Sir Peter Warren probably wouldn’t spring immediately to mind if you were asked to name former MPs for Westminster. Yet, as my photograph shows, he is buried in a quite dramatic tomb in Westminster Abbey with a highly unusual sculpture to commemorate him, accompanied by an epitaph by Dr Johnson, no less.
The sculpture represents Hercules placing a bust of Sir Peter – made by the distinguished French sculptor Louis-François Roubiliac – on a pedestal, watched by a female figure representing Navigation. The model for Hercules, believe it or not, was a bare knuckle fighter, Jack Broughton, who, rather surprisingly, is also buried in the Abbey. There is a plaque on the floor of the East Cloister to commemorate him.
Peter Warren was born in Ireland, and in 1716, when only 13 years-old, joined the navy in Dublin as an ordinary seaman. To cut a long story short, he had a distinguished naval career, ending up as Admiral of the Fleet, patrolling American waters to keep the French out. Among the achievements of the team he led were the capture of 24 ships in four months in 1744 and supporting the forces of Massachusetts in taking Louisbourg from the French after a 47-day siege in 1745.
This expedition not only earned Warren a knighthood and promotion to rear-Admiral, but a small fortune as well. In those days, officers were allowed to keep much of the booty won and this, together with gifts and a bit of land speculation, enabled Warren to acquire thousands of acres in America, including 300 acres in what we today call Greenwich Village, where he built a mansion for himself and his American wife Susannah Delancey.
A New York website completes the story: “It was in 1747 that our hero was summoned to London to enter Parliament (1747-1752) and from that time on was a bright, particular star in English society. Known as ‘the richest man in England’, he was a truly magnificent figure in a magnificent day. Lady Warren, who was still a beauty and a wit, was a great favourite at court, and writers of the day declared her to be the cleverest woman in all England.”
The towns of Warren, Rhode Island and Warren, New Hampshire are named after Warren, as are streets in Charleston, South Carolina, Louisbourg and New York City. In London, Warren Street, mainly famous for its Tube station, commemorates his wife.
Little known fact: George Bernard Shaw said that a scandal in this street inspired the name of the leading character in his play Mrs Warren’s Profession.
All previous instalments of Vic Keegan’s Lost London can be found here.
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