Kenilworth Great House | Part 2
John Blagrove, who owned Maggotty (later to be renamed Kenilworth) also owned Orange Valley, Unity, Pembroke and Cardiff Hall estates. Cardiff Hall Great House was (and still is) a magnificent house and was the Blagrove family’s primary residence (see my previous Cardiff Hall Great House post). Great houses were not always occupied by the owner of the plantation. Much of the time, either an owner planter lived on one of his other estates as in John Blagrove’s case or he was an absentee owner who lived in England. Much of the time the attorney or the overseer lived in the great house (see my plantation management posts).
I was able to find what I assume were the ruins of the great house on another part of what would have been a portion of the estate. It was near the remains of a windmill tower. Stone windmill towers on the island of Jamaica almost always indicate the previous location of a sugar mill. Wind was used to turn the rollers that squeezed the juice out of the cane. The house is situation on a hill overlooking the north road. There are numerous stone steps that lead up to the front of the house. Although the roof is missing, the grandeur of the house still shines through. The house was constructed of square-cut stone and brick, probably brought as ship ballast from the Old World. The patio at the front of the house is paved with brick. The front windows and doors have arches at the top of each opening, giving an elegant appearance to the house. The alternating pattern of the red brick and the white stone is striking and shows that some thought went into the design of the building to make it aesthetically pleasing. Only the first floor remains but the few stones above the first floor indicate that the whole house was once stone.
The Portrait of John Blagrove by the Italian Pompeo Batoni, now in the National Gallery of Jamaica, represents a young man who sat for the painter during his “Grand Tour” to the Continent. Britons regarded the eighteenth-century Grand Tour as necessary in finishing the education of a gentleman from the aristocracy and the upper gentry. Between 1740 and 1787, Batoni’s reputation among “British Grand Tourists” was very high and they offered him the leading source of patronage. Blagrove was born in Jamaica and inherited his wealth through sugar production and plantation slavery.
Blagrove made his “Grand Tour” because he had the wealth to do so and because it was the fashion for those of his class at the time. Having a Batoni portrait was not only desirable but also a symbol of status owing to the portrait’s having a social, cultural, aesthetic and symbolic resonance. With the rising tide of Abolitionism, the portrait became a symbol of gentlemanly status and sophistication in the face of growing hostility toward proslavery West Indian planters.
British Abolitionist culture dating from the late 1760s had no effect on the nature and representation of Batoni’s representation of Blagrove. Batoni’s Italian practice was shaped by the “Old Master” tradition of copying and invention as well as by financial demands. In fact, Blagrove’s portrait conforms to a clichéd formula that the painter had, by that time, adopted for his British clientele.
Upon relocating to England in 1805 and leaving the portrait behind at Cardiff Hall, his portrait likeness by the master Batoni seems to have lost its interest for Blagrove.
The house can be seen near Highway A1 across from Chukka Adventures near Sandy Bay.