Hellgate – He Lived for The Moment

Once upon a time, there were three brothers, with the surname Barry and with the nicknames ‘Newgate ’alias Augustus, as this was said to be the only prison he had been in.  Henry, known as ‘Cripplegate’ due to his club foot and then there is the one we are going to look at, Richard Barry, the 7th Earl of Barrymore, better known as ‘Hellgate’ as this was the gateway he was destined to enter.

Richard as a child - how angelic! © National Portrait Gallery, London
Richard as a child – how angelic! © National Portrait Gallery, London

Richard was born 1769, the eldest surviving of the four sons born to the 6th Earl of Barrymore and his wife Lady Amelia Stanhope during their short marriage. As the eldest son, Richard naturally inherited his father’s title when he died in August 1773 in Ireland from a fever.

The death of the 6th Earl left Amelia in their London home at Portman Square, to raise alone, a daughter plus the three boys. The youngest, Augustus was born only a few days before his father’s death.

This must have been a dreadful time for her, so she placed Richard under the care of the Reverend John Tickell, Wargrave, Berkshire until he was old enough to go up to Eton which he duly did from 1784 until he was 18.  However, in 1780 Lady Barrymore, aged just 31, died in France, after a lingering illness, her body, preserved in spirits was returned to England for burial. This left the four children, orphans, who were in part raised by their grandmother, Countess Harrington, who appeared to have little control of them allowing them free reign to do as they pleased, so of course, they ran wild.  The death of both parents must have had a profound effect on the children, especially Richard, which might explain the way he lived the rest of his life, for live his life he did in a way that today we call ‘living life on the edge’.

Scrub & Bonniface, or, Three brave lads against one poor Roscius Newgate invt. ; Cripplegate direxit ; Hellgate fecit. Lewis Walpole Library.
Scrub & Bonniface, or, Three brave lads against one poor Roscius Newgate invt. ; Cripplegate direxit ; Hellgate fecit. Lewis Walpole Library.

He rented a house in Wargrave and with his passion for the theatre he borrowed an advance on his inheritance which he would receive when aged twenty-one and had a theatre built opposite the house to indulge his passion. His inheritance was estimated to be around eleven thousand pounds a year, a nest egg which had been accumulating year on year since the death of his father, so around £190,000 when he reached his majority and from then on around £24,000 per year.

Richard certainly enjoyed the finer things in life and was a prolific gambler, lover of horse racing and of boxing and bare fist fighting, both watching and participating in as well as hosting parties for the great and the good of the day including the Prince Regent. He lived at a time when clubs were all the rage and he was a member of most, and if they did not exist he created them, such as the ‘Two O’Clock Club’, which was named for the hour of the morning they met. The ‘Star and Garter’ which was a tavern they met in.

George IV by Sir Thomas Lawrence. © National Portrait Gallery, London
George IV by Sir Thomas Lawrence. © National Portrait Gallery, London

He had an immense passion for gambling and would gamble on virtually anything. One of his more obscure bets took place in 1788 when the newspapers reported a bet between Richard and the Duke of Bedford, that he could produce a man who could eat a live cat. Quite what the sum of this wager was we may never know but he did win his bet two weeks later by producing a man who tore the cat limb from limb and devoured every morsel.  Later that year Richard continued with another of his passions, that of the theatre by performing at the theatre in Brighton.

A Royal Salute
Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art

On another occasion, he wagered that he could beat a Mr Bullock in a race around Brighton. Richard left the gentleman to set the course, the gentleman was somewhat rotund and set the course in incorporate a very narrow lane that Richard was unaware of. Richard gave him a thirty-five-yard start, then he set off, assuming this race would be easy to win. However, when they reached the narrow lane he could not pass Mr Bullock and so Richard lost the bet.

To add to his many vices, Richard had a fondness for the ladies and they for him in return, after all what was there not to like him, on receiving his inheritance he would be exceptionally wealthy, he was tall, very handsome, excellent physique, charming, witty, a skilled boxer, handy with a sword and an excellent horseman. He even learnt a language, which he was reputedly taught by the Duchess of Bolton, which was unintelligible to anyone who was not a party to the secret language, thereby allowing those ‘in the know’ to converse about everyone around them without them understanding a word of it.

His love of women led him to have several liaisons with women, married or otherwise including a Miss Ponsonby who had a connection to the Dukes of Devonshire, but her father put a stop to this liaison as Richard was not a wealthy or possibly suitable match for his daughter. He then had a brief, but intense relationship with a Mary Ann Pearce who benefitted from the luxurious lifestyle, living with him in his splendid house and with her own carriage.

Their relationship came to an end when he eloped in 1792, aged twenty-two, to Gretna Green where he married Charlotte Goulding, the daughter of a London sedan chairman and niece to Lady Letitia (Letty) Lade who had made a scandalous marriage with Sir John Lade, one of the inner circle of the Prince of Wales. In 1791, owing a great deal of money, and in order to stave off his creditors, Richard decided to become a member of Parliament for Heytesbury.

Letitia, Lady Lade by George Stubbs, 1793. Royal Collection
Letitia, Lady Lade by George Stubbs, 1793. Royal Collection

He was a Captain in the Royal Berkshire Militia and had been driving a gig which was taking French prisoners of war to Dover when his musket accidentally discharged. He was buried at Wargrave, Berkshire on 17th March 1793, so didn’t quite make it to his 24th birthday. Even after his death, there were rumours that he had been buried in secret to prevent his creditors from taking his corpse until his considerable debts had been paid. As he died intestate his estate was administered in March 1794 and valued at under £5,000, so did he gamble away all his wealth? It certainly would appear to be the case.

Sources Used

Pasquin, Anthony. The life of the late Earl of Barrymore

A Personal Observer. Truth Opposed to Fiction: Or, An Authentic and Impartial Review of the Life of the Late, Right Honourable the Earl of Barrymore

Saint Martin in the Fields, Westminster, marriage register

The Ipswich Journal 18 September 1773

Stamford Mercury 11 April 1788

Ipswich Journal 29 August 1789

Bury and Norwich Post 23 September 1789

Featured Image

Theatrical peer of Berks/ Theatrical peer of Berkshire. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

4 thoughts on “Hellgate – He Lived for The Moment

  1. Pingback: Fake Drake, boxing, and Byron. – Amy E. Weldon

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