Women who shaped Canons Ashby

Alice Dryden and her parents under the cedar tree

In 2018 the National Trust, alongside many other organisations, is marking the centenary of certain women first achieving the vote in a British Parliamentary election. Through our national theme ‘Women and Power’ we are focussing on sharing the histories of women who have shaped our properties.

From 23 March to 28 October, interpretation in the house will draw attention to the stories of the incredible women who helped to shape Canons Ashby, as well as highlight their work which is such an important part of our collection today.

A watercolour of the Pebbled Court by Clara Dryden
Watercolour of Canons Ashby's Pebbled Court by Clara Dryden
A watercolour of the Pebbled Court by Clara Dryden

Canons Ashby has played host to an extraordinary group of women over the course of its history, including talented watercolourists, photographers and mural painters, whose work can be seen when you visit the house and church.

In around 1710 Elizabeth Creed, cousin of the Dryden family, who spent much time staying at Canons Ashby, created this beautiful church mural.

Part of a mural painted by Elizabeth Creed
A view of the East window and mural in Priory Church
Part of a mural painted by Elizabeth Creed

This mural (which may have covered much of this wall) was covered over with lime wash in the nineteenth century as tastes and fashions changed. After some painstaking work to remove some of the white paint a part of her original work was revealed: some baroque putti (cherubs) and draping curtains.

Elizabeth would have painted this when she was in her 60s, climbing and standing on scaffolding to allow her to paint 8 to 10 metres off the ground.

She created several other works of art around Canons Ashby including the overmantel in the Great Hall and the “trompe l’oeil” decoration in the Museum Room, designed to create the illusion of being in grand room full of marble classical columns. As a matter of interest she also appears in the diaries of Samuel Pepys, being a relative of his, although not in much detail.

To find out more about Elizabeth’s artistic achievements and to discover the other women who helped to shape Canons Ashby, visit us when the house is open between 23 March to 28 October.