The Hon John Smith-Barry
On the 18th November 1771 Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Cheshire Edward Orme wrote a letter to Jas. Heseltine Proctor in Doctor’s Commons, London the Grand Secretary of the Premier (Moderns) Grand Lodge of England. The communication sought to advise Grand Master Henry 5th Duke of Beaufort that John Page, the Provincial Grand Master of Cheshire, intended to retire due to ill-health and that the brethren of the Royal Chester Lodge were recommending that their current Master the Hon John Smith-Barry Esq. be appointed as his successor.
On the 9th December 1771 a second letter was sent to Jas. Heseltine Grand Secretary this time by Chas. Townsend the Provincial Grand Secretary of Cheshire. It stated that a reply to their request and recommendation for John Smith Barry to be the next Provincial Grand Master had not been received.
The brethren in Chester seemed anxious for a reply in order to make preparations for Smith Barry’s appointment at their imminent Provincial Meeting, Communication and Feast due to be held on the 27th December. So much so that they pointed out in the same letter that John Smith-Barry was actually in London at that time with another Royal Chester Lodge member the Rt. Hon. George James 4th Earl of Cholmondeley and that both could be met with at Ye Coco Tree Coffee House in Pall Mall to settle the matter.
Of course, it is not known if this suggested meeting ever took place but in any event John Smith-Barry went on to become the fifth Provincial Grand Master of Cheshire and was accepted and recognised as such at a meeting of Royal Chester Lodge held on the eve of the 27th December 1771.
John Smith-Barry was one of the first of a line of Cheshire peerage and county gentlemen to show an interest in freemasonry and join the Royal Chester Lodge. He belonged to a family with an ancient pedigree that could trace its origins
back to the time of William the Conqueror. He was born on the 28th July 1725 at Rocksavage estate the youngest son of Lt. Gen. James Barry, the 4th Earl of Barrymore and the Earl’s third wife Lady Anne Chichester. He had three brothers: James, Arthur and Richard and two sisters, Catherine and Anne. His father the 4th Earl of Barrymore, born in 1667, was an Irish Peer with estates in both England and Ireland such as those at Marbury Hall in Cheshire and Castle Lyons in County Cork. He was a distinguished soldier that had served with William of Orange in 1688 and Lord Galway at the Battle of Almanza in 1707 before attaining the rank of a Lieutenant General in 1710.
After a successful military career the 4th Earl became a politician and was Tory Member of Parliament for Stockbridge in 1710-13 and 1714-15 and for Wigan in 1715-27 and 1734-47. He was a Privy Councillor in 1713 and was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Civil Laws at Oxford University in 1735. He was also one of Cheshire’s leading Jacobites. Once described by Horace Walpole as the Pretender’s General, the Earl had been arrested on suspicion of treason (although nothing was proven against him) in 1715.
He had also been a member of the Cheshire High Tory Jacobite Club that narrowly decided not to take up arms to support James Stuart at that time. The portraits of the ‘Ten Cheshire Gentlemen’ that were members of this club including that of Barrymore can be found on display today at Tatton Hall in Knutsford. However the Earl of Barrymore’s Jacobite conspiracies did not end there as at the age of 73 he is thought to have conspired with Cardinal Fleury and the exiled King where he urged a Jacobite and French invasion of England and pledged to support it. Actually the Earl did not, as the French failed to land in 1744 and only Charles Edward Stuart did with a handful of followers at Moidart in 1745. A letter sent by the latter to the Earl asking for support had also been intercepted by the Earl’s oldest son and pro-Government supporter James and handed over to local magistrates and the 4th Earl of Barrymore also died relatively soon after these events in 1748.
John Smith-Barry’s father and his oldest brother James are not known to have been Freemasons but his brothers the Hon. Arthur Barry and the Hon. Richard Barry M.P. were. All three of these Barry brothers became members of Royal Chester lodge at a special meeting of that lodge on the 18th January 1758.
John Smith-Barry and Arthur Barry joined as Fellow Crafts and Richard Barry joined as an Entered Apprentice. Arthur Barry was PSGW in 1758 and Richard Barry was PJGW in 1759. Richard Barry was also an M.P. for Wigan from 1747-61 and he too like his father is thought to have been involved with Jacobite conspiracies. When a lieutenant in the Royal Navy he had formed a close friendship with Charles Stuart when acting as his father’s secretary during negotiations between English Jacobites and the French in 1743-44. He had also been sent to Dunkirk to assist in a planned French expedition against England in 1744 although he was described by Marshal Saxe, the French commander, at that time as ‘une tres jolie figure, mais qui me parfait etre une innocente victime des idees de son pere’.
Additionally when the Scottish Jacobites and Charles Stuart were at Derby in 1745 Richard Barry had been sent to meet them with pledges of support and £10,000 from his father the Earl Barrymore and Sir Watkin Williams Wynn. However when he arrived at Derby Charles Stuart had all ready returned to Scotland. He was also thought to have visited Charles Stuart at Avignon in 1747 and been present when the latter was fundraising in London in 1750.
Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn was the leading Jacobite in North Wales. He is not thought to have been a Freemason, however his son Sir Watkin-Williams Wynn Jnr. was and had joined Royal Chester Lodge in 1769 and he went on to be a SGW of the Premier Grand Lodge of England and acted as such at the Dedication of Freemasons Hall in Great Queen Street in 1776.
It is not known where John Smith-Barry was first made a mason although it may well have been in a London lodge as after being educated at Westminster School. It was whilst living there that he met his future wife, Dorothy Smith.
Dorothy was the elder daughter of Essex landowner Hugh Smith of Weald Hall and Dorothy Barrett Lennard. John Barry and Dorothy Smith were married at St Georges Church in Mayfair in April 1746. The couple had six children: John, Anne Dorothy, James Hugh, Catherine, John and Richard. It was as a consequence of his marriage to Dorothy Smith that John Barry became known as John Smith-Barry as when Dorothy and her sister Lucy had inherited their father Hugh’s wealthy estate in 1745 a clause associated with the settlement of the same, stipulated that his daughters’ husbands and their descendants must bear the surname Smith. Furthermore if either of the daughters of Hugh Smith married without the approval and consent of their guardian then their respective husbands would not have any claim on their estates.
Whilst John Barry subsequently took the name Smith and became John Smith-Barry his wife Dorothy seems to have married him without the approval and consent of her mother and guardian. The first home of the Smith-Barry family was a relatively modest residence located at Aston Parks on the Arley Estate in the parish of Great Budworth. Their second home at Belmont Hall was a much more grand affair and the acquisition of Brownslane Estate and the building of Belmont Hall thereon was considered to have been one of John Smith Barry’s main aspirations and missions in life.
The hall was designed in the Palladian style by leading architect of the day James Gibbs and it overlooked the Barry family estate at Marbury. John Smith-Barry is thought to have utilised all the family funds on this venture and such was his passion for the project that he also incurred large debts to complete it.
Whilst being High Sheriff of Cheshire in 1765 John Smith Barry does not appear to have shared his father’s and brother’s involvement with political intrigues and affairs although he was likely to have socialised with Jacobite sympathisers on various occasions as a result of his family connections, passion for hunting and membership of the Tarporley Hunt Club. Fergusson, in his history of the Tarporley Hunt Club, stated that whist the motives of the club were strictly sporting and convivial, their forebears along with other gentry had used hunting and racing at Delamere and Wallasey as a front for political activity. He also highlighted that several club members were also known to have been members of the Cycle of the White Rose, a Jacobite Society founded in 1710 at Wynnstay North Wales by Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn and that Jacobite symbols such as oak leaves and white roses had been found on club artefacts.
John Smith-Barry known as ‘Jack’ to his hunting friends was elected by ballot to the Tarporley Hunt Club in 1763 and as well as being their Master of Foxhounds he was also the Club’s President in 1767 and 1769. Along with his great rival Hugh Meynell (Founder of the Quorn Hunt) Smith-Barry was well respected for his ability to breed and produce superior fox hounds. One of the most famous of John Smith-Barry’s hounds was the legendary Cheshire hound known as Bluecap. Bluecap was held in such high regard that upon his death in 1771 a monument complete with obelisk and epitaph was erected to his memory. This monument originally located at Speedwell Hill was moved to Forest Kennels Sandiway in 1959.
John Smith-Barry also successfully bred, trained and raced horses and amongst the most well known of his horses were Forester, Spinner and Ragamuffin. His horse Forester was purchased as a foal from fellow Freemason and leading Cheshire turf supporter Philip Egerton in 1765. It went on to win the Chester Gold Cup in1771, the Doncaster Gold Cup in 1773 and the Chester City Plate in 1776. All in all Forester won twenty races.
John Smith-Barry’s son, James Hugh, carried on the tradition with his horse Burgamotte. Today the ‘Spinner and Burgamotte’ public house in Comberbach is named after the Smith Barry horses and the public house in Sandiway is named after the hound Bluecap.
John Smith-Barry was also a founder member of the Jockey Club. This club, at the time of its establishment in 1750, was not as its name suggests a club for jockeys but more an exclusive gentlemen’s club in Pall Mall for aristocratic devotees of the turf.
Clubs and societies were a British phenomenon in the eighteenth century and by 1800 they existed in their thousands. They were established for a plethora of reasons ranging from the social, religious, political and scientific to the more convivial, eccentric and sinister. Membership of clubs amongst the more affluent was common and Smith-Barry, along with other Cheshire gentry, was likely to have been a member of several clubs.
James Hugh Barry and Watkins-Wynne Jnr. for example were members of the Dilletanti Society, an exclusive dining club complete with complicated dress code and ceremonies that had been formed in 1733 by lovers of the arts and antiques and those that had been on the ‘Grand Tour’. Indeed James Hugh Barry was thought to have acquired a considerable collection of marbles and paintings as a consequence of his ‘Grand Tour’ and trips to Italy, Greece and Egypt. They were housed at first at Belmont Hall and then later at Arley Hall.
John Smith Barry had a positive impact on Cheshire freemasonry initially in that he was soon joined at Royal Chester Lodge by a number of his hunting friends, members of the Tarporley Hunt Club and members of the Cheshire gentry. Their arrival would no-doubt have raised the public image and prestige of freemasonry generally and indeed some went on to make key contributions to the society both locally and nationally. However Coulthurst in 1932 suggested that, in the early days at least, county members tended to be one day a year, St. John’s Day dining members and that John Smith-Barry himself overall adopted this approach.
This not only seems to have impacted upon his Masonic attendance and contribution but also on that of others particularly in the Chester area and as a consequence the continued development of freemasonry suffered at times as a result. Whilst significant Masonic events did take place during John Smith-Barry’s period in office they usually occurred as a consequence of the efforts of others and his deputies and representatives.
In 1781 St. Michaels Holy Royal Arch Chapter No. 24 was established at the Star Inn at Watergate Street in Chester. This is the earliest known record of the degree in Cheshire and it was seemingly established almost entirely by Chester Freemasons but without any consultation with the Provincial Grand Master. Whilst a formal complaint about the situation was sent in a letter dated 27th April 1781 on the latter’s behalf to the Moderns Grand Secretary James Heseltine, the new Chapter was likely to have been under the jurisdiction of John Allen, the Moderns Excellent Grand and Royal Arch Chapter Superintendent for Lancashire and Cheshire.
This seemingly confused state of affairs may well have been a reflection of the approach taken by the Moderns Grand Lodge towards the Royal Arch degree generally. Whilst many Moderns Grand Lodge Freemasons in England were exalted in the Royal Arch degree and were members of the Excellent Grand and Royal Arch Chapter (in effect the Moderns Grand Chapter) and some had been signatories to the Charter of Compact of 1766 which gave rise to it, the Grand Chapter was not officially recognised by the Moderns Grand Lodge until the Union of 1813.
This confused state was complicated even more when the Antients Grand Lodge appeared to have formed its only Provincial Grand Lodge in England, the Provincial Grand Lodge of York, Chester and Lancaster in September 1781 with a Dr. Hugh Cheney as its Grand Master. Although it does not appear to have functioned as such and have had any known influence or impact. It was possible that John Smith-Barry also became a Royal Arch mason although no records clearly linking him to the degree have been found.
In 1782 the laying of the Foundation Stone of New Bridge Gate in Chester took place and it appeared to have been quite an event. Attendees included Rt. Worshipful Philip Egerton, Acting Provincial Grand Master and Rt. Worshipful Pattinson Ellames, Deputy Provincial Grand Master and Mayor of Chester. Representatives from Chester lodges along with Provincial Stewards and Tylers one carrying a Sword and one carrying a Bible were also present. They were all accompanied by Musicians and members of the Corporation when Pattinson Ellames laid the Foundation Stone and Brother Rev. Thomas Crane delivered an oration on Architecture and a Masonic Charge before all concerned were then entertained by the Corporation.
In 1775 John Smith-Barry authorised a payment of ten guineas to the Building Fund of Freemasons Hall in London. In 1780 it was proposed that a United Masonic Charity be established for local brethren although the initiative seemingly suggested by members of the Neston Lodge No. 388 and the Elephant and Castle Lodge No. 246 does not look to have been adopted.
Whilst John Smith-Barry was known to have been a Freemason for at least twenty six years and Provincial Grand Master for thirteen years, during that time it is clear that he devoted most of his attention to his non-Masonic activities. He was a sporting man of some renown, sociable, convivial, generous and competitive. At times his actions were also questionable, irresponsible and extravagant. He can fairly be described as one of the Cavaliers of eighteenth century freemasonry and society. He never remarried after his wife’s Dorothy’s death at the early age of 28 in 1756 and he himself died in 1784. Following his death he was interred in the family vault at Great Budworth Church.