“My body light, my figure slim, My mind dispos’d to mirth and whim.”
RICHARD OWEN CAMBRIDGE
You know where you are when you stray into Cambridge Park. Along with Cambridge Park itself there’s Cambridge Gardens, Cambridge Road, Cambridge Mansions and Cambridge Park Court plus assorted odds and ends like Cambridge Park Footpath and Cambridge Park Bowls Club. Tucked away in a quiet corner of East Twickenham they all take their name from a house and an estate once owned by the poet, satirist and friend of the famous, Richard Owen Cambridge. Described as “the happiest of men - unencumbered by rank and easy in fortune” and “a ‘beau ideal’ of a thorough English gentleman,” Cambridge was “a font of benevolent wit.”
The house he bought - “a beautiful villa on the banks of the Thames” - had originally been built around 1616 by Sir Humphrey Lynde - ‘a most learned knight and a zealous puritan’. Sir Humphrey and his family moved out of the house in 1630 and it passed to Joyce, Countess of Totness. In 1657, after a change or two in owners, the house was taken by Sir Joseph Ashe, a Whig MP, a prominent church warden and his son James, a cruel man, described by his own mother as ‘feckless and feeble’.
In 1698, against his mother’s wishes, James married Catherine Boyer in a disastrous marriage - for as well as being ‘feckless and feeble’ James was also a philanderer. In 1707 Catherine, fed up with his behaviour, left him as recorded by local gossip Isabella Wentworth…
“It seems Sir James transgressed and went astray, which enraged her soe much that ever senc her last childe, which was three quarters old she never beded with him never man humbled himself more than he did to her…”.
When James Ashe died in 1733 his daughter, Martha, and her husband Joseph took the house and enlarged it. On Martha’s death in 1749 the house was occupied by Valens Comyns, an accountant in the City of London whose duties included investigating fraud and overseeing the Excise Office. In his spare time he made a substantial fortune financing a fleet of pirates! Comyns died in 1751 and the house and the estate in which it sat acquired a new owner, Richard Owen Cambridge - and a new name ‘Cambridge Park’.
After 135 years of zealous puritans, churchwardens, ‘feckless and feeble’ sons and a bit of piracy on the side the arrival of Richard Cambridge must have made a pleasant change. He was a good-humoured fellow blessed with a substantial education at Eton and Oxford, and a lively wit. ‘Cambridge House’ soon became a gathering place for the artistic and literary elite of the time including Dr. Johnson, James Boswell, Horace Walpole, Sir Joshua Reynolds who lived on Richmond Hill and Alexander Pope who lived up the road in Twickenham.
Being a man of considerable wealth Cambridge soon set to improving the house to his own taste and laying out the surrounding gardens. For this he received praise from fashionable landscape gardener ‘Capability’ Brown. The compliment was not returned when Cambridge commented…
“I hope to die before him, so I may see heaven before it is improved!”
Unfortunately for Richard Cambridge ‘Capability’ Brown died in 1783, 19 years before Cambridge finally shuffled off. This gave the much lauded gardener plenty of time to improve the heavenly herbaceous borders.
Richard Cambridge was a regular contributor to a periodical called “The World”. One day on his way to Twickenham church with his wife Mary, Mr Moore, the editor of ‘The World’ passed him a note requesting an essay for the next edition. During the sermon Mary noticed that her husband was not paying attention. She quietly asked him what he was thinking of. He replied - stand by for comedy - “The next ‘World’, my dear.”
Of all his many works Cambridge is probably best known for ‘Scribleriad’ -, a long and dense six-book mock heroic poem, “designed to expose false taste and false science,” and the abuse of learning, whatever that is. For those of you who were thinking of adding ‘Scribleriad’ to the list you leave out for Santa Claus Wikipedia does have a terse review of this bumper sized door stop…
“The satire shows considerable learning, and was eagerly read by literary people; but it never became popular, and the allusions, always obscure, have little interest for the present-day reader.” Why not ask for a Kindle instead?
A happy, wise and content old man, “enjoying when well advanced in years, health and vigour of body, serenity and animation of mind”, surrounded by an amiable family, a library and art collection he valued and the respect and affection of the good and great Richard Cambridge died on September 17th 1802 aged 85 and was buried in the graveyard at Twickenham Church. His son described him as “an elegant rather than a profound scholar. The liveliness of his parts was more adapted to quick discernment than deep thinking; he had therefore but little inclination for abstruse studies and those researches which demand laborious investigation.”
Another linked his happiness to his environment and frame of mind…
An elegant sufficiency, content, Retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, Ease, and alternate labour.
Or a Tony Blackburn once put it “Money won’t make you happy but at least you can be miserable in comfort!”
– from Martyn Day