Lady Mary Booth
As the only woman to ever inherit Dunham Massey, what was her greatest achievement?
The heir to Dunham Massey:
Born in 1704 to George Booth, 2nd Earl of Warrington, and Mary Booth (née Oldbury), she spent her childhood, of which we know very little about, and her unmarried years at Dunham Massey.
Her parents’ marriage was purely a business arrangement; George needed money to rebuild a shabby Dunham so he married the daughter of a rich London merchant, Mary Oldbury. There is no evidence to suggest that they formed a loving relationship – in fact, she defied him every chance she got, while he played the victim!
We don’t know much if the mother-daughter relationship, but we believe that George was an affectionate and loving father. Once it was clear that he would have no male heir, he was determined that Mary should have complete control and the estate was hers to manage and develop as she saw fit; he began to teach her everything she needed to know about estate management. Before she was five, he was annotating his accounts: “for the information of my daughter.”
Did she always live at Dunham?
Mary married Henry, Lord Grey of Groby (later 4th Earl of Stamford) in 1736, when he was 20, and she was 32. Despite her parents having a contentious marriage, they were, as far as we can tell, a loving couple. She lived at Bradgate Hall in Leicestershire, before moving to Enville Hall in 1739 and began to build a home together as the new 4th Early and Countess of Stamford. Harry and Mary began to rebuild Enville, much like her father had done at Dunham; she lived here until 1758.
What happened after she returned to Dunham?
She was 54 when her father died, and Dunham Massey was given to her. She efficiently managed the tenants, the farmers, the household, the accounts and some farming innovations. She supported, financially and practically, new schools, chapels and hospitals alongside finding advantageous marriages for her children. She personally negotiated with the Duke of Bridgewater’s agents to ensure that the building of his new canal had every advantage to herself and her tenants.
In her final years, mainly spent at Dunham after Harry died in 1768, she enjoyed a life with her children and grandchildren while continuing to run the estate and pursue her interests.
Mary died in 1772, confident in a strong line of succession and secure in the health of the estate. Lady Mary Booth had stepped beyond the boundaries of typical female pursuits to become a quiet but powerful presence in the world of business and land management, shaping Dunham’s future.