The Duke of Chandos's influence on Bridgwater's houses
James Brydges (1674-1744), 1st Duke of Chandos, was a wealthy politician who made a huge fortune while serving in the lucrative office of Paymaster-General of the Forces Abroad under Queen Anne, enabling him to build a palatial house on his estate at Cannons near Edgware, Middlesex, home of his first wife Mary Lake, rumoured to have cost over £200,000 and to start another in Cavendish Square in London although that was never completed. In 1719 he was created Marquis of Carnarvon and Duke of Chandos for service to the state.
He is probably most well known as a patron of the arts especially music and a supporter of Handel. There was a magnificent chapel at Cannons with a full choir for which Handel composed twenty anthems in the two years he spent there. It was at Cannons that Handel produced his first English oratorio, 'Esther'. As Cannons was sold for building material after the duke’s death, James Brydges is now best remembered as the dedicatee of Handel’s great Chandos anthems.
The duke was a generous patron of education in which he took a personal interest. In 1721 he was appointed Governor of the Charterhouse as well as Lord-Lieutenant of Herefordshire and Radnorshire. He was also Chancellor of the University of St. Andrews and a benefactor of Glasgow University library.
1721 was an important year for the duke when he was probably at or near his zenith. In that year he acquired the manor and lordship of Bridgwater. He immediately started a grandiose plan for recreating the town with wide and elegant streets and for boosting its wealth with profitable industries. Unfortunately his attempts to introduce distilling, glass blowing and soap making to the town were unsuccessful, probably mirroring his own financial difficulties. Chandos got into difficulties by speculative investments and in 1734 Jonathan Swift said that what he got by fraud was lost in stocks. Fortunately, although his building plans were never completed, several streets and houses survive from his vision for a new Bridgwater, a vision which was briefly revived at the end of the century to create King Square. His use of brick may also have stimulated the local production of brick and tile that was to be the major industry in 19th-century Bridgwater.