Fanny Boscawen and her legacy at Hatchlands Park
Frances Boscawen, Fanny to her friends, was the first ‘Lady of the House’ here at Hatchlands. The life and legacy of this remarkable woman, whose achievements were ahead of her time, is an often overlooked chapter in the story of the Bluestocking Society.
Fanny was born in Kent in 1719. She met Edward Boscawen, a naval officer, in 1738 when he was 27 and she was just 18. He returned from his voyages in May of 1742 and they were married by December that year, before Edward set sail again as Captain of the Dreadnought. In fact, for the 18 years of their marriage, Edward was away for almost 10 of them.
" Though even Fanny’s dearest friends can never have called her beautiful, her vivacious little face and attractive figure, her level brow and restful wide-apart eyes, her ready wit and subtle understanding, her captivating manner and complete lack of self-consciousness were utterly irresistible."
While their new house was built at Hatchlands, Fanny was actively involved in the project and wrote regularly to her husband with updates. She had a firm sense of her own taste and desires, which was reflected throughout the Robert Adam interior design scheme which she oversaw.
A well-educated woman
Fanny was an erudite and well-educated woman, as illustrated in her prolific letter writing. She was well respected and admired by her intellectual peers in fashionable society, both male and female alike - Dr Samuel Johnson referred to Fanny as a rare intellectual who could 'send back every ball he threw'.
Throughout her later life she was close friends with Elizabeth Montagu, together they were founding members of the Bluestocking Society. The original Bluestockings are notable for giving women a public voice and cultural standing in a time where to be an educated female was frowned upon, and women were excluded from intellectual conversation.
Through their letters and diaries, we know that the Bluestockings met regularly, hosting salons at each other’s houses including at Hatchlands. This was partly to amuse one another, partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants about the arts, philosophy and education. This modernisation of women's social networking in the latter half of the eighteenth century paved the way for suffragism, university education for women and modern feminism.
" It is therefore remarkable, and indeed a public loss, that outside the various family circles of her descendants, where the tradition of her many virtues is kept forever green, so little is known today of this outstanding English personality."
Walking in the Bluestockings shoes
Fanny Boscawen’s Walk, which runs from a large dell towards Great Wix Wood, is a promenade that Fanny created herself and that you can still follow today. Work on the garden was underway in May of 1755 when Fanny wrote to her husband describing her walk as containing ‘purple lilacs, yellow laburnum, white Guelder roses, fine red cinnamon roses, delightful double blossom thorns and double flowering cherries and peaches.’ In August she wrote again stating ‘My walk is charming, but I wish I could persuade all the choicest flowers to wait for My Berger’ (an archaic term for shepherd and presumably meaning husband).
He replied in May 1756: ‘I fancy your garden and walk flourish. I have been talking with Buck about it today. He tells me there is near 700 plants in the garden….those sown in boxes will complete the walk.’
Sadly, during the storm of 1987 the walk lost many of those 200 year old beech trees. In 1992 restoration work began, replanting beech, holly, laburnum and cherry amongst a nurse crop of silver birch. All of these are under sown with a wildflower mix producing an abundance of oxeye daisy, adding to the natural display of bluebells and cowslips. The area has been added to over the years with successive plantings of wild flowers, foxgloves and Guelder roses with snowdrops, aconites and wild daffodils.
In 2016 the path was recreated on an almost identical route providing a wonderful reconnection between the parkland and woodland. Our dell, which formed part of Fanny’s original walk, remains a goal for future restoration.
We hope that, on a day to celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women, you might enjoy following in the footsteps of one of Hatchlands Park's finest pioneers.