The Twickenham Museum
People : Bankers and Politicians

Richard Edgcumbe
1680 - 1758

Richard Edgcumbe with his favourite dog. Painting by Sir Godfrey Kneller by courtesy of Mount Edgcumbe, Cornwall.

The diminutive Richard Edgcumbe was of an ancient family which had moved from Cothele to settle at Mount Edgcumbe, overlooking Plymouth Sound, in 1547. His and his family's later connections with Twickenham were both personal and territorial: personal through friendships with Alexander Pope and Horace Walpole; territorial through association with York House, South End House in Montpelier Row and Cambridge Park in East Twickenham.

At York House

York House in about 1800

Richard is recorded as the tenant of York House in 1718, probably remaining there for several years. In 1716, as MP for Plympton since 1702 he had been appointed a Lord of the Treasury by Sir Robert Walpole, an office which perhaps carried the need for an establishment near London.

The duration of his tenancy is uncertain. The single entry for Richard Edgcumbe at York House, as a ratepayer, in the Churchwardens' Accounts for 1718 suggests that he took a tenancy from Lady Tufton that year. She appears to have moved away, dying in 1719/20. Thomas Vernon of Twickenham Park bought the house, apparently assuming responsibility for the rates. There are no assessments recorded in the Accounts for 1719/20/21. In 1722 Vernon's assessment was substantially higher at £7-19-0 although it fell, in 1723, to the earlier level of £5-1-0. This suggests that the house was empty during that year; Richard may have moved on following, possibly, the death of his wife in 1721, leaving him with three infant sons (Piers who died young, Richard and George) and a daughter.

His wife was Matilda Furnese, the granddaughter of Sir Thomas Vernon through her mother, also Matilda who married Sir Henry Furnese of Waldershare in Kent. She died aged 22. Sir Thomas is not to be confused with Thomas Vernon of Twickenham Park one of whose daughters was also called Matilda, although there may have been a family connection.

Richard became a friend of Alexander Pope, sharing a love for landscape and trees. He was also a friend of Horace Walpole who described him as 'one of the honestest and steadiest men in the world'. At York House he was in a position to observe Pope's arrival in Twickenham early in 1719. They were already acquainted, as is apparent from a reference by Pope in a letter of 1718 to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Pope had evidently overheard a conversation between Richard and Samuel Molyneux, Secretary to the Prince of Wales at a levee: 'I must tell you a story of Molineux. The other day at the Princes Levee, he took Mr Edgcomb aside, and asked with an air of seriousness, What did the Czar of Muscovy, when he disinherited his son, do with his Secretary? To which Edgcomb answered, He was sew'd up in a football, and tost over the water.' When Pope converted his grotto into a 'museum' of mining and mineralogy between 1739 and 1743 Edgcumbe sent him various 'sparry marbles' from his quarry at Mount Edgcumbe. It is at least possible that this was a reciprocal gesture: Reynolds' portrait shows him with his favourite dog, a large hound, conceivably one of the progeny of Bounce whose puppies Pope habitually gave to his titled friends. Such was his affection for this hound that, following death, its skeleton was displayed in a case in the English Garden House for many years, a place that it is said to haunt.

South End House in 1749, Augustin Heckel

at South End House

Richard's second son, also Richard (Dick), an inveterate gambler, does not appear to have a connection with Twickenham although it can be conjectured that he visited Strawberry Hill between 1747 when Walpole came to live there, and 1761 when he died. He too was a close friend of Walpole who mourned his death as ”one of the oldest friends I had in the world”

Richard's third son, Lord George Edgcumbe (1720-95) enjoyed what may only have been an ephemeral connection with Twickenham although he, too, was a great friend of Walpole. In August 1761 he was married to Emma Gilbert by Special Licence, by Robert Gilbert, Minister, at the house of her father, John Gilbert, Archbishop of York. John died three days later. His house was South End House, Montpelier Row. What he was doing in Twickenham and why he came here has yet to be established. George had inherited the Barony from his elder brother this year. He was created Viscount Valletort in 1781 then Earl of Mount Edgcumbe in 1789.

Mount Edgcumbe in 1840

at Cambridge Park

In 1824 George's son Richard (1764-1839), the 2nd Earl came to live at Cambridge Park in East Twickenham. Some time before 1832 he moved across to Richmond and when he died was buried in Petersham churchyard. Actor, writer and composer of an opera, Zenobia which enjoyed a single performance, he contributed to the amateur theatricals celebrated at Strawberry Hill under the patronage of Anne Seymour Damer.

further reading

for Edgcumbe Family History contact the "Edgcombe Family Genealogy & History"
Editor : A J C Taylor, 60 Ashley Road, Farnborough, Hampshire, GU14 7HB - email :
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

footnote: There will be an exhibition at Mount Edgcumbe House, Cremyll: "The Haunt of the Muses" charting the evolution of the landscape at Mount Edgcumbe, from 2 April until 28 September 2006

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