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History of the Curzons

Oil painting on canvas, George Nathaniel Curzon (1859-1925). A three-quarter-length portrait, seated, turned to the left, glancing to the right, in black and gold robes.
Portrait of George Nathaniel Curzon | © National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Curzons came to Britain from Normandy at the time of William the Conqueror and we estimate that they have been at Kedleston since the 1150s. The Hall we see today was commissioned by Sir Nathaniel Curzon, but perhaps the most well-known inhabitant of Kedleston Hall is his descendant George Nathaniel Curzon (later Lord Curzon of Kedleston between 1898 and 1911). Learn about the political career of Lord Curzon and the work undertaken in women’s health by his wife Mary.

Who was George Nathaniel Curzon?

1859 - 1869

Early years

George Nathaniel Curzon (1859–1925), commonly known as Lord Curzon, was born on 11 January 1859 at his ancestral home, Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire. He was the second of 11 children of the 4th Baron Scarsdale and his wife Blanche. As the eldest boy, he was destined to inherit Kedleston. 

The house we see today was commissioned by Sir Nathaniel Curzon (1676–1758), Lord Curzon’s ancestor, in a bid to rival Chatsworth. Lord Curzon was always conscious that the family home was more distinguished than the family that inhabited it. He set out at an early age to prove himself a worthy inheritor. 

Who was Mary, Lady Curzon?

Mary Curzon, Vicereine of India, has long been viewed as the beautiful wife and perfect companion to her husband George Nathaniel Curzon. But there was much more to her than the glamour, grace and beauty that she undoubtedly possessed and which is evident in the portraits of her in the collection at Kedleston.

The peacock dress

Mary is perhaps most famously associated with the dazzling peacock dress she wore at the State Ball, held in the Red Fort in Delhi, in honour of the Coronation of Edward VII as Emperor of India. This was the highlight of the magnificent celebrations of the Delhi Durbar in January 1903.

Champion of women’s healthcare

Renowned for her personal tact and warmth, together with an ability to put others at ease, she was encouraged by Queen Victoria to use her position as Vicereine to support the women of India – especially their training in medicine.

Portrait of Lady Curzon, 1909, by William Logsdail at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire. A full length-shot, she wears her famous peacock gown.
Portrait of Lady Mary Curzon in her famous peacock gown | © National Trust Images/John Hammond

Only a month after her arrival in India in 1899, Mary became Chair of the Dufferin Fund, an organisation that enabled female doctors, nurses and midwives to be trained to serve women during pregnancy and illness. This meant women’s health could be supported in a society where religious and cultural sensitivities prevented women from being medically treated by men.

Letters sent back to her family in America record visits to local hospitals in the company of the family’s surgeon Colonel Ernest Fenn, who also served on the Dufferin Fund committee.

Supporting local midwives

While keen to support hospitals, Mary also recognised that some women were reluctant to attend them due to the caste system and the practice of purdah (physical screening of women from men). Instead, she promoted midwives working directly in the community, gaining support from Queen Victoria for this approach.

Following the death of the Queen, Mary established a scholarship programme in the monarch’s name. She soon raised £50,000 from the country’s Princes and Maharanis.

The museum’s sandalwood casket

A beautiful wooden casket, found in the museum at Kedleston, acknowledges one of Mary’s many efforts to support women’s health.

It was presented to her on 10 December 1900 when she the opened the Lady Curzon Female Hospital during a tour of Bangalore in Mysore (now Karnataka). The new hospital included two wards for different castes, a maternity ward and a dispensary for women and children.

A sandalwood casket from Mysore, housed at the museum at Kedleston Hall
The sandalwood casket, housed in the museum at Kedleston Hall | © National Trust/Mike Kennedy

The box, made from Srigandha sandalwood, is richly carved with mythical animals, lions, deer and birds set amid swirling floral patterns. The design also incorporates three Hindu deities set in medallions on the lid – Hanuman, Krishna and perhaps Lakshmi – whose attributes include compassion, tenderness, faith, charity and service.

The box opens to reveal a blue velvet and silk-lined interior. Inside is an address made by the five Indian donors to the project, acknowledging Mary’s work in the ‘welfare of our Sisters’.

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