, and agreed that it exceeded their expectation. The master of the entertainment (Lord Stanley), was dressed like Reubens, and Lady Betty Hamilton (for whom the feast was made), like Reubens’ wife. The company arriving, and partys of people of all ranks that came to admire, made the scene quite enchanting, which was greatly enlivened with a most beautiful setting sun breaking from a black cloud in its greatest glory.

After half an hour’s sauntering the company were called to the other side, to a more confined spot, where benches were placed in a semicircle, and a fortunate clump of trees in the centre of the small lawn hid a band of musick; a stage was (supposed to be formed) by a part being divided from the other part of the garden, with sticks entwined with natural flowers in wreaths and festoons joining each. A little dialogue between a Sheperd and Sheperdess, with a welcome to the company, was sung and said, and dancing by 16 men and 16 women figuranti’s from the Opera lasted about half an hour; after which this party was employed in swinging, jumping, shooting with bows and arrows, and various country sports.

The gentlemen and ladies danced on the green till it was dark, and then preceded the musick to the other side of the garden, the company following, where a magnificent saloon had been built, illuminated and decorated with the utmost elegance and proportion: here they danced till supper, when curtains were drawn up, which shewed the supper in a most convenient and elegant apartment, which was built quite round the saloon of a sufficient breadth and height to correspond with the saloon; after the supper, (which was exceeding good, and everybody glad of it as the evening had begun so very early, all the company being assembled in the saloon,) an interlude, in which a Druid entered as an inhabitant of the Oaks, welcomed Lady Betty Hamilton, and described the happiness of Lord Stanley in having been so fortunate, and in a prophetic strain foretold the happiness that must follow so happy an union, which, with chorus’s and singing and dancing by the Dryads, Cupid and Hymen attending and dancing also, it concluded with the happiness of the Oak making so considerable a part in the arms of Hamilton; a piece of transparent painting was brought in, with the crest of Hamilton and Stanley, surrounded with all the emblems of Cupid and Hymen, who crowned it with wreaths of flowers. From the great room in the house a large portico was built, which was supported by transparent columns and a transparent architecture on which was written, ‘To Propitious Venus.’ The pediment illuminated, and obelisks between the house and saloon. People in general very elegantly dressed: the very young as peasants; the next as Polonise; the matrons dominos; the men principally dominos and many gardiners, as in the Opera dances.8
Plan of pavilion for Fête Champêtre at The Oaks from  The Works in Architecture of Robert and   James Adam by R&A Adam (1773)
Plan of pavilion for Fête Champêtre at The Oaks from
The Works in Architecture of Robert and
 James Adam by R&A Adam (1773)
General Borgoyne wrote a musical entertainment inspired by the Fête Champêtre called The Maid of the Oaks which was performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Prosser noted that:
The interest of the piece was greatly increased by the excellent performance of Mrs Abingdon; it was afterwards represented in 1782 at Drury Lane Theatre with much success.9
The birth of two horse races

Sadly, all that is left of The Oaks today is the stable block and a few signboards, but the name of the house and its owner are commemorated in a sport that the Earl of Derby was passionate about – horse racing.

Stables at The Oaks © A Knowles (2016)
Stables at The Oaks © A Knowles (2016)
A plaque on one of the walls of the stables that still stand reads:
In 1779, whilst at dinner with the Duke of Richmond and Sir Charles Bunbury, Lord Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby, named a new horse race – The Oaks – after the house that once stood here. In 1780 another race – The Derby – was conceived. The Oaks was demolished in 1950 after war damage.10
Plaque on wall of stables, The Oaks © A Knowles (2016)
Plaque on wall of stables, The Oaks © A Knowles (2016)
A timeline on an adjacent signboard suggests that the demolition actually took place later, between 1956 and 1960. My parents can remember the house and said that it was not so much war damage, but the gradual decay of the house through neglect and vandalism which finally led to it being pulled down – how sad!

Notes
1. Prosser, George Frederick, Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey (1828).
2. Hughson, David, London; being an accurate history and description of the British Metropolis and its neighbourhood Volume V (1808).
3. Prosser op cit.
4. Ibid.
5. Hughson op cit.
6. Ibid.
7. Prosser op cit.
8. Delany, Mrs, The autobiography and correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs Delany (1861).
9. Prosser op cit.
10. Plaque on wall of The Oaks, photographed 2016.

Sources used include:
Adam, Robert and Adam, The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam (1773)
Burgoyne, John, The Maid of the Oaks: A new dramatic entertainment. As it is performed at the Theatre-Royal, in Drury-Lane (1775)
Crosby, Alan G, Stanley, Edward Smith, 12th Earl of Derby (1752-1834), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn Sept 2004, accessed 29 May 2018)
Debrett, John, The Peerage of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1820)
Delany, Mrs, The autobiography and correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs Delany (1861)
Draper, P, The House of Stanley (1864)
Hughson, David, London; being an accurate history and description of the British Metropolis and its neighbourhood Volume V (1808)
Prosser, George Frederick, Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey (1828)

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

The Bachelor Duke - William Spencer Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire (1790-1858)

William Spencer Cavendish, 6th Duke of   Devonshire - on Oak Stairs at Chatsworth  Photo © A Knowles (2014)
William Spencer Cavendish, 6th Duke of
Devonshire - on Oak Stairs at Chatsworth
Photo © A Knowles (2014)
Profile

William Spencer Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire (21 May 1790 - 18 January 1858), was known as the Bachelor Duke, because he never married. He was a patron of the Whigs, but his absorbing passions were more cultural than political with deep interests in horticulture, literature, science and sculpture.

Birth and family

William Spencer Cavendish was born in Paris on 21 May 1790, the long-awaited son and heir of William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, and his first wife, Lady Georgiana Spencer. He had two older sisters, Georgiana (1783-1858) and Harriet (1785-1862). His family called him Hart (as I have throughout this post), an abbreviation of his title, the Marquess of Hartington, which he used from birth until he became Duke. Hart was baptised at St George’s Hanover Square on 21 May 1791.

Bust of William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire   in Sculpture Gallery, Chatsworth  © A Knowles (2014)
Bust of William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire
 in Sculpture Gallery, Chatsworth
© A Knowles (2014)
Two years without a mother

The relationship between Hart’s parents was very strained. They lived in a strange ménage à trois with Georgiana’s intimate friend, Lady Elizabeth Foster, who was also the Duke’s mistress. Indeed, rumours circulated from time to time that Lady Elizabeth was really Hart’s mother.

Georgiana’s huge gambling debts threatened her marriage, but it was her affair with Charles Grey, later 2nd Earl Grey, which brought things to a head. Georgiana became pregnant with Grey’s child and the Duke sent her abroad in disgrace. She gave birth to her daughter Eliza in February 1792, but she was not allowed to return home until the following autumn.

For two years, Hart and his sisters were left under the care of their governess, Selina Trimmer. When Georgiana returned, the three-and-a-half-year-old Hart did not recognise his mother and screamed when she tried to touch him. It later transpired that he was profoundly deaf – the result of an infection he had contracted whilst she was abroad. Georgiana felt so guilty for being away that she was inclined to spoil her son.  

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and child  after the painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds  from The Two Duchesses (1898)
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and child
after the painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds
from The Two Duchesses (1898)
Education and character

As a boy, Hart was temperamental and isolated, and his mother deplored the fact that he seemed to prefer the company of servants. He was educated at Harrow School before going up to Trinity College, Cambridge. He continued to shy away from physical contact and was inclined to hysterics if his sisters teased him.

Lady Caro

Hart was very attached to his cousin, Lady Caroline Ponsonby, and was distraught when she married William Lamb, the future Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, in 1805. It was, however, the act of allowing his mother to comfort him that established a friendship between them that had been lacking.

Lady Caroline Lamb from Wives of the Prime Ministers (1844-1906)
Lady Caroline Lamb
from Wives of the Prime Ministers (1844-1906)
Lady Elizabeth Foster

After Georgiana’s death in March 1806, Hart and his sisters deeply resented Lady Elizabeth Foster taking their mother’s place and her eventual marriage with their father in October 1809. In later years, however, the new Duchess seemed to regain the influence which she had possessed over Hart as a child.

Lady Elizabeth Foster, later Duchess of Devonshire, in South Sketch Gallery, Chatsworth
Lady Elizabeth Foster, later Duchess of Devonshire,
in South Sketch Gallery, Chatsworth
The 6th Duke

Hart became the 6th Duke of Devonshire on the death of his father on 29 July 1811, at the age of 21. He inherited eight houses, including Chatsworth, Devonshire House, Hardwick Hall and Chiswick, and around 200,000 acres of land. He took his family responsibilities very seriously and continued to pay off his mother’s debts.

The Oak Stairs, Chatsworth © A Knowles (2014)
The Oak Stairs, Chatsworth © A Knowles (2014)
Politics

Hart was a Whig and a reformist, but more through patronage than from an active political career in the House of Lords as he was impeded by his deafness.

He was appointed Ambassador Extraordinary to the Russian Empire and visited St Petersburg in 1826 for the coronation of Tsar Nicholas I and was decorated with the orders of St Andrew and St Alexander Nevsky in recognition of the £26,000 of his own money he spent on the occasion.

Hart was sworn in as a member of the Privy Council in April 1827 and was Lord Chamberlain to George IV (1827-8) and William IV (1830-4). He took over from his father as Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire in 1811, a position he held until his death.

Hart was a friend of the Prince Regent, later George IV, and carried the orb at his coronation in 1821.

George IV in his coronation robes from An authentic history of the coronation of His Majesty, King George the Fourth   by Robert Huish (1821)
George IV in his coronation robes
from An authentic history of the coronation
of His Majesty, King George the Fourth

  by Robert Huish (1821)
The Bachelor Duke

After his disappointment over Lady Caro Ponsonby, Hart did not embark upon any serious courtship – at least not one that is mentioned in any of my chief sources. He did, however, appear to have had at least one mistress. He had a secret, ten-year relationship with Eliza Warwick from 1827, but little is known about her. It has been suggested that Hart abandoned Eliza after his conversion to Evangelical Christianity.

Modernisation of Chatsworth

Hart employed the architect Sir Jeffry Wyatville to modernise and extend Chatsworth. He built a magnificent oak staircase leading to the new north wing which included a Dining Room, Orangery, private Theatre and Sculpture Gallery. He also turned the Long Gallery into the Library and added ground floor windows to the Painted Gallery.

The Library, Chatsworth © A Knowles (2014)
The Library, Chatsworth © A Knowles (2014)
Redecorating Chiswick

In the 1840s, Hart lavishly redecorated the interiors of Chiswick House, using the firm of Crace & Son. His sister Harriet exclaimed:
Oh! Chiswick! Dearest brother, Chiswick! What shall I say? Chatsworth, be jealous.1
Sadly, the decorations were left to decay and the east and west wings were demolished in the 1950s. You can read a description of the decorations on the Chiswick House website.

Horticulturalist

Hart made Joseph Paxton Head Gardener at Chatsworth and with his help, he redeveloped the gardens. Hart was very fond of travelling and in 1838, Paxton accompanied him on a Grand Tour of Europe. He built the Rockery at Chatsworth to imitate the alpine scenery. He also built the Emperor Fountain, which can rise to the height of 90 metres, and the Grand Conservatory – the forerunner of Paxton’s Crystal Palace, built for the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Hart was President of the Royal Horticultural Society (1838-58) and the Cavendish banana is named for him.

The Emperor Fountain, Chatsworth © A Knowles (2014)
The Emperor Fountain, Chatsworth © A Knowles (2014)
Hart the collector

The Sculpture Gallery, Chatsworth © A Knowles (2014)
The Sculpture Gallery, Chatsworth © A Knowles (2014)
Hart was a great collector – of minerals, coins, medals, sculpture and books. He bought several complete libraries, including those of Thomas Dampier, Bishop of Ely, the Duke of Roxburghe, and John Kemble. His papers include correspondence with several authors including Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and William Makepeace Thackeray.

He was passionate about marble and formed a great friendship with the sculptor Antonio Canova. The Sculpture Gallery was created to display his collection of contemporary sculpture and is presided over by busts of Canova and Hart.

Bust of Canova in Sculpture Gallery, Chatsworth © A Knowles (2014)
Bust of Canova in Sculpture Gallery, Chatsworth
© A Knowles (2014)
Hart the historian

Hart was also very interested in the history of his family and of their estates at Chatsworth and Hardwick. In 1844, he privately published the first volume of a book called Handbook to Chatsworth and Hardwick, written in the first person to his sister, Harriet, Countess Granville.

He was instrumental in the formation of the Derby Museum and Art Gallery in 1836.

Debts

Hart’s expensive habits of building, collecting and travelling came with a cost. He ran up extensive debts and was obliged to sell some of his estates to settle them.

Illness and death

Hart suffered a paralytic seizure in 1854 and died at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire on 18 January 1858. He was buried at Edensor, Derbyshire.

He was succeeded by his first cousin, once removed, another William Cavendish, 2nd Earl of Burlington (1808-1891).2

Notes
1. From the Chiswick House website (see link below).
2. The 7th Duke's father, yet another William Cavendish (1783-1812), was Hart's first cousin, and he would have inherited if he had not already died.

Sources used include:
Cavendish, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and others, The Two Duchesses, Family Correspondence, ed by Vere Foster (Blackie & Son, 1898, London)
Foreman, Amanda, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (HarperCollins, 1998, London)
Fowler, Claire, Your guide to Chatsworth (Chatsworth House Trust, 2010)
Huish, Robert, An authentic history of the coronation of His Majesty, King George the Fourth (1821)
Reynolds, KD, Cavendish, William George Spencer, 6th Duke of Devonshire (1790-1858), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn Jan 2008, accessed 30 Oct 2014)