17 May 2022

Lady Mary Russell and
Calverton’s clergy couple
with Irish family links

Russell Street in Stony Stratford recalls the generosity of Lady Mary Russell and her husband Canon Richard Norris Russell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

The Russell Street School and Russell Street off Wolverton Road and running parallel to Stony Stratford’s High Street, recall Lady Mary Russell (1831-1891) and her husband, Canon Richard Norris Russell (1809-1896), charitable benefactors whose generosity benefitted schools and churches in Calverton, Stony Stratford, Wolverton and nearby Beachampton.

Mary and Richard shared interesting Irish family backgrounds and both were members of prominent clerical and political families.

Lady Mary Russell was born Mary Perceval at Calverton Rectory in 1831, where her father, the Revd the Hon Charles George Perceval (1796-1858), lived as the Rector of Calverton; her mother Mary (Knapp) was the only daughter of the Revd Primatt Knapp, Rector of Shenley Mansell.

Mary’s father, Charles Thomas Perceval was born into a very political family. His father and Mary’s grandfather, the Hon Charles George Perceval (1756-1840), was the MP for Launceston (1780-1790), Warwick (1790-1796) and Totnes (1796-1802). In turn, his father, John Perceval, was Earl of Egmont, who inherited vast estates in north Co Cork, while his mother, Catherine (Compton), was made a peeress in Ireland in her own right in 1770 as Baroness Arden, of Lohort Castle, Co Cork.

Charles George Perceval succeeded his mother as 2nd Baron Arden in 1784, but because this was an Irish peerage he was able to hold his seat in the British House of Commons until he was given the additional title of Lord Arden in his own right in 1802. An elder brother of the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval (1762-1812), was assassinated in the lobby of the House of Commons, the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated.

Lord Arden bought Calverton Manor from the Marquess of Salisbury in 1806, along with the patronage of the living or the right to nominate the Rectors of Calverton. Lord Arden presented Dr Butler as a temporary Rector of Calverton in 1814, to hold the parish until his son was ‘of a proper age.’

Many of the Tractarian leaders met in Calverton Rectory, where Lady Mary Russell was born in 1831 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Revd Charles George Perceval (1796-1858) eventually became the Rector of Calverton on 26 March 1821, at the age of 24. He was a devout High Churchman and a supporter of the Tractarians. Many of the Tractarian leaders met in the Rectory at this time, including Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882), Cardinal John Henry Newman and Cardinal Edward Manning, and some of the Tracts for the Times were planned if not written at Calverton.

Perceval’s only daughter, Mary Perceval, was born at Calverton Rectory in 1831. She married on 12 October 1865 Canon Richard Norris Russell (1809-1896), Rector of Beachampton (1835-1883) and a canon of Christ Church, Oxford (1877-1896). After her brother succeeded as Earl of Egmont, she became known as Lady Mary Russell in 1875.

Canon Richard Norris Russell was born in France on 8 July 1809, but he too was from a prominent Irish family. His father, William Thomas Russell (1778-1867), was a merchant from Limerick, a son of Francis William Russell (1735-1800) and Elizabeth Maunsell Norris (1744-1813).

William Thomas Russell married Louisa Therese Letellier in Saint Giles in the Fields, Holborn, London, on 3 July 1810. Romantic lore in the Russell family says she was a French countess who was rescued by William Russell during the French revolution. The couple later returned to his native Limerick before returning to France where they lived in Toulouse. William died in Toulouse a widower at the age of 89 on 31 January 1867, a little more than a year after his son Richard had married Mary Perceval.

Richard was educated at the Sorbonne in Paris (Bachelor of Letters), and at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge (BA 1832, MA 1835). He was a Fellow of Caius (1833-1836) when he was ordained deacon (Ely 1833) and priest (Lincoln 1834), and when he became Rector of Beachampton in 1835. Richard was 54 when he married Mary Perceval in 1865 and she was 32.

Throughout her life, Lady Mary Russell was generous in her bequests to schools and churches in the Stony Stratford, Wolverton and Calverton areas. The Radcliffe Trust donated the site to build Wolverton End School and School House in 1867, and the church school for the poor, designed by Swinfen Harris, was built in 1871-1873. But the school was financed by Lady Mary Russell of Beachampton, and over 280 pupils attended in the early 1890s.

Lady Mary Russell helped to fund the Wolverton End School, Stony Stratford, until she died in 1891 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Lady Mary Russell died on 25 April 1891; Canon Richard Russell died on 13 June 1896. There are memorial windows to the couple in the parish church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in Beachampton, and Lady Mary also presented the organ.

Their only son, Richard Harold Russell, was a barrister, a Justice of the Peace for Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire, and was in the Bucks Imperial Yeomanry in South Africa during the Boer War (1898-1901). Their only daughter, Mary Caroline Russell, married the Revd Henry Harington Harris (1853-1936), Rector of Poynings, Sussex (1889-1917).

Meanwhile, Lady Mary Russell’s brother, Charles George Perceval (1845-1897), who was born at Calverton Rectory, eventually succeeded as 7th Earl of Egmont in 1874. Egmont was an Irish peerage, and in 1889 Lord Egmont sold off many of the family estates in north Co Cork, including Liscarroll Castle, near Buttevant. Kanturk Castle was donated to the National Trust by his widow in 1900.

Memories of days past on Russell Street in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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