Robert Percy Smith, known as “Bobus” Smith (May 7, 1770 – March 10, 1845), was a lawyer, Member of Parliament, and Judge Advocate-General of Bengal, India, but this street is named for his role as Governor of the New River Company from 1827 until his death. After Eton (where he was the loser in a fight with the future Duke of Wellington) and Cambridge, he was called to the bar of Lincoln’s Inn. He made his fortune after seven years as Judge Advocate General of Bengal, during which time he was hostile to Christian missions proselytising to local people arguing Indians should be taught in their own cultural tradition; but he was ignored. In 1812 Smith became MP for Grantham, and six years later he contested Lincoln unsuccessfully, finally winning it in 1820 and holding onto it for six years until his retirement. Despite being a man of great originality and a profound thinker, his maiden speech was a disaster, and he was widely criticised for failing to prepare. But it is as Smith’s role as Governor of the New River Company, which developed part of Finsbury as the head of the New River, for which he is remembered in this street name (Percy Circus in Finsbury is also named after him). This hillside area was Clerkenwell’s last big undeveloped space, mainly consisting of a single field belonging to the New River Company. It was mostly built up in the 1840s, though development began in the early 1820s with Great Percy Street (partly on the adjoining estate of the Lloyd Baker family), and continued until 1853.
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