Honest John Roberts - the harbour connection

John Roberts 1714-1796 was born to a Waterford builder and architect from who it must be imagined he first learned his trade, before heading to London to further his studies. Apparently whilst there, he met and eloped with Susannah Maria Sautelle (1716-1800) and the pair had 24 children. Susannah was the daughter of the Huguenot and the couples first home on returning to Waterford was in Patrick Street.

I read previously that it was his wife’s contacts that landed him his first big break. Bishop Este was having a palace constructed on Waterford's mall. On his death work ceased but his successor Bishop Chevenix, another Huguenot, turned to Roberts to oversee the completion of what we now know as the Bishops Palace.

John and Susannah's home in Cathedral Sq, Waterford
marked by the Civic Trust blue plaque system
Roberts never looked back and his career from that point forward has been well recorded and celebrated, and its often mentioned that he has a unique distinction of being the architect of two cathedrals of different faiths in the one city; Christ church and Holy Trinity. Speaking for myself, I find my favourite building in Waterford to be his townhouse for the Morris family that we now refer to as the Chamber of Commerce building at the top of Gladstone Street, with its imposing view of the quay and his amazing internal staircase. I have speculated before that he was the architect of Faithlegg House, as he lived not more than 100 yards from it on what was called Roberts Mount, or Mount Roberts, which gives us a tangible harbour connection mentioned in the title. Faithlegg was his country mansion, but his townhouse was the old Bishops Palace, Cathedral Square.

Honest of course comes from a habit of his, of paying his workmen in small coins, freeing them of the obligation of going into pubs to make change, and also in paying half their wage to their spouses. Another admiral character trait however seems to have led to his undoing. He had a preference to oversee all elements of his work. On his last commission, the catholic cathedral in Waterford, he died. But had he been residing in Faithlegg perhaps he would have lived to complete the building?
Theater Royal, on Waterford's Mall
The story has it that he was an early riser and was normally on the job to greet his workers and supervise the days activities. In the days before he died he woke and went to work as usual. However, on this occasion he was a few hours early and so rather than return to his home he sat down to await the workers. He fell asleep and when he awoke, he had caught a chill. This turned to pneumonia and some days later he died; 23rd May 1796. 
Christ Church
However, had he been staying at his Faithlegg address isn’t it probable that when arising he would have had to have roused the stable boy to get his horse and carriage ready, or his boat man to ferry him to the city, three miles upriver? And surely either of them would have remarked to their master that it was indeed an early hour for such a trip. And just as likely their aged master would have turned on his heels and retired either to his bed chamber or his kitchen. Alas it was not to be. Maybe at 80 years of age, he was ready to take his final rest, however, one wonders had he lived another ten years what other architectural gems would Waterford boast.

Joe Falvey gives this great account:  http://www.munster-express.ie/opinion/views-from-the-brasscock/the-john-roberts-story/

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  1. Is he related to Gen Roberts, "Bobs"
    If so please do a blog on Bobs.
    "For Bobs, the Timp'rance Shtrategist, has whipped them on the nail" (Kipling)

  2. He was his grandfather or great grandfather Brian, I'm looking into it in relation to a local nurse and the Boer war

  3. Didn't know he was responsible for the Port Authority Building, used to love visiting it - can't now that there's a code-lock on the door to the beautiful staircase.

    1. Never realised that, it must be a relatively new procedure...I walked in six months back with no problem. very disappointing :(


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