Roberts, the son of a carpenter and builder and grandson of a Welsh businessman. John had three sisters and their mother died while they were still young, He had 24 children. Of these 8 reached adulthood. practised as an architect in Waterford; his works there include the Protestant cathedral of Christ Church (1773) and the Catholic Holy Trinity Cathedral (1793-6; both altered in the 19th century). John Roberts Extracts from an address REMEMBERING JOHN ROBERTS 1796 - 1996 [Altar] By JULIAN WALTON, November 1996, Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford "Unfortunately, we know next to nothing about Roberts' professional life. He was the son of a builder and he was trained in London. These two facts are certain; all else is surmise. But we do know a great deal about Roberts the man. This is mainly due to his granddaughter Margaret Price, who in 1853 in her old age wrote a family history for the edification of her grandnieces and -nephews . ." Early Life. Although Roberts died honoured and respected, his early years had not been easy. His mother, Elizabeth Bowles, died young, leaving John and his three sisters motherless. Young John went off to London where he worked as apprentice to a carpenter and studied architecture. Marriage "On his return home he fell in love with the daughter of a crusty old French ‚emigr‚e, a Major Sautelle, who did not approve of their marriage." "The young couple found life pretty tough, but John was resourceful. He sent his sisters off to Dublin (they eventually married successfully) and bound his half-brother Benjamin as apprentice to a cabinet-maker. He and Mary Susannah lived in humble circumstances in a rented room in Patrick Street." Bishop Richard Chenevix "In 1746 Roberts got his lucky break with the arrival in Waterford of a new Bishop, Richard Chenevix. For the Chenevixs, like the Sautelle's, came from the French city of Tours, and both families cherished their Huguenot heritage. When Chenevix arrived in Waterford the huge palace, begun by his predecessor, to the design of Richard Castle, . . . now rose like a huge skeleton between the Cathedral and the recently drained Mall. He entrusted the project to John Roberts. The Bishop was so pleased with the result that when he moved out of his old palace in Cathedral Square he granted it to Roberts on a long lease. Here the Roberts' lived for nearly half a century, and here Mary Susannah gave birth to most of their 21 children, eight of whom survived to adulthood." John Roberts went from strength to strength. A letter written in 1775 by Bishop Chenevix, apparently to his colleague in Limerick summarizes his record to date: "I can send an architect from this place, one whose integrity, skill and experience I have long been acquainted with, he having finished the Episcopal house, and he has built two houses for me. He is well known to the Archbishop of Cashel, Lord Tyrone (whose fine offices he built), and the chief gentlemen of this county, having been employed by most of them in considerable buildings and to their entire satisfaction, and he has now undertaken the building of the Cathedral of Waterford, his plan having been approved of by the corporation and the clergy. Other Work - Nationally "Roberts is also credited with having built two of the great houses of the west of Ireland. One is Tyrone House on the shore of Galway Bay, seat of the St. George family and famous as the setting of Edith Somerville's novel "The Big House of Inver". The other is Moore Hall, the home of Colonel Maurice Moore, the first commander of the Irish Volunteers and of his brother George Moore. Both mansions were burned during the Troubles and are now vast, empty shells. I'm a bit doubtful whether Roberts worked so far away from home (could there be some confusion between "Tyrone House" and "Lord Tyrone's House"?). But I think it more than likely that he built Faithlegg House for Cornelius Bolton in 1783. He certainly rented part of the lands of Faithlegg and built there a country retreat for himself and his family. The place had the inelegant name of Knockrotten, which he understandably changed to Roberts Mount. Ironically, whereas so much of Robert's work survives today, not a stone remains of his own rural residence." Other Work - Locally Margaret Price confirms that Roberts built "all the mansions round Waterford" though (infuriatingly) neither she nor the Bishop give any details. At least we are told that he built for the Earl of Tyrone the courtyard at Curraghmore, and a magnificent piece of work it is - unique in Ireland, rare in these islands, and far more typical of the approach to a French chateau than of an Irish country house. We know also that he built Newtown House (Newtown School from 1798) for John Wyse. "In Waterford itself, Roberts built in 1785 our finest town house, the residence of William Morris, with it's splendid facade, door-case, stucco work and oval cantilever staircase. It's now the headquarters of the Harbour Commissioners and the Chamber of Commerce. Two years later, the corporation having closed the Leper Hospital on the grounds that there was no longer any leprosy in the city, a consortium of philanthropic businessmen and clergy commissioned Roberts to build a new hospital at the foot of John's Hill. For many years it served the community well as the county and city infirmary, closed in 1986. And in 1788 he built on the Mall the new Assembly Rooms, now the City Hall and Theatre Royal." "But it is above all as the creator of our two Cathedrals that Roberts' record stands. Christ Church Cathedral The medieval Christ Church had been condemned as unsafe in a report compiled by the architect Thomas Ivory, who recommended that it be demolished and replaced. The commission went to John Roberts, who between 1775 and 1780 built what is probably the finest classical church in Ireland. [Engraving by Thomas Malton] "It is entered through a great portico of four Doric columns and a pediment. Above the porch soars a tower and spire to a height of 200 feet. The interior, with it's galleries, stucco ceiling and huge pulpit, was greatly altered a hundred years later by Sir Thomas Drew, but is familiar to us from the engraving by Thomas Malton and the plans drawn by James Pain." Roman Catholic Cathedral 1793 "The closing years of Roberts' life saw an upsurge of liberalism in Ireland under the influence of the American and French revolutions. The most important of the remaining penal laws were repealed in 1793, the year in which the Boston engineer, Lemuel Cox, built Waterford's first bridge across the Suir. Contemporaries saw in the event a symbolic bridging of the gap between the Protestant and Catholic communities and an end (all too short lived alas!) to religious strife in this country. In this year too the new Roman Catholic Cathedral was founded on the site of the great Chapel in Barronstrand Street. It is an astonishing testimony to the wealth and self-confidence of Waterford's catholic community at that time, and it was a remarkable tribute to John Roberts that he should have been asked to build it." In no other Irish town are so many of the principal buildings the work of one person, and he a local man. Roberts, the Employer Roberts' life was long and successful. But he seems to have had little regard for worldly luxuries. "He was enormously respected by his workforce - Honest John was their nickname for him. Pay-day was on Saturday morning, and Roberts was careful to give half the wages to the men's wives so that they could go off to the market and buy food at the best price, rather than just hope there would be something left over when their husbands got back from the pubs. And the husbands were paid in small change, so that they wouldn't be inconvenienced by having to go into the pubs to get change." Legendary Demise 1796 One May morning, Roberts awoke in the early hours and went off to work. Leaving his house in Cathedral Square he "walked through the silent streets as far as Barronstrand Street, where he expected to find his workmen hard at work on the great new Roman Catholic Chapel. But to his surprise he found the site cold, damp and deserted. He looked again at his watch. It did not, as he expected, show 6.15 but only 3 a.m. - he had originally read the time while holding it upside down. Even in 1796 men did not start work at such an ungodly hour, but instead of walking the few hundred yards back up High Street to his cosy bed Roberts sat down in the chapel and waited for them to arrive. There he fell asleep, and by the time he woke up he had caught a chill. It soon turned to pneumonia, and in a few days he was dead." He was buried in the French (Huguenot) Church. He was 82 at the time of his death. The Roberts Family John Roberts jr., became a clergyman and was rector of Passage East. Samuel Roberts became an attorney. George Roberts took up farming at Mount Druid near Blenheim. Thomas Roberts (1748-78) - Classical landscape painter, trained under James Mannin in the Dublin Society's Schools. He is said to have been influenced by Claude Lorraine (17th century French artist). He died early of tuberculosis in Lisbon "Thomas was a talented artist, best known for his four superb views of Carton estate in Co. Kildare, the seat of the Duke of Leinster. Michael Wynne, keeper of the National Gallery of Ireland, described Thomas as: "One of the finest landscape painters in Great Britain or Ireland during the third quarter of the 18th century". Thomas Sautell Roberts 1760-1826, landscape painter in a Romantic style. "Thomas is by far the better painter but Sautelle's works - generally signed "T.S.Roberts" - are better known. For one thing, having initially trained as an architect, he was as much interested in buildings as he was in landscapes. For another, engravings were often made of his paintings, so that they achieved a wide circulation. When the Royal Hibernian Academy was founded in 1823, Sautelle was one of the three artists chosen to select the first members. He contributed to the Academy's first exhibition in 1 826, and died shortly afterwards." Flora Roberts was also a noted landscape painter and did some scenery for the Waterford Theatre. Anne Roberts married alderman William Price. Their son and grandson became in turn headmasters of the Waterford Grammar School, which had high academic record and trained it's students for Dublin University. Another son, Dr John Roberts Price, was grandfather of the Gaelic scholar Liam Price." "The profession of architect was continued by succeeding generations of Roberts. His nephew and namesake, the son of his half-brother Benjamin the cabinet-maker, became an architect in Wexford. More famously, his great-grandson Samuel Ussher Roberts, county surveyor for Galway, was the creator of some fine houses in the west of Ireland. His most stunning achievement was Kylemore in Connemara, the fairytale castle he built near Letterfrack for a rich Merseyside industrialist. Nearer home, he built Gurteen Castle near Kilsheelan for the first Count De La Poer, re-cased the exterior of Curraghmore, and transformed Faithlegg into a Victorian mansion, complete with the arms and stag's head crest of the Powers." his great-grandson Samuel Ussher Roberts, county surveyor for Galway, was the creator of some fine houses in the west of Ireland. His most stunning achievement was Kylemore in Connemara, the fairytale castle he built near Letterfrack for a rich Merseyside industrialist. Nearer home, he built Gurteen Castle near Kilsheelan for the first Count De La Poer, re-cased the exterior of Curraghmore, and transformed Faithlegg into a Victorian mansion, complete with the arms and stag's head crest of the Powers." the family burial ground was is St John's Priory, but he and his wife were buried in the chancel of the French Church, Waterford.
|Born: Waterford, Ireland, , 1712 ||Baptised: St Olaf's, Waterford, Ireland, , |
|Died: 23rd May 1796||Buried: |