It can be difficult for most of us to imagine the level of wealth into which Sophia Cust was born. As the first Earl Brownlow’s daughter, Sophia was raised in the company of royalty and was a personal friend to Queen Victoria.
She suffered grief at an early age however, losing her mother when she was just four years old. Family loss was sadly not uncommon in 19th century England, but Sophia’s aunt and stepmother oversaw her development into adulthood with care. Her father was devastated by the loss of his young wife and had a memorial erected in her memory by the famed sculptor Antonio Canova.
Sophia was married to Christopher Theron Tower in 1836, and the couple had nine children between 1837 and 1857, all of whom survived into adulthood. She lived in a succession of grand houses in the course of her life but, as her family home, Belton held a special place in her heart and she painted many watercolours of its interiors and outdoor views.
Art was undoubtedly Sophia’s passion, and the privilege of her wealth gave her the freedom to pursue it. With her husband often at her side, she travelled a good deal around the British Isles and produced a prolific amount of sketches, watercolours and etchings of the places where she visited and stayed. On one such visit to her husband’s friend Augustus Smith, Sophia was to fall in love with the Isles of Scilly and became a regular visitor throughout her adult life. She illustrated a book of the islands and her daughter Edith married the Scillys’ proprietor in 1875.
Sophia was living in the Tower’s residence of Huntsmoor Park in Buckinghamshire when she fell ill and died at the age of 72. She was taken to her son’s Essex home and buried in South Weald churchyard. At 79 years old, her husband Christopher led the funeral procession. He left England shortly after Sophia’s death and died two years later in Italy.
Sophia’s Belton watercolours are now a precious record of how the house and grounds looked in the mid decades of the nineteenth century. They have been instrumental in the restoration of the Red Drawing Room, the Italian Garden and the boathouse.