Methuen, Massachusetts

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Methuen Town Hall, formerly Searles High School.

For two years, I also had the pleasure of living in Methuen, Massachusetts, where I had worked a few jobs. Methuen is also the only place in the world, named just that. No other city or town bears this name. According to The Americana: A Universal Reference Library, Comprising the Arts and Sciences, Literature, History, Biography, Geography, Commerce, Etc. of the World, by Frederick Converse Beach:

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Sir Paul Methuen

Methuen is named after Sir Paul Methuen, son of diplomat John Methuen, who held office simultaneously as Lord Chancellor of Ireland and English ambassador to Portugal. Sir Paul Methuen was instrumental in the signing of the Methuen Treaty, part of the War of the Spanish Succession, which, according to Encyclopedia.com:

Treaty of Methuen (1703), an agreement between Portugal (represented by the marquês de Alegrete) and Britain (represented by John Methuen) that formalized existing trade patterns between the two countries and laid the groundwork for Portugal’s economic dependence on Britain for the remainder of the eighteenth century. On 27 December 1703, Portugal agreed to purchase English wheat, textiles, and manufactured goods in exchange for preferential duties on such Portuguese products as olive oil and wine.

Neither Portugal nor Britain anticipated Brazilian gold and diamond strikes in Minas Gerais, Goiás, and Mato Grosso during the early eighteenth century, nor the impact these newly found riches would have on Portuguese-British trade. Portugal’s imports began to escalate as the new sources of wealth were used to purchase increasing amounts of raw materials from Britain’s North American colonies and luxury imports from Britain. British industrialization boomed as Portugal neglected its manufacturing. During the early eighteenth century, the trade imbalance was paid for with Brazilian treasure. After 1755, as the Brazilian mines began to play out, Portugal became increasingly dependent on Britain’s imports and goodwill to maintain Portuguese independence.

As Portuguese colonists, Brazilians found that decisions regarding their future were often dominated by British priorities, which increased the frustration of the already antagonized Brazilian upper class, who wanted free trade, open ports, and an end to Portuguese restrictions on the development of Brazilian industries.

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Sir Paul Methuen was elected Member of Parliament for Devizes in 1708 until 1710 (much like his father), then for Brackley from 1713 to 1714 and from 1715 to 1747. Additionally, he served as a Lord of the Admiralty from 1709 to 1710, and as a Lord of the Treasury from 1714 to 1716, being sworn as a Privy Councillor on 29 October 1714, as well as Secretary of State for the Southern Department from 1716–1717. He became Comptroller of the Royal Household in 1720, exchanging that office for Treasurer of the Household in 1725. He was made a Knight of the Bath by George I in May 1725. Both Paul, and his father, John, are buried at Westminster Abbey, in a joint memorial:

John and Paul Methuen have a joint memorial in the south choir aisle of Westminster Abbey.

John was the eldest son of Paul Methuen (d.1667) of Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire and his wife Grace (Ashe). He was educated at Oxford and became a lawyer. In 1672 he married Mary Chevers. John was appointed a master in chancery and in 1691 was made envoy to Portugal. He was also Lord Chancellor of Ireland and later Ambassador Extraordinary to Portugal when he concluded what is often known as the ‘Methuen (or Port Wine) Treaty’. On 13 July 1706 he died at Lisbon and his body was later returned to England for burial in the south choir aisle of the Abbey on 17 September 1708. His daughter Isabella was buried with him on 29 April 1711, aged 29.

His son Paul was born about 1672 and gained diplomatic experience with his father in Lisbon. He was envoy to Portugal and Ambassador there, Minister at Turin, Ambassador to Spain and Morocco, Lord of the Admiralty and a Knight of the Order of the Bath. His Bath stall plate is in the Lady Chapel at the Abbey. He died unmarried and was buried near his father. His estates passed to his cousin Paul Methuen.

The memorial, of white and coloured marbles, is by the sculptor Michael Rysbrack and is in a window bay of the south choir aisle. The inscription reads:

“Near this place lies the body of JOHN METHUEN Esqr. who died abroad in the service of his country Anno Dom. 1706. And also that of his son Sir PAUL METHUEN Knight of the Bath who died April 11th 1757 in the 85th year of his age”.

The coat of arms above is “argent, three wolves heads erased”.

Three prominent, wealthy families have played a major role in the development of Methuen – the Nevins, the Tenneys and the Searles – with David C. Nevins, Edward F. Searles and Charles H. Tenney being the “city fathers.” Grey Court (seen above) was the centerpiece of Charles Tenney’s 75-acre estate Fair View Park, a location I frequented when living in Methuen (Gaunt) Square.

Edward F. Searles was another “city father,” an interior and architectural designer. Searles was known for working with architect Henry Vaughn in the creation of many grand structures, including the Searles Estate in Methuen (first photo), and Stanton Harcourt Castle, now known as Searles Castle, in Windham, NH (third photo). Searles Castle, in Great Barrington, Masschusetts (second photo), was initially designed by Stanford White of McKim, Mead and White.

Finally, David C. Nevins was a wealthy industrialist, known for also being the owner of Pemberton Mill in Lawrence. Following his death, the Nevins Memorial Library built in 1883 to honor David Nevins, Sr. as a memorial gift from his wife Eliza, his elder son David Nevins, Jr., and his younger son Henry Coffin Nevins. Just prior to relocating to Boston, I was a frequent visitor to this wonderful building just on the New Hampshire-Massachusetts border.

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