Florence, commonly known as Florrie, moved to Belton village as a young girl and lived with her parents and siblings in the Rectory. Her father, Rev Alfred Gott Woolward, was the domestic chaplain for Earl Brownlow and Rector of Belton church.
As a teenager, Florrie showed an early aptitude for painting and, with access to Belton’s garden and Pleasure Grounds, she captured the landscapes and plants that she saw around her. Self-taught, she developed an incredible eye for detail, reinforced by a detailed knowledge of plants that she gained from her parents.
By the age of 25, Florrie continued to expand her collection of plant studies, which eventually contained over 100 different botanical illustrations. At the same time, women illustrators were gaining more respect and encouragement.
It’s thought that the Brownlow family was responsible for bringing Florrie’s painting talents to the attention of the 9th Marquess of Lothian. He housed a huge collection of orchids at his family home of Newbattle Abbey, Lothian, just south of Edinburgh. Reports of the time suggest that his orchid collection was only rivalled by that at Kew.
Impressed by her earlier work, the Marquess commissioned Florrie to create a visual record of his orchid collection and her first orchid painting was completed on 27 September 1879. She worked on this commission for 20 years and by 1899 had illustrated a total of 412 paintings for the Marquess.
As close friends of the Brownlows, the Woolwards would accompany the family to prestigious events and parties. Built in by Anthony Salvin, the Fishing Lodge would often be the venue for picnics and boating trips on the lake. Walks through the Pleasure Grounds would have been a popular pastime for Florrie and it’s likely she would have taken her sketchbook and rested awhile in one of the garden buildings to record the plants and trees she came across.
It’s easy to imagine Florrie walking from the Rectory in the village where she lived, through the churchyard and into Belton’s Italian Garden. Built in 1821, the Orangery would have been well established when Florrie first came to Belton as a young girl. Given Lord and Lady Brownlow’s interest in exotic plants, this is likely to be where Florrie’s love of orchids was born. The Orangery contains a small display of artist’s materials and some examples of Florrie’s botanical studies.
Florrie was very close to her sister Evelyn whom she lived with in Belton after the death of her parents. Evelyn died in 1927, and Florrie left Lincolnshire to live with relatives in Dorset. However, she found living away from her friends and connections at Belton very difficult. Florrie’s funeral instructions, written in her clear and bold handwriting, stated that she wished to return to her ‘beloved Belton’.