Regency Family Disaster: Fisherwick’s Demise

George, Lord Belfast, had a brother six years younger–Lord Spencer Stanley Chichester (1775-1819). Spencer Stanley was the last child born to the old Marquis and his beloved first wife, Anne. He was only four when his mother died.

Lord Spencer Stanley Chichester

Lord Spencer Stanley Chichester

When George came of age in 1791, he had already declined an education at his father’s alma mater, Oxford, and left home for the gaming tables and the turf:

“I had the whole story of Lord Belfast and a sad one it is….the foolish young man had been bamboozled out of 40,000 pounds in the space of nine months by some villainous people..” — 1791 letter from Lady Newdigate

Sixteen year old Spencer Stanley remained at Fisherwick, companion to a perplexed father puttering about his shells and books in between trips to London for Parliament and the Season. One can easily speculate how his lordship, despairing over his absent elder son’s dissipation, should turn for comfort to the younger.

Imagine how he must have rejoiced, after seeing George rebuffed by a chit in the schoolroom, when Spencer Stanley married the Lady Harriet Stewart, the daughter of the earl of Galway. No one thought to question why the older son was absent from the nuptials, which was a good thing for it might have cast a cloud over the festivities.

Lady Harriet Chichester

Lady Harriet Chichester

You see, on that very day, George was being married to the daughter of a moneylender.

It was shortly afterwards that Spencer Stanley was informed by his father the Marquis that Fisherwick and all the furnishings therein would one day be his. And because the old man did not trust his older son to see his will carried out, he made the younger the executor and appointed a trustee to advise him:

“against the many embarrassments which the great extent and multiplicity of my concerns and his own inexperience and the unhappy conduct of his brother may otherwise involve him in..” —

In 1799, the brothers came into their inheritance, their father having died at age fifty-nine. Creditors descended in ever larger droves on the hapless George, who had executed a number of post-obit bonds to cover his debts incurred after his estrangement from the family. His younger brother held all the cards, including a cash settlement from the Lagan Canal in the family’s Irish property. The building of this waterway had yet to be paid for, its equity stripped to pay out the settlement. George, as the new marquess and owner, was liable for this worthless asset, already deeply encumbered by the interest payments on the construction bonds.

The new marquis and his family moved from house to cottage across England, sometimes barely escaping with their clothes. Meanwhile, Spencer Stanley lived on at splendid Fisherwick, among the Gainsborough portraits of his family and perhaps idly playing on Queen Elizabeth’s virginal.

Then, in January 1816, La Belle Assemblee reported that Lord Spencer Stanley Chichester had presided over the sale of his father’s collection, including the Queen’s virginal, almost twelve years before. This was followed by the Survey of Staffordshire which revealed Fisherwick had been sold to one Richard Howard, Esquire six years before, in 1810. The Survey, being concerned with the land’s economic value in its mines, farms, and woods, cast a cynical eye over the fall of Fisherwick:

“..a profusion of embellishment, and extravagance of expenditure, this earthly paradise, as it was termed by vulgar minds..demolished by other architectural projectors for the value of the materials, which have been carried off to decorate the paradise of some other fanciful mortal.” — A Topographical History of Staffordshire, William Pitt (1817)

A footnote to Fisherwick’s fate concerned its magnificent stone portico. Sadly, the wrenching away of this decorative feature had destroyed the house itself:

“..such was the firmness of the fabric, that the destruction of the building has been the almost entire destruction of the material itself..” The New Monthly Magazine, Vol. 6 (1816)

According to this source, the pillars were to fetch 1000 pounds bid for by a new church to be built in Birmingham, but went to the Viscount Anston for a fraction of that amount. Eventually the portico wound up in the industrial town of Walsall, decorating the old George hotel, until this too was demolished in 1934.

those pillars do appear to be Ionic in design

those pillars do appear to be Ionic in design

Spencer Stanley died in Paris in 1819, leaving two sons and three daughters.

How he had journeyed to this end, leaving in his wake the destruction of his papa’s beloved Fisherwick, is a matter of conjecture. Had George prevailed upon his younger brother to pledge what he had to stave off the never-ending horde of creditors, swallowing up what the old Marquis had fought in vain to save? Or had Spencer Stanley, without the steadying hand of his father, fallen prey to the gambling vice that afflicted his older brother, losing Fisherwick through his own efforts?

The answer may lie in a future dispute among members of the Chichester family–one concerning the very name of Fisherwick itself.




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