Vote 100 – The Women of Weston
This year we present the “Women of Weston” to celebrate the start of female suffrage in 1918.
Beginning with the creation of the House under the watchful eye of Lady Elizabeth Wilbraham to the discovery of Lady Bridgeman’s revealing diaries; we will reveal their stories and legacy.
Learn more about their stories during our summer season from June to August 2018.
Elizabeth Mytton, Lady Elizabeth Wilbraham (1631 – 1703)
Lady Elizabeth Wilbraham, Sir Peter Lely
Keenly interested in architecture, Lady Elizabeth employed the architect William Taylor to rebuild Weston Park with new classical fronts on the South and West sides to completely disguise the earlier unfashionable house.
She kept notes in her Palladio’s Book of Architecture which reveal her as a careful patron, analysing the detail of the building and where she might acquire the cheapest and best building materials from.
She and Sir Thomas had three daughters; in arranging her daughter’s marriages she left nothing to chance even sending her representatives to ensure that the suitors owned the land they claimed to possess.
Elizabeth, Lady Wilbraham’s magisterial portrait by Sir Peter Lely shows her grandly attired and indicating to a vase of Hanmer Agate Tulips, themselves a symbol of great status. It hangs at the end of the Drawing Room drawing the eye as soon as you enter the room. By contrast, her husband, Sir Thomas Wilbraham’s portrait is a lesser work of art and is hung high in the Dining Room.
Elizabeth Simpson, Lady Bridgeman (1735 – 1806)
Elizabeth Simpson was the heiress to Stoke Hall in the Hope Valley of Derbyshire and Babworth Hall in Nottinghamshire. Her father had been a friend of the 4th Duke of Devonshire and emulated his ducal patronage in employing the architect James Paine – who had designed the bridge and stables at Chatsworth – to re-build his house at Stoke.
The Devonshires were friends of the Simpsons and so after Elizabeth’s marriage to Sir Henry Bridgeman continued to party at Chatsworth, until the early hours of the morning as her diaries reveal, and to enjoy the vices of the card table.
A contemporary of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Lady Bridgeman was acutely aware of the dangers of gambling, writing the following in her diary:
Estates are Landships, gaz’d upon a while
Then advertised and auctioneer’d away
The wings that waft our riches out of sight
Grow on the gamester’s elbows and the alert
And nimble motion of those restless joints
That never tire soon fans them all away
Lady Bridgeman was also keenly involved in the vast expenditures that she and her husband made to Weston with the roll call including Capability Brown and James Paine. She kept a diary which reveals telling details of her interest in gardening and the artistic pursuits that she and the family enjoyed at the Temple of Diana and at her Pink Cottage which survives today in the eastern corner of Temple Wood. Sir Henry and Lady Bridgeman were also great lovers of the arts, accomplished musicians and social butterflies.
Lady Lucy (1826 – 1858) and Lady Charlotte Bridgeman (1827 – 1858)
Lady Lucy and Lady Charlotte Bridgeman occupy a special place in the history of photography, having been keen exponents of the wet-plate process. As Lady Charlotte’s diaries reveal:
“The photography mania is strong upon us all. Lucy and I received instructions from Mr Forester and watched his proceedings narrowly. Lucy even did one. Did various groups.”
Lucy and Charlotte were daughters of the 2nd Earl of Bradford; members of the artistocracy, artists and poets such as William Wordsworth, are mentioned by Lady Charlotte in her diary. The sisters also had a close bond with the servants at their family homes.
Davis, one of the senior male servants at Weston regularly assisted them in their photographic experiments. They used the old dairies in the basement of the Temple of Diana as darkrooms and their extensive diaries reveal travels undertaken to photograph great houses including Powis Castle and Haddon Hall.
The great tragedy of this story is that they also met their death together. One story suggests that the accident was caused by a spark from the Library fire and ignited Lucy’s dress and that Charlotte tried to smother the flames but was also caught up in the ensuing fire.
They are both buried in St Andrew’s Church next door to Weston and their photographs are a lasting memorial to a prodigious talent snuffed out too early.
Lady Ida Lumley, 4th Countess of Bradford (1848 – 1936)
Lady Ida married George, later 4th Earl of Bradford in 1869.
She became known as the ‘Curator Countess’ on account of her meticulous record keeping of certain items of the collection – particularly porcelain – through beautiful watercolours.
She was responsible for introducing many beautiful rhododendron and azalea hybrids, selected at the Chelsea Flower Show, to Temple Wood. Their riot of colour and exquisite fragrance remain for visitors to enjoy today.
On her walks around the woodlands, she would take along with her a little saw to snip away any rhododendrons with the wrong coloured heads.
She served Queen Mary as Lady in Waiting and her Majesty would often visit Weston Park and enjoyed close relationship with the Countess. Lady Ida wrote to her as ‘my adored queen’.
At the age of eighty she wrote her recollections for the benefit of her seven children and these remain a remarkable document that illustrates her life, having met each monarch from Queen Victoria to the eventual Queen Elizabeth II.