Kyrle, John (DNB00)


KYRLE, JOHN (1637–1724), the Man of Ross, born at the White House, in the parish of Dymock, Gloucestershire, on 22 May 1637, was eldest son of Walter Kyrle of Ross, Herefordshire, where the family had been settled for centuries, by Alice, daughter of John Mallet of Berkeley, Gloucestershire. From his father, who was a barrister, a justice of the peace for his county, and M.P. for Leominster in the Long parliament, Kyrle inherited in 1650 estates at Ross and elsewhere worth about 600l. a year. He was educated at the Ross grammar school and at Balliol College, Oxford, where he matriculated on 20 July 1654, but took no degree. A silver tankard holding five pints, embossed with his arms and inscribed with the words ‘Poculum charitatis ex dono Johannis Kyrle de Ross in agro Herefordiensi et hujus Collegii commensalis,’ but without date, is still preserved at the college. Kyrle was admitted a student of the Middle Temple in 1657.

After leaving the university Kyrle retired to Ross, where he lived a life of extreme simplicity, devoting his surplus income to works of charity and the improvement of the town and countryside. He owes his fame largely to the eulogy of him which Pope introduced into his third ‘Moral Epistle’ (1732) on information supplied by Jacob Tonson. An enthusiastic amateur architect, builder, and landscape gardener, nothing pleased Kyrle better than to advance a neighbour the funds necessary for enlarging or rebuilding his house, stipulating only that he should himself plan and superintend the execution of the work. His own estate he greatly improved by extensive plantations of timber. His favourite tree was the elm, of which he planted two avenues on either side, east and west, of Ross Church. He also acquired from Lord Weymouth in 1693 a lease for five hundred years of a small eminence near the church called the Prospect, which he dedicated to the public and laid out in walks shaded by ornamental trees interspersed with shrubberies. In the centre he erected a fountain, which, having become ruinous, was removed in 1794. The right of the public in this plantation, having been disputed in 1848, was, after prolonged litigation, secured in 1857 by a conveyance of the land to the town commissioners in perpetuity. Pope's lines plainly attribute to Kyrle the construction both of Ross Church and the raised stone causeway which connected the town with Wilton. Both, however, were in existence for centuries before Kyrle's time. It is said in a letter of 1746 (Spence, Anecdotes, 1820, pp. 423–5) that he gave a gallery and pulpit to the church, the spire of which was reconstructed in 1721; and the same letter implies that a fine avenue of elms along the Causeway was planted by him. Pope's further statement that he fed the poor in the marketplace possibly means, as suggested in Chambers's ‘Book of Days,’ ii. 557, that he acted as almoner to the lord of the manor in the distribution of a weekly dole. ‘He feeds yon almshouse’ may refer to Rudhall's Hospital, which was in close proximity to Kyrle's house. The character of general mediator attributed to him by Pope is supported by Hearne (Diary, April 1733), who says that ‘when any litigious suits fell out’ Kyrle ‘would always stop them and prevent people going to law.’ That, however, he did not succeed in exterminating the local attorneys is proved by the fact that towards the close of his life he was himself involved in litigation. Pope does not confirm the tradition that Kyrle used to release poor debtors from prison and re-establish them in life. He took a lively interest in a dame's school in the town, paying it a visit of inspection every week, and making minute inquiries into the behaviour of the children, and reproving delinquents with ‘Od's bud, Od's bud, but I will mend you.’ Though his rank in the county was but that of a squire who worked like a yeoman on his land, and lived on intimate terms with his labourers, he was chosen sheriff in 1683. He had little literary culture. Strictly temperate, he was fond of entertaining his friends with solid joints, washed down with cider, perry, or ale. The fragments of the repast were always given to the poor. He usually smoked two pipes of tobacco a day. He remained a bachelor all his life, his house being kept by one of his female relations, Miss Judith Bubb, and he died of old age on 7 Nov. 1724. The body, after lying in state for nine days, was buried in the chancel of Ross Church, without any monument or inscription. A blue slate stone, with the inscription, ‘John Kyrle, Esq., 7 Nov. 1724, æt. 88,’ was placed to mark the spot in 1749. The existing monument was erected in 1776 by Colonel James Money, executor of Kyrle's cousin Constantia, Lady Dupplin, pursuant to a direction in her will. It is a pyramidal marble tablet on the north wall of the chancel, with a bust of Kyrle in relief, and three allegorical figures, with coat of arms and motto. It is inscribed as ‘In memory of Mr. John Kyrle, commonly called the Man of Ross.’ A more recent monument is the Kyrle Society, started by the efforts of Misses Miranda and Octavia Hill, and inaugurated by Prince Leopold in 1877. The society endeavours, by giving popular concerts, promoting the conversion of waste plots of ground into gardens, and encouraging the growth of flowers and decoration of cottages, to brighten the lives of the working classes in the large towns (see Good Words, xxii. 609). Kyrle left the estates to his kinsman, Vandervort Kyrle, for life, with remainder to his sons in tail male.

Kyrle's house continued for some years to be occupied by the family, but was afterwards converted into the King's Arms Inn, and finally into shops. It faced the south-east corner of the market, on which Kyrle had inscribed a monogram intended to signify ‘Love King Charles from the heart.’ Kyrle refused to sit for his portrait; but it was painted from a sketch taken without his knowledge in church. This, or a copy, long hung in the King's Arms, whence it was removed in 1795 to the Swan Inn, Tewkesbury, and thence to the Talbot Inn, Shrewsbury, and was ultimately purchased by Sir Mark Sykes of Strettington Hall, near Malton, Yorkshire. A print of it is in the ‘European Magazine’ for 1786, ii. 161. There was also a copy in the King's Head Inn at Ross. Heath (Excursion down the Wye, 1826) states that Lord Muncaster was supposed to be in possession of the original. In person Kyrle was tall, broad-shouldered, and well built, red-faced and hearty, with a large nose and a loud voice. He wore a short bushy wig and brown suit.

[Robinson's Mansions and Manors of Herefordshire, p. 280; Reg. Matric. Oxford; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Pope's Works, ed. Elwin and Courthope, iii. 150, 529; Heath's Excursion down the Wye, 8th edit., 1826; Cooke's Collections … of the County of Hereford, pp. 108 et seq.; Strong's Ross and Archenfield, p. 12; Gent. Mag. 1786, pt. ii. p. 1026; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. vi. 542, 2nd ser. xi. 466, xii. 72, 4th ser. vi. 154; Burke's Landed Gentry, ‘Money Kyrle.’]

J. M. R.