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.
Kenilworth Great House Photo Gallery
Kenilworth Great House Location Map
Bonita and I turned off the North Road at the blue and white sign pointing the way to Heart Northwest TVET Institute, a vocational institution. We followed the road until it ended at sign that stated, “Welcome, You Have Reached Kenilworth.” On the other side of the gate were the Kenilworth Sugar Mill ruins, some of the most impressive 18th century buildings in Jamaica. The institute has kept the grounds around the ruins beautifully trimmed. I walked up to the guard house and asked, “Can we visit the ruins?”
The guard replied, “I’ll have to check with my supervisor because the institute is closed for the Labor Day weekend.” A short time later, we were cleared to enter the grounds.
These ruins illustrate a high level of architectural design and construction during the time sugar was king. The mill house is an amazing structure and I thought at first it was a great house. It has a large semi-circular staircase at the front where the oxen driven wagons would have been unloaded and the cane carried up to a large room containing the rollers to squeeze out the juice. Behind the room, is a long narrow room that held the water wheel. An entrance for water from an aqueduct (long gone) above the mill is evident and an arched opening at the bottom of the mill would have allowed the water to flow back to the Maggotty River. A beautiful design feature of the mill building are the elliptical windows. Adjacent to the mill is a “U” shaped building with graceful arches, with both sides of the building mirroring each other. Various colors and types of stone are used throughout the building, highlighting the windows and doorways as well as the stone quoins (stones to provide strength to the corners). As with most ruins, trees and other plants were growing out of the interior and on the walls.
Kenilworth does not appear on the eighteenth century maps of Jamaica, as the property was originally known as Maggotty, likely named after the Maggotty River which runs through the property. The Estate is first mentioned in the Crop Accounts in 1757 as Maggotty and Top River Estates. It was then owned by John Blagrove, a minor; and produced 132 hogsheads (one hogshead=1,456-1792 pounds) of sugar, 43 puncheons (one puncheon=84 gallons) of rum and 50 casks (one cask=50 gallons) of molasses. The overseer at the time was Lachlan Shaw. By 1761, the Estate was listed as Maggotty (without the Top River). It then produced 159 hogsheads of sugar, 36 puncheons of rum and 53 casks of molasses. The Crop Accounts of 1810, records John Blagrove (no longer a minor) as the owner of the estate and the production of sugar had increased to 231 hogsheads. By 1819, production on the estate had fallen drastically. Production for the year ending December 31, 1819, was 89 hogsheads of sugar and 75 puncheons of rum. The overseer at the time was John Kindley. In 1833, Maggotty Estate was owned by the heirs of John Blagrove and was under the management of James Deanery, attorney. By 1833, production had decreased to 60 hogsheads, 15 tierces and 25 barrels of sugar, and two puncheons and four hogsheads of rum. The overseer was Peter Campbell.
The property eventually became known as Kenilworth; there is no record to explain the reason for the name change. The Return of Properties of 1882 record Kenilworth as comprising 2,560 acres, with 500 acres in common pasture and pimento and 2,060 acres in wood and other uses. The owners of the property were listed as the heirs of William Browne. By 1920, the property had increased to 2,963 acres; by then it was rented to tenants and used to cultivate coconuts. The registered owner of Kenilworth in 1938 was Ethel Browne; at that time, the property was put to banana and coconut cultivation.
The mill was constructed by John Blagrove the Younger. John Blagrove (1753-1824) was bequeathed Orange Valley and Unity estates in Jamaica, by his grandfather, John Blagrove senior. Blagrove senior had intended his other Jamaican estates, Pembroke, Maggotty and Cardiff Hall, to be inherited by his son Thomas. However, Thomas died (at the age of 21) before his will had been awarded probate and all the estates passed, in about 1756, to John Blagrove junior, who as a minor was placed under the guardianship of Colin Currie. Thomas Blagrove’s widow (John’s mother) Elizabeth later remarried and was known subsequently as Elizabeth Witter.
Cardiff Hall, Unity and Maggotty appear to have been sugar estates, but Pembroke and Orange Valley may also have been involved in stock rearing and crop production. John spent his childhood and early adulthood in England and was educated at Eton and Oxford. In 1777, after a ‘Grand Tour’ of the continent, John married Anne Shakespear. During this time the Jamaican estates were presumably managed on Blagrove’s behalf, possibly by Colin Currie.
Shortly after their marriage, John and Anne Blagrove left England to enable John to manage his Jamaican estates himself from his residence at Cardiff Hall. They appear to have stayed in Jamaica for the next 25 years or more (apart from a two-year period of residence in England between 1780 and 1782). They had four sons (none of whom outlived their father), John William, Henry, Charles and Peter, and four daughters, Eliza, Charlotte, Isabella and Anne.
In 1805, John Blagrove bought and rebuilt Ankerwycke House, Wraysbury, Buckinghamshire, and left Jamaica to settle there. A few years later, he bought Great Abshott House in Titchfield, Hampshire, but maintained his residence at Wraysbury as lord of the manor. In the Jamaica Almanac of 1818 he is listed as absentee landlord of Orange Valley, Unity, Pembroke, Maggotty, Cardiff Hall and Belle Air estates. Blagrove died in 1824 and his wife Anne died ten years later.
Traveling from Montego Bay, the directions to the Kenilworth sugar works are as follows: Take A1 (north road) out of Montego Bay toward Lucia; pass the Tryall Golf Club (stop by the Tryall sugar mill ruins along the side of the north highway if you have time-see my Tryall sugar mill ruins post); pass Sandy Bay; past the Chukka adventure area and on the west side of the Maggotty River bridge turn left at the road with the blue and white sign pointing toward Heart Trust NTA Kenilworth. Follow that road to the end and at the gate ask for permission to visit the ruins.