Last week I finished reading ‘Wedlock’ by Wendy Moore, subtitled on the cover ‘How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband met his Match’. And what a tale it tells. It’s been recommended to me from several sources not least from Nilly Hall‘s wittily titled ‘Bowes and Cupid’s Arrows‘ published last February.
The book is the story of Mary Eleanor Bowes (1749-1800) daughter of the coal baron creator of “Gibside, a Georgian ‘grand design’ on a spectacular scale. The vision of coal baron George Bowes, the Palladian chapel is an architectural masterpiece, the stable block is a vibrant learning and discovery centre, and the once grand hall is now a dramatic shell. Gibside is also a haven for wildlife with red kites often circling in the skies above.” [NT]
The Stable Block
The Greenhouse or Orangery
The Banquiting House
The water feature below the Banqueting House was an elegant octagonal pond built in the Greek style to add to the stately vistas. A fountain cooled he air and statues stood on the terraces above. The Banqueting House was restored by The Landmark Trust after many years of neglect. That same neglect has had some happy consequences for the pond. It is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its population of great crested newts. There are no plans to restore the Octagon Pond as any such work could destroy the habitat of these shy and rare creatures, as well as upsetting the many other types of bird and aquatic life that thrive here. [Extracted from the Information Board at the Pond]
A highly educated woman for her time Mary Eleanor’s father, George Bowes, died when she was 11 leaving her a vast fortune and prey to future gold-diggers. She married her first husband, John Lyon, the 9th Earl of Strathmore, in 1767, gave birth to five children in six years and was left a widow when Lyon died of tuberculosis in 1776.
Her second marriage to Andrew Robinson Stoney, an Anglo-Irish adventurer, was a total disaster. Self-styled ‘Captain’ Stoney duped Mary into marriage in 1777. From then on she was brutally treated and virtually held captive by him. Finally, she did manage to escape his clutches and even to divorce him – highly unusual at the time. He is the origin of the term “stony broke” – he died in a debtor’s prison – and he was the inspiration to William Makepeace Thackeray who learned of Stoney Bowes’ life story from the Countess’s grandson John Bowes and used it in his novel “The Luck of Barry Lyndon.”
Stoney’s or Bowes’, as he is called in the book (in compliance with Mary’s father’s will, Stoney changed his name to Bowes his marriage to Mary Eleanor), greed was responsible for the ruin of Gibside and the destruction of thousands of trees on the estate .
It is ironic that Mary’s father constructed the Column of Liberty in the grounds of the estate when for several years during her marriage to Bowes she was very far from being at liberty.
The Column of Liberty at Gibside