More about Sir George Smith
I’m used to telling people I take round the Library on occasional Wednesdays that Sir George Smith the younger “fell on hard times” after coming out of prison in 1793. He had to mortgage property to Jonas Bettison of Holme Pierrepont in 1802 and died in 1808. Bromley House was occupied by a cousin, Thomas Smith, and rented out until the ignominious occupation by the militia and eventual sale to the Library. However, from some of the documents in the Smith-Bromley papers in Nottingham University, it seems that things weren’t as bad as I thought.
Sir George’s will of 1807 lists his property, which he bequeathed to his son, Robert Howe Bromley and, in the event of his dying without issue, to an Elizabeth Lester, known as Mrs Edwards. This includes all his “manors, lands and real estates in Huntingdonshire, Hereford, Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and the towns of Nottingham, Leicester and Derby”.
Elizabeth Lester had the use until her death of Preston Court, Gloucestershire, whereupon it reverted to the third son of his cousin, Thomas. This son, Robert Smith, at that time resided at Worcester College, Oxford. He would have to change his name to Pauncefote in order to benefit, which he did on 20 January 1809; an interesting parallel to the circumstances surrounding Sir George’s assumption of the name of Bromley. From 1803 he had added Pauncefote to his name, after his maternal grandmother, through whom he inherited Preston Court.
One of the Smith-Bromley papers is a handwritten note by Lady Esther Bromley of the state of her affairs in 1800. It shows that the income from Sir George’s estate was £3150 gross, or over £230,000 in today’s money. She was entitled under the terms of their separation to keep three sevenths of the net value as an annuity (£970, now £71,000 a year) once debts had been paid. It also shows that she had to pay three sevenths of Sir George’s debts in 1794, which were paid off in three installments by 1797. Her investments amounted to £14,560, or just over a million today.
After Sir George’s death his London house was sold at auction. The sale particulars indicate that this was a desirable property, “fit for the immediate reception of a family of the first respectability”. Number 51 Russell Square, unfortunately no longer standing, had 5 bedrooms, a front drawing room with French windows and balcony, a back drawing room, an eating room and library, with rooms in the basement for a butler, housekeeper, wine cellar, kitchen, wash house and a cistern at the side with force pump. The effects included furniture, pictures, miniatures, books, cabinets, plate, china, wine and carriage.
The papers do not state how much was obtained for all this but, as the unexpired ground lease of the property was for only 19 years, it may not have been enormous. Nevertheless, despite his debts in the 1790’s, Sir George was clearly not left destitute after his enforced separation from his wife and departure from Nottingham. He almost comes across as a decent sort, bequeathing not only extensive property to family but even leaving Jonas Bettison, his mortgagor in 1802, and the Rev. Ralph Heathcote of Hockerton, legacies of 20 guineas (£1500 today) as tokens of friendship.