A team of volunteers, supported by museum staff, are currently researching the lives and personal narratives of past residents of Temple Newsam as part of an Arts Council Designation Development Fund (DDF) project entitled “Grief, Joy and Togetherness”. The focus of this blog is on two women born 170 years apart who both left their mark on the house.
The interior of Temple Newsam House as we see it today was heavily influenced and created by the women who lived there in the 18th and 19th centuries. Often lives across the centuries have more in common than may first appear – both women came from politically active families, married into dynasties who owned Temple Newsam, and were both widowed when young.
However, Isabella Viscountess Dowager Irwin (nee Machell) (1670 – 1764) and Emily Charlotte Meynell Ingram (nee Wood) (1840 – 1904) impacted on the house in different ways. Isabella had married her husband aged 15 in 1685 but was widowed aged 32. Five of her nine sons inherited the house and all her children had predeceased her when she died aged 94. Emily is described by her nephew as being admired for her charm and intellect when young, as well as a mad keen rider to hounds but was widowed when her husband Hugo Meynell Ingram died of complications following a hunting accident when she was aged 31. She didn’t have any children.
Neither woman remarried, but their circumstances were different due to changing attitudes to women. Isabella’s children managed the estate in the first half of the 18th century, with varying degrees of success. She spent the rest of her life staying with her family at either Temple Newsam, London or in Sussex. Emily took over management of her estates in 1871 with the support of some of her family and loyal staff. Unlike Isabella she would have been able to remarry without losing her wealth after the passing of Married Women’s Property Act of 1882.
When widowed in 1702, Isabella became the Viscountess Dowager. Although not in charge of the Temple Newsam estate, her household account books from the 1730’s survive, detailing expenditure including pigeons, lobsters, crayfish, money for her youngest son, as well as letters to her from her sons asking for increases in allowances and pocket money and gossipy letters from her granddaughters in London.
Emily’s substantial wealth as a lone female was unusual in Victorian England and the responsibilities weighed heavily on her. She expressed her despair and difficulty struggling on alone in her diaries, but her nephew Francis describes Temple Newsam as “a great solace” to her. Francis suggests Emily was difficult, bitter, and at times even unkind to her family but also unfailingly kind and affectionate to her nieces and nephews. Her husband’s family resented that she inherited his estate and bad feeling ensued between them for many years. Her niece Mary felt that the bitterness caused by Hugo’s will made it hard for Emily to appreciate the views of others and get on with people who differed from her.
Despite her sadness and ill health in later life, Emily is responsible for commissioning some of most iconic features of Temple Newsam House, such as the grand Oak Staircase, remodelling the Dining Room, creating the Darnley Room, and building a chapel. Further updating of rooms was undertaken for two Royal visits in 1868 and 1894. A suite of rooms used by Emily can be seen in the northwest corner of the house, including the ornate Crimson Bedroom where she spent her last days, her bathroom and sitting room. Isabella’s portrait can be viewed in Emily’s bedroom. The sitting room includes matching portraits of Emily and Hugo painted in the 1860’s. Her life however was not all sadness. She loved opera, had a yacht which sailed around the Mediterranean and Baltic, a beloved Maltese poodle named Valetta and enjoyed Christmas pantomimes presented by great nieces and nephews in the Picture Gallery. Emily also commissioned churches, founded an orphanage, and held a children’s day for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 at Temple Newsam where 6000 local children attended celebrations.
The majority of Emily’s personal archive in the form of her diaries is at The Borthwick Archive in the Halifax Collection at the University of York. Original material available on Isabella is held at the West Yorkshire Archives in the Temple Newsam collection.
The opinions we have been left of Emily and Isabella are mostly framed by their families and expectations of women at the time. In times when early death was not uncommon both women dealt with widowhood in their own ways. Emily was acquainted with Queen Victoria as a family friend, and her example of lifelong mourning may have influenced Emily’s attitude to her own loss. Closer analysis of Emily’s diaries and Isabella’s letters with today’s greater understanding of mental health issues should shed new light on her state of mind and coping mechanisms from a female perspective.
You can find out more about Isabella and Emily at Temple Newsam House.
By Judith Devine, DDF Volunteer at Temple Newsam