John Wilmot portrait – 1

The portrait of John Wilmot (1750-1815), painted by Benjamin West, the president of the Royal Academy, in 1812 hangs in the Yale Center for British Art at Yale University, New Haven, USA. There’s to be a talk about the picture at Yale next month.

Portrait of John Wilmot by Benjamin West, 1812 (Yale Center for British Art, USA)

The portrait was one of West’s only two paintings at the 1812 Royal Academy exhibition and was noted for including history (the Allegory of Britannia welcoming American Royalists) as well as the person of Wilmot. How the painting was first made, and what happened to it between being shown in 1812 and being sold at auction in London in 1970, are open to discussion.

The Wilmots, lawyers and back-bench politicians, had connections with the Camden Town estate. John Wilmot (or as he became John Eardley-Wilmot) was known to Joseph Kay, the Camden Town estate’s main architect, through shared connections with the Foundling Hospital in Bloomsbury.

Sir John Wilmot had followed Sir Charles Pratt (as Lord Camden was once) as Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. John Wilmot’s son, Sir John Eardley-Wilmot, 1st baronet, and then his son, Sir John Eardley-Wilmot, 2nd baronet, were both friends of the Pratt family – there’s correspondence in the Pratt family archives, showing they visited each others’ houses in Malvern and Sevenoaks respectively.

These connections may explain the naming of Wilmot Place, a turning off St Pancras Way near Camden Road. Otherwise, it’s an anomaly – almost the only street not named after the estate’s original landlords, the family of the Lords Camden or the prebend of St Paul’s Cathedral.

1843 map showing origin of Wilmot Place

Two alternative explanations of why the road was named Wilmot are probably false – that it was the John Wilmot poet, Lord Rochester of the seventeenth century (who has no historic connection) or that it was the local builder (who was actually George Lever).