Wednesday, 2 December 2015

(197) Asgill of Asgill House, Richmond, baronets

Asgill baronets
Charles Asgill (1714-88) was the son of a London silk merchant, born in Whitechapel in the early months of 1714 and baptised the day before his father was buried. He was apprenticed at the age of 15 to a London banker and after serving his term became a freeman of the city of London and quickly worked his way up through his employer's firm. From 1749 he was an alderman of the Common Council of the City of London and in 1752 he served as sheriff of the city and was knighted. The same year, aged 38, he married Elizabeth Vanderstegen, the much younger daughter of a London merchant of Dutch extraction, who brought him a dowry of £25,000. To attract a bride of such fortune (a dowry that size could have secured her a spouse in the peerage), he must already have been successful and marked for great wealth. He used her dowry to buy a partnership in the bank, which became Vere & Asgill, and in about 1756 he employed Sir Robert Taylor to design for the bank the first purpose-built bank offices in London at 70 Lombard Street (demolished 1915).
The Lord Mayor's state coach, designed by Sir Robert Taylor for Sir Charles Asgill, 1757
Taylor, who became a friend, also designed a grand new coach for Asgill's use in the year he became Lord Mayor of London, 1757-58: this is the over-the-top Rococo fantasy which is still in use for the annual Lord Mayor's Show today. In 1761 Sir Charles Asgill was advanced to a baronetcy, and perhaps with an eye to eventual retirement, he bought a lease from the Crown of a strip of land by the Thames where some of the outbuildings of the decommissioned Richmond Palace still stood. Sir Robert Taylor, who acted for him in the acquisition of the site, also designed the new house which he built there to take full advantage of the views along and across the river. It is one of Taylor's finest villas, and it was also one of his most influential, being published in the fourth volume of Vitruvius Britannicus in 1767. Although smaller than a true country house, it provided a model which influenced much country house building over the next thirty years, and helped to establish the fashion for varied room shapes within a regular classical exterior. Asgill House (first called Richmond House or Richmond Place) was only ever intended as a summer residence, and Sir Charles retained a house in the west end - latterly in Portman Square - as his main home. At his death, when he left a widow, one son and three surviving daughters, he ordered that Asgill House should be let or sold and the proceeds divided between his five dependents, although they benefited far more from other bequests as his estate of some £160,000 was shared out. His son and principal heir, Sir Charles Asgill (1762-1823), 2nd bt., could I suppose have elected to take on the lease and buy out his co-legatees, but he was a career army officer who had little use for a suburban villa. So the association of the Asgills with Asgill House lasted less than thirty years and only one generation, but the importance of the house has persuaded me to write about it here, even though the family does not strictly meet the criteria for this blog!

Asgill House, Richmond, Surrey

Asgill House from an engraving of 1781, showing the house largely open to the river.
A golden stone Palladian villa of great charm and influence which was built in 1761-64 by Sir Robert Taylor as a summer residence for his friend Sir Charles Asgill. The house stands on the site of the brewhouse of the former Richmond Palace, and has admirable views across and along the River Thames. In 1810 a later occupant of the house claimed that it cost between £6,000 and £7,000 to build. The house was known originally as Richmond House or Place and later as Riverside House, before the present name was adopted in the late 19th century.

Asgill House: garden front from Vitruvius Britannicus, 1767

Asgill House: garden front as restored in 1968-69.
The river front is of three wide bays, the centre one of which has a broad canted bay-window of full height, rising to a hipped roof. The wings are lower, with Palladian half-pediments: a device used by Palladio at the Redentore in Venice and elsewhere, and by William Kent for the temple at Euston Hall (Suffolk). At Asgill, Taylor varies the form as the inner and upper pediment is only implied in the shape of the roofline - a paring back of the design that shows Taylor progressing from the Palladian to the neo-classical. The side elevations have one-storey canted bays and the entrance front has a boldly projecting flat centre. 

Asgill House: entrance front and side elevation, 2010. Image: Karen Hearn.

The whole house has a rusticated ground floor with vermiculation around the central arched doorways at front and back, but the external ornament is otherwise very restrained: there are pediments over the central windows, a deeply modelled eaves conice supported on brackets (perhaps inspired by Inigo Jones' St Paul, Covent Garden), blind balustrades below the first-floor windows, and a continuous string course at their sill level that underlines the classical proportions of the whole.

Asgill House: plan from Vitruvius Britannicus, 1767
The interior shows how Taylor excelled at fitting rooms of varied shapes into a compact plan, and Asgill House was indeed the smallest and most ingenious of his suburban villas near London. The service rooms were in a concealed basement. The central room on the river side on both the ground and first floors is octagonal, and flanking this are rectangular rooms on the ground floor, enlarged by the side bays (which are round on the inside). On the entrance front there were originally two small oval rooms, one containing the staircase, flanking a narrow groin-vaulted entrance corridor. The staircase is cunningly fitted into the tiny oval space, with a half-landing on the long side, the angle of the flight exactly calculated to that clears the arched window. At the curved ends there is room only for a single turned baluster to each tread, so tight is the curve. 

Asgill House: staircase landing. Image: A.F. Kersting/Historic England
At the top is a landing of some grandeur, separated by Venetian arches supported on Ionic columns from the groin-vaulted central corridor and the upper staircase. The first floor octagonal room has 18th century panel paintings by Casali which were moved from the dining room in the 19th century. In the adjoining room to the south is a handsome bed recess, with details similar to the landing arches. On the top floor, where only the central rooms have windows, there are two delightful oval rooms with coved ceilings above the octagon, from which there are memorable views over the river.

The house was altered in the 19th century when an outer hall was added to the entrance front and one of the oval rooms on the ground floor was opened into the passage to make a square inner hall. Between 1832 and 1841 the purity of the external design was also compromised by raising the level of the 18th century wings. By the 1960s the house was derelict and at risk, but fortunately it was saved by Fred Hauptfuhrer, an American journalist who took a lease from the Crown Estate and returned the elevations to their original design in 1969-73 with the assistance of Donald Insall. The interior has been restored with some compromises to make the house practical for 20th and 21st century living, so there is now a tall archway from the hall into the staircase, and the ground floor room north of the octagon has become a kitchen.

Descent: Owned by the Crown Estate but held on lease by Sir Charles Asgill (1714-88), 1st bt.; sold after his death to James Whitshed Keene MP (c.1731-1822); sold by 1820 to Mr. Osbaldeston; sold 1822 to Mrs. Palmer (d. 1832); to General Carpenter (fl. 1838); sold 1838 to Benjamin Cohen (fl. 1838-67); sold 1868 to John Philip Trew (fl. 1868-80); sold to James Bracebridge Hilditch (1843-1920); to widow (fl. 1939); sold during WW2 to Henry Ward and H. Stirling Webb; sold 1968 to Fred Hauptfuhrer.

Asgill family of Asgill House, baronets

Asgill, Sir Charles (1714-88), 1st bt. Third son of Henry Asgill (d. 1714), silk merchant, of London and Barford (Oxon) and his wife Annabella Jordan (d. 1756), baptised the day before the burial of his father, 27 March 1713/4 at St Mary, Whitechapel. Educated at Westminster School; apprenticed to William Pepys, goldsmith & banker, 1729-36, and made a freeman of the Skinners Company in the city of London, 21 June 1737 (Master, 1749). A merchant banker in London, who 'from the position of an out-door collecting clerk' at William Pepys & Co. in Lombard Street 'rose progressively by his merit to the first department in the house'. On his first marriage he received a dowry of £25,000 with which he became a partner in the firm of Vere & Asgill, for whom the first purpose-built banking premises in London were designed by Sir Robert Taylor c.1756. He sold the business in 1783 to the Pelican (later the Pheonix) Assurance Co. According to his obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine, he "was a strong instance of what may be effected even by moderate abilities, when united with strict integrity, industry and irreproachable character." He was a Governor of the Bridewell Royal Hospital, 1743-50, and a Common Councilman, 1744-48 and Alderman of London for Candlewick Ward, 1749-77 (Sheriff 1752; Lord Mayor 1757-58). He was knighted during his shrievalty in 1752 and made a baronet (the first such creation by King George III), 16 April 1761. He married 1st,  16 June 1752 at Leyton (Essex), Elizabeth (d. 1754), daughter of Henry Vanderstegen of London, merchant, and 2nd, 12 December 1755 at St Swithin, London Stone, Sarah Theresa (1729-1816), daughter of Daniel Pratviel, secretary to Sir Benjamin Harris, ambassador to Madrid, and had issue:
(1.1) Annabella Asgill (1754-56), born 11 January and baptised at St Swithin, London Stone, 28 January 1754; buried 2 September 1761 at St Bartholomew by the Exchange, London;
(2.1) Amelia Angelina Asgill (1757?-1825); probably to be identified with the 'Engeltie Maria Asgill' born 3 October and baptised at St Swithin, London Stone, 26 October 1757; married, 12 November 1786 at her father's house in Portman Square, Robert Colville of Hemingstone Hall (Suffolk) and had issue four sons; died 12 July 1825 and was buried at Hemingstone; will proved in the PCC, 4 August 1825;
(2.2) Gen. Sir Charles Asgill (1762-1823), 2nd bt. (q.v.);
(2.3) (Henrietta/Hariott) Maria Asgill (1767-90), born 30 June and baptised at Westminster, 16 July 1767; died unmarried and was buried at St Marylebone, 6 May 1790, where she was commemorated by a ledger stone installed in May 1791; will proved in PCC, 18 May 1790;
(2.4) Caroline Augusta Asgill (1774-1845), born 5 October and baptised 12 November 1774; married, 5 April 1800 at St Marylebone, Lt-Col. Richard Legge (c.1776-1834) of the Royal Irish Artillery and later of Ninnage Lodge, Westbury-on-Severn (Glos) and had issue; buried at Westbury-on-Severn (Glos), 4 June 1845.
Sir Robert Taylor designed his banking house in Lombard St., London c.1756, a new Lord Mayor's coach for his mayoralty in 1757-58 (the one still in use) and Asgill House in 1761-64. Asgill also occupied 15 St James's Square from 1768-73, which had been altered by Taylor for Peter du Cane; in 1786 his London house was in Portman Square. After his death, Asgill House was sold and the proceeds divided between his widow and children.
He died 15 September and was buried at St. Bartholomew by the Exchange, London, 21 September 1788; his will was proved 20 September 1788 and his wealth at death was assessed as 'upwards of £160,000'. His first wife died 6 February and was buried at the same church, 13 February 1754. His widow died 6 June and was buried at St Marylebone (Middx), 13 June 1816; her will was proved 21 June 1816.

Gen. Sir Charles Asgill, 2nd bt.
Asgill, Gen. Sir Charles (1762-1823), 2nd bt. Only son of Sir Charles Asgill (c.1714-88), 1st bt., and his second wife, Sarah, daughter of Daniel Pratviel, born 6 April 1762 and baptised at St Swithin, London Stone, 3 May 1762. Educated at Westminster School. An officer in the Army, 1778-1812 [Ensign, 1778; Capt., 1781; Lt-Col., 1790; Colonel, 1795; Brigadier, 1797; Maj-General, 1798; Lt-General, 1805; General, 1814]. He served in the American campaigns under Marquess Cornwallis, 1781, but was taken prisoner at the siege of York Town and held until May 1782 when all the captured captains of the army were ordered to draw lots for execution in retaliation for the execution of an American officer; the lot fell on Asgill, and he lived under threat of imminent execution for six months until he was unexpectedly released by an act of Congress passed at the urgent request of the King and Queen of France, who obtained his release after receiving a pathetic appeal from his French mother, directed originally to the comte de Vergennes, the French prime minister. George Washington's letters relating to Asgill were published in 1786 and make it clear that he was to be treated kindly, but in fact he was repeatedly beaten and deprived of food. So badly was he treated that he was eventually permitted to ride his horse to regain his health, and also to have a Newfoundland dog in his room to protect him from his attackers. During one of his rides, with his friend and fellow-prisoner, Major James Gordon, the British tried to recapture Asgill so that he could escape execution, but he refused to dishonour the pledge he had given his enemies and returned to captivity. After being freed, he returned to England on parole and shortly afterwards went to Paris to express his thanks to his saviours, but he declined to thank the Americans. Rumours of his ill treatment as a prisoner, circulated through the press and coffee houses, eventually reached Washington's ears, and he was so angered by the rumours and Asgill's ingratitude, that he ordered the publication of his entire correspondence concerning the affair. Asgill read these accounts and on 20 December 1786 wrote an 18-page letter to the editor of The New Haven Gazette and Chronicle, pointing out that he had been treated with anything but kindness, but the letter was never published and only surfaced in 2007 when it was offered for sale. In 1790 Asgill became equerry to the Duke of York, with whom he served through the campaign in Flanders, and he was active in suppressing the Irish rebellion, 1798. He was captain of the garrison at Dublin Castle, 1800-05. Colonel of the 46th Foot, 1800; 5th West Indian Foot, 1805, 86th Foot, 1806 and 11th Foot, 1807. He succeeded his father as 2nd baronet, 15 September 1788. He married, 28 August 1790 at Martyr Worthy (Hants), Jemima Sophia (c.1771-1819), sixth and youngest daughter of Adm. Sir Chaloner Ogle, 1st bt., but had no issue; his wife was a notorious flirt and maintained a lengthy secret correspondence (alas destroyed except for one letter) with Gen. Thomas Graham (1748-1843), 1st Baron Lynedoch, perhaps among other admirers. He himself had a mistress of long standing, with whom he co-habited from about 1821: Mary Ann Goodchild alias Mansel (1780-1854), who was also mistress to Gen. Sir Robert Manners (by whom she had six further children), by whom he had issue:
(X1) Charles Childs (1816-84), born before 6 May 1816; lived with his mother; married, probably by 1848, Elizabeth (1823-95), daughter of George Hayward of Cranbrook (Kent) and had issue four sons and seven daughters; died in the lunatic asylum at Barming Heath, near Maidstone (Kent), 6 May 1884, and was buried with his mother at Loose (Kent), 12 May 1884.
He lived in London, and was at 29 Old Burlington St., London, 1778-85 and made his will at York St., St. James' Square, London.
He died 23 July  1823, when the baronetcy became extinct, and was buried at St James, Piccadilly, 1 August 1823; his will was proved 9 August 1823. His widow was also buried at St James, Piccadilly, 5 June 1819; administration of her goods was granted May 1824.


Burke's Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies, 2nd edn., 1841, pp. 14-15; G.E. Cokayne, Complete baronetage, vol. 5, 1906, pp. 120-21; B. Cherry & Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: London 2, South, 1983, pp. 524-6; M. Binney, Sir Robert Taylor, 1984, passim; A. Ammundsen, 'Saving Captain Asgill', History Today, December 2011, pp. 38-43; A. Ammundsen & M. Abel, 'Saving Captain Asgill', The Journal of Lancaster County's Historical Journal, vol. 120, no. 3, Winter 2019; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry on Sir Charles Asgill, 2nd bt.

Location of archives

Asgill of Asgill House: Some papers of Gen. Sir Charles Asgill will be found among the records of the Colville family [Derbyshire Record Office D461].

Coat of arms

Per fess Argent and Vert a pale counter-changed, in each piece of the first a lion head erased Gules

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 2 December 2015 and updated 28 August 2016, 8-9 August 2018, 12 December 2019 and 18 September 2021. I am most grateful to Andrew Morrison and Anne Ammundsen for additional information.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave a comment if you have any additional information or corrections to offer, or if you are able to help with additional images of the people or buildings in this post.