17 September 2020

Two vicars of Cahir,
an MP for Lichfield, and
a scandalous divorce

Inside Saint Paul’s Church, Cahir … who were the Cavendish brothers who became Vicars of Cahir in the 1820s? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The list of Vicars of Cahir in Saint Paul’s Church, the Church of Ireland parish church designed by the Regency architect John Nash in Cahir, Co Tipperary, is an intriguing list of names that asks more questions than it answers.

As I looked last week at the framed list, from the 16th century until Cahir was united with Clonmel parish in 1980, two curious names stood out immediately after Saint Paul’s was built: the Hon Augustus Cavendish (1822) and the Hon Thomas Cavendish (1825).

They came in immediate succession, and their names raised too many questions for an inquisitive historian and genealogist: were they father and son, or a pair of brothers? In the most northerly parish in the Diocese of Lismore, were they there because of links with the Cavendish family of Lismore Castle, Dukes of Devonshire? Had the Butler family of Cahir Castle not provided one of their own members for the parish?

Indeed, there were more questions to be answered. For example, I knew instinctively that the prefix ‘the Hon’ was not the correct style for any son in the Cavendish family from Lismore Castle.

Where did they come from? Where did they move on to?

The list of Vicars of Cahir, including the names of Augustus and Thomas Cavendish (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

As the questions accumulated, one upon another, a family story unfolded that involved a genealogical conceit, a scandalous Regency-era divorce … and even a story of how an Irish aristocrat became the MP for Lichfield, and how members of the family of the Earls of Lichfield became part of a literary circle in west Waterford and showed compassion for homeless people on the streets of pre-war London.

The list was compiled by the Revd Arthur Carter, former principal of Cahir Vocational School, and his wife Hilary. But in my search for more information I turned to the diocesan clergy and succession lists, only to find that these too were unhelpful.

There, the Hon Augustus Cavendish, who became Vicar of Cahir in 1822, is described as a son of the ‘1st Baron of Waterpark’ … although there was no such person as the ‘1st Baron of Waterpark’ and the Hon Augustus Waterford, who was an actual son of the first holder of the Waterpark title, was at the centre of a major and salacious divorce scandal, and ended his days in poverty.

As for his successor, the Hon Thomas Cavendish, who became Vicar of Cahir in 1825, he is described as a ‘member of the Devonshire family.’ Yet, had he been a son of the Duke of Devonshire, he would have been known as Lord Thomas Cavendish.

The name Bradshaw on a stained-glass window in Saint Mary’s Church, Cahir, triggered a hunch that led to a genealogical search (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The fifth duke was the father of only one son, and the sixth duke had no children. Nor were there any contemporaneous sons named Augustus or Thomas in the relevant branches of the Cavendish family from Lismore Castle that could be identified with either of these vicars.

Indeed, the diocesan succession lists do not even indicate that these two Cavendish Vicars of Cahir were brothers, or even from the same family.

The lily was gilded even more richly as I went in pursuit of Cavendishes of Cahir. A stained-glass window in Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church with the name Bradshaw inspired a hunch that allowed me to search along another path.

Sarah Bradshaw (1740-1807) was a rich heiress from Cork, although I have yet to find out how her father, Richard Bradshaw, made his fortune. In 1757, when she was 17, she married Sir Henry Cavendish (1732-1804), a baronet who sat in the Irish House of Commons as MP for Lismore on three occasions (1766-1768, 1776-1791, 1798-1801). His father, also Sir Henry Cavendish (1707-1768), was also MP for Lismore; yet this Cavendish family was never in line to succeed to Lismore Castle.

Lismore Castle, Co Waterford … the Cavendish brothers were never in the line of succession (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Sarah’s in-laws were descended from the an illegitimate line of the Cavendish family, and the two families had a slim connection that dated back to the 16th century, and came to Ireland in 1743, ten years before his very distant kinsman married into the inheritance of Lismore Castle.

That other Cavendish family had inherited Lismore Castle after Lady Charlotte Boyle, a daughter of the Earl of Cork, married the future fifth Duke of Devonshire in 1753.

Sarah Bradshaw’s father-in-law, the first Sir Henry Cavendish married into his own Irish estate when he married Anne Pyne of Waterpark, daughter of Lord Chief Justice Pyne. Waterpark is a small townland in Co Cork, off the road from Lismore to Fermoy, although the house was already in ruins by 1786.

Waterpark is on the borders of Co Waterford and Co Cork, north of the road between Lismore and Fermoy

Sarah’s husband was such a successful politician – he was noted for his copious transcriptions of debates in both Grattan’s Parliament and the British House of Commons – that he refused to accept a seat in the House of Lords. Instead, Sarah was given a peerage in 1792, with the title of Baroness Waterpark, which was to pass to her male descendants.

When Sarah died in 1807, the title of Lord Waterpark passed to her eldest son, Sir Richard Cavendish (1765-1830), who became the 2nd Lord Waterpark. But her third son, the Hon Augustus Cavendish-Bradshaw – who is the nearest Augustus Cavendish in history to being a son of the ‘1st Baron of Waterpark’ – was at the centre of a major society scandal, and yet, probably, the very reason why the Cavendish brothers came to Cahir Parish later in the 19th century.

The Hon Augustus Cavendish (1768-1832) added the additional name of Bradshaw to comply with the will of his maternal grandfather Richard Bradshaw. He was MP for Carlow (1790-1796) from the age of 21 until scandal forced him to stand down.

George Nugent (1760-1814), 7th Earl of Westmeath, publicly accused Bradshaw of an affair with his wife Maryanne, and sought a divorce on the grounds of adultery. She was described as a young woman of ‘great beauty, education and high accomplishments.’ The allegations were not seriously disputed, and Nugent won his action for criminal conversation – a necessary first step towards obtaining a divorce.

John Philpott Curran, a leading barrister of the day, acted for the defendant. But, while his speech to the jury was praised for its eloquence, he came close to admitting that adultery had been proved.

£10,000 in damages was awarded against Bradshaw, although his chronic lack of funds means it is unlikely that he ever paid up. Lord and Lady Westmeath were divorced by Act of Parliament, and Augustus and Maryanne were married in 1796.

But the gossip could not be silenced. Her daughter-in-law, the former Lady Emily Cecil, once claimed Maryanne had proposed she have an affair with the Duke of Wellington to advance her family fortunes.

Augustus was an MP for English constituencies in 1805-1817, and at times held a lowly position in the royal households of the Prince Regent, later George IV, and William IV. Despite these offices, he was said to have been living ‘hand to mouth’ in his closing years, and was always anxious to return to Ireland. In one letter, he admitted he was ‘completely ruined, and an object of ridicule to the whole world.’

Augustus and Maryanne had no children and he died in 1832. Maryanne died in 1849, aged almost 90.

But Maryanne’s family connections are an important link in the story of the Vicars of Cahir. She was a daughter of Major James St John Jeffreyes of Blarney Castle and Arabella Fitzgibbon, sister of John Fitzgibbon, 1st Earl of Clare. In 1793, three years before her divorce, Maryanne’s sister Emily Jeffreyes, had married Richard Butler (1775-1819), 10th Baron Cahir, who later became Earl of Glengall and who commissioned the Regency architect John Nash to design a number of buildings in Cahir, including the Swiss Cottage and Saint Paul’s Church.

Emily’s brother-in-law, and the eldest brother of Augustus Bradshaw, was Sir Richard Cavendish (1765-1830), who would succeed his mother as 2nd Lord Waterpark in 1807.

It may have been through Emily’s persuasions that her son, Richard Butler (1794-1858), 2nd Earl of Glengall, invited his aunt Maryanne’s nephews by marriage, Augustus and Thomas Cavendish, to become Vicars of Cahir, one after another, in 1822 and 1825. They were the fourth and sixth sons of the 2nd Lord Waterpark, and Augustus clearly had been named after his uncle Augustus Bradshaw, an uncle by marriage of the younger Lord Glengall.

Both vicars moved to England after a short time. Why did they stay in Cahir for such a short time? Perhaps they both expected higher office in the Church of England. Thomas married a niece of Archbishop Richard Robinson of Armagh, and their sister Catherine married Thomas Musgrave, Archbishop of York. Both brothers became vicars in Derbyshire, and there they faded into ecclesiastical obscurity; Thomas died in 1859 and Augustus died in 1863.

How did an Irish aristocrat become MP for Lichfield? … Lord Waterpark was a brother-in-law of the Earl of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Their eldest brother, however, seems to have had greater acumen in political life than they had in Church life. Henry Cavendish (1793-1856) succeeded their father as 3rd Lord Waterpark in 1830. Because his Irish title gave him no automatic right to sit in the House of Lords, he stood for election in English constituencies and was Whig MP for Knaresborough (1830-1832), South Derbyshire (1832-1835) and Lichfield (1854-1856).

But now, I was wondering how an Irish aristocrat came to be the MP for Lichfield.

In 1837, this Henry Cavendish married the much younger Elizabeth Jane Anson (1816-1894). Her eldest brother was Thomas William Anson (1795-1854), 1st Earl of Lichfield, and her nephew, Bishop Adelbert John Robert Anson (1840-1909), was a later Master of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (1893-1898).

The family links with Cahir, Co Tipperary, continued when her niece, Lady Anne Anson (1823-1896) married Francis Charteris, Earl of Wemyss, whose younger brother, Richard Charteris, married Lady Margaret Butler, daughter of Lord Glengall and the heiress of the Cahir estates.

These connections seem to have attracted other members of the Anson family of Lichfield to Ireland, including Claud Anson (1864-1947). His wife, Lady Clodagh Anson (1879-1957), was part of a literary circle in West Waterford. Her books included Book (1931), Discreet Memoirs (1932), Another Book (1937) and Victorian Days (1957).

She was also known for her voluntary work with homeless people on the streets of pre-war London. They lived at Woodhouse, Stradbally, between Dungarvan and Bunmahon, Ballysaggartmore, about 2.5 km west of Lismore, and Ardmore. Her epitaph in Ardmore says ‘she never failed to help those in need.’

Saint John’s Hospital … Bishop Adelbert Anson was Master in 1893-1898 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

How the former church in
Villierstown has survived
changes and closure

The former church at Villierstown, 8 km south of Cappoquin, Co Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

While I visited Cappoquin, Co Waterford, last month on the first leg of this year’s ‘Road Trip,’ I visited two churches in the area that no longer serve as churches in the Church of Ireland: the church ruins at Affane, close to the entrance to Dromana House, and the former church in Villierstown, built as part of the Villiers Stuart estate.

Villierstown is on the banks of the River Blackwater in west Waterford, about 8 km south of Cappoquin. The village was founded by the Villiers-Stuart family, who give the place its name. The family and their direct ancestors have lived in Dromana House in its different forms for over 700 years, making it one of the oldest family estates in Ireland up to the 20th century.

John Villiers (1684-1766), 1st Earl Grandison, established the village in the 1740s to develop a linen industry. The original village consisted of a church, a rectory, a school, 24 houses, a court, a police barracks and a quay on the river. It was initially populated with linen-weavers, some of whom were from Lurgan, Co Armagh.

There were just 16 churches in repair in the Diocese of Lismore in 1746. But the religious landscape on the Dromana estate was changing. Grandison decided to build a new church to serve the new village and its new residents. The new chapel was built in the Queen Anne style 1748, and the interior fittings, including the seats, pulpit and altar, all in oak, were installed by 1755. The finished chapel could accommodate about 400 people, and by 1757 regular Sunday services were being held.

Villierstown was laid out in the 1740s by John Villiers (1684-1766), 1st Earl Grandison (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

This is a three-bay, double-height church, built on a cruciform plan, aligned on the liturgically-correct axis. It has a single-bay, double-height nave. There are single-bay, single-bay deep, double-height transepts; a single-bay, double-height chancel at the east end; and a single-bay, double-height pedimented narthex at the entrance or west front.

Two cut-limestone steps lead up to the square-headed front door and narthex. The cut-limestone doorcase with a cornice on a pulvinated frieze frames timber panelled double doors.

Inside, the full-height choir gallery stands on fluted cast-iron Doric pillars, and there is a moulded plasterwork cornice at the coved ceiling. The notable features include the coupled windows showing conventional Georgian glazing patterns, and the chancel has a classically-detailed Venetian window.

The bellcote embellishes the pedimented roof. The clock over the front door was erected in 1910 by Mary Villiers-Stuart of Dromana as a gift to the people of Villierstown ‘to whom she was deeply attached.’

The clock on the façade was donated by Mary Villiers-Stuart (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The church was completed in 1748, but remained outside the parochial and diocesan structures of the Church of Ireland. It was a ‘chapel of ease’ and marriage services, for example, could not take place there without a special licence.

The chapel was endowed by John Fitzgerald Villiers, 1st Earl Grandison, in his will in 1763. His personal chaplain, the Revd Francis Green, became the first Chaplain of Villierstown. The chaplain was to provide ‘divine service’ and catechise but he had no parochial district and the village of Villierstown remained part of the parish of Affane and Aglish.

While Green was chaplain of Villierstown, he was also a Vicar Choral of Lismore Cathedral and Vicar of Tallow. He died in February 1768.

There are no records of chaplains in Villierstown from 1768 until 1781, when the Revd Michael Greene was chaplain of Villierstown. The chaplaincy first appears in the bishops’ visitation books in 1784.

Later chaplains include the Revd Harris Oldfield, who married Ann Greatrakes from Affane, from the family of Valentine Greatrakes, the healer known as ‘The Stroker.’ One their daughters, Charlotte, married the next chaplain at Villierstown, the Revd Thomas Sandiford (1818-1820).

A plaque at Villierstown remembering the Revd Philip Homan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The appointment of the Revd Philip Homan (1799-1846) in 1822 was due to family connections: Sir William Jackson Homan had married Lady Charlotte Stuart, a daughter of John Stuart, 1st Marquess of Bute; Lady Charlotte’s brother, Lord Henry Stuart, married Lady Gertrude Emilia Villiers, only child of George Villiers, last Earl of Grandison, and heiress to the Dromana estate.

Philip Homan died of Famine Fever on 20 November 1846 while ministering to the sick of all denominations. He was regarded as a saintly man and was mourned by rich and poor alike who attended his funeral in large numbers. He is buried in a vault below the altar in the church and a memorial tablet in Saint Carthage’s Cathedral, Lismore, describes him as a religious scholar and a benefactor of the poor in times of distress.

After Philip Homan died, Lord Stuart de Decies sought to appoint a successor, but was opposed by the Bishop of Cashel, Waterford and Lismore, Robert Daly. A protracted argument ensued, with Bishop Daly insisting he had the final say on all clerical appointments.

Eventually, the Revd Hans Butler was appointed in 1847, and remained until 1886. He also a Vicar Choral of Lismore Cathedral (1839-1850). During his time at Villierstown, Affane Parish, which included Villierstown, was united with Cappoquin in 1874.

The Revd Richard Bartlett Langbridge (1886-1887) had been headmaster of Dartford Grammar School (1870-1876), a missionary in Chile and a consular chaplain in Montevideo, Uruguay, before coming to Villierstown.

The Revd George Gillington was the chaplain at Villierstown in 1887-1899. The Revd Arthur Wellesley Chapman (1899-1901) had studied at Harvard and was a curate at Saint Michael’s Church, Limerick, before coming to Villierstown. The Revd John George Disney (1901-1904) was both chaplain at Villierstown and curate in Cappoquin. He died in 1933.

The Revd William Henry Rennison (1904-1914) was also curate in Cappoquin and chaplain at Villierstown. He became the Rector of Ardmore in 1914, and Rector of Portlaw in 1921. He compiled the Succession List of Bishops, Cathedral and Parochial Clergy of the Dioceses of Waterford and Lismore (1920), and published a series of papers in the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society on the early 17th century history of the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore.

He was 52 when he died in 1937 on a family holiday in Annestown near Tramore.

The Revd Charles Geoffrey Nelson Stanley (1914-1916) was a former curate of Tramore before becoming curate of Cappoquin and chaplain of Villierstown. Later, he became Dean of Lismore in 1934. Lismore and Cappoquin were united in 1955. He retired in 1960 and died in 1977.

The Revd William Skuse (1916-1919) had worked in the bank in Templemore, Co Tipperary, and was a curate in Kenmare, Co Kerry, before becoming chaplain at Villierstown and curate of Cappoquin in 1916. The position of chaplain at Villierstown came to an end in 1919, and from then on, the chapel was served by the clergy of Lismore Cathedral and the curate of Cappoquin.

The Villiers-Stuart fountain on the Green opposite the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The glebe land in Villierstown was sold in 1941 and the money was transferred to a diocesan endowment fund. The Villiers-Stuart family also donated another parcel of land near Villierstown.

Sunday attendance figures had dropped to about six by 1955, and the chapel closed in 1958. A church commission recommended removing the roof and capping the walls, retaining the porch as a mortuary chapel for the churchyard. But the Villiers-Stuart family was unhappy and James Henry Ion Villiers-Stuart (1928-2004) donated the church to the village in 1965 to prevent it from ‘falling into disrepair and ruin.’

After a meeting with the Roman Catholic bishop, Dr Daniel Cohalan, it was agreed that it would become a church for the Catholic villagers. It was the first time a Church of Ireland church was given to a Roman Catholic parish. The gift was welcomed by Bishop Cohalan and the parish priest, Father Hackett. A local committee raised £1,500 for its adaptation as a Catholic church.

However, Bishop Cohalan and Father Hackett died within weeks of each other. Their successors, Bishop Michael Russell and Father Quinlan, were less than enthusiastic, and decided the three existing churches were enough for the parish.

The Villiers-Stuart vault behind the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The building continued to deteriorate, and the furnishings were removed by the Dean of Lismore. In the late 1960s, the parish of Aglish transferred the church to Helen Villiers-Stuart, then living in Dromana House and some work was carried out with the assistance of the State Training Agency (AnCO). President Erskine Childers visited Villierstown in 1974 and dedicated the chapel for ecumenical use.

When Helen Villiers-Stuart died in 1986, her family agreed to transfer the church to a charitable trust in the hope of securing its future. Some improvements were made, the central crossing of the roof structure was replaced, the building was rewired, and toilets and heating were installed.

However, in the decades that followed, many members of the local trust died. A new Villierstown Church Company was formed by the three remaining trust members and four new members were added. Despite decades of neglect, much of original form and fabric of the chapel, outside and inside, survive, including the glazing panels in the windows. The clock on the church façade was restored by Mary Villiers-Stuart’s grandson, James Villiers-Stuart, in 1990.

Many members of the Villiers-Stuart family are buried in the family vault behind the church, while other family members are buried in the churchyard.

The Celtic Cross in front of the former church in Villierstown (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The inscription on the limestone Celtic cross in front of the church gates reads: ‘To Henry Villiers Baron Stuart de Decies Died January 23rd 1874 and to his wife Therse Pauline Lady Stuart de Decies who died August 7th 1867. This monument is erected by their son in affectionate remembrance. Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.’

On the opposite side of the street, on a prominent corner site on the Green, an elegant memorial fountain dates from 1910 and remembers members of the Villiers-Stuart family. It is an attractive landmark in the village.

The church in Villierstown built by Lord Grandison in 1748 is now an arts, entertainment, community and wedding venue. It remains an important part of the mid-18th century ecclesiastical and architectural heritage of Co Waterford.

Paired Venetian windows in the church in Villierstown (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)