Women of Croft Castle: Fashion, power and status

Portrait of The Hon. Nancy Beatrice Borwick, Lady Croft (1884-1949) by Philip Alexius de László de Lombos

One hundred years ago, the Representation of the People Act was passed on 6 February 1918. This allowed certain women the right to vote, which was a significant milestone for the suffrage movement. From the beginning of May, we'll be celebrating the anniversary of the act by redressing the balance and telling some of the stories of Croft through the eyes of its women, which have hitherto been neglected. Read on to discover more about five key women of Croft and how they influenced and contributed to the rich history of this special place.

Elizabeth Cowper

Elizabeth Cowper, Lady Croft, had her portrait painted when she visited the affluent city of Bath in 1761, after she had married Sir Archer Croft, 3rd Bt in 1759. During the same year Elizabeth also had her portrait painted by Joshua Reynolds, a most sought after artist for the high society.

The Blue Room at Croft, where you can see the portrait of Elizabeth Cowper
View from the Oak Room door into the Blue Room, and on into the the Drawing Room and Library at Croft Castle
The Blue Room at Croft, where you can see the portrait of Elizabeth Cowper

Dorothy Kevill-Davies

Dorothy Mortlock Lacon married William Albert Somerset Herbert Kevill-Davies on 30 April 1908. After their marriage, they were welcomed back to Croft Castle by beautiful decorations, including a banner across the drive which read 'Long life & happiness'.

The homecoming of Mr and Mrs Kevill Davies after their wedding in 1908
The homecoming of Mr and Mrs Kevill Davies after their wedding in 1908
The homecoming of Mr and Mrs Kevill Davies after their wedding in 1908

Herbert Kevill-Davies, as he was known, died of wounds he received at Ypres during the First World War. Dorothy was widowed with three young children to care for. Her diaries give further insight into the war years, including her incredible contributions to the war effort on the Home Front. For example, she organised the Local Depot and arranged for eggs to be collected for troops and the wounded.

Dorothy was also listed as one of the Secretaries of the Women's County War Agricultural Committees in England and Wales and was appointed Registrar for Yarpole and Bircher Parish. The Registrars liaised between the farmers and the women workers to ensure there were enough labourers to do the necessary farm work while the men were away at war.

She also went on to become Honorary Secretary for the Queen's Institute of District Nursing and Chairman of the Midwifery and Nursing Committee. She was to see many reforms adopted and established in these organisations and clearly did much to improve social reform.

Katherine Parr

Katherine Parr, Lady Croft, was painted here by Sir William Samuel Henry Llewellyn. Katherine was the second wife of Sir Herbert Croft who died at Gallipoli in 1915. At this time, the Croft family were living at Lugwardine Court near Hereford. Katherine was instrumental in buying back the Croft’s ancestral home in 1923 for £30,000. Lady Katherine was also a descendant of Henry VIII's only surviving wife, another Katherine Parr.

Portrait of Katherine Parr, Lady Croft, by Sir William Samuel Henry Llewellyn
Portrait of Katherine Parr, Lady Croft, by Sir William Samuel Henry Llewellyn
Portrait of Katherine Parr, Lady Croft, by Sir William Samuel Henry Llewellyn

Nancy Croft

Nancy was born in 1884. She came from a large family of nine children. Her father was Chairman of the family firm George Borwick & Sons Ltd. which produced the popular baking
powder.

She married Brigadier-General, Henry Page Croft on 10 July 1907 and together they had four children; Hilda, Nancy, Michael and Anne. At the outbreak of war in 1914, Hilda was 5 and a half and Nancy 2 years and 5 months. Rosemary was born in 1918. A nanny would have been employed to provide help. The older girls may well have been home schooled during this time.


Portrait of The Hon. Nancy Beatrice Borwick, Lady Croft (1884-1949) by Philip Alexius de László de Lombos
Portrait of The Hon. Nancy Beatrice Borwick, Lady Croft (1884-1949) by Philip Alexius de László de Lombos
Portrait of The Hon. Nancy Beatrice Borwick, Lady Croft (1884-1949) by Philip Alexius de László de Lombos

Henry Page Croft’s mother bequeathed Knole in Bournemouth to them after her death in 1921 and he and Nancy made this their home.

During the early years of the Second World War, Knole was used as the headquarters of the 11th Infantry Brigade. In 1942 it became a residential nursery for children under five which was organised by the Red Cross and St John. Nancy was invested Commander, Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem on 20 June 1939. You can find out more about Nancy in the Dining Room.

Nancy died on 24 January 1949 and is buried in the churchyard at Croft.

Elinor Croft

Elinor and her brother James, along with their mother Katherine, were the Crofts who bought back the castle and returned to their ancestral home in 1923. In 1928, Elinor married her first cousin, Henry Parr, at Croft; you can find out more about Elinor’s amazing honeymoon in the Saloon. Elinor divorced her husband in 1934 but continued to live on the Croft estate until 1985 when she died at the grand age of 81.

Visit us to find out more about these fascinating women and the parts they played in Croft's thousand year history.