1786 - 18th Mar 1855
Son of Richard Watt II (d. 1803) and great-nephew and heir of Richard Watt I (died c. 1796, q.v.) who had bought Speke Hall and Bishop Burton estates in Yorkshire after his return from Jamaica; Richard Watt III inherited George's Plain in Westmoreland Jamaica as well as Speke Hall under the will of Richard Watt I.
Richard Watt III was born in Liverpool and was baptised at St Thomas’s church on 4 April 1786 but he grew up on his father’s estate in Yorkshire. His mother died when he was just over two years old and her elder sister Mary Greenup may have helped bring him up. He was at Eton in 1799 with his younger brother, Francis, and they both matriculated at Christ Church Oxford in October 1802 though neither took a degree. The previous year they had obtained game licences and this was to be a far better indicator of their later interests than their academic schooling. Even before he inherited, Richard threw himself into sporting activities beloved by country gentlemen. In June 1806 he signed an agreement with Sir Mark Masterman Sykes of Sledmere to run a pack of hounds but the arrangement was dissolved in 1811 as he had ‘bloodstock and racing more at heart than fox-hunting.’
He came of age in April 1807 and the event was celebrated on the estates at Bishop Burton and at Speke with the usual dinners for tenants and local gentry. He inherited the Bishop Burton estate from his father and both Speke and the George’s Plain estate in Jamaica from his uncle, Richard I. On 7 June 1808 he married Hannah Burn in her local parish church of Holy Trinity in Hull. Unfortunately, we know nothing about her background. Over the next twenty years she went on to have thirteen children, six sons and seven daughters until she died in June 1828, probably in child birth. Sarah was born in 1809, Caroline in 1811, Richard in 1812, Francis in 1813, Charlotte in 1814, Mary in 1817, William in 1818, Frederick in 1819, George in 1820, Henry in 1821, Augusta in 1823, Gertrude in 1825 and Hannah in 1828. They were all baptised in the local church at Bishop Burton.
Watt did not remarry but by 1841 Elizabeth Martin was living with him as his wife and continued to do so until her death which took place sometime between April 1851 and March 1855.
By 1809 he was entering horses for the races at Beverley which became his life-long passion. Within a few years he was to become noted as a race horse owner, trainer and breeder. One of the most famous of his horses was the chestnut thoroughbred Altisidora, which after winning the 1813 St Leger was unbeaten for the following two seasons before retiring to stud. The public house in Bishop Burton is still named Altisidora, in the horse’s honour. His horses went on to win the St Leger on no less than three other occasions in 1823, 1825 and 1828. Although only second in the St Leger in 1817, one of his other well-known horses, Blacklock, won 17 out of 23 races in the four seasons between 1816 and 1819 (he was never less than 4th) and went on to sire many successful champions. Watt charged 15 guineas for the service of Blacklock with a further half guinea going to his groom, Thomas Barrow.
In his early years Richard Watt took on some local responsibilities within the county. He was listed as a Lieutenant in the second battalion of the East Riding Local Militia in 1809 and served as High Sheriff of Yorkshire in 1811. In 1808 he made a donation to the debtors in Hull gaol. In later years, he also took his responsibility as lord of the manor seriously, providing an ox for the villagers in Bishop Burton as ‘Christmas bounty’ and organising entertainments to celebrate the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837 and the birth of her first child in December 1840. On the latter occasion the local paper commented that 'The tables groaned under the weight of the feast.’
The main residence, High Hall, had been damaged by fire in 1790 and the family had moved to Low Hall. Although a ‘suite of rooms at the Upper Hall was thrown open’ for the celebrations in December 1840, it seems most of the house was divided into tenements. The condition of High Hall had clearly been allowed to deteriorate and in the codicil to his will Watt commented that the house ‘has been for many years unoccupied and is now greatly out of repair.’ His trustees were instructed to spend up to £5,000 for the house ‘to be put into a state of good and substantial repair.’
Although Bishop Burton was to be his home throughout his life, he does seem to have taken some interest in the house at Speke, at least initially. We know when he inherited the estate in 1807 that the condition of the Hall was giving cause for concern. In that year John Britton published his Beauties of England and Wales and wrote about the ‘considerable ravages’ to the building. In 1809 Watt ordered some unspecified ‘sundries for Speke’ from the leading Liverpool cabinet-maker, Matthew Gregson, for the very significant sum of £231. He made further purchases from Gregson in the following couple of years but whether these were for Speke or Bishop Burton is unclear. In 1811 he engaged George Bullock to restore the historic Great Hall. Based in Liverpool from 1801 until he moved to London in 1813, Bullock was then a rising star amongst furniture makers. It was a major commission, involving repairs to the panelling and the provision of furniture specially ‘Designed after much study and attention to suit the Antique Costume in true Baronial Magnificence.’ He also provided furniture for many of the other rooms in the house. It must have been an expensive exercise and it is, therefore, all the more surprising that all the newly purchased furniture and contents were put up for auction in September 1812. What caused this sudden change of heart is unknown and difficult to rationalise.
For the rest of his life the house at Speke seems to have been all but ignored by Richard III and all the surviving descriptions of the house express concern for the condition of the building, particularly of the west range. Presumably he visited the estate and house in December 1819 when three of his children were baptised in Garston church.
His eldest son and heir, Richard Watt IV, and his young family lived at Speke from 1832 to 1836, though on what basis is not entirely clear. It seems that Speke may have been made over to him in 1832 but after his unexpected death at the very end of 1835 control of the house and estate effectively reverted to Richard III. There had clearly been dissatisfaction with Richard IV’s choice of wife and she was not permitted to remain there after his death. The house was leased to a local timber merchant, Joseph Brereton (1787-1869), who lived at the Hall from 1837 until Richard Watt V came of age in 1856.
The George’s Plain estate in Jamaica was similarly managed at arm’s length and was presumably still providing a reasonable income despite the general problems facing most plantation owners in the early nineteenth century with increasing labour problems and competition from other sources of sugar. There is no evidence Richard III ever visited his plantation and it seems highly unlikely he would have done so. Like most absentee owners he relied on an attorney or agent in Jamaica to supervise the running of the estate, with the day-to-day control in the hands of a white overseer and other white managers. For many years, he used the London merchants, Joseph Marryat and sons to supervise the running of the estate.
He also held mortgages on two other estates at Potosi and Orange Hill. In 1808 arrangements were made for Matthew Parkinson, George Watson and William Appleton, three merchants from St James parish in Jamaica, to manage these on Richard Watt’s behalf. At some point these estates were made over to his cousins, Richard Watt Walker and John Walker and his brother Francis.
Some information about life on the plantation is available from the slave registers which were first produced in 1811 and then every three years from 1817. The returns for the George’s Plain estate provide us with the first detailed account of those whose labour made the whole thing work. In 1817 the return lists a total of 331 enslaved workers, including 171 males and 160 females. 124 had been born in Africa, and 207 had been born locally in Jamaica. By 1834, the high death rate caused by the physical harshness of the work and the inability to replace them with new slaves from Africa, meant that the enslaved population had fallen to 255. There were 10 supervisors, 150 field workers (77 men and 73 women), 11 coopers, masons and carpenters, seven domestic servants, 19 children aged under six, and 58 who were classed as ‘old’, that is too unwell or infirm to work.
It is possible that the estate was made over to Richard Watt IV in 1832 as part of the family settlement as it is not referred to in Richard Watt III's will and appears to have passed directly to Richard Watt V when he came of age in 1856. If this is the case, it seems likely that Richard Watt III had effective control over the estate after his son’s death in some form of trustee capacity for his grandson. Who received the compensation payment of £4485 for the emancipation of the enslaved on the estate in October 1835 is unclear. The records only show that a claim was made by ‘Richard Watt’ without specifying which one. If it was Richard IV, why did his widow live in such straightened circumstances in the years after his death? On balance it seems most likely that Richard III was the beneficiary.
Watt was clearly very unwell in his later years. When the census was taken in 1851, he was living in his London house in Charlotte Street and as well as the usual household servants, there was not only a nurse, Sophia Green, but also a 24-year old medical student, Charles Le Gay Brereton, who was being employed as a ‘medical attendant.' Watt was incapacitated in his final days and was only able to sign the codicil to his will with a mark rather than his signature. To add to his woes, Elizabeth died at some point after April 1851 and two more of his sons died within a year of each other, Henry in August 1852 and Frederick in September 1853.
Richard Watt III himself died aged 78 on 18 March 1855 and was buried at Bishop Burton on the 24th of that month. The estate at Speke and the George’s Plain plantation were entailed to his grandson, Richard Watt V but the estate at Bishop Burton and the residue of his property passed to his second son, Francis who also received ‘all books, pictures, plate, wine and furniture’ at Bishop Burton and Speke. Initially there had been significant provision for Elizabeth Martin but as she predeceased him this did not take effect. An annuity of £5,000 was included for his son William, but his youngest surviving son, George, only received one of £100. His two eldest unmarried daughters, Augusta and Gertrude, received annuities of £2,000 but again his youngest daughter, Hannah, had to make do with £200. His butler, Matthew Flint, was given £50. It appears marriage settlements for his daughters had been arranged under the earlier agreement in January 1832, so provision had already been made for his surviving married daughters Sarah, Charlotte and Mary.
Provision was also made in his will for the future of the Bishop Burton estate if Francis died without issue. In this case the estate was to pass to his younger sons by seniority and then to each of his daughters and their male heirs, again by seniority. As it turns out this was a wise decision as Francis died unmarried in 1870. His brother William then inherited the estate but as he too died unmarried in 1874, it passed to the eldest daughter Sarah, who had married James Hall of Scorborough Hall, Leconfield, Yorkshire, in 1830. On her death in 1886 it was inherited by her grandson, Ernest who changed his surname to Hall-Watt. The estate was sold by Ernest’s second son, Alverey Digby Hall-Watt, in 1930. The site of High Hall and the adjoining area is now the campus for Bishop Burton College, a further and higher education establishment mainly offering agricultural courses.
We are grateful to Anthony Tibbles for compiling this entry.
T71/871 Westmoreland claim no. 84. The will of Richard Watt (the father) of South Burton otherwise Bishop Burton was proved 28/06/1804, PROB 11/1411/32.
Liverpool Record Office 283 THO/1/2; H. E. C. Stapylton, Eton School Lists, 1791-1850 (1863), p. 35; Joseph Foster, Alumni Oxonienses: the members of the University of Oxford, 1715-1886 (1886), p. 1512; Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette, 13 November 1802; University of Hull, Archives, DDGE2/9/9; Frank H. Reynard, Hunting Notes from Holderness (1914), p. 28.
Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette, 4 April 1807; East Riding Archives and Local Studies Service, PE 158/27; Bishop Burton burial register, East Riding Archives and Local Studies Service, PE 140/11.
Census 1841, 1851; she is identified as Elizabeth Martin in his will, where she is described as ‘my nurse’, PROB11/2215.
The name Altisidora, comes from a character in Cervantes Don Quixote, a young female prankster. Weatherby E & J Racing Calendars 1816-1819, London, 1817-1820.
Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette, 13 May 1809; Morning Chronicle, 11 February 1811; Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette, 21 June 1808, 28 December 1837, 4 December 1840.
Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette, 4 December 1840, D Neave, ‘High and Low Halls, Bishop Burton’, Georgian Society for East Yorkshire Newsletter, 1979; PRO11/2215.
John Britton, The Beauties of England and Wales (1807); Clive Wainwright George Bullock: Cabinet Maker (1988) pp. 61-64; A Catalogue of the whole furniture of that ancient mansion Speke Hall, Liverpool (1812), LRO, 942.7213 SPE
LRO 283 GAR 2/1.
Census 1841, 1851.
DDGE2/9/11; see LBS estate information for Potosi and Orange Hill.
Richard S. Dunn, A Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia (2014), appendix 10.
Westmoreland claim no. 84.
Census 1851, listed as ‘Richard Watts’ of 29 Charlotte Street, London, Middlesex. The census erroneously gives the name as Beveston. Charles Le Gay Brereton (1826-72), was later a surgeon in Beverley. Yorkshire Gazette, 26 August 1852, 3 September 1853.
https://www.bishopburton.ac.uk/ [accessed 06/04/2018].
6 sons, 7 daughters
£4,485 4s 9d
The dates listed below have different categories as denoted by the letters in the brackets following each date. Here is a key to explain those letter codes:
1809 [EA] - 1837 [LA] → Owner
1817 [EA] - 1829 [LA] → Mortgagee-in-Possession
Great-nephew → Great-uncle
Richard Watt III (1786-1855) was also the major heir of Richard Watt I of Jamaica and Speke Hall....
29 Charlotte Street, London, Middlesex, London, England
Bishop Burton Hall, Beverley, Yorkshire, Yorkshire, England
Speke Hall, Liverpool, Lancashire, Merseyside, North-west England, England
He does not appear to have lived at Speke Hall although he made early attempts to renovate and decorate it.