Mistress of Charlecote Park
Between 1823 and 1890 Mary Elizabeth Lucy embraced her life as Mistress of Charlecote and it is the story of her life and that of her husband, George Hammond Lucy, that you share in the house today.
The young bride
Although she thought that George favoured her sister Margaret, it was Mary Elizabeth whose hand George requested in 1823.
On Mary Elizabeth’s arrival at Charlecote as a young bride in the middle of winter she noticed ‘its old worn stone floor, its small panes of glass, and old window-frames creaking and rattling with every gust of wind, and so cold!’
Initially, there was no time for work on the house as the birth of a son, William Fulke, in 1824 was followed by daughters Mary and Caroline in 1826 and 1828.
Keeping up appearances
In 1829 Mary Elizabeth's sister Margaret married the much older Lord Willoughby de Broke of nearby Compton Verney, the fifth richest man in England at the time.
Mary Elizabeth must have been aware of Charlecote’s shabbiness in stark contrast to the splendour of her sister’s new home, and work on Charlecote began in earnest while the Lucys were travelling abroad.
Recreating ‘Elizabethan’ splendour
Fashionable Victorians loved the Elizabethan age. The Lucys had a ready-made claim with the visit of Elizabeth I in1572 and aimed to recreate Charlecote in the Tudor times of the first Sir Thomas. George added a new service wing containing the present Victorian kitchen and scullery, as well as a servants’ hall and more bedrooms upstairs.
The house was extended towards the river with the new library and dining room. Thomas Willement, heraldic artist to George IV, was brought in to repair and re-lead the old Elizabethan stained glass and he probably also devised the great hall ceiling as well as Elizabethan-looking designs for other furniture and furnishings.
In the months before his marriage, George had bought 64 lots of furnishings from the auction of the contents of dissolute William Beckford’s Fonthill Abbey.
He spent more than £3,400 – over half of that on just one item, the pietra dura table you see in the great hall. It is said that he outbid King George IV for it.
More furniture was acquired during the Lucys’ second continental tour of 1840-42 following the death of their son Herbert. This was also when they bought the marble floor for the Great Hall in Venice. This venture was marred by the death of another baby son while crossing the Alps, he died in Mary Elizabeth's arms when their carriage became stuck in heavy snow.
Take a look at our carriage collection in the stables to see a brougham like the one in which the family travelled, and imagine the difficulties of a winter journey at this time.
‘I will not let or leave Charlecote’
Four years later George himself was dead and the estate was in serious financial difficulties. Mary Elizabeth declared ‘I will not let or leave Charlecote even if I have to live upon a crust.’
Indeed, she continued their work – rebuilding the church, adding the balustraded steps down to the river, creating the drawing room and the billiard room, and acquiring the Charlecote buffet for the dining room.
She loved her garden passionately and would often be at work outside in the borders by 6am. The gardens you see today are strongly influenced by her plans and designs.
Inevitably the time came when the heir Henry Spencer Lucy was forced to sell many of the best pictures to pay the bills. He sold some from the drawing room before his mother got up in the morning.
In 1889, at the age of 86, Mary Elizabeth died from the bronchitis that had troubled her for some time.