Richard Sheridan – Polesden Lacey

Richard Sheridan by John Hoppner – The Bridgeman Art Library, Object 824225

Richard Brinsley Sheridan certainly enjoyed his near twenty years in the area, calling his home at Polesden Lacey “The nicest place, within a prudent distance of town, in England” and a “seat of health & happiness”, when he moved there in 1797. By this stage in his life Sheridan’s former occupation as a successful playwright (see The Rivals and School for Scandal) had largely been usurped by his new career as an MP, which offered him a higher level of security against the debt collectors who would plague him.

It was upon his second marriage to Hester Jane Ogle in 1797 that Sheridan moved to Polesden Lacey, using in part her dowry to fund the move. He noted that she would be happy there, and would “chirp like a bird, bound like a fawn and grow fat as a little pig”. Sheridan too seemed to enjoy his new home, particularly in his role as country squire.

Despite the restrictions that his debt put on his ability to spend, Sheridan attempted to live lavishly at Polesden Lacey. The house was in poor condition when he first arrived, and although his attempts to renovate were limited due to his finances he managed to rejuvenate the estate as well as improving the dairy. He extended the Long Walk from 1,300 feet to 900 feet and began to demolish parts of the house around 1814 in order to rebuild. He was prevented from completing this endeavour by ill-health and a lack of funds.

Additionally, Sheridan was very popular with his tenants, and took their welfare very seriously. A movement towards enclosing common land, pushed by the government and aristocracy, was widespread in late 18th century England, and when this question arose in the local area he insisted on fair treatment for the cottagers on his land.

Despite the lack of writing that Sheridan completed whilst living in Polesden Lacey, the time the former playwright spent in the area before his death in 1816 was clearly important to him, and his impact on the house can still be seen today.

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