John Kyrle by Jon Hurley

In Search of John Kyrle, 1637-1724

By Jon Hurley

Meeting of 12 September 2019

John Kyrle – later known as ‘Man of Ross’ – was a gentleman by birth who was happiest with local farmers and labourers and with a cider in his hand. He was a benign eccentric with a cast in his left eye and a big nose. He tried the gentleman’s life, and at one time was High Sheriff of Hereford, but was not good at this career and was more like the gentle lowly hedgehog on his family crest.

John Kyrle moved into charity work, where he flourished, using his law training to untangle people’s problems. He distributed bread, helped the poor to acquire their own homes and gave loans (as long as he could design the home and charge a fee). He funded a new church bell in 1695, which still tolls over the town (and includes his melted down silver goblet which he chucked in after downing his scrumpy).

As Ross lacked clean water, he had a brook diverted and pumped through elm pipes. He was crazy for elm – he planted hundreds of trees in his lifetime. He designed Hill Court, Walford, including landscaping and an elm avenue.

One of his major surviving projects is The Prospect (a viewpoint behind the Church) which he leased in 1693 from Lord Weymouth. He planted trees, erected a hermitage and laid out walks for rich and poor. By 1848 the Royal Hotel had partitioned off half of the Prospect for their own use.

Born in White House, Dymock he moved to Ross and lived in Kyrle House until he died. He ended up owning a lot of property but never enjoyed his position – he preferred inviting a group of farmers over after market rather than formal company. He had his own chair at the Nag’s Head and pipes scattered throughout the town pubs. He lived a long life and worked up until the last few weeks – mending roads, planting elm cuttings etc. He left most of his fortune to a distant cousin.

John Kyrle was then pretty much forgotten; until Alexander Pope was looking for a deserving character to be a superman in one of his famous epistles. He may well have heard of the Man of Ross through his friend Jonathan Swift, whose father was from Goodrich. Certainly in 1731 he was requesting information on John Kyrle. ‘On the use of riches’ was published in 1732 and beatified Kyrle. This resulted in disgust and ridicule and accusations that Kyrle was vain. It worked for others though – Coleridge hiked to Ross to toast Kyrle. Octavia Hill was inspired by Kyrle to found The Society of Diffusion of Beauty which became The Kyrle Society and later the National Trust.

Jon’s book on John Kyrle is available to purchase.

There is a 3 mile Ross town walk taking in the John Kyrle sights.