- updated 2021
The Newcomen family of Mosstown House and estate had a relatively short but very turbulent association with the village of Kenagh lasting a little over two centuries (both ‘Mosstown’ and ‘Kenagh’ come from the Irish name ‘Caonach’, meaning moss). The first of the hereditary baronets was Sir Robert Newcomen, who was knighted in 1623 and was married to Catherine Molyneux, aunt to the family of scientists and politicians of Dublin and to the family of landowners of Ballymahon. In 1629 their son Sir Beverly Newcomen succeeded as the second baronet. Sir Beverly married Margaret Usher, from another very prominent Dublin family, and they had son Arthur and daughter Catherine, who married Richard Parsons and was ancestor of the original Earls of Rosse. In 1637 the man-of-war ‘Swallow’, commanded by Sir Beverly, sank at Passage near Waterford, drowning both Sir Beverly and his only son. The title then passed successively to Beverley’s brothers Sir Thomas and Sir Robert. On the latter’s death his son Sir Thomas became the fifth baronet, but was killed during the Williamite-Jacobite wars and succeeded by his eldest son Sir Robert, who was also Member of the Irish Parliament for County Longford. His only son was Sir Arthur, seventh baronet and MP, and his son was Sir Thomas, eighth baronet and MP. On Sir Thomas’ death without children in 1789 the title became extinct, but Mosstown itself had passed to another member of the Newcomen family.
That other family member was Charlotte Newcomen of Carrickglass, a great-granddaughter of the fifth baronet. It was recounted many years later that her father had died while she was young, and she was left in the guardianship of a Mr. Webster. Leaving the house of Mr. Webster in Longford town, Charlotte was abducted by a casual acquaintance named Johnstone and his accomplice, who tried to throw her onto the back of Johnstone’s horse, most likely to force her into a marriage and thereby gain possession of her inheritance. The accomplice tried to stab Webster with a sword but managed only to strike one of his oversized brass coat buttons. Webster’s son shot and killed the accomplice with a blunderbuss, while Johnstone was believed to have been tried and executed. We are told that Charlotte “never recovered from the shock; the melancholy catastrophe permanently depressed her spirits.”
Charlotte married William Gleadowe of Killester in October 1772, and he took the surname ‘Gleadowe-Newcomen’ as he took ownership of her extensive family properties in Longford. He was created a baronet in 1781 and, like the earlier baronets, was elected MP for County Longford in 1790. A posthumous enquiry into the financial affairs of the Gleadowe-Newcomen family was reported on in the pages of the Freeman’s Journal in 1825. It found that in about 1786 Sir William Gleadowe-Newcomen had bought the ‘equity of redemption’ of the Mosstown House estate from Sir Thomas Newcomen (his wife’s second cousin), he having mortgaged the estate to Dean Cutts Harman of Newcastle House for £47,000. The following years saw the death of Sir Thomas and the shifting around of the mortgage debt between Sir William, Messrs. Maunsell and Alexander, and Lord Caledon. In essence, the estate had fallen into debt under the last of the Newcomen baronets, and it would require a person with sound financial acumen to restore its fortunes. Unfortunately, Sir William Gleadowe-Newcomen was not such a man.
Eighteenth century Ireland had a growth in commerce and enterprise, exemplified by a number of private banks established at that time. Castle Street, then a major Dublin street but now little more than a nondescript laneway, was home to the bank of the famous La Touche family on one side (demolished in 1946), and on the other that of James Swift & Co., succeeded in 1746 by Thomas Gleadowe & Co. A contemporary riddle asked: “Why is Castle Street like a river? Because it has a bank on each side.” The bank was inherited by Thomas’ son, the future Sir William Gleadowe-Newcomen, who moved the firm to 19 Mary’s Abbey between 1777 and 1781 while a new building was constructed in Castle Street by architect Thomas Ivory (assisted by James Hoban, who went on to design the White House in Washington D.C.). The Mr. Alexander concerned with the mortgage of Mosstown House was Robert Alexander, at that time a partner in the bank alongside Arthur Dawson and Sir William.
Sir William proved a controversial politician. Early in his parliamentary career he was considered a supporter of the Patriot opposition to the British administration, but circumstances quickly changed in the context of the United Irish plots and by 1796 he had raised the ‘Carrickglass Cavelry’ loyalist militia. Nevertheless, the Irish MPs were initially reluctant to vote themselves into obscurity, rejecting the Act of Union in 1799, and it was only with widespread coercion and bribery that a second vote succeeded on 1st August 1800. Just three days earlier, on 29th July, Sir William’s wife Charlotte was created ‘Baroness Newcomen of Mosstown’, in recognition of her family origins. Sir William now voted in favour, declaring that ‘he supported the Union, as he was not instructed to the contrary by his constituents’, despite his electors in Longford being solidly against the Act of Union.
Questions were soon raised about other incentives for Sir William’s support, and subsequent investigations revealed that he had owed up to £10,000 to the public treasury, all except £2,000 of which had been cancelled by Attorney-General John Toler with the approval of Lords Cornwallis and Castlereagh. Sir William’s near-neighbour Richard Lovell Edgeworth disdainfully wrote: “With a name that is borrowed, a title that’s bought, Sir William would fain be a gentleman thought; His wit is but cunning, his courage but vapour, His pride is but money, his money but paper!” After a year in the Westminster Parliament, Sir William was replaced as MP by his son Thomas in 1802 (Thomas retired at the 1806 election, having very rarely attended). Thomas was also appointed High Sheriff of Longford in 1801. Charlotte was further promoted to ‘Viscountess Newcomen’ in January 1803, the title to pass to Thomas upon her death.
Notwithstanding his damaged reputation, the banking firm of ‘Sir William Gleadowe Newcomen & Co.’ was reconstituted in July 1806, in partnership with his son Thomas, his brother Edward Gleadowe, and James Evory. When Sir William died in 1807 it was discovered that he owed his own bank £74,397 – an enormous sum, somewhere in the region of €5.85 million today. Sir William also left behind £29,000 of stocks in the Royal Canal. The canal had begun construction in 1789, intending to terminate near Ballymahon, but Gleadowe Newcomen had lobbied for a twelve mile detour to be added through difficult terrain to the Mosstown estate, Clondra and Longford, and by the time it was completed in 1817 the company stock was almost worthless. Despite inheriting the estate and his father’s baronetcy, Sir Thomas had no hope of repaying the bank debt and it remained fully unpaid when the bank was dissolved in 1825.
Edward Gleadowe died in 1814. In May 1817 Charlotte Newcomen died at Bath, and Sir Thomas now became ‘Viscount Newcomen’. Unfortunately, he continued his father’s poor financial management and borrowed £8,000 from a Major Gleadowe in 1816 (this could be the Lieut. Gleadowe of the 16th dragoons, an illegitimate son of Sir William, whose promotion was sought by Sir William in 1804), £10,000 from Arthur Kingston and a further £6,000 from Arthur’s father Alexander Kingston. Arthur Kingston was added as a new partner in the Newcomen Bank in February 1817, but by around 1822 he had severed his involvement. The Mosstown estate was mortgaged again in July 1820 for £50,000, after which Viscount Newcomen’s debts to the bank, combined with those of his father, soared to £118,162.
The spiralling debt proved insurmountable for Thomas and on 15th January 1825 he shot himself in his office (either at the bank or at his house in Killester). Anglo-centric society was then only in the early stages of re-assessing the nature of suicide; legally, it was a crime of ‘self-murder’, the victim’s property could be forfeit to the government, and they were not entitled to an ‘honourable’ burial, but public sentiment showed some discrete sympathy for the desperate Viscount’s plight. He wasn’t married, and his sisters were his legal heirs, but a relationship with Harriet Holland had produced eight children who did at least benefit from an £11,000 life-insurance policy, and they seem to have retained some standing in upper-middle class society; daughter Teresa married into aristocracy. The notebook of another daughter, Thomasina, was recently discovered in a Paris flea market. Newcomen Bank closed on 16th January, the day after the Viscount’s death, with James Evory the sole surviving partner. In the space of a few weeks a committee of enquiry had investigated what could be salvaged for the bank’s creditors, concluding that the late Viscount’s various properties were “nearly equal to the amount of the debts”. Thus we find, among the papers of the Newcastle House estate, ‘Surveys & Maps of the late Viscount Newcomen’s Estates in Counties Longford, Meath and Tipperary to be sold under the decree in the cause of the Earl of Caledon v Newcomen & others’ in 1826-1827. These include descriptions, maps and lists of tenants for estates at Mosstown and near Granard (at the village of Bonlaghy and the Demesne of Ballinlough).
The Newcomen Bank building on Castle Street was sold to the Hibernian Bank. It still stands today, but has gone through a series of changes in the last two centuries. In 1862 architect William Caldbeck doubled the Cork Hill side of the building facing City Hall by mirroring the earlier design and adding a new grand entrance. Dublin Corporation took over the building in 1884, and when in 1886 the new Lord Edward Street ploughed through the buildings to its north side, further alterations were carried out by Daniel J. Freeman, including an eye-catching marble drinking fountain. Today it is home to the Rates Office.
The Carrickglass Estate, which Charlotte Newcomen had inherited from her father, was sold to Thomas Lefroy. Carrigglas Manor, sadly allowed to fall into ruin in the 21st century, was built by the Lefroy family in the 1830s, but the impressive entrance gates, stables and farm buildings date back to the 1790s when Sir William Gleadowe-Newcomen commissioned renowned architect James Gandon to design a country demesne. In late 2017 conservation work began on rescuing the ‘Gandon Gates’ from collapse, though the other structures on the site remain in a perilous condition.
The Gosselin and Kingstone family tree (from The Dublin Tweedys: The Story of an Irish Family 1650-1882, by Owen Tweedy – London, 1956)
The Mosstown estate was bought by Lady Rosse of Newcastle House for £42,000, and she earned a poor reputation for evicting tenants without justification before her death in 1838. The Mosstown and Newcastle estates were gradually broken up and sold from the late nineteenth century. Mosstown House itself came into the possession of the Kingstone family; almost certainly identical to the Kingston family of Newcomen bank partners. Alexander Kingstone was noted as the occupier in 1791. An alternative folklore tradition says that they descended from a local man named McCloughery who anglicised his name (‘Clough Ree’) to ‘Kingstone’. In the twentieth century it was inherited by the Murray family before being demolished in 1962. Today, the imposing gateway, dovecote and deer-park boundary walls are the only surviving traces of this ascendancy outpost.
Mosstown House (from ‘Some Country Houses near Athlone’, by N.W. English, in The Irish Ancestor – 1973-74)
The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1790-1820
The Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol. 95: Lord Viscount Newcomen obituary (1825)
Freeman’s Journal: Report on a Committee of Enquiry (5 February 1825)
National Archives of Ireland: King-Harman Papers (Ms 2766)
With thanks to Alan Moran and Martina Burns for extra information.