Penelope, Lady Stamford...
What came first – her duty as a mother or her duty as a countess?
Elizabeth Louisa Penelope Theobald was born on 17th December 1865 in Chale, Isle of Wight. She was the 5th child (the 3rd daughter) of 10 children to Reverend Canon Charles Theobald and Caroline Maria Richards.
She lived with her large family in the Isle of Wight, before moving to Hampshire. As far as we can tell, the family were a close and loving one – letters show them referring to each other by ‘pet’ names, such as Bessie (Penelope) or Riddles (for her brother, George Ridley). They were a supportive family, and this remained so throughout their lives.
In May 1896, at age of 30, she married William Grey, 9th Earl of Stamford, aged 45. William didn’t inherit Dunham until 1905, after the death of Catherine Lady Stamford (the wife of the 7th Earl). The house and estate had been neglected they set about renovating and modernising the house. During this time, her two children were born – Roger (later our 10th and final Earl) in 1896 and Lady Jane Grey in 1899.
A formidable woman:
Her husband died unexpectedly in 1910, leaving her in sole charge of two young children and an estate that was only partway through an extensive restoration. Yet she picked up the reins and took over the management of house and estate to the extent that she felt able to convert her home into a hospital and then become its ‘commandant’ when it opened in 1917. Not only that, Penelope was the Vice President of the Altrincham division of the British Red Cross and President of Altrincham and District Hospital.
She was able to oversee the administrative running of the hospital with apparent ease. But she clearly cared for the patients. In many of her letters, she asks her daughter Jane, to keep an eye on particular solders she was worried about.
Did she get the vote?
Penelope would have been eligible for the vote. The Electoral Register for 1918 shows that Penelope registered to vote, however we do not know if she did vote. Despite being well informed about suffrage, it appears that Penelope and Roger, like many of their generation, were not in favour.
Life after the hospital:
Penelope was also a formidable woman who guarded the family’s place in society. She was a strict disciplinarian - she expected boys living on the estate to doff their caps when she passed by. She only wanted the best for her children, and that included their choice of partner. She didn’t approve of Lady Jane’s prospective husband, but did eventually bow to the inevitable. As for the 10th Earl, she seemed more protective over Roger, supporting him throughout his life. He never married, and lived at Dunham with Penelope until her death.
After the war had ended, and the hospital was closed, Penelope founded a branch of the Women’s Institute in Dunham Village – and for this, they elected her the first President! She continued to be a part of the British Red Cross alongside many other local organisations.
Penelope died on September 1st 1959 at the grand old age of 94.