Bi­og­ra­phy Vic­to­rian Chate­laine

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

James Lo­max (To or­der, send a cheque for £37.50 to Leeds Art Fund, c/o Tem­ple Newsam House, Leeds LS15 0AE)

In May, 1871, Hugo Meynell In­gram died fol­low­ing a hunt­ing ac­ci­dent on his Stafford­shire es­tate, Hoar Cross. His will caused a sen­sa­tion: he left ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing his coal-rich lands at Tem­ple newsam, near Leeds, to his child­less wi­dow, Emily. The Meynell In­gram lands were un­en­tailed—hugo was the last of his line—and so, at the age of only 30, she be­came one of the rich­est women in the coun­try. It was a bit­ter in­her­i­tance: her hus­band’s fam­ily cut off all re­la­tions with her.

In grief, Emily turned to build­ing. She is now best re­mem­bered as the pa­tron of a fa­mous church, Holy an­gels, de­signed by Bod­ley and Garner and built at Hoar Cross as a mau­soleum for her hus­band. Guided by her strong artis­tic in­stincts—she was a tal­ented painter—and an­glo-catholic piety, she took a close in­ter­est in ev­ery as­pect of the de­sign of this ex­tra­or­di­nary, highly wrought build­ing. When it was opened in 1876, she wrote: ‘The church was the first thing which re­ally made me wish to live.’

James Lo­max en­coun­tered Emily’s name when, as a cu­ra­tor at Tem­ple newsam, he be­came in­trigued by her an­ti­quar­ian re­mod­elling of this great Ja­cobean house, which was sold in 1922 to Leeds Cor­po­ra­tion for use as a mu­seum. His en­gag­ingly writ­ten and well-il­lus­trated bi­og­ra­phy places Emily’s ca­reer as an ar­chi­tec­tural pa­tron in the con­text of the prac­ti­cal and emo­tional chal­lenges she faced in forg­ing an in­de­pen­dent life. al­though she never re­mar­ried, she was con­strained by the claus­tro­pho­bi­cally lim­ited op­por­tu­ni­ties for women in late-vic­to­rian Eng­land, no mat­ter how rich or well-born.

Draw­ing on ex­ten­sive fam­ily ar­chives, Mr Lo­max de­picts in en­gross­ing de­tail the evo­lu­tion of Emily’s char­ac­ter, from an in­dulged, head­strong child­hood to self-ab­sorbed grief and, even­tu­ally, a de­gree of emo­tional equi­lib­rium, helped by her en­thu­si­asm for the sea. In 1885, she ac­quired a yacht, The Ari­adne, and Mr Lo­max en­ter­tain­ingly de­scribes Emily’s trips round the Baltic and Mediter­ranean, vis­it­ing churches and buying art.

He also pub­lishes in an ap­pendix a de­light­ful mem­oir by Emily’s nephew Fran­cis Wood of his child­hood at Tem­ple newsam in the 1880s and 1890s. This small gem is alone worth the price of the book, hand­somely pub­lished by the Leeds art Fund, which has done so much to sup­port the city’s pub­lic col­lec­tions. Michael Hall

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