Sir Thomas Barker and the Order of Little Bedlam

This article is taken from Rutland Local History & Record Society Newsletter, April 2010

A Lincolnshire lady appeared on a recent programme of Antiques Roadshow with a very fine portrait of an eighteenth century gentleman whom she named as Sir Thomas Barker of Lyndon Hall, Rutland. Being very interested in Thomas Barker, 'Father of English Meteorology', who lived at Lyndon Hall from 1722 until his death in 1809, I sprang to attention.

She went on to explain that the portrait had been painted because Sir Thomas was a member of the Bedlam Club, based at Burghley House. Apparently all members of the club had their portrait painted and acquired an animal logo. Sir Thomas's was the ram. She added that there was a similar portrait 'in Rutland'.

Sir Thomas BarkerI checked with Edward Conant of Lyndon Hall, who said they did not have a portrait of Sir Thomas at Lyndon Hall. Then, I contacted the Curator of Burghley House, Jon Culverhouse, who kindly confirmed that Sir Thomas was a member of the Club and furnished further details of membership which I include here. He knew of the portrait owned by the lady but Burghley did not have a similar portrait. However, a portrait of Sir Thomas is owned by Sir John Conant.

I consulted Weather Journals of a Rutland Squire, published by RLHRS in 1988 and found from the family tree that Sir Thomas was a distant relative of Thomas Barker. He succeeded his father, Sir Abel Barker, as squire of Lyndon Hall in 1679 when he was 32 years of age. He died in 1708 and it was then that Lyndon Hall passed into another branch of the family, namely Samuel Barker of South Luffenham, who was father of Thomas Barker, the meteorologist.

The Club had been set up by John, 5th Earl of Exeter, in 1684 but lapsed on his death. Later, on 10th May 1705, it was reconvened by John, 6th Earl when he called a meeting of members 'near at hand' in order to 'renew and continue' the Club. The membership is interesting and will repay further research.

A document at Burghley records details of the club in 1705:
‘The Honourable Order of Little Bedlam Whereas the Rt. Honble John Earl of Exeter lately deceased did in the Year 1684, (in the Reign of James 2nd) constituted a Society called, The Honble Order of little Bedlam at Burghley: And, "Whereas no Chapter or Assembly of the members had been held since his Decease - There are to give Notice, That the Rt Honble John (now) Earl of Exeter intending to renew and continue the said Honble Society, did upon the 10th Day of May 1705 (in the Reign of Anne) call a chapter to be held at Burghley by some Members of the Society who were near at Hand, And, as great Master of the Order, did take upon himself the Title of Lyon - At which Chapter were elected and admitted into this Honble Society.’

The document continues, ‘and amongst other things, it was also ordered that the former rules should stand, and that the register should give notice hereof to all such members as were formerly admitted, to know whether they are pleased to continue in this Honourable order and to give notice to the Register at Burghley (Daniel Clark) before the 15th day of May 1706 otherwise that their pictures would be taken and that the Great Master would proceed to a new election to fill up their places that the society might be kept full - and for this Notice and List to pay a Fee of 5s to the register.’

John Earl of Exeter, Great Master – Lyon
Earl of Denbigh - Tyger
Lord Lexington - Lamb
Lord Howe - Hare
George Crook Esq - Wolf
Sir Thomas Barker - Ram
Hon. John Vemey - Pardus [asterisked to indicated Male Panther]
Henry Nevile - Fox
Samuel Tryon Esq - Terrier
Sir Godfrey Kneller - Unicorn
Richard Sherard Esq - Mule
George Leafield Esq - Guineapig
Sir Thomas Mackworth - Badger
Charles Tryon Esq - Otter
William, Duke of Devonshire - Leopard
Baptist Earl of Gainsborough - Greyhound
Anthony Palmer Esq - Elephant
Hon. John Noel - Wtld Horse
Hon. Charles Bertie - Stag
Hon. James Griffin - Wild Boar
Hon. William Cecil – Panther
Thomas Hatcher Esq – Bear
Signior Antonio Verrio – Porcupine
Sir James Robinson – Buck
Timothy Lanoy Esq – Antelope
Hascard of Windsor – Cock
Hon. Charles Cecil - Bull

Note: All Peers placed first then all others as they were admitted

I went to the nearest source in time, namely James Wright's The History and Antiquities of the County of Rutland (1684) and found many members mentioned therein. There are famous names: Sir Thomas Mackworth of Normanton; Richard Sherrard of Stapleford and Whissendine; the Tryons; the Noe1s; the Cecils; Nevilles; Charles Bertie of Uffington and the Earl of Denbigh with connections to Martinsthorpe. John Verney was a lawyer of the Middle Temple, George Crook was described as a Knight and Judge Several members had been Sheriff of Rutland in the 1660s, 70s, and 80s – Thomas Mackworth, Thomas Barker, Anthony Palmer; others were Knights of the Shire in Parliament, for example, Baptist Noel, John Noel and Sir Thomas Mackworth.

One of the most interesting entries is Signior Antonio Verrio (c 1640¬1707), Italian decorative painter brought to London by Charles II to work on Windsor Castle and to paint the equestrian portrait of Charles which was in the Chelsea Hospital. Also, he worked for William III at Hampton Court and elsewhere. Verrio painted the staircase at Uffington Hall (now demolished) for the Bertie family in the 1680s. He painted the ceilings in the State Rooms at Burghley. It is likely that he also painted some of the portraits for the members of the Bedlam Club.

However, Verrio died only two years after the re- establishment of the Club. It is likely that he was a member of the earlier foundation. Sir Thomas Barker died in 1708 at the age of sixty-one and so he was a member of the reconstituted club for only three years. It would be interesting to find out if his membership was continued by anyone else from the Barker family.

This little insight into the Bedlam Club is a reminder of the network that existed in an area between notable families and outstanding personalities. Sometimes such associations were for pleasure and social pursuits. Other times it was for academic or scientific reasons, such as the Gentlemen's Society of Spalding which had such eminent members as Sir Joseph Banks. Further investigation of such links and connections would reveal a great deal about eighteenth century society at the regional level.

Grateful thanks to the Curator, Burghley House, and to Edward Conant for their kind co-operation.
Bryan Waites

This article is taken from Rutland Local History & Record Society Newsletter, April 2010