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
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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