NOSTALGIA: Watson had the wealth but not what he craved

The Westmorland Gazette: Richard Watson, as seen in a portrait by Peter Romney Richard Watson, as seen in a portrait by Peter Romney

In the second of a two-part series, Dr Kent Brooks recounts the life of Richard Watson, Bishop of Llandaff: a great Westmerian

Previously I described how former Heversham Grammar School pupil Richard Watson had risen to be the Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University in 1771.

At the time of the American Revolution Watson immersed himself in politics. Although he did not say so directly, he favoured the colonists, which put him at odds with the ruling party.

He had strong Whig credentials, being also in favour of various reforms, not favourable to furthering his career at this time.

Luckily for Watson, Cornwallis was defeated at Yorktown in 1782 and the Whigs came to power.

Watson was ultimately rewarded with the Bishopric of Llandaff, giving him a seat in the House of Lords, in effect an entry into the aristocracy.

Although Llandaff was the poorest see in the country, it carried an annual income of £500 (in addition to his Cambridge salary).

Watson now was at the heart of power and he could no doubt expect translation to a more important see, but this came to nothing as the Whigs fell from power in favour of a strong conservative government under William Pit the Younger.

Moreover, Watson opposed Pitt’s trade treaty with France and supported the Prince of Wales’ claim to the Regency. By adhering to his principles rather than political ambition, he was now marginalised.

In 1786, Watson now had another great stroke of luck. John Luther, a great friend from his undergraduate days, left him an estate in Sussex and £3,000.

He sold the estate for £23,500 and ultimately bought the 376-acre estate of Calgarth at Troutbeck Bridge for £6,750.

The old hall, reputedly haunted, was rapidly replaced by a new, elegant house: Calgarth Park on the north side of Troutbeck and Watson settled down to a life of a peer and a country gentleman.

His newly acquired wealth meant he could now return to his independent ideal: the statesman.

He threw himself into the development of the estate, introducing new techniques and winning a prize for larch plantations (Wordsworth’s anathema). He also visited regularly his diocese, particularly the growing town of Merthyr Tydfyl.

Successful as he was, he nevertheless felt cheated of what he deserved. His posthumously published autobiography set out to present him in the most advantageous light.

He died on July 4, 1815 and was buried at St Martin’s Church.

Calgarth Park later became a military hospital, a home for crippled children and finally residential flats for a charitable trust.

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