Captain Barber Beaumont

I had an instinct that Captain Barber Beaumont, who owned an estate and the private cemetery which has become Shandy Park, might have been an interesting figure. Indeed, he was. He was born Thomas Barber in 1774 and became a student of the Royal Academy Schools in 1791, specialising in miniatures and exhibiting in the Summer Exhibition. He was appointed miniature painter to the Duke of Clarence. In 1803, at a time when Napoleon was threatening to invade, he raised a rifle corps known as ‘the Duke of Cumberland’s sharpshooters’. They practised shooting in Hyde Park. Then, in 1806, he turned to the world of insurance, becoming a successful businessman, establishing the Provident Life Office and the County Fire Office the following year. He designed their offices in Regent Street and added Beaumont to his name. During the 1820s, he became an investor in South America and supported the campaign for its independence from colonial rule In 1840, he established the Beaumont (or New) Philosophical Institution on Beaumont Square, very close to our house, which was part museum, part reading room, plus a chapel, planned to provide ‘intellectual improvement and rational recreation and amusement for people living in the East End of London’. He died the following year, leaving money to support the institute, which offered classes in geology, singing and conchology. Quite a life. Quentin Skinner is the Barber Beaumont Professor at Queen Mary.


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