The Priory a charming mansion at Prior Park, Combe Down

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The Priory

The Priory

In his book ‘The Benevolent Man, A Life of Ralph Allen of Bath’,[1] Benjamin Boyce says:

"To the northeast of the main buildings Allen erected a good looking two story house for his gardener, who, necessarily a man of taste, deserved something superior. As sketched on the "Survey" map, the house had a bay window and fenestration of a Tudor sort." 

This is The Priory, but this is now disputed since Ralph Allen did not purchase this parcel of land until 1751. You can find out more about this here. Because of this the dates below for Dodsley and Jones are /.

1740/51-1764 Isaac Dodsley (1712-1791) and Elizabeth Oatley (1730-1790)

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Robert Dodsley 1703 1764

His father, Robert Dodsley (1681-1750), kept the free school at Mansfield, and is described as a little deformed man, who, having had a large family by one wife, married when seventy five a young girl of seventeen, by whom he had a child.[2] In fact his father did marry three times, his last wife was Sarah Dakyne (1707-1747) whom he married in 1737 when he was 57 and she was 30.

His half brother was Robert Dodsley (1703-1764) poet, dramatist and bookseller as well as a friend of Alexander Pope (1688-1744) who had lent him £100 to establish himself as a bookseller at the sign of Tully’s Head in Pall Mall, London, in 1735, the same year that Ralph Allen met Pope. It was Robert Dodsley who suggested his brother to Ralph Allen as a gardener when he heard that Ralph Allen wanted to join the craze for growing pineapples as Pope was doing. Pineapples were, then a rare and exotic fruit that had become an essential feature of any proper dinner party and Allen took advice from Alexander Pope and
others on the construction and operation of a pinery at Prior Park.

Isaac Dodsley worked for Ralph Allen from 1741-1764 and in 1755 married Elizabeth Oatley (1730-1790) having four children Kitty (1755-1841), Elizabeth (1757-1837), Alice (1760-1793) and Anne (b 1763) all of them being baptised in Lyncombe and Widcombe. After Ralph Allen died he went to work for Thomas Thynne (1734-1796), 3rd Viscount Weymouth and later 1st Marquess of Bath, KG PC at Longleat.

Benjamin Boyce says:

"... in Allen's employ from at least 1741 to 1764 when Allen died, leaving him a bequest of £100. Brother to the well-known London publisher Robert Dodsley, Isaac may have been of interest to the bookish visitors to Prior Park. The salary he received (about £60 per year by 1764) plus the use of the new house must have made him comfortable. By 1764 he had saved £520 in the form of a bond from his employer. After the death of Pope in 1744 Isaac had the society and assistance of another expert gardener. John Serle, whose achievements Allen had observed at Twickenham and whom with his family, Allen moved to Widcombe. Perhaps he was already installed there when in 1745 his interesting Plan of Mr. Pope's Garden was published by Isaac's brother. The booklet made clear, in its room by room account of the stone ornament in Pope's grotto, how very generous Serie's new employer had been to his former employer, the famous poet. Whether indoors or strolling on the lawns, visitors to Prior Park might now hope for artistic glints and literary intimations."

I have discovered that Isaac was the brother in law of my 6th great grand aunt Sarah Revel (b 1720).

1751/64-1768 Richard Jones (1703-1778)

Richard Jones (1703-1768) was Ralph Allen’s clerk of works and could have lived in The Priory. He replaced John Wood (1704-1754) in 1748 and built the Palladian Bridge, Sham Castle and Ralph Allen’s tomb amongst others.

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Richard Jones Ralph Allen Robert Gay MP and John Wood the Elder

1818 Mrs Smith

A Mrs Smith lived at The Priory in 1818, but so far I have been unable to identify her.

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Mrs Smith Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette Thursday 26 Nov 1818

Intermittently between 1838 and 1879 Hon Henrietta Mary Hungerford Offley Crewe (1808-1879)

hon henrietta mary hungerford offley crewe 1808 1879
Hon Henrietta Mary Hungerford Offley Crewe 1808 1879

Henrietta Crewe was the eldest child of army officer Gen John Crewe, (1772-1835) 2nd Baron Crewe, and his wife Henrietta Maria Anne Walker Hungerford (1780-1820). She had three siblings, Maria (1810-1812), Hungerford Crewe (1812-1894), 3rd Baron Crewe, FSA FRS and Annabel (1814-1874).

Her parents’ marriage was an unhappy one and John Crewe lived abroad for much of his adult life, running up gambling debts which led to his estrangement from his father. On his wife’s death in 1820 the three children were made wards of court and lived with their grandfather at the family seat of Crewe Hall in Cheshire. In 1822 John Crewe (1742-1829), 1st Baron Crewe engaged Sarah Harriet Burney (1772-1844), a published novelist and sister to Frances Burney (1752-1840), later Madame d’Arblay, to take complete charge of his granddaughters’ education and she remained with the family until 1829.

The 1st Baron died in 1829, leaving little to his son but his title. The bulk of the Crewe estates, including Crewe Hall and the family’s extensive lands, were instead left to John’s sister Elizabeth Emma Crewe (1780-1850), wife of Foster Cunliffe Offley MP (1782-1832), who also took responsibility for fifteen year old Annabel.

Henrietta chose to live with her father at Bois l’Eveque, near Liege. Despite this she maintained a regular and close correspondence with her siblings, especially with her sister Annabel to whom she often signed herself ‘owl’, and was visited frequently at Bois l’Eveque by her brother Hungerford and on several occasions by Sarah Harriet Burney.

During this period Henrietta converted to the Roman Catholicism and by 1833 she had determined to become a nun. She was strongly discouraged in this by friends and family and finally forbidden by her father in late 1834. However she remained a devout Catholic for the rest of her life, counting notable English Catholics amongst her close friends.

Her father died in 1835 and Henrietta returned to England in early 1836. After this she spent frequent and lengthy periods of time living at The Priory and was a substantial investor in the Roman Catholic seminary and school established by Bishop Baines.

She also maintained her own establishments for short periods elsewhere. She took lodgings in Bath with Sarah Harriet Burney in the 1830s and lived in Taunton between around 1846 and 1854. In the 1860s and 1870s she lived in Tiverton, Devon, where she took great pleasure in developing her walled garden. She also stayed often with her brother Hungerford at Crewe Hall and at his London townhouse in Mayfair, as well as with her sister Annabel at Fryston Hall following her 1851 marriage to Richard Monckton Milnes (1809-1885), 1st Baron Houghton, FRS.

Henrietta died at The Priory on the 4 February 1879.

henrietta crewe bath chronicle and weekly gazette thursday 26 sep 1879
Henrietta Crewe Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette Thursday 26 Sep 1879

She was buried at the Catholic cemetery in Perrymead.

She left her property to Bishop William Clifford (1823-1893), Roman Catholic Bishop of Clifton, to be used to support the training and maintenance of Catholic clergy.

1844-1845 Henry Knight (1780-1858) and Mary Barns (1780-1870)

In 1763 John Knight (1734-1801) moved from Cannington, near Bridgwater to Axminster to work for Robert Edward Petre, 9th Baron Petre (1742-1801), who was also Catholic and Lord of the Manor of Axminster, though his main estates were in Essex.[3] He has a memorial tablet in Axminster parish church as there was no Catholic church in Axminster at that time.

John Knight had sons William (1765-1839) and Henry Knight (1780-1858).

William was steward of parts of the Petre estate, and when William Henry Francis Petre, 11th Baron Petre (1793 – 3 1850) sold his land holdings at Axminster in 1824 William was the co-purchaser, with James Alexander Frampton (d1836). For various reasons the partners became embroiled in litigation, which outlasted both of them before being resolved in favour of William’s nephew Henry Knight (1805-1894).

In 1828 Henry Knight (1780-1858), a land agent by profession, founded the Catholic Church in Axminster.

He and his wife Mary Barns (1780-1870) had two sons and three daughters.

His son, Thomas Barns Knight (1828-1896), was a pupil at Prior Park from Feb 1844 to June 1845. He was also a pupil of Mr Henry Field an eminent pianist in Bath.[4] His daughter Sarah Ann (1819-1883) married Sir John Haggerston (1797-1857) 8th Baronet in 1851.

1846-1848 Mr Capes and family

Mr Capes was Anglican clergyman who had converted to Catholicism and was on the staff of the college at that time as a mathematics master.[4]

1851 Charles Fisher (1773-1857) and his wife Anne Clarke (1785-1865)

Both are noted as annuitants on the 1851 census living at The Priory and she moved to live with their daughter Louisa (1815-1899), who was noted as a housemaid in the 1851 census working at Prior Park College, by the 1861 census where she was noted as a ‘former farmer’s wife’.

1861 Louisa Jean Babington (1822-1891) and children.

She had been married to Francis Cocks Puget Reynolds (1814-1859) Archdeacon of Bombay from 1855 until his death on 28 July 1859.

She was the daughter of Hon Augusta Julia Noel (1796-1833) and Thomas Gisborne Babington (1788-1871), and the sister of Charlotte Margaret Noel (1792-1869) who was married to Thomas Thompson (1785-1865) who leased Prior Park from 1861 until his death.

Her grandfather was Thomas Babington (1758-1837) and both her father and grand father were members of the Clapham Sect.

1871 Francis Horace Moger (1818-1905) and his wife Laura Harper (1828-1875) and family

Francis Moger later married Alice Mary Bush (1847-1933).

The Moger family were linked to the Dickes family of Waterhouse via the marriage of his great grandfather John Moger (1710-1757) to Elinor Dike (1713-1774) whose great great grandfather was Richard Dickes 1563-1639).

He was a solicitor and clerk the Bath Urban Sanitary Authority from 1875.

1881- 1889 Maj Charles Cesar Welman (1840-1914) and his wife Eugenia Mary Stoner (1838-1917) and children

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Maj Charles Cesar Welman 1840 1914

Charles Caesar Welman was born at Puddington in Devon, the eldest son of Charles Noel Welman (1814-1907) of Norton Manor in Somerset, JP and DL for Somerset. Charles Noel Welman (1814-1907) is listed in Converts to Rome: a Biographical List of the More Notable Converts to the Catholic Church. One of his daughters became a nun, as indeed did two of Charles Caesar’s daughters.

His father was the son of Thomas Welman (1746-1829) and and Charlotte Margaret Noel (1792-1869). Charlotte Margaret Noel became the second wife of Thomas Thompson (1785-1865) who leased and lived at Prior Park Mansion from 1861.

Charles Caesar Welman joined the 77th Foot by purchase as an Ensign on 6 January 1860. On 23 October 1860 he exchanged to the 49th (Herefordshire) Regiment of Foot.

In 1862 Charles Caesar Welman married Eugenia Mary Stoner at Torquay. They had three sons and five daughters. Eugenia Mary Stoner was born on 6 October 1838 at Shiplake in Oxfordshire, the youngest daughter of Charles Henry Stoner (1798-1840) of Holmwood, Oxfordshire. Her father was killed in a freak accident when she was still an infant.

‘As the Honourable Charles Stoner, brother of Lord Camoys, was watching the fall of a large beech tree in his park at Holmwood, Henley-on-Thames, from the saturated state of the ground it suddenly fell on, and so seriously injured him, that he survived but a few hours’ (Kilkenny Journal, 15 February 1840).

1891 Uninhabited

1895 George Rourke Bryant (1844-1938) and Hannah Frayling (1847-1930)

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Bryant patent The London Gazette October 16 1874

George Rourke Bryant was a woollen merchant who worked for and the became part owner and chairman of T P Pocock in 1897.

He had worked there for many years and in 1874 had been granted a patent for “the washing of wool or other similar material by machinery”.

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Marguerite Bryant 1870 1962

He and Hannah Frayling had married in 1868 and had 6 children.

His eldest son Col Alan Bryant (1869-1917) was killed in action at Ypres having married Millicent Emie Warden Morice (1873-1948) the daughter of Capt Sir George Morice (1837-1904) KCMG RN in 1899.

Marguerite Bryant (1870-1960), his eldest daughter, married Philip Winchester Munn (1865-), and was an author and playwright.

She wrote over 20 novels including, inter-alia:

  • A Great Responsibility 1895
  • Morton Verlost 1895, A Woman’s Privilege 1898
  • The Princess Cynthia 1901
  • The Redemption Of Richard 1922
  • The Heights: A Story Of Vision 1923
  • Bryant seemed to like moving about as he also lived at:

In 1915 there was a major fire at T P Pocock in Chippenham which destroyed much of the factory.

Soon after Bryant seems to have retired.

pocock fire 1915
Pocock fire 1915
t p pocock fire 1915
T P Pocock fire 1915

1898-1900 Hon Archibald John Marjoribanks (1861-1900) and Elizabeth Trimble Brown (1872-1925)

Archie Marjoribanks was the youngest son of Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks (1820-1894), 1st Baron Tweedmouth and Isabella Hogg (1827-1908).

His father had bought the 200,000-acre (810 km2) Rocking Chair Ranch at North Elm Creek in Collingsworth, Texas in 1883. After his death in 1894, it was owned by his son, Edward Marjoribanks (1849-1909), 2nd Baron Tweedmouth, KT PC and son in law, John Campbell Hamilton Gordon (1847-1934), 1st Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair, KT KP GCMG GCVO PC.

Edward Marjoribanks chose his brother Archibald (“Archie”) to go to Texas and help manage the property. Archie is said to have had no interest in ranching and to spend most of his time drinking, gambling and hunting with dogs. He was known to the locals as “Old Marshie.”

Isabel Maria Marjoribanks (1857-1939), Archibald’s sister, and her husband John Campbell Hamilton Gordon, in the summer of 1887 and found him living in a one bedroom wood frame house which he shared with the ranch manager John Drew. During their stay, the Aberdeens slept in the bedroom while Archibald and the ranch manager slept on the terrace. The closest township to the ranch was renamed Aberdeen after their visit at the suggestion of Archie.

Because Archie was not a very good manager, the ranch hands began to steal the stock. Archie never mingled with them and they saw their opportunity to rob the ranch blind. John Drew was also stealing cattle. Eventually the ranch’s debts became too much, and it was sold in 1896 to the Continental Land and Cattle Company.

In 1897 Archie married Elizabeth Trimble Brown (1872-1925)of Nashville, Tennessee, daughter of Judge Trimble Brown (1842-1878). Her grandfather, Neil S Brown (1810-1886) was, at thirty seven, the youngest man ever to be elected Governor of Tennessee and, from 1850 to 1853, the first United States ambassador to Russia.

Archie and Elizabeth moved to The Priory where they had two children. After Archibald’s death in 1900, Elizabeth married Archibald’s cousin Douglas Hogg (1872-1950), who later became the 1st Viscount Hailsham and Lord Chancellor.

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Elizabeth Trimble Brown 1872 1925
hon archibald john marjoribanks 1861 1900
Hon Archibald John Marjoribanks 1861 1900

1901 Richard Lewis, Butler

1905-1909 Maj Arthur Robert Hopwood (1845-1927) and Amy Gertrude Leycester Penrhyn (1860-1909) and son

Arthur Hopwood was the son of Rev Canon Frank George Hopwood (1810-1890) and Lady Eleanor Mary Smith Stanley (1807-1887) a daughter of Edward Smith Stanley (1775-1831), 13th Earl of Derby.

His wife Amy Penrhyn was the grand daughter of Edward Leycester (later Penrhyn) (1794-1861) and Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Stanley (1801-1853), the sister of Lady Eleanor Mary Smith Stanley (1807-1887) her husband’s mother and also a daughter of Edward Smith Stanley (1775-1831), 13th Earl of Derby.

Their son Robert Hervey Hopwood (1890-1916), was a Lieutenant with 16th Battalion Middlesex Regiment. he was killed in action at Cambrin.

1911-1921 Malcolm Elliot Hodgson (1877-1963) and Mary Gwendolen Elizabeth Mitchell (1883-1967)

Malcolm Elliot Hodgson (1877-1963) was born in 1877 in Shipley, West Yorkshire. His father was John Hodgson of Nocton Hall in Lincolnshire. He became an engineer but when his father died in 1902 he inherited a substantial amount of money and some years later he retired.

In 1904 he married Mary Gwendolen Elizabeth Mitchell who was the daughter of Thomas Mitchell of Upwood near Bingley. Her grandfather, Henry Illingworth (1829-1895), was the founder with his brother Alfred Illingworth (1827-1907) of Whetley Mills, one of the largest textile factories in Bradford.

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Malcolm Elliot Hodgson 1877 1963
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Mary Gwendolen Elizabeth Mitchell 1883 1967

In 1919 they bought Scalby Manor and brought up their two sons Christopher (1905-1988) and Peter (198-1976). Their eldest son Christopher in 1934 married Helen Amy Blunt (1911-1984) the daughter of Alfred Blunt (1879-1957), the Bishop of Bradford. The wedding was widely reported in the newspapers.

In 1939 the Hodgsons sold Scalby Manor to the Scarborough Borough Council and moved to Yew Court in Scalby. Scalby Manor became a guest house hotel. Today it is a restaurant and a pub.

1922-1935 Maj Geoffrey Denis Lock MC MBE (1889-1984) and Barbara Penelope Mallett (1895-1978)

Geoffrey Denis Lock was the son of a friend of Walter Ellis Mallett (1853-1929). By 1911 he was living at Rainbow Wood House with the Mallets. He was 21 and descibed as a dealer in works of art and antiques. Barbara Mallet was 15 and a schoolgirl.

In 1914 he joined up as a private but was commissioned in 1915 and rose to the rank of Major, being awarded the Military Cross in 1918. He and Barbara were married in 1915 and in 1922 came to live at The Priory. It had been bought by Maj Lock from the diocesan trustees and thus left the Prior Park estate.

During WW2 he became Chief Warden Air Raid Precautions (ARP) for Bath.

The Locks donated land on Combe Down and Claverton Down including Rainbow Wood farm, Klondyke Copse, Fairy Wood and Bushey Norwood to the National Trust.

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Major Lock Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette Saturday 6 January 1945

1935-1965 Col Guy Hamilton Rogers (1878-1954) and Rhoda Marian Angela Knight (1890-1970)

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Col Guy Hamilton Rogers 1878 1954

Guy Hamilton Rogers was the fifth son of Henry Cassady Rogers (1839-1914) and Maria Henrietta Elizabeth Burritt (1838-1913). He married Rhoda Marian Angela Knight (1890-1970). They had three children.

He attended the Royal Military College of Canada, joined the Bedfordshire Regiment but transferred to the Indian Army, joining the 11th Rajputs, serving in the North West Frontier and Mesopotamia in the 1914-18 war, and then in England in the India Office. At the end of this appointment, he was offered command of a brigade in India but he refused, preferring to remain in England.

He retired from the army in 1929 after thirty years of service coming to live at The Priory in 1935.

During the Second World War, he joined the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) and was appointed deputy chief warden. He commanded in the Home Guard in Bath from 1940 to 1944 for which service he was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE).

col guy rogers the priory bath chronicle and weekly gazette saturday 15 april 1950
Col Guy Rogers The Priory Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette Saturday 15 April 1950
col guy rogers the priory bath chronicle and weekly gazette saturday 22 april 1950
Col Guy Rogers The Priory Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette Saturday 22 April 1950

In 1965 Prior Park College purchased The Priory for school use and from 1973 – 1986 it was the Provincialate for the Christian Brothers. In 1988 it became the boarding house for female pupils.

Henrietta at The Priory

Henrietta Crewe and Prior Park by Dr Sally-Anne Shearn

dr sally anne shearn
Sally Anne Shearn

Copyright © 2021 Dr Sally-Anne Shearn

Sally-Anne Shearn is Collections Information Archivist at the Borthwick Institute for Archives, York. She has been researching the Crewe letters since 2017, and as a native of Somerset is particularly interested in the links between Henrietta Crewe and the South West (Bath, Taunton and Tiverton).

On the 13 February 1879 a small notice appeared in The Bath Chronicle announcing the death of the Hon Henrietta Mary Crewe, sister to the present Lord Crewe, at The Priory, Prior Park, Bath.

At the time of her death Henrietta Crewe was 70 years old but her association with Prior Park spanned nearly half a century. Over the course of her life, Henrietta would live in many houses in Britain and abroad, but it was to Prior Park, and to The Priory, that she would return time and again.

Henrietta was born in 1808, the eldest child of John Crewe and his wife Henrietta Maria Walker Hungerford. Although her parents’ marriage was not a happy one, it produced three surviving children. In 1812 Henrietta was joined by a brother, Hungerford, and in 1814 by her sister Annabella, known as Annabel.

The Crewes hailed from Cheshire and their family seat, Crewe Hall, stands just a short distance from the eponymous railway station and town. Her grandfather, the 1st Baron Crewe, was MP for Cheshire and a friend and supporter of the Whig politician Charles James Fox. Her grandfather’s wife, Frances Anne Greville, was a noted Whig hostess to whom Richard Sheridan dedicated his 1777 play ‘The School for Scandal’.

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Crewe Hall

As a young woman of good family, wealth, and education, Henrietta was expected to attend the London social season, to make a good marriage, and to raise children of her own. However she found herself ill-suited to the fashionable world in which she grew up, and described her London Seasons, chaperoned by her Aunt Emma Cunliffe, as her ‘3 years penance’.[5]

Nor did she wish to marry, later declaring that ‘not if twenty hands could yet be outstretched to rescue me from the abyss of single blessedness would I accept their aid’.[6] Reserved by nature, Henrietta was described as having simple tastes that were ‘thoroughly countryfied’ by the novelist Sarah Harriet Burney who knew Henrietta well, having acted as tutor to her sister Annabel from 1822. For those who knew and understood her disposition, Miss Burney wrote that Henrietta was ‘the most easy and comfortable person to live with in the world’, but unfortunately ‘no two creatures were ever more unlike’ than Henrietta and her Aunt Emma, a thorough woman of fashion, and the two could ‘never be long at ease together’.[7]

The year 1829 marked a turning point for Henrietta, however, as she reached the age of 21 and lost her beloved grandfather (and the head of the family) Lord Crewe.

Of age, and now with money of her own, she made the decision to leave England and travel to Liège in Belgium to live with her estranged father, the 2nd Baron Crewe, at the chateau Bois l’Évêque, leaving Annabel in the care of their Aunt.

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Chateau Bois lÉvêque in 1911

The move to Liège set her life on a new path when, in 1831, she formally converted to Roman Catholicism, to the disapproval of her Protestant family. It was in the same year that her surviving letters to her sister, now kept at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at York, make the first reference to Prior Park.

Although Henrietta lived at Liège until the death of her father in late 1835, she made regular visits back to England – including a stay of a full year following the outbreak of the Belgian Revolution in the Autumn of 1830.

It was during this time that she wrote to her sister, and close confidante, Annabel, of a visit to Prior Park in September 1831. It was evidently not her first visit, as she writes that ‘having been for some time away, the place really seemed more brilliantly beautiful than ever’, but it was clearly new enough to warrant a lengthy description.

I only wish I could show it you, for I am sure you would be quite delighted with it. I think I told you that it was built by the famous Mr Allen, Pope’s friend, to whom numbers of his letters are addressed, & who himself was a great deal at Prior Park. Mr Allen was the inventor of the Cross Posts; & a man of literature & classical taste, witness this place, which is built upon the design of an Italian palace. It belonged at one time to the celebrated Bishop Warburton, whom you must have heard of as the Author of the “Divine Legation of Moses” &c - & between his day & the present it has fallen into various hands & been for many years uninhabited. Dr Baines purchased it of an old Quaker. The timber & the grounds are something quite beautiful, with a little Palladian bridge down in the valley, which you might mistake for a Grecian Temple, & Urns & Vases &c in every direction, all in the correctest classical taste.[8]

Dr Baines was the charismatic Bishop Peter Augustine Baines and Henrietta came to have both a personal and financial connection to Prior Park, investing some £20,000, the bulk of her personal wealth, in Baines’ dream of a Catholic College there.

The college had opened the previous year but Baines’ expenditure far outstripped his income, and throughout the short life of the college he frequently relied on loans and investments from individual benefactors, in particular wealthy and devout Catholic women like Henrietta.[9] She also gave Baines a valuable painting of the Crucifixion by Anthony Van Dyck which was sold by the Diocese in 1843.[10]

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Palladian Bridge at Prior Park

For the first 5 years or so Henrietta was able to visit only infrequently during her trips back to England, but her letters make it clear that she found great solace there among those of her own faith.

In early 1832 she wrote that being at Prior Park always spoiled her for everything else for a time.

‘There is so much intellect & cultivation, so much cheerfulness & goodness - every thing belonging both to the exterior & to the essence of Religion is so well organised & so well felt - the Bishop himself is so very delightful & the rest of the Society so different from what one generally sees, that I always fancy myself among a superior order of beings while there, just admitted to a peep at them for a moment, & then hurried away as not worthy to stay amongst them any longer’.[11]

It is not clear where exactly Henrietta lived during these visits. There is at first no mention of The Priory in the grounds of Prior Park, the house she would later adopt as her Bath residence, and indeed in the winter of 1833 she lived with Sarah Harriet Burney in Bath itself whilst making frequent trips up to the college.[12]

The first letter written from The Priory was sent in February 1838, when she wrote to Annabel of the advantages of getting out of cold, foggy Bath to the ‘pure air & sunshine’ about Prior Park.[13] From that time onwards most of her Bath letters are written from The Priory, which she was said to have refurbished at her own expense.[14] She lived there, aside from visits to friends and family, from 1838 to 1844, and then returned again in old age.

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The Priory at Prior Park

Her letters describe a quiet and religious life at Bath, although one no means devoid of fun and the company of family and friends. Whatever her family may have thought of her religion, her siblings Hungerford, 3rd Baron Crewe, and Annabel, later Lady Houghton, both visited her at The Priory, and Annabel’s son, Robert also recalled visiting his aunt there in her last years in an unpublished family memoir.[15]

When the railway was finally extended from London to Bath in June 1841, Henrietta wrote eagerly to Annabel to remind her of her promise to visit when the ‘railroad’ was complete, noting that it would take barely four hours from London to The Priory porch. Bishop Baines offered his own carriage to meet Annabel at the station and Henrietta had completed work on ‘the little bay window room’ so that it would be ready for her sister, with the adjoining room for her maid. At Prior Park, she promised, Annabel could look at her new garden, do some sketching in the grounds, and ‘drinke upon the Coffee-Fountain again’.[16]

Her circle of friends and acquaintances in the city was also varied. Prior Park attracted many visitors from among the Catholic gentry and aristocracy, and Henrietta’s letters make reference to Lord and Lady Nugent, Lord Nugent’s sister Lady Mary Arundell, and the Talbot family in particular.

In 1835 she recounted the story of Bishop Baines’ tame canary which would sing so loudly in his study on occasion that he had to move it to the chapel so it might ‘sing psalms’ there, adding that Lady Gwendoline Talbot wrote an ode on its sad demise, it being ‘a devout little bird’.[17]

Lord Nugent and Lady Mary Arundell were among her closest friends. Indeed Lady Mary lived at Prior Park from at least 1840 to 1843 and Henrietta recalls crowded dinner parties and happy evenings spent reading aloud the latest Charles Dickens novel together and attending the Prior Park Exhibitions. She was also visited frequently by her friend and fellow convert Sophie Warner, the daughter of local antiquarian Rev Richard Warner, and liked to meet Emma and Mary Phipps for walks and to attend lectures together.

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Mary Anne Nugent Temple Grenville Lady Arundell of Wardour 1787 1845 by John Hoppner

Outside of these Catholic circles she counted Elizabeth Vivian of Claverton Manor, now the American Museum, as a friend, dubbing her affectionately ‘Lady Bessye’, and, of course, Sarah Harriet Burney.

Henrietta and Miss Burney shared a house on Argyle Street, Bath, during the winter of 1833 and found it suited them both very well, despite their differences in religion. Henrietta wrote:

‘Our way of going on here is very quiet & pleasant.  We breakfast independently of each other, the one on coffee & the other on tea, at the hour that suits both best, & when at home we dine at 5’, although she admitted she was a great deal at Prior Park.'[18]

When Miss Burney fell ill while living at a boarding house in Henrietta Street, Bath, in February 1838, Henrietta ‘forsook her pretty residence at Prior Park’, took a room in the boarding house for a week and nursed Miss Burney herself.[19] Writing to her sister, the novelist and diarist Frances D’Arblay, Sarah Harriet wrote:

‘I cannot tell you what a comfort such a gentle & tender friend, at such a moment, was to me!’[20]

Miss Burney’s acerbic pen also supplies some more amusing accounts of Henrietta’s time at Bath. In 1835 she wrote that Henrietta had: ‘just escaped from a pent-up airing’ in the chariot of the 82 year old ‘Uncle Jem’ [James Greville] ‘& on coming back, looked as white as a sheet, & felt half sick’.[21]

One of Henrietta’s chief interests was gardening and it is no surprise that descriptions of The Priory and Prior Park tend to focus on the outdoors. ‘The place looked beautiful even in winter’, she wrote to Annabel in January 1832, ‘the Evergreens there are really something worth going to look at’, along with laurels ‘like forest trees’ and ‘primroses and periwinkles in flower’.[22]

She was very proud of her own small garden there, which she enjoyed despite suffering from terrible hay fever.

In the Spring of 1843 or 1844 she describes the blush and blaze of china roses ‘of which there is such a profusion, both upon the little Priory & around it’ that their ‘soft fragrance’ perfumed her bedroom when she left the window open.[23] In contrast, a very wet Autumn in another year made everything grow ‘too rudely’, turning her garden geraniums into ‘forest trees’.[24]

During her exploration of the grounds she found a ‘very cold & very pure’ little spring, quite hidden among the laurels’ near the house, that she used in the summers to keep food and drink cool. Henrietta recounts the story of one occasion when her unfortunate maid Lucy left a currant and raspberry tart there on a hot July day to keep cold for Henrietta’s dinner, only to discover something had stolen and eaten it when she went back later.[25]

Closer to the house she had a fountain which she could see from her parlour window. In February 1841 it snowed so heavily that fountain, flowerbeds and walks were all buried. Her letter to Annabel includes a small sketch of her snow covered fountain, the ‘basin of water from the contrast of the white all around, looking as black as ink’. She had to sprinkle the path from The Priory to Prior Park with sand and sawdust so she would not slip on her way to Mass.[26]

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Ink sketch of the fountain at The Priory by Henrietta February 1841

In contrast her descriptions of the interior of The Priory are rare. She writes of having the bay window room finished and removing an objectionable door knocker from the front door in time for Annabel’s proposed visit in 1841.[27]

In March 1843 the house was subjected to a thorough spring clean, Henrietta writing that ‘dire confusion’ had reigned for a few days, as ‘some of the Passage Walls &c are under going a process of white (or rather buff) washing; chimneys sweeping; windows cleaning; carpets up & curtains down &c’.[28] The cleaning usually took place while Henrietta was away visiting the convent at Westbury but that year she had to take refuge with the Bishop in the main building at Prior Park until her ‘bower’ could be restored to order.

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The parlour at The Priory

The greatest value of The Priory to Henrietta lay, of course, in its proximity to a centre of Catholic worship and education. From The Priory she could walk easily to daily Mass in the college chapel, returning home for breakfast at 9. She could attend lectures by Bishop Baines at Prior Park and at Catholic chapels in the city and look to men like Baines and the Rosminian cleric Father Gentili for spiritual advice.

Writing after Holy Week in the early 1840s, Henrietta described the gathering of fellow Catholics at Prior Park as a time of ‘intense enjoyment’. The weather being cold, she moved into the mansion for the week for the ‘luxury of being under the roof with the Chapel’ and the ease of attending the shared meals. ‘All the sublime offices & exquisite ceremonies of that Great Week, including Palm Sunday, were so well performed – that one felt a wish that it could last for ever![29]

This happy period at Prior Park came to an abrupt end in July 1843 with the sudden death of Bishop Baines. Henrietta sends a detailed account of his death and funeral to her sister, adding,

‘What all our feelings are, I shall not dwell upon - what mine are in particular, who in 12 years of friendship had learnt to appreciate the rare qualities of our gifted Bishop’s mind & heart, & who felt towards him as a child towards a most venerated & beloved father, I can dwell upon still less’[30]

Henrietta’s loyalty and affection for the Bishop was not shared by all of his colleagues, who were left to deal with the financial problems he had left behind.

After his death Prior Park was found to be around £40,000 in debt and Henrietta was one of several benefactors who saw very little return for their generous investments, despite an agreement promising her an annuity.[31] However Henrietta does not appear to have ever questioned her trust in Bishop Baines and indeed, once he was dead, she found it increasingly intolerable to live at Prior Park without the ‘Master Spirit’ whose presiding intellect and taste had made it so special to her.[32]

letter by henrietta following the death of bishop baines july 1843
Letter by Henrietta following the death of Bishop Baines July 1843

Within a year of Baines’ death the new Bishop had made a number of changes to the house and grounds which she disliked – removing a ‘great mass of shelter’ by cutting down trees to the North West and leaving The Priory exposed to the winter winds. ‘After what has been done in the way of change & disfigurement at Prior Park within the last few months, one could never again have the least feeling of security as to what might or might not be done next’, she wrote in 1844.[33] She felt she could not face another winter there and began looking for alternative towns to set up residence where she would be within reach of a convent. She settled upon Tor in Devon and left The Priory in October the same year – though not without regret for happier days.

‘I bid farewell to my poor little Priory on Wednesday 9th - not without a pang at quitting for ever inanimate scenes of much past happiness - but a striking proof was afforded of my having outlived & outstaid all living objects of regret, in the last few days having passed away without one single farewell visit from a human being! It so happened that both the Bishop & Dr Brindle were absent from Prior Park - so there was no one to wish good bye to! What a contrast to the days of poor Mdme de Chaussegros, dear Burney, the Phippses, (both Emma & Mary) Lady Arundell &c, to say nothing of the poor Bishop himself!’[34]

By 1846 she had settled at Taunton where she became a regular visitor to the town’s St Joseph’s Convent. She made her main home there until the 1860s, when she moved to Tiverton in Devon where she lived in one of the houses adjoining the town’s Roman Catholic chapel.

Henrietta’s beloved sister Annabel died in 1874 and no letters are known to have survived by Henrietta past this date, except for one. In February 1877 Henrietta wrote a letter to Bishop Clifford to be delivered after her death and it survives in the Clifton Diocesan Archives in Bristol.

letter from henrietta to bishop clifford 1877
Letter from Henrietta to Bishop Clifford 1877

It is addressed from The Priory, proving that at some point in the 1870s she had returned, once more, to Bath. In the letter she details her ‘last wishes and requests’, beginning, typically, with her concern that her maid Louisa Sice should be paid a full six months’ wages after her death, before setting out her wishes for a simple funeral. ‘I hope & request that your lordship will not allow any expensive Tomb or any thing beyond the little Cross already prepared for the purpose, to mark my Grave – The wishes of the Dead should be held sacred!’ She finishes ‘with many grateful thanks, my dear Lord, for all your kindness, & the earnest hope that my poor soul may not be forgotten in the Holy Sacrifice at Prior Park’.[35]

Henrietta died almost exactly two years later. Her funeral was attended by her brother Hungerford and her nephew Robert Milnes, later 1st Marquess of Crewe. After a solemn Requiem Mass, she was buried in the Catholic cemetery of St John the Evangelist at Perrymead.[36] In accordance with her wishes there is no memorial stone.

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The cemetery at Perrymead

Today there is little to remember Henrietta Crewe by. She was not famous in her own time or afterwards, she wrote no books, made no splendid marriage, and lived as far away from the newsworthy fashionable life as she could. It is only thanks to the survival of her letters to her sister Annabel, and of Sarah Harriet Burney’s letters, that we can come to know Henrietta a little better.

Though she may have lived in Bath for only a short time in years, her connection to the city and especially to Prior Park lasted for the greater part of her life. As a loyal supporter and benefactor of Bishop Baines she played an important role in the establishment of the Catholic college there. In the 1830s and early 1840s Prior Park was a spiritual refuge for her, but also a home where she could entertain her family and friends and enjoy the religious life of the college to the full. It is unsurprising then that she should have chosen to spend her final years there and that she should be laid to rest only a short distance away from a place where she had spent so many happy years.


[1] The Benevolent Man, A Life of Ralph Allen of Bath by Benjamin Boyce (1967)
[2] Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dodsley, Robert
[3] Selected Pen Portraits of Prominent and Interesting Residents of Axminster
[4] Prior Park college records
[5] Borthwick Institute for Archives (BIA), MILN Letter 192, Henrietta Crewe to Annabel Crewe, 5 November 1849
[6] BIA, MILN Letter 248, Henrietta Crewe to Annabel Crewe, 1843
[7] Lorna J. Clark, Ed., The Letters of Sarah Harriet Burney (1997), p.273
[8] BIA, MILN Letter 17, Henrietta Crewe to Annabel Crewe, 28 September 1831
[9] Pamela J. Gilbert, This Restless Prelate: Bishop Peter Baines 1786-1843 (Leominster, 2006), pp.99-100
[10] Clifton Society, Thursday, June 11th, 1908
[11] BIA, MILN Letter 100, Henrietta Crewe to Annabel Crewe, 27 January 1832
[12] BIA, MILN Letter 389, Henrietta Crewe and Sarah Harriet Burney to Annabel Crewe, 3 December 1833
[13] BIA, MILN Letter 285, Henrietta Crewe to Annabel Crewe, 19 February 1838
[14] John Cashman, ‘Old Prior Park – The Final Years, 1843-1856’ in Recusant History, May 1996, p.87
[15] Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, DCR/3687/6, Synopsis of Crewe family history written by Marquess of Crewe, c.1910-1962
[16] BIA, MILN Letter 144, Henrietta Crewe to Annabel Crewe, 29 June 1841
[17] BIA, MILN Letter 385, Henrietta Crewe to Annabel Crewe, 24 July 1835
[18] BIA, MILN Letter 389
[19] Clark, ed. The Letters of Sarah Harriet Burney, p.411
[20] Ibid, p.416
[21] Ibid, p.393
[22] BIA, MILN Letter 100
[23] BIA, MILN Letter 246, Henrietta Crewe to Annabel Crewe, April or May 1843/1844
[24] BIA, MILN Letter 23, Henrietta Crewe to Annabel Crewe, 1841
[25] BIA, MILN Letter 361, Henrietta Crewe to Annabel Crewe, July 1844
[26] BIA, MILN Letter 271, Henrietta Crewe to Annabel Crewe, 15 February 1841
[27] BIA, MILN Letter 241, Henrietta Crewe to Annabel Crewe, 29 June 1841
[28] BIA, MILN Letter 249, Henrietta Crewe to Annabel Crewe, 31 March/1 April 1843
[29] BIA, MILN Letter 246
[30] BIA, MILN Letter 251, Henrietta Crewe to Annabel Crewe, 6 July 1843
[31] Cashman, ‘Old Prior Park – The Final Years, 1843-1856’, pp.87-77
[32] BIA, MILN Letter 361
[33] Ibid
[34] BIA, MILN Letter 157, Henrietta Crewe to Annabel Crewe, 21 October 1844
[35] Clifton Diocesan Archives, Prior Park Box 50
[36] The Tablet, 15 February 1879

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