Bridget Willoughby was born in Nottinghamshire to Catholic parents in or about the year 1620. Nothing is known of her childhood or how she met Henry Ferrers, whom she married in 1639 at Baddesley Clinton Hall, which was to be her home for the next 58 years.
It’s known that Bridget bore up to 11 children but several of them died very young and two more died in their twenties, leaving only three outliving their parents.
During the English Civil War (1642-1651) the countryside around Baddesley Clinton attracted the attention of both Parliamentarians and Royalist troops which put the house at risk of being raided. We know, in fact, that Baddesley Clinton was raided at least twice.
During the Commonwealth (1649-1660) practicing the ‘old religion’ was hazardous. Edward Ferrers, Bridget’s father-in-law, a Protestant, lived with Bridget and her family until his death in 1650, and one can only imagine what it must have been like for Bridget, the devout Catholic.
In 1656 a mission of Franciscans was sent to England to maintain the Catholic faith. One of them was Leo Randolph, who began a long relationship between the Franciscans and Baddesley which was used as a safe house.
The law stated that everyone must attend Church of England services, with failure to do so, recusancy, causing a fine of £20 (£1500 today) for each occasion. This became a severe drain on the finances of the family at Baddesley. Records indicate that they failed to attend services on seven occasions in an 18 month period, necessitating the payment of £140 (over £10,000 today).
Obviously, Bridget’s family were no strangers to the law courts and this continued throughout her life. Most of the legal conflicts centred around the felling of trees on the estate - timber was a valuable asset and needed to be wisely managed.
In 1682, when Bridget was 62, her husband died and she took over the management of parts of the estate. She seems to have been a shrewd businesswoman.
Bridget lived and raised a family in a period of tremendous upheaval. Throughout religious persecutions she remained loyal to her Catholic faith and refused to attend a church she didn’t believe in; her activism shows through her pursuit, through the courts, of what she believed was right.