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

Discover more about some of the women associated with Croft and how they influenced and contributed to the rich history of this special place.

Elizabeth Cowper

In 1759 Elizabeth Cowper, cousin of the poet William Cowper, married Sir Archer Croft, 3rd Bart and son of Sir Archer Croft who had been forced to sell Croft in 1746. She had this portrait painted when visiting the city of Bath in 1761, by the society painter Thomas Gainsborough. She was also painted by his great rival, Sir Joshua Reynolds in the same year.

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

Sold by the Johnes family to Somerset-Davies in 1799, Croft became home to the Kevill-Davies family and after 1847 was inherited by William Albert Somerset Herbert Kevill-Davies who served in the South African war. In 1908 he married Dorothy Mortlock Lacon, heiress to the Lacon brewery in Great Yarmouth. After their marriage, they were welcomed back to Croft Castle by the tenantry including a banner across the drive reading '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

Kevill-Davies died of wounds at Ypres during the First World War and Dorothy’s diaries give insight into the war years, including her efforts on the Home Front, organising the Local Depot and arranging supplies for the troops.

She served on the Women's County War Agricultural Committees in England and Wales and was appointed Registrar for Yarpole and Bircher Parish, liaising between the local farmers and the women workers to ensure there was sufficient labour to carry out farm work.

She became 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 in these organisations and clearly did much to improve health care.

Katherine Parr

A descendant of Henry VIII's only surviving wife, Katherine Parr, was mother of Sir James Croft, 11th Bart, painted here by Sir William Samuel Henry Llewellyn.

Katherine was the second wife of Sir Herbert Croft, 10th Bart who died at Gallipoli in 1915. At the time, the Crofts were living at Lugwardine Court near Hereford. In 1923 Katherine was instrumental in buying back the family’s ancestral home for her son at a cost of for £30,000. 

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

Elinor Croft

Katherine’s daughter, Elinor and her brother James, lived at Croft and in 1928, Elinor married her first cousin, Henry Parr divorcing him some six years later in 1934. She continued to live on the Croft estate until her death at the age of 81 in 1985.

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.

In 1907 she married Brigadier-General, Sir Henry Page Croft and together they had four children; Hilda, Nancy, Michael and Anne Rosemary, known as Posy.

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

Sir Henry’s mother bequeathed Knole in Bournemouth to them and in 1921 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 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. View her portrait painted by society artist Philip de Laszlo in the Dining Room.

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

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