Downing, George (1684?-1749) (DNB00)

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DOWNING, Sir GEORGE (1684?–1749), founder of Downing College, the only son of Sir George Downing, bart., of East Hatley, Cambridgeshire, by his marriage with Catherine, eldest daughter of James, third earl of Salisbury, and grandson of Sir George Downing, knight and baronet [q. v.], was born in or about 1684. Four years later (13 Aug. 1688) he lost his mother, and his father being of weak intellect, he was brought up chiefly by his uncle, Sir William Forester, knt., of Dothill, near Wellington, Shropshire, who had married Mary, third daughter of Lord Salisbury (Collins, Peerage, ed. Brydges, ii. 493; Wotton, Baronetage, ed. 1727, ii. 393). In February 1700 this uncle took the opportunity of secretly marrying Downing, then a lad of fifteen, to his eldest daughter, Mary, who had just attained her thirteenth year. Soon afterwards Downing went abroad, and on returning home, after about three years' absence, refused either to live with or acknowledge his wife. The subsequent history of the marriage may be read in the ‘Lords' Journals,’ vol. xx. Downing succeeded as third baronet in 1711. He represented the pocket borough of Dunwich, Suffolk, in the parliaments of 1710 and 1713, but lost the election of 1714–15. In 1722, however, he was again returned, and retained the seat until his death (Lists of Members of Parliament, Official Return, pt. ii. pp. 24, 33, 44, 55). Beyond steadily voting for his party he took no prominent part in politics. At the recommendation of Walpole he was created a knight of the Bath, 30 June 1732 (London Gazette, 4–8 July 1732, No. 7106). Downing died at his seat, Gamlingay Park, Cambridgeshire, 10 June 1749 (Gent. Mag. xix. 284), having, says Cole, ‘for the latter art of his life led a most miserable, covetous, and sordid existence’ (Addit. MSS. 5808, f. 36). To a natural daughter he left an annuity of 500l., and her mother, Mary Townsend, an annuity of 200l. (codicil to will, dated 23 Dec. 1727). By will dated 20 Dec. 1717 he devised estates in Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, and Suffolk to certain trustees, in trust for his cousin Jacob Garret (or Garrard) Downing, and his issue in strict settlement, with remainder to other relatives in like manner. In case of the failure of such issue, the trustees were directed to purchase ‘some piece of ground lying and being in the town of Cambridge, proper and convenient for the erecting and building a college, which college shall be called by the name of Downing's [sic] College; and my will is, that a charter royal be sued for and obtained for the founding such college, and incorporating a body collegiate by that name.’ Upon his will being proved, 13 June 1749 (registered in P. C. C. 179, Lisle), it was found that the trustees had all died before him. His cousin, on whom the estates devolved, died without issue, 6 Feb. 1764 (Gent. Mag. xxxiv. 97); and all the parties entitled in remainder had previously died, also without issue. In the same year, 1764, an information was filed in the court of chancery at the relation of the chancellor, masters, and scholars of the university against the heirs-at-law. The lord chancellor gave judgment 3 July 1769, ‘declaring the will of the testator well proved, and that the same ought to be established, and the trusts thereof performed and carried into execution, in case the king should be pleased to grant a royal charter to incorporate the college.’ The estates, however, were in possession of Lady Downing, and afterwards of her devisees, without any real title; and the opposition raised by them, with the further litigation consequent upon it, delayed the charter for more than thirty years. It passed the great seal 22 Sept. 1800. After a deal of hesitation about the selection of an architect, the younger Wilkins was appointed, and the first stone laid on 18 May 1807.

[Burke's Extinct Baronetage, p. 164; Willis and Clark's Architectural Hist. of the Univ. of Cambridge, ii. 755; Charter of Downing College, 4to, London, 1800.]

G. G.