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Issue No. 30 [Back Issues]
1st February 2005

This Week's Issue: [JKHS Guys and Dolls - Topical Photography] [Nature Watch - Skittles - Visitors] [Archive Ross]

Archive Ross-on-Wye - Goodrich Court and Sir Samuel Meyrick - by Chris Robertson
     

Goodrich Court circa 1907. Photograph sent in by Susan Coulter of Los Angeles, California.
Some years ago a copy of a letter sent under Ross Penny Post in 1836 was forwarded to The Ross Gazette. The address on the letter was Goodrich Court, and the text of the letter was both intriguing and tantalizing. The signature was that of Samuel Rush Meyrick, the man who owned and built Goodrich Court. The letter was written to a Mr Briggs and dated 1836. The text of the letter is as follows:

My Dear Mr Briggs,
I am almost ashamed of myself for giving you so much trouble and I suppose should be completely so, were I not a lawyer. The first hand you have drawn is exactly what I want, provided you have the forefinger a little bit more bent so as to appear to hold a glove that I can in reality fasten to the thumb; and let me have a little more of the wrists, for the sleeves at that period did not reach to the swell of the hand by two inches.

I believe if you fit a fellow's hand a cast may be easily taken, or rather the matrix in clay. Perhaps you had better not insert the glass eyes as such an ophthalmic operation might be performed, if needed at this place.

Vandyke himself would be satisfied with the boots and your leathers, and I hope when you and Mrs Briggs can again gratify me by a trip to this place you will find His Majesty and his guards worthy of your pencil.

Please when you have got oiled, and painted a hand and that you send it with the face so completely as you describe au naturel, to let me know how much more your exertions and expense of carriage have cost you, to enable me to add that to the five pounds that I may forward to you a cheque for the whole.

I ought to apologize for not writing to you when I returned the package, but there was no time to spare. I did not even take a peep at His Majesty's visage. Had my faithful Harry Faithful brought me your letter when the post arrived instead of stopping to assist in the slaughter of a pig, I should have sent you my last by return of post and been in time to have prevented your sending of the package.

I despair of going to London this Spring but if I visit the metropolis for a day I will call to thank you for your goodness.

I am busy now planning a new road of approach to this house and which I hope to accomplish by midsummer. I think it will meet the approbation of your picturesque eye.
Hoping Mrs Briggs and your epitome are quite in health as well as yourself, I remain with kind regards to her, ever most truly, yours greatly obliged, Samuel Meyrick.

***

Because of the references to 'His Majesty' and to Vandyke, I guessed that the text had something to do with a statue or waxwork of King Charles I, 'glass eyes' would hardly be necessary if a painting was being discussed. The letter also brought interesting insight into the character of Samuel Meyrick, I wanted to know more.

Sources at Ross Library revealed details about Goodrich Court, designed by Edward Blore for Dr (later Sir) Samuel Rush Meyrick. Built between 1828 and 1831, inspiration came from castles on the continent which Samuel had avidly sketched during his Grand Tour of Europe.

The complicated building was unlike most of Blore's houses. The poet, William Wordsworth referred to it as 'impertinent structure'. It was a great mass of towers and turrets and had a massive keep, dominated by the huge, 100ft, Sussex Tower, named after Samuel's friend, HRH, the Duke of Sussex.

Samuel had sought to build a house that would be a suitable setting for his remarkable collection, ranging from suits of armour to all kinds of antiquarian interest.

Details of that collection and Samuel's reputation, as a leading authority on armour, shed more light on the content of the letter. He had reorganized the collections of armour at Windsor Castle and at the Tower of London.

Goodrich Court was obviously on display as a sort of 'stately home' or museum of antiquities, attracting many distinguished visitors.

One visitor was Thomas Roscoe who wrote 'Wanderings and Excursions in South Wales, including the Scenery of the River Wye'. What he wrote about Samuel's collection was not particularly complimentary but it was relevant to the content of the letter to Mr Briggs.

 


Goodrich Court Gatehouse in 2002.

'I think this splendid collection is seriously injured by the puerile style of its arrangement; such as the dilapidated doll faces into the visors and where armour does not entirely compose a costume, the eking it out by drapery of course chintz or print.'

I think Mr Briggs was making a figure of Charles I after Vandyke's portrait, for one of Samuel's tableaux.

Goodrich Court was built around a large courtyard and entry was over a drawbridge and through two stout towers. The entrance hall had a ceiling modelled on a chapel in Rochester Cathedral and there were chairs resembling the Coronation Chair at Westminster Abbey. The grand staircase at the end of the hall was lit by an oriel window designed by Thomas Willement and it proclaimed in portrait and coat-of-arms the Meyrick ancestry.

In the Henry VI gallery was the famed suit of armour made for the Duke of Ferrara, which is now in the Wallace Collection. There was a room with Moorish, Hindu and Chinese decoration. The most impressive chamber at Goodrich was the Great Hall designed to evoke the great halls of medieval castles, with its arch-braced roof.

The Hastilude Chamber housed Samuel's tableaux and more suits of armour. The Grand Armoury, 86ft long, containing the finest items of the collection, was a prelude to the Chapel full of ecclesiastical relics.

Crown Lands belonging to Queen Elizabeth 1's favourite, Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, were granted in 1595 to Sir Gelly Meyrick, to be held for the Earl and his heirs. Unfortunately, when the Earl fell from grace and was beheaded in 1600, Sir Gelly was executed with him.
The Elizabethan bedroom at Goodrich Court was known as Sir Gelly's chamber after Samuel's unfortunate ancestor.
In 1830, when he was 20, Samuel had married a Welsh girl against the wishes of his father. Samuel's own son, Llewellyn, died in 1837, so tragedy was just around the corner when the letter to Mr Briggs was written.

When Samuel died, aged 65, he left the house and contents to a cousin, Lt Col A W H Meyrick, who made alterations principally subdividing some of the larger rooms.

The collection of armour was sold in 1868 and in 1871 the house was bought by George Moffatt. He and his son were keen antiquarians. They changed the house to Elizabethan style, and the new Great Hall had a hammer-beam roof closely resembling that at Hampton Court Palace and a chimney breast commemorating the coronation of Queen Alexandra. Moffat changed the situation of the entrance and put in a wrought iron gate (1889), which is now at the College of Arms, Queen Victoria Street, London.

Moffat's daughter married into the Trafford family (Hill Court) and they retained the house until its demolition in 1950.
Martin Morris, the renowned Chief Reporter on The Ross Gazette at the time, covered the story. He was told that Goodrich Court was to be shipped brick by brick to America, but this did not happen.

The gatehouse, resembling one in Aachen survives. It has round towers and a false portcullis. (see above photo.)

Chris Robertson.



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