Elizabeth Armistead

Elizabeth Armistead’s client list reads like a who’s who of 18th century society.  The scurrilous Town and Country Magazine reported in 1776 that she could ‘claim the conquest of two ducal coronets, a marquis, four earls and a viscount,’ most probably all at the same time.

Elizabeth Bridget Cane was born on July 11, 1750, although little else is known of her background.  Some sources say she worked first as a model for a London hairdresser before becoming dresser for Mary Robinson at Drury Lane.

By 1771 Elizabeth had adopted the surname Armistead and was ‘on the town,’ a euphemism for working as a prostitute, probably under the protection of notorious brothel keeper Jane Goadsby.  Elizabeth’s days as a common prostitute, all be it with a top drawer client list, was over when she moved up the sex for sale career ladder to courtesan.

One of her first patrons was the Duke of Ancaster who set her up in a house in Portman Square.  Then came the Duke of Dorset followed by the Earl of Derby and this time a home in Hampstead.

Then after Derby came Frederick St John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke whose appalling treatment of his wife Lady Diana Spencer led her to seek solace in the arms of Topham Beauclerk.

Katie Hickman writes in Courtesans that Frederick introduced Elizabeth to various of his acquaintances ‘but also to his two young sons – Frederick and George St John – who were to remain her devoted friends for the rest of her life.’  One of the last entries in her journal reads:

March 1, 1841 – Mr Charles St John, Lord Bolingbroke’s brother came to announce his approaching marriage.

But her most enduring relationship was with statesman and Whig politician Charles James Fox, said to be ‘the finest Prime Minister Britain never had.’  And what had begun as a platonic friendship went on to become an affair and ended up as a surprisingly successful marriage. While openly acknowledged as his mistress, Elizabeth’s marriage to Fox remained a secret for seven years, upon not his insistence but hers.

Fox, who famously wrote to Elizabeth ‘you are all to me,’ died with her name on his lips ‘dearest, dearest Liz,’ on September 13, 1806.

During her career Elizabeth acquired two annuities and two London town houses.  In 1785 she bought her long time home at St Anne’s Hill, Chertsey with a mortgage of £2000 from the Duke of Marlborough.  It was at this house on the hill, complete with garden temple containing busts of her husband, Lord Holland and a son of Lord Bolingbroke’s, that Elizabeth ended her days.

In her will written on November 7, 1840 Elizabeth leaves an annuity of £60 to ‘my good and trusty servant Martha Tucker,’ which she stipulates should continue to be paid to Martha’s husband Henry if she predeceases him.  William Yonde, Jane Goome, her cook Sarah Valler, under gardener Scutt and coachman William Woolbridge receive slightly smaller legacies.

Following the settlement of an £8000 mortgage and payment of her debts and her funeral expenses, Elizabeth devises the rest of her real and personal estates to her Executors, Charles’s great nephews Henry Edward Fox Lord Holland and his brother Colonel Charles Richard Fox.

Elizabeth died at St Anne’s Hill in July 1842 aged 92.  She was buried in the graveyard of St Peter’s Church on July 15.  Henry, 4th Viscount Bolingbroke, Frederick’s grandson, was among the principal mourners.

Barbara St John – Lady Toppe

When Lady Johanna St John wrote her will in 1703 she left personal bequests to her son Henry and daughters Johanna Chute and Anne Cholmondeley.  She had outlived all but three of her thirteen children, including Barbara who had died three years earlier.

Barbara St John was born in about 1667, most probably at the St John’s Battersea home.  Sir Walter & Lady Johanna’s brood made frequent visits to the family’s country seat in Wiltshire, evident in the letters Lady Johanna writes to her steward Thomas Hardyman enquiring about their well being.  The children were sent to Lydiard Park to recover from childhood illnesses and to escape the summer pestilence in London.

An advantageous marriage was a must for the daughters of the 17th century aristocracy and with their royal connections and political presence the St John’s had access to the great and the good.  This begs the question why on earth did they chose Sir John Toppe as a husband for their young daughter Barbara?

Aged 21 at the time of the betrothal, John had already attained his inheritance and with property in Gloucestershire and Nottinghamshire perhaps on paper Sir John looked like a good prospect.

In 1684 Sir Walter and Lady Johanna watched their 17 year old daughter walk down the aisle at St Margaret’s, Westminster into the arms of Sir John, described at best as a very weak character and at worse ‘almost a lunatic.’

Nothing is known about Barbara’s sixteen year marriage.  The couple had two daughters, St John and Elizabeth, but no surviving male heirs.  Subsequent events would lead one to suspect the union was probably difficult.

For starters Sir John’s father Francis had died in 1670, leaving insufficient funds to fulfill the bequests he made in his will.  The trouble began when Sir John’s sister Frances married Charles Stanhope four years after her father’s death and the shortfall in his finances was discovered.  Her mother managed to stump up the £2,000 portion by begging and borrowing from friends, but the debt proved to be an insurmountable burden.

In 1684 Barbara brought to the marriage a portion amounting to £4,250, intended to provide for the younger children of the union in the event of Sir John’s death.  But it was following her death in 1700 that Sir John’s life fell apart when his mother persuaded him to move in with her at Mansfield where she lived with her daughter Frances and son in law Charles Stanhope.

Sir John was supposedly pleased with this arrangement and agreed to pay Charles Stanhope £240 a year to cover the cost of his board and lodging and that of two servants and for the upkeep of a coach and two horses.

But Barbara’s extended St John family were up for the challenge.  Soon after Barbara’s death her Bernard cousins, descendants of her mother’s sister Elizabeth, entered the fray, taking possession of Sir John’s estate which they claimed he had conveyed to them by deed.  Sir John’s family sprang into action beginning a legal process that would remain in the courts for more than twenty years.

Dame Elizabeth and her son in law Charles set about recovering Sir John’s estate from Barbara’s relatives, which involved several law suits and a fair bit of expense for Mr Stanhope.  He obviously thought this a good investment as the family then set about the recovery of the £2,000 Elizabeth had paid out of her own pocket twenty six years earlier by plundering Sir John’s inheritance.

Elizabeth would receive all the rents from her sons properties during her lifetime until the £2,000 plus interest was paid.  This income would then revert back to Sir John and eventually to his heir, Barbara’s daughter St John.

If he died before the £2,000, plus interest, was paid, the rents were to go to his sister Frances and the lucrative advowson of St Mary Magdelene in Tormarton, Gloucestershire would go to her son Dr Michael Stanhope.

Elizabeth died in 1702 having never received any of the £2,000 plus interest, nor the rents.  A generous person might describe Sir John’s mother Elizabeth as overly protective of her vulnerable son but sister Frances was a whole different kettle of fish.

Next on the scene were Sir John’s two daughters, anxious to get their hands on Barbara’s money, although they were not entitled to it until after the death of their father.  Charles Stanhope, upon the instruction of Sir John, managed to get them access but spent a considerable amount of money in so doing.  The girl’s inheritance amounted to approximately £9,000, but Sir John, like his father, had overstretched himself making provisions for his daughters.

In gratitude Sir John signed over the income from rents to his sister until that persistently pesky £2,000 and inherent interest was cleared and agreed that as soon as the ‘church became void’ her son Dr Michael Stanhope should take over the advowson.

Somehow, while still under the surveillance of his scheming sister, Sir John managed to meet and marry Sarah Charlton, another young wife but a canny girl who would ultimately prove to be his salvation.  Sir John instructed his nephew Dr Stanhope to draw up a settlement making provision for his new wife and the couple set up home in Tormarton.

Unhappy with the document Dr Stanhope produced, Sir John and Sarah made alterations, conveying parts of the Nottingham estate to trustees for their use.  Well this proved to be a catalytic move, which then saw the Stanhopes take legal action for the recovery of their expenses over the years of looking after Sir John’s estate.

Frances moved that her brother was incapable of handling his own affairs claiming he ‘was a person of weak capacity and understanding.’  She and her son ‘denied all fraud and imposition’ and compelled her brother to come to an account.

On February 24, 1718 both causes were heard before Lord Chancellor Parker who found that all the transference of deeds and titles during the previous eighteen years had been ‘obtained by fraud circumvention and imposition’ and furthermore that the £240 a year Sir John had paid for board and lodging had been unreasonable.

Frances counter attacked, denying all the charges and discrediting the evidence of Sir John’s attorney Hicks.

The court found that Sir John was a very weak person and easily imposed upon and that Frances and the Stanhopes ‘had taken a very unjust advantage of his situation, and used the most indirect means and artifices, to get him and his estate in to their power, and create misunderstandings between him and his children’ and the deeds obtained by Frances and her son from Sir John’s estate were got by ‘the greatest fraud and imposition.’

It was pointed out  that the demand for £2,000 plus interest, which by then amounted to about £7,000, was nearly as much as the estate was worth and that anyway, it had been paid 46 years earlier.

The court found that Sir John had gone along with decisions out of his affection for his sister and that he had been ‘prevailed upon by them to act so unnaturally towards his own children as to disinherit them of his whole estate.’  Sir John was reunited with his daughter St John who following her father’s death received her rightful inheritance.

Sir John, who was described as being in a flourishing condition when he came under the management of his sister, ‘would, in case their demands were allowed, be involved in such great debts and incumbances, that he must be utterly ruined, being by their contrivances, rendered incapable of raising any monies to discharge the same’ – that is to make provision for his children and settle his debts.

Frances’s claims on her brother’s wealth was thrown out of court and she was ordered to pay his legal costs of £100.

The court case serves only to highlight his failings but perhaps John had more about him.   If second wife Sarah proved his salvation perhaps Barbara had been his protector against his avaricious family.

In death it was the quiet country parish church of St Mary, Lydiard Tregoze, next to the manor house where she had spent her childhood holidays, that Barbara chose as her final resting place.  The entry of her death in the parish registers reads: Top Barbara Lady wife of Sir John Top Baronet of the Parish of Tormorton Glos. Buried in the church of Lydiard Tregoze 27th April 1700.

And twenty-seven years later Sir John was buried with his first wife, suggesting that the couple may have lived part of their time at Lydiard Park.

The inscription on his tombstone reads – Sr John Topp Barronette of Tormarton In Comitatu Gloucester Obt. the 29th of March 1727.

Images of Lady Johanna and Sir Walter St John are courtesy of Lydiard Park visit the website on www.lydiardpark.org.uk

Tombstone images is courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball visit the website on www.oodwooc.co.uk. 

Emma Maria Elizabeth St John

Emma Whitbread was probably most men’s idea of the perfect wife.  When she wed Henry Beauchamp, 13th Baron St John of Bletsoe in 1780 she brought to the marriage a dowry of £30,000 and an interest in London’s second largest brewery.

Born in 1761 Emma was the second of Samuel and Harriot Whitbread’s three children.  Samuel Whitbread was born in Cardington, Bedfordshire, less than 10 miles down the A6 from the St John pile at Bletsoe.  He began an apprenticeship with London brewer John Witman before going into partnership with Thomas Shewell.  By 1760 Samuel was a free agent, his brewery in fierce competition with Henry Thrale’s Anchor Brewery in Southwark.  Samuel served as MP for Bedford 1768-1790 and then for Steyning 1792-1796 and was an advocate for the abolition of slavery.

He owned several London properties including a large house alongside the brewery in Chiswell Street and in 1791 he bought Lord Torrington’s estate at Southill.  When he died in 1796 it was estimated he was worth more than a million pounds.

It is likely Emma and her siblings grew up at their father’s country estate, Bedwell Park, the site of a former medieval manor house and deer park in Essendon, Hertfordshire where Mary Tudor stayed over in 1522.  Henry and Emma were married here in the parish church on December 2, 1780.

The couple had four daughters, Emma Maria born January 2, 1782 and Augusta born December 3 the same year.  Margaret Letitia Matilda was born in 1786 and Barbara in 1789.  A son, William Henry Beauchamp, was born in 1784 but died aged just seven years old.

Henry and Emma’s London home was in Westminster where their four children were all baptised at St Marylebone church.  Their country seat was Melchbourne Park six miles north of Bedford and close to the St John home at Bletsoe.  The substantial 17th century house with more than 30 hearths was built for Oliver, 4th Baron St John of Bletsoe and 1st Earl of Bolingbroke.  Henry and Emma’s pad was the 1741 remodelled version of the house.

Emma’s father, Samuel Whitbread, paid for the remodelling of the 13th century parish church of St Mary Madalene.  The north porch is believed to have come from the St John home at Woodford House, Northamptonshire.  Box pews were installed and the St John family pew in the chancel contained a fireplace still in use in the 1960s.  In 1788 Emma presented the church with a silver gilt flagon, bowl, two plates and a cup with a paten lid.

Henry died on December 18, 1805 following a long illness. Emma outlived him by twenty years.  She died on Sunday, July 10, 1825 at her home in Keppel Street, Russell Square.

Photo of Bedwell Park courtesy of Duncan Lilly http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/432442

Nellie O’Brien

By 1762 the marriage between Frederick St John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke and his wife Diana, eldest daughter of Charles, 2nd Duke of Marlborough was on the rocks.

Frederick, who would famously divorce Diana in 1768 on the grounds of her adultery with Topham Beauclerk, had failed to moderate his own lewd lifestyle.

His casual encounters with prostitutes are frequently referred to in contemporary memoires, but one woman who earned more than just a passing reference was Nelly O’Brien.

 

Nelly was born c1739 and little is known of her early life or her family background. Her career as an actress appears to have ended when she found a more lucrative one as a courtesan. Her entrance onto the 18th century society stage probably predates her visit to Joshua Reynolds in 1762 when Nelly was introduced to the popular portrait painter by Augustus Keppel, Admiral and 1st Viscount Keppel. Whether she was Keppel’s mistress or Reynold’s, who had a penchant for risqué actresses, is not known, but by 1763 she was most certainly Frederick St. John’s.

Reynolds was to paint at least two portraits of Nelly, one while he was working on another of Lady Diana Bolingbroke, both paid for by Frederick.

 

Horace Walpole, Whig politician, art historian and society gossip wrote: “Lord Bolingbroke said to him [Reynolds] ‘You must give the eyes something of Nelly O’Brien, or it will not do.’ As he has given Nelly something of his wife’s, it was but fair to give her something of Nelly’s; and my Lady will not throw away the present!”

Nelly was rumoured to have had a son by Frederick in 1764, but she soon moved on to another lover, Sackville Tufton, 8th Earl of Thanet, for whom she bore two sons – Alfred born in 1765 and Sackville in 1766.

The life of a top class courtesan was one of highs and lows, as Nelly’s short life was to illustrate. Fame, fortune, access to the celebrities of the day and invites to all the best parties are in stark contrast to the end of a relationship when it came.

The Earl had set Nelly up in a house in Brook Street but ended the affair under pressure from his family to marry.

“Concerned that AT is detained in London due to illness; Mrs Curteis thinks that ‘your mother did not die until about the period of Lord Tufton’s marriage, which was more than 2 years later than you suppose – she was then great with child and the probable cause of death was grief and vexation at the marriage and desertion of the Earl of Thanet,” the Duchess of Northumberland wrote in her diary. She also comments that ‘Nelly O’Brien thought it hard that Lord Thanet should turn her out of his house before she was brought to Bed.’ She subsequently miscarried and died in child bed according to the Duchess.

It would appear that Nelly’s two young sons were raised by their father and possibly his new wife, or at the very least kept in close contact with their extended family.

When Sackville Tufton added a codicil to his will on April 5, 1794 shortly before his death, he bequeathed £50 ‘to each of my brothers and sisters issue of my father the late Earl of Thanet namely the now Earl of Thanet the hon Charles the hon John and the hon Henry Tufton, the right hon Lady Elizabeth Tufton and the right hon Lady Caroline Barham.’

Perhaps more poignantly Sackville adds ‘and the rest and residue of my property I give and bequeath to the brothers and sisters of my late mother Eleanor O’Brien and to their issue if any there be equally to be divided among them share and share alike … I then give the interest and annual produce of the residue of my property to the Mother of my Mother Eleanor O’Brien for the term of her natural life.’

Nothing is known of the whereabouts of Nelly’s grave, nor of the child she gave birth to in 1764, believed to have been Frederick’s son and named Arthur.

However, the burial register for St Ann’s, Blackfriars includes an entry made on December 29, 1767 – Eleanor O’Brien aged 29.

Portraits of Nelly O’Brien painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Top – The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, bottom – The Wallace Collection

St John Sisters

When William Cobbett visited Lydiard Tregoze on his fact finding tour of 1826 he observed that the estate had once been a noble place.

“The land is some of the finest in the whole country; the trees show that the land is excellent,’ he writes, ‘but, all, except the church, is in a state of irrepair and apparent neglect, if not abandonment.’

By the beginning of the 19th century the St John money was pretty much gone.  There was no longer any disposable income to spend on Sevres porcelain or racehorses and there was certainly no money for grand portraits in oil painted by royal favourites.

Displayed in the Morning Room at Lydiard House are drawings of the daughters of Henry 4th Viscount Bolingbroke and his wife Maria St John Mildmay, but no portraits of the parents survive.  There are examples of Maria’s needlework – an embroidered panel of a negro boy with two dogs – and two chair seats, an occasional chair in the drawing room and another on a Jacobean style oak chair in the library.

Following the marriage of Henry 4th Viscount Bolingbroke and Maria St John Mildmay at St George’s, Hanover Square in 1812 the young couple didn’t immediately make their home at Lydiard House.  George Richard, the father who had deserted Henry as an infant, was back in residence with his second wife Isabella Hompesch and a whole brood of children.  Henry and his family didn’t move in until after George Richard’s death in 1824.  He did, however, bring his two little daughters to be baptised at St Mary’s – Maria Louisa in 1813 and Anne Jane Charlotte in 1815.

Eldest sister Maria married John Lauriston Kneller, a customs clerk, on March 11, 1839, and produced a family of ten children.  John’s work apparently kept the family on the move.  The children’s birthplaces are recorded as Ireland, France, Liverpool, Cheshire and London.  Baptismal records reveal that even when in London they were still on the move, living at addresses in Grove Terrace, Chiswick, Mornington Road and Clapton Common, Hackney.  Maria died on June 2, 1861.

Her sister Anne married Lawrence Robert Shawe, an officer in the 5th Dragoons.  He appears to have sold his commission at the time of his marriage as he fails to appear in the army lists of 1840.  The Shawe family also led a fairly nomadic lifestyle.  Three of their seven children were born in Devon, one in Cheltenham, one in Hereford and two in Scotland.

Anne, more frequently known as Charlotte, is the only one of the sisters to appear at Lydiard House on one of the Victorian census returns.  No longer able to rent out the dilapidated mansion house to paying tenants, Henry returns to live there himself.  Charlotte and her youngest daughter Montague are visiting at the time of the 1861 census.

Anne outlived her husband by nearly twenty years.  She died on April 24, 1881 at Stanfield House in Southsea, the home of her son. The administration of her Personal Estate valued at £315 19s 10d was granted to her son Lawrence Paulet  Shawe-Storey.

Alongside the modest portrait of a middle aged 5th Viscount Bolingbroke in the Morning Room at Lydiard House is a silhouette portrait of the four sisters and Henry executed in Brighton by Mr Gapp. Youngest brother Spencer is not included – perhaps he couldn’t stand still for long enough.

The tradition of silhouette portraiture where a likeness is cut from black paper and pasted on a light background, dates from the mid 18th century.  John Gapp was the first silhouette artist on The Chain Pier in Brighton working from 1823 when the pier opened until about 1835.

Youngest sister Emily Arabella St John was born on August 18, 1817. She married William Corbet Smith at St Mary’s Church, St  Marylebone on June 24, 1840 and they had one son, Corbet. William died in 1847 and in 1852 Emily married Frederick Geldart Webbe Horlock. Emily died just three years later in 1855.

Now I don’t know what it is about Frederick that I find objectionable.  Maybe it’s his often quoted four names – slightly ostentatious.  Maybe it’s his lack of profession or occupation and the ubiquitous title ‘gentleman’ that rings alarm bells.  In 1860 Frederick fathers a child by his dead wife’s sister Isabella Letitia and then takes more than three years before he gets around to marrying her.

On the death of their father in 1851 the girls’ only surviving brother Henry Mildmay inherited several titles, a crumbling mansion and the Lydiard Estate with a mortgage of £47,000.

Images of portraits in the Morning Room are courtesy of Lydiard House – visit the website on www.lydiardpark.org.uk

Anne Pleydell-Bouverie, 3rd Countess of Radnor

It has to be said that the St John men didn’t always make model husbands.  Those who married into the family were also something of a mixed bunch – but when Anne Judith St John Mildmay married William Pleydell-Bouverie she definitely secured one of the good guys.

Born in 1779 the young William Pleydell-Bouverie, Viscount Folkestone and later 3rd Earl of Radnor, was educated in France and presented at the court of Louis XVI and his Queen Marie Antoinette.

Having witnessed the early days of the French Revolution you might have expected that on his return to England William would pull up the drawbridge at the ancestral home of Longford Castle near Salisbury, keeping his head down and his neck well protected.  Instead he whole heartedly embraced social reform and became a staunch supporter of popular rights, championing the cause of the impoverished agricultural worker.  He befriended the irascible radical reformer William Cobbett and was famously declared to be the only man with whom Cobbett never quarrelled.

Cobbett stopped off at Coleshill to visit his old friend and to have a look at the Locust trees during his epic journey across England in 1826.  William had planted 13,600 trees, which Cobbett described as ‘the most beautiful clumps of trees that I ever saw in my life.’

He also took a turn around ‘the most complete farm yard that I ever saw.’  He continues: ‘And here, too, there is no misery amongst those who do the work; those without whom there could have been no Locust-plantations and no farm-yard.  Here all are comfortable; gaunt hunger here stares no man in the face.’

William was among those who opposed the imposition of the 1815 Corn Laws, a tax on cheap foreign imports of grain to protect the home grown market, the effect of which was a catastrophic increase in the price of bread.

But what about Anne?

William’s second wife Anne Judith St John Mildmay was the daughter of Henry St John Mildmay 3rd Baronet and Jane Mildmay and grew up at the family seat of Dogmersfield in Hampshire.

Anne and William married at that celebrity wedding venue, St George’s, Hanover Square on May 24, 1814.  Between 1815-1825 Anne gave birth to five children.  A still born son was born in 1832.  The couple divided their time between their London home and their country residence at Coleshill House, Berkshire.

Built in the 17th century for Sir George Pratt, Coleshill was the first house to be built for a ‘minor’ gentleman in the classical manner. The plan of the house combined convenience with advanced designs of architecture.  Innovations included a corridor for separate access to all rooms and back stairs for the use of servants.  Rooms were grouped in suites in the French appartement system.

Sir George Pratt’s daughter Mary married Thomas Pleydell of Shrivenham in 1666 and eventually inherited the Coleshill estate.  The Bouverie connection came when Harriet, the daughter of Sir Mark Stuart Pleydell married William de Bouverie, 1st Earl of Radnor on January 14th 1747/48. The property would remain in the Pleydell Bouverie family for almost 200 years.

But, again, what about Anne?  She still doesn’t figure very prominently in the great scheme of things.

Thomas Creevy MP for Downton with William’s younger brother Philip, who left a wealth of paperwork on 19th century society, makes a reference to the Mildmay ladies in a letter to his stepdaughter Elizabeth Ord dated June 23, 1834.

“We had a most jolly day and very good company.  Mrs Methuen is a sister of Ly. Radnor, and a great improvement upon her – I don’t mean in morals; I know nothing upon that subject, except that the parent female stock, who was there in the evening, had been somewhat slippery in her day.”

Ouch! Although it sheds little light on Lady Radnor, the reference to her mother is intriguing.

Anne doesn’t even receive a mention in her mother’s will, possibly because a financial settlement had been made on her at the time of her marriage.  However it is surprising she wasn’t bequeathed a personal memento, especially as Jane appeared to have an abundance of repeating watches to give away.

William retired from politics in 1848 to concentrate on improving the estate farm at Coleshill.  Here he commissioned new premises to maximise the improvement programme at Court Leaze Farm.

At the time of the 1851 census Anne is at home at Coleshill House.  With her on census night was her unmarried daughter Mary Pleydell-Bouverie, two visitors and twenty-eight servants.  The indoor staff included housekeeper, cook, a butler, under butler and two footmen and just three housemaids to sweep, dust and polish.  Perhaps his Lordship’s proud principles slipped a bit ‘indoors.’

Anne died at Coleshill House on April 27, 1851.  William survived her by 18 years.  He died on April 9, 1869 and was buried at Britford parish church, close to Longford Castle.

During renovation work in 1952 a blow lamp used to remove old paintwork from dormer windows set fire to the magnificent 17th century Coleshill House.  As the fire took hold, farm and estate workers along with Coleshill village residents rushed to the house and began the frantic task of removing the contents.  Valuable paintings, furniture and books were all saved. What little remained of the building was later demolished.

Perhaps among the rescued artwork was a portrait of Anne?

Louisa, Lady Bagot

Louisa St John was born c1744 just as building work on Lydiard House drew to a close.  The only surviving daughter of John, 2nd Viscount St John and his wife Anne Furnese,  Louisa was born when the St Johns were busy on construction work on both their London and Lydiard homes.  But with the death of her mother in 1747 and her father soon after the little girl grew up away from the remodelled Palladian mansion house in Lydiard Tregoze, Wiltshire.

In his memoirs Louisa’s son William states that his parents met in 1759 and that his mother was extremely young at the time of her marriage.  With only an approximate birthdate to go on, it seems possible that Louisa was as young as 15 when she met her future husband and only 16 when she married William, 1st Baron Bagot at Wroxton, Banbury on August 20, 1760.

William served as MP for Staffordshire from 1754 to 1780.  His son describes him as ‘a firm Tory and ever a most zealous supporter of Church and King.  From the Administration of Lord Bute to the end of his life, he invariably refused all offers of place and preferment; though frequently and anxiously pressed at different times, and by various Ministers.’

The Bagot family seat at Blithfield in Staffordshire had belonged to the family since the 14th century.  Louisa and William also had a home in Bruton Street, Mayfair.

In the summer of 1773 Louisa, heavily pregnant yet again, left the swelter of London for  Blithfield to await the birth of her latest baby.  Her four children, Louisa 11, Edward 10, Walter 7 and five year old Barbara were already enjoying their escape to the country.  Little did the expectant mother suspect the tragedy that lie ahead.

Scarlet fever swept through the family at the big house and all four children caught the malignant and fatal disease. Across three days in the month of June three of the children died, Edward, Walter and little Barbara, only eldest daughter Louisa survived. In the 18th century a child’s life was so easily snuffed out and even the privileged upper classes had little defense against the deadly scarlet fever.

Louisa gave birth to a son on September 11.  But this was not the end of the heartache she had to endure.

Louisa would go on to have four more children, Hervey born in 1777, Henrietta in 1780, Charles in 1781 and Richard in 1782.  In 1787 yet again Louisa had to nurse her children through an outbreak of scarlet fever.  Hervey, who had so recently celebrated his 10th birthday, died on May 31 and was buried in the churchyard at St Nicholas, Chiswick on June 2.

Louisa’s husband William died in 1798 aged 71. She survived him by more than 20 years, dividing her time between the estate at Blithfield where her eldest surviving son then resided, and a house at Brook Street.

Louisa herself is described as having a delicate state of health, no doubt further weakened by repeated pregnancies but her son makes an intriguing comment.  Towards the end of her life her constitution improved and for many years before her death she enjoyed a much better state of health.  Married when little more than a child perhaps having eventually gained her independence for the first time saw her general well being improve as a consequence.

Louisa wrote her own will on January 1, 1818, a document which later needed the verification of her handwriting.  To her daughter Louisa, the only survivor of that devastating outbreak of scarlet fever, she leaves a monetary bequest and ‘my pair of Diamond Ear rings all my books in Town and here the little cabinet in Town given me by my brother John and a small heart set round with Diamonds containing the hair of my three four children deceased.’

Louisa makes her eldest son executor and refers to him constantly as ‘dear William’ the child born just weeks after her great loss.

In this eulogy to his parents William concludes – “This best of women, most exemplary of wives and most affectionate of mothers, expired at Blithfield, upon the 4th February 1820, and lies buried there with her much revered husband.”