Marian Alford

Hollyhock textile hanging at Belton House by Lady Marian Alford

Embroiderer

1817-1888

Marianne Margaret Egerton was born in Rome in 1817. She was the daughter of the second Marquis of Northampton and his wife, and they lived in Italy until she was 13. Those formative years gave Marian a love of Italy that stayed with her throughout her life. Although she never received a formal art education, she developed into a skilled artist and designer.

Lady Marian Alford
Belton House Creative Women Lady Marian Alford 1817 - 1888 Embroiderer
Lady Marian Alford

She became connected to Belton House through her marriage to Viscount Alford, the eldest son of the first Earl Brownlow and brother of Sophia Cust. Her husband was due to inherit the Earldom and the Brownlow estates but, when he died in 1851, he left Marian a young widow and mother of two small boys. 

Embroidered satin believed to commemorate the 1801 Act of Union, needlework by Marian Alford
1801 Act of Union embroidered panel at Belton House by Lady Marian Alford
Embroidered satin believed to commemorate the 1801 Act of Union, needlework by Marian Alford

As a trustee of her eldest son’s inheritance, Marian proved to be a resilient, if uncompromising guardian to his fortune. On the one hand, we see her as a passionately creative woman while at the same time being fiercely driven and ambitious for her son. In 1866, she encouraged her eldest son, by then Earl Brownlow, to enclose an area of common land and enlarge their estate. That action led to the Battle of Berkhamsted Common, and it was none other than Sophia Cust’s dearest friend Augustus Smith who led a successful campaign to save the land for the villagers.

Illuminated manuscript by Marian Alford
Illuminated manuscript at Belton House by Lady Marian Alford
Illuminated manuscript by Marian Alford

As an artist, Marian’s talent is evidenced through her drawings, her needlework and designs, revealing a woman of considerable knowledge, whose skills ranged from architectural design to comic satire. 

Fire screen, needlework by Marian Alford
Needlework banner worked with crab-apples at Belton House by Lady Marian Alford
Fire screen, needlework by Marian Alford

She was an avid supporter of the arts and was directly involved in establishing the Royal School of Needlework. She believed that embroidery should be valued as an honourable art form and that sewing deserved to be recognised as a skilled profession - at a time when seamstresses still worked in appalling conditions.

Needlework as Art by Marian Alford
Needlework as Art book at Belton House by Lady Marian Alford
Needlework as Art by Marian Alford

In 1888 Marian published Needlework as Art. A mighty tome of work which illustrated her equally weighty intellect.

Although Marian spent much of her life in London and at the family estate of Ashridge, we’re fortunate to have much of her work at Belton, and some of it is on display this year for the first time.