09 January 2018
Lady Chatterton’s literary
legacy has faded, but her
story remains fascinating
I was writing earlier this morning about the Victorian writer Georgiana Lady Chatterton (1806-1876), her travelogues about pre-Famine Ireland, her unusual marriage arrangements after she moved from Cork to England, and her decision to become a Roman Catholic, through the influence of Cardinal Newman, only weeks before her death.
Today, she is largely forgotten as an Irish writer. So, what about Lady Chatterton’s literary legacy?
What happened to the Ferrers family, into which her niece Rebecca married?
And whatever happened to Castlemahon, the former Chatterton family home in Blackrock, Cork?
Between 1836 and 1875, Lady Chatterton wrote numerous romantic novels, poems, biographies, religious tracts and travel books. Her string of romantic ‘novels’ were consumed eagerly by her female readers, but they were nothing less than turgid fiction, and were reviled and derided by literary critics.
Cardinal John Henry Newman was a fan of her writing and praised her later works and the refinement of thought in her later fiction. When she sent a copy of her privately-published translation of selected works of Aristotle to Newman in Birmingham, he responded:
‘The Oratory, February 28, 1875,
‘My dear Lady Chatterton,
‘Thank you for your translations of Aristotle. They are well selected, clear, and good, and must have involved a good deal of trouble. But it must have been pleasant trouble.
‘I fear you must have suffered from this trying season – which is not yet over.
‘With my best remembrances to the family circle at Baddesley.
‘I am, my dear Lady Chatterton,
‘John H Newman.’
But it has been said without cruelty by literary critics recently that her writing style did for prose what William McGonagall did for poetry.
Lady Chatterton and other women writers of the day were the target of a scathing essay by the novelist George Eliot, ‘Silly Novels by Lady Novelists.’
In her essay, George Eliot criticised stereotypically female authors of light-hearted romances: ‘Where there is one woman who writes from necessity, we believe there are three women who write from vanity; and, besides, there is something so antiseptic in the mere healthy fact of working for one’s bread, that the most trashy and rotten kind of feminine literature is not likely to have been produced under such circumstances. “In all labour there is profit;” but ladies’ silly novels, we imagine, are less the result of labour than of busy idleness.’
As for Marmion Ferrers and his family and his name, people were still fighting over the Ferrers name and title 30 years after his death, as late as 1914, when the case again came before the House of Lords.
In 1855, Marmion Ferrers became one of the legal heirs to the title of Baron Ferrers of Chartley. This title went into abeyance with the death of his uncle that year, and the two claimants were Marmion and his aunt, Lady Elizabeth Boultbee.
Marmion’s mother was Lady Elizabeth’s sister, Lady Harriet Anne Townshend (1782-1845), who married Edward Ferrers (1790-1830) in 1813. The two sisters became the legal heirs to their brother, George Townshend (1778-1855), 3rd Marquess Townshend.
The Ferrers title had been inherited in the Devereux family by the Earls of Essex. Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex and Lord of the Manor of Lichfield, had two sisters, Lady Frances Devereux (1590-1674), who in 1616 married William Seymour (1587-1660), later Duke of Somerset; and Lady Dorothy Devereux, who married Sir Henry Shirley, whose descendants held the titles of Earl Shirley and Viscount Tamworth.
As the Dowager Duchess of Somerset, Frances also held properties in Lichfield, Tamworth, Wigginton and Comberford. When she died on 24 April 1674, she left her collection of 1,000 books to Lichfield Cathedral, including the Saint Chad’s Gospels and a book of pedigrees that had been bought for her by her close friend, Colonel William Comberford. He died in 1656, and in his will he described her as ‘the Right Honorable and trulie virtuous ladie …’
The Ferrers title was called out of abeyance in favour of Lady Dorothy’s grandson, Sir Robert Shirley, who was made 1st Earl Shirley and was also recognised as the 13th Baron Ferrers of Chartley. While the title of Viscount Tamworth remained in the Shirley family, the Ferrers title and Tamworth Castle descended to his granddaughter Lady Elizabeth (Shirley) Compton (1694-1741), Countess of Northampton. Her only child, Lady Charlotte Compton, was recognised as Baroness Ferrers of Chartley.
Charlotte married George Townshend (1724-1807), the 1st Marquess Townshend. When the Townshend family came to live at Tamworth Castle in 1767, they also bought the Moat House, the former Comberford family Tudor Gothic house on Lichfield Street, Tamworth.
Lord Townshend was Viceroy of Ireland (1767-1772) and gave his name to Townsend (sic) Street, Dublin, originally known as Lazer’s Hill. when Charlotte died in Dublin on 14 December 1770, the Ferrers title was subsumed in the Townshend titles until 1855 and the death of her grandson George, 3rd Marquess, who had a nephew and a sister as his co-heirs. His sister, Lady Harriett Ferrers, married a distant cousin, Edward Ferrers (1790-1830) of Baddesley Clinton, who was descended from the Lords Ferrers of Groby.
George Townshend had owned both Tamworth Castle and the Moat House on Lichfield Street. But he dissipated his fortune and estates and found himself at the centre of a long-running scandal when his wife, Sarah Dunn-Gardner, ran off with a brewer John Margetts and married him bigamously in Gretna Green in 1809. They had several children who assumed the Townshend name, and their eldest son, John Townshend (1811-1903), assumed the title of Earl of Leicester.
Eventually, Sarah’s children dropped their claims, and Townshend’s brother, Lord Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend (1785-1853), bought back Tamworth Castle in 1833. But the family never recovered the Moat House, and for the rest of his life George Townshend lived in exile in Italy, where he died in Genoa on 31 December 1855 at the age of 77. Meanwhile, his brother Charles had died in 1853, and the claim to the Ferrers title passed to his sister and his nephew.
Marmion Ferrers died in 1884, and he and Rebecca had no children. All his brothers had also died without surviving sons – including Groby Thomas Ferrers, Compton Gerard Ferrers and Tamworth George Ferrers – save one brother, Charles John Ferrers, who had died in 1873.
Charles had lived in England with his mother, brothers and sisters at Baddesley Clinton Hall until about 1840, when he moved to Hampton Lodge near Warwick. He had an affair with a young woman, Sarah Pittaway, who had once been a servant in his mother’s home. They had several children, and in 1850 Charles moved the entire family across the Atlantic to Bremen in Cook County, Illinois.
But Charles never married Sarah and he died on 3 February 1873 in Illinois, leaving five sons and three daughters, two of whom had been born in Warwick before the family left England. Those two had been baptised and named Pittaway rather than Ferrers, with no father’s name on their birth certificates.
Ferrers family monument in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)
Ever since, the Ferrers title has remained in abeyance, and the family tree and the descent of Basseley Hall by marriage and through distant relatives of the Ferrers family are so difficult to disentangle that it is unlikely that a claimant would ever emerge.
As for the Chatterton family, when Georgian’s first husband, Sir William, died in 1855, the title of baronet passed to his brother, General Sir James Chatterton (1794-1868).
General Sir James Charles Chatterton was born in 1794 and entered the British Army in 1809 as a cornet, the fifth grade of commissioned officer in a cavalry group who carried the colours. He fought in the Peninsular War, at the Battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo and in France during the advance on Paris.
Sir James bore a banner at the Duke of Wellington’s funeral, having risen to the rank of General. He commanded the 4th Dragoon Guards from 1831 to 1848. He was then MP for Cork (1849-1852) and High Sheriff of Co Cork (1851). He was Colonel of his regiment from 22 November 1868 until his death in January 1874. He is buried in Plot 40, Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey. A window was erected in his memory in Saint Fin Barre's Cathedral, Cork.
When Sir James died, the Chatterton family title died out too, but members of the extended family continued to be involved in public life.
Hedges Eyre Chatterton (1819-1910), a second cousin of Rebecca Orpen, was Conservative MP for Dublin University, Solicitor-General and then Attorney-General of Ireland, and later Vice-Chancellor of Ireland.
He is remembered for his ill-advised attempt to thwart Dublin Corporation’s decision to change the name of Sackville Street to O’Connell Street. Dublin Corporation voted for the name change in 1885, but it aroused considerable objections from local residents, and one resident sought an injunction.
Chatterton granted the injunction on the grounds that the corporation had exceeded its statutory powers. Rather unwisely, though, he also attacked the merits of the decision, accusing the Corporation of ‘sentimental notions.’ Dublin Corporation was angered by both the decision and the criticisms, and in what was seen as an insult to the judge, Temple Street, then frequented by prostitutes, was briefly renamed Chatterton Street.
The controversy was short-lived: Dublin Corporation was granted the necessary powers in 1890. By the time the new name had become official in 1924, it had gained popular acceptance.
Hedges Chatterton was an uncle of the Cork-born missionary Eyre Chatterton (1863-1950). He was born in Monkstown, Co Cork, and headed the Dublin University Mission to Chhota Nagpur (1891-1900) before becoming the first Bishop of Nagpur (1902-1925) in India.
Castlemahon, the Chatterton family’s former home on Castle Road, near Blackrock Castle, had been known until the late 1700s as Tarkfield. Dating from 1798, it was owned by Sir James Chatterton, the 1st Baronet, and passed to subsequent generations of the Chatterton family.
In the mid-20th century, Castlemahon was owned by the Irish golfer Jimmy Bruen, winner of the British Open in the 1940s, who was given the house by his parents as a wedding present. It stopped being a private residence in 1985 when it was bought by Maura and Kevin Whelan, who ran a 16-room nursing home there until 2006. It was then placed on market, along with 1.75 acres.
Castlemahon has since been refurbished and is now a youth and retreat centre run by the Redemptorists and has been renamed Scala. Meanwhile, Baddesley Clinton, once the home of ‘The Quartet,’ has been the property of the National Trust since 1980, has crawled reluctantly into the 21st century.
Burke’s Irish Families, s.v. ‘Orpen’.
Burke’s Peerage, various editions, s.v. ‘Chatterrton’.
Dictionary of National Biography, vol 10, p 143.
Frances Clarke ‘Chatterton, (Henrietta) Georgiana,’ Dictionary of Irish Biography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press for the Royal Irish Academy).
Lady Chatterton, Rambles in the South of Ireland (2 vols, 839).
EH Dering, Memoirs of Georgiana, Lady Chatterton (1878).
Virginia Blain, Patricia Clements, Isobel Grundy (eds), The Feminist Companion to Literature in English (1990).
‘Letters from the Coast of Clare, No VIII,’ Dublin University Magazine, September 1841, pp 336-345.
Rolf Loeber and Magda Loeber, A guide to Irish fiction 1650-1900 (2006).
Goddard Henry Orpen, The Orpen Family, (Frome and London: Butler & Tanner, for the author, 1930).
Joyce Sugg, Ever Yours Affly: John Henry Newman and his Female Circle (Gracewing, 1996).
John Sutherland, The Longman Companion to Victorian Fiction (1990).
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