Saturday, 3 September 2016

Lanhydrock and Anna Maria Hunt

This week I visited Lanhydrock house in Cornwall.





This imposing country pile situated between Bodmin and Lostwithiel in mid-Cornwall is now a flagship property for the National Trust. It was for many years the home of the Agar-Robartes family and had been in the ownership of the Robartes since around 1621 when Richard Robartes bought the house. Richard's father John Robartes had amassed huge riches supplying fuel to the tin industry while Richard Robartes made money as a 'gentleman-moneylender'. He used his wealth to buy power and influence, purchasing the Baronetcy of Truro from the Duke of Buckingham for £10,000.

Richard Robartes son, another John, was a staunch Parliamentarian, but as Cromwell moved towards an English 'Terror', with the execution of Charles I and military dictatorship, a disenchanted Robartes retired quietly to his Lanhydrock estate. He found favour after the Restoration with Charles II despite his lack of friends and social skills; Pepys said that he was 'a destroyer of everybody's business and doth no good at all to the public'. Nevertheless, it was under John Robartes ownership that a substantial part of Lanhydrock house was built.

After John Robartes death, his successors, preferring London life to a Cornish backwater, lived elsewhere and throughout the eighteenth century the house was sorely neglected. When traveller John Loveday visited in 1736, he said the house was 'extremely out of repair and utterly destitute of furniture.'

By the end of the eighteenth century the house had passed, by the marriage of Mary Vere Robartes (d.1758), to the Hunt family of Mollington Hall, Cheshire. Mary's eldest son George Hunt made extensive alterations and refurnished the house in contemporary style. He also tried to make the exterior of the house look more contemporary by following the prevailing fashion for brick and painted the granite exterior red.

George Hunt never married and over time it became accepted that his niece Anna Maria Hunt (1771-1861) would inherit Lanhydrock. She was the daughter of George's brother Thomas Hunt and his wife, Mary Bold. The couple had two children, Mary Vere in 1766 and Anna Maria in 1771. Sadly, Mary Vere Hunt died when her sister Anna Maria was just 9, and her father Thomas died in 1789 when Anna Maria was 18 years old. Unsurprisingly then, Anna Maria and her mother Mary Hunt remained close for the rest of their lives.


Mary Hunt by Joseph Wright of Derby circa 1795

Mary Hunt by George Romney 1769

When she was 21, Anna Maria's Uncle George commissioned George Romney to paint a portrait of his niece and heir. Romney had already painted Anna Maria's mother, in 1769. Romney had written in his notebook for that year: 'Mrs Hunt's picture before it be well dryed the coloure is apt to turn verry yellow my picture will turn yellow in a small degree but that will come of if the picture is well dryed. If it should be the case with Mrs Hunts setting of it in a strong light a day or two will bring it to its original clearness

Anna Maria sat for Romney seven times at his studio in 1792 and the portrait was delivered to the home of George Hunt at Seymour Place, London, on 20 June 1793. Possibly the picture was intended as an engagement portrait, but if so, the event never happened. Some time later her dog Dragon was added and her hairstyle changed to reflect the fashion of the day.

Anna Maria Hunt by George Romney 1792/3




In 1798, at the age of 27, Anna Maria Hunt did inherit Lanhydrock - but she did not inherit her uncle's wealth. The money went to another branch of the family. leaving Anna Maria with £68,000 of debt and £100 to run the estate. It is a testament to her determination, hard work and sound financial management that over the coming years she managed to get the house on a sound financial footing although she did not spend a huge amount of time here, preferring to live in Mayfair, London close to her mother Mary. In order to bring the exterior up to date, in imitation of Portland stone she had the granite exterior of the house painted yellow.

In 1804 Anna Maria married Charles Agar, a 35 year old lawyer and youngest son of Viscount Clifden. The marriage settlement stipulated that she would continue to exercise control over a substantial portion of her money. They had three sons, Charles, Thomas and Edward, but by 1818, Anna Maria's husband and two of her three sons were dead, leaving only her middle son, Thomas James. Anna Maria Hunt continued working to maintain the Lanhydrock estate until well into her seventies alongside her son.

Anna Maria Hunt died in 1861 and her son Thomas inherited Lanhydrock. Thomas had married Juliana Pole-Carew of Antony House in 1839. On 4 April 1881 they were in the house when a huge fire broke out. A telegram was sent to London: Lanhydrock on fire. Only the Gallery left. Lord and Lady Robartes well. In fact Lady Robartes died four days later and Lord Roberts the following year.


The Jacobean ceiling in the Long Gallery which survived the fire



In 2015 there was an incredible find at Lanhydrock when a book dating from 1495 was linked to Henry VIII. The book is a summary of the writings of the theologian William of Ockham and contains notes and annotations by the king's advisors to build a case for the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.


As I have mentioned HERE the great interest for me at Lanhydrock is the portrait by Romney of Anna Maria Hunt for its possible relevance to the long running debate about the dating of the costume in the Rice portrait. Some costume experts in the past have claimed that the puffed sleeves of the girl in the Rice Portrait are one of the costume features which date the painting to c1805 and the National Portrait Gallery, as far as I am aware, remains of this view today. Yet we know that the portrait of Anna Maria Hunt was delivered in 1793 and she is also wearing puffed sleeves.

I've put the dresses side by side below so you can compare them - to me the sleeves look remarkably similar.

Anna Maria Hunt painted 1792/3 left and Rice Portrait right

I am indebted to the article by Ann Marie Curtis, An Accidental Heiress in Lanhydrock Journal number 10  and to Paul Holden, house and collections manager at Lanhydrock House for information about Anna Maria Hunt and her portrait.

Thank you for reading.


Ellie Bennett








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