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

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The Truth about Lady Barrymore, the Boxing Baroness

Barrymore

Courtesy of National Library of Scotland from the Balcarres Heritage Trust

Behold that shivering female there,

Who plies her woeful trade!

‘Tis ten to one you’ll find that GIN,

That hopeless wretch has made.

(The Gin-Shop; Or, a Peep into a Prison, Hannah More)

Our blog today concerns Lady Barrymore aka ‘The Boxing Baroness’ aka Mary Ann Pearce (sometimes Pierce).

In her youth ‘Lady Barrymore’ had been a beauty and the mistress of Richard Barry, the 7th Earl of Barrymore (1769 – 1793), a notorious rake known as Hellgate (his brothers were Newgate (after the prison) and Cripplegate (due to a deformity) and his sister Billingsgate because she swore like a fishwife).

Lady Barrymore - les trois magots

For an all too brief time, Mary Ann Pearce enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle with a splendid house together with her own carriage provided for her.  Their relationship had presumably come to an end by the time Barrymore eloped with 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. Before her marriage, Letty had been the mistress of both the Duke of York and John Rann, the highwayman.

Barrymore died the following year aged only 23. 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.

Subsequently, Mary Ann was known as ‘Lady Barrymore’ because of her previous connection but she had no entitlement to that name.  Her fondness for gin was her downfall and her undoing and led to numerous appearances before the Justices of the Peace and many spells in Tothill Fields Bridewell, often on the treadmill.

Let’s just set the record straight about ‘Lady Barrymore’ as there is plenty of conflicting information out there: the ‘boxing baroness’ and the woman who made regular appearances in the London courts, usually for being drunk and disorderly, was Mary Ann Pearce, not Charlotte Goulding who Richard married in June 1792. Poor Charlotte would be spinning in her grave at the thought of such an error!

Courtesy of the British Museum
Courtesy of the British Museum

Pearce was reputedly Mary Ann’s married name, one source having Lord Barrymore marry her off to a servant when he’d tired of her but another says her husband is mentioned as being an officer on the half pay.  Caroline Norton (née Sheridan, granddaughter of Richard Brinsley Sheridan) who became notorious when her husband, the Honourable George Norton, brought a criminal conversation case against her said she was the sister of Edward Wentworth Pearce.

Now Edward (or Edmund) Wentworth Pearce’s family are fascinating in their own right and, on face value, look an ideal match for the hapless Mary Ann.  Far from being servants, they are reasonably well-born and have two brothers who were on half-pay, one from the navy and one from the army, and their story is littered with family feuds, whoring, drunkenness (like Mary Ann a fondness for gin) and claims of insanity. There was a Mary and a Maria Pearce in this family but the Pearce’s are worthy of a blog in their own right, which you can find here.

Whoever Mr Pearce was, the marriage was an unhappy one and he seems to have abandoned Mary Ann by the beginning of the 1820’s when her descent into the gutter led to her notoriety.  She was often found insensible around the Drury Lane area of London, sometimes almost naked, and, if she wasn’t insensible, all too prone to using her fists, especially on the watchmen trying to arrest her, hence her sobriquet of ‘The Boxing Baroness’.

A picture of her, fists raised, appeared in the March 1819 edition of the Bon Ton Magazine in which she was linked to Viscount Ranelagh who had stood accused of an assault on some men who had trespassed on his property in the December of 1818.

Mary Ann’s is a tragic story: although she cuffed Beadles and police officers and swore at the magistrates, once she was in prison and away from the gin-shops she behaved with so much decency and propriety that Mr Nodder, the governor of Tothill Fields Bridewell, appointed her as a matron to look after the female prisoners whilst she was detained.  He often declared that he could not have selected a more fit person to act in that capacity and always regretted her release from prison as she invariably made straight for the nearest gin-shop and ‘in half an hour after she might be seen staggering through the streets, followed by a crowd of idlers, plaguing and annoying the wretched woman’.

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library
Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

To avoid this crowd she would hide in a public-house and, if refused more drink, took to destroying everything around her and smashing the windows.  Rather than a cossetted courtesan she now had to resort to the lowest form of prostitution to raise money for her next tot of gin.

At last her lifestyle caught up with her.  On Mary Ann’s last appearance at Bow Street her appearance led the official to believe her ‘in a consumption’ and she told Mr Minshull that “it was her last appearance on that stage”.

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library
Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

Just before her death she was taken to the station house in Covent Garden twice, both times being wearily discharged.  The last time Mary Ann, knowing her end was near, told the superintendent Mr Thomas, as she left, that “I have given you a great deal of trouble, Sir, but I shall not give you much more. It is almost over with me.”

The superintendent told her to go home and go to bed as she was clearly ill and although she promised to do so she instead went to a gin-shop.  Finally arriving back at her lodging, a miserable attic at No. 8 Charles Street (now called Macklin Street), Drury Lane, it was clear that she would not survive the night and around midnight the lodging house keeper came to the station to see Mr Thomas.  This kindly man went straight to the house as he thought she must have met with ill-treatment but found that she had died ten minutes before he got there.  She died in the early hours of the 9th October, 1832 and her cause of death was suffocation, occasioned by the excessive use of spirituous liquors.

mary ann pearce burial

Mary Ann was buried on the 23rd October 1832  at St Giles in the Field

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library
Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

 

SOLEMN VERSES.

 

AH! who is she whose haggard eye

Shrinks from the morning ray?

Who, trembling would, but cannot fly,

From the busy day!

Mark her pale lip, and cheek all o’er,

How deathly it appears!

See! how her blood-shot eye-balls pour

Torrents of briny tears.

Behold! alas, misfortune’s child,

For whom no kindred grieves ;

Now driven to distraction wild,

Her tortur’d bosom heaves!

Despis’d, yet dreaded, ruin’d, lost

Health, peace, and virtue fled ;

On misery’s stormy ocean tost,

Now stretch’d on dying bed.

 

Once were her prospects bright & gay,

Hope, smiling, blest her hours;

A vile seducer cross’d her way,

And cropt the blooming flower.

Dazzled by shining grandeur, she

Quits parents, friends, and home :

But soon reduc’d to misery,

An outcast vile to roam.

She, for relief, to liquor flies,

Which soon full havoc made;

Vanish’d the lustre of her eyes,

Her beauty soon decay’d.

Oft did she brave the winter’s wind,

The driving sleet and rain;

And oft in prison drear confin’d

For months she would remain.

 

At length by drink and fell disease

Worn down to skin and bone,

Upon a wretched pallet laid,

No kindred nigh – not one.

She yields to death, – no pitying friend,

Her hapless fate deplores

Ye fair, take warning by the end

of Lady Barrymore.

 

Printed by J. Catnach, 2 Monmouth-court, 7 Dials.

 

Sources used:

The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton, Diane Atkinson, 2012

The Examiner, 14th October, 1832

The Extraordinary Life and Death of Mary Anne Pierce, alias Lady Barrymore, National Library of Scotland