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The Lost Jaffreys Come Home at Last
Jaffrey_Clementina

 

 

Decline and disappearance

Clementina and George, at first, moved into the century-old family mansion on Daniel Street. “It stood in solitary grandeur at the crest of a low hill,” according to historian James Garvin, and was connected to the street by a noble line of linden trees. It was “massive and U-shaped,” Garvin wrote in his book Historic Portsmouth, with richly paneled rooms and fireplaces framed in imported delft tiles. The exterior, with its beaded clapboards and ornate doorway were a wreck by the time it was photographed in the late 1800s. As Jaffrey’s fortune declined, he was forced to sell off more property, and eventually the entire house. It fell to ruin and was torn down in 1920, but not before portions of the interior woodwork, including a rare, carved, corner cupboard (called a “beaufait”) was removed to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

CLICK TO SEE the Jaffrey mansion

Had it survived, the Jaffrey House would be among the city’s architectural treasures and the Jaffreys would be well-studied and familiar as the Warners and the Wentworths. But nothing remains, not even the hill that the house stood on thanks to a 1967 federal development project. The narrow road that connects Daniel to Bow Street, was once a fire lane through the Jaffrey family property. The name Jaffrey’s Court has been abandoned there, as has the portion of Court Street once known as Jaffrey Street. The original Jaffrey home on Great Island finally burned in the 20th century.

One architectural link may remain. Tom Hardiman says that, after selling the mansion, the Jaffreys moved into a stately brick home on State Street. That site is now Portsmouth Provisions and Googies Sandwich Shoppe, best known to locals as the former Richardson’s Market. Basil Richardson, owner of three brick buildings on that spot says it is possible that the Jaffreys lived there in the first half of the 19th century. Some of the rooms, long converted to apartments, show hints of an ornate lifestyle, he says. Louise Richardson, his wife, says she’s heard rumors of the Jaffreys, and now plans to do some more research.

 

There was no George Jaffrey V. The couple had two daughters. Matilda died at age 15, and Mary Harriet, whose husband died in a shipwreck that killed 183 army officers and soldiers, had no children. By his death in 1856 George Jaffrey had lost almost everything. His wife and daughter inherited the family furniture. Clementina, according to Aykroyd’s research, disposed of the family portraits of George I through IV. She put the portraits “crushed and folded, frames and all, into a barrel” and them to John Jeffries, who was reportedly so upset that he ordered them burned. Clementina and Mary moved away from Portsmouth soon after the Civil War.

But the paintings survived, somehow. And with their return, comes the return of the Jaffrey story, piece by piece. Time has not treated George IV kindly. “Mr. Jaffrey was a gentleman by profession,” one historian wrote, “but not eminent in his profession.”

Untrue, says Elizabeth Aykroyd. And so say all the proprietors who recently toasted prodigal portraits of Clementina and George. He was instrumental in creating and sustaining one of the most enduring and important historic organizations in Portsmouth. Now Portsmouth is fast becoming one of the nation’s hottest heritage destinations, where every city block – if we take the time to listen -- speaks volumes.

“His legacy is the Portsmouth Athenaem,” Aykroyd says. “That means more in the long run, than his name on a street sign, or a building, or even a town.”

 

Copyright © 2011 by J. Dennis Robinson, all rights reserved. Robinson’s column appears in the Portsmouth Herald every other Monday and exclusively online at his independent Web site SeacoastNH.com. His books, including MARITIME PORTSMOUTH: The Sawtelle Collection (edited by Richard M. Candee) are available locally and on Amazon.com.

 

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