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)

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
17 May 2022 (Psalm 83)

‘O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!’ (Psalm 83: 1) … the War Memorial on Hills Road, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections in this season of Easter, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 83:

Psalm 83 is found in Book 3 in the Book of Psalms, which includes Psalms 73 to 89. In the slightly different numbering scheme in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is psalm is numbered as Psalm 82.

This is the last of the ‘Psalms of Asaph’ and the last of the ‘Elohist’ collection (Psalms 42-83), in which one of God’s titles, Elohim, is mainly used.  The Psalms of Asaph are the 12 psalms numbered 50 and 73 to 83 in the Masoretic text and 49 and 72-82 in the Septuagint. Each psalm has a separate meaning, and these psalms cannot be summarised easily as a whole.

But throughout these 12 psalms is the shared theme of the judgment of God and how the people must follow God’s law.

The superscription of this psalm reads: ‘A Psalm of Asaph.’ The attribution of a psalm to Asaph could mean that it was part of a collection from the Asaphites, identified as Temple singers, or that the psalm was performed in a style associated with Asaph, who was said to be the author or transcriber of these psalms.

Asaph who is identified with these psalms was a Levite, the son of Berechiah and descendant of Gershon, and he was the ancestor of the Asaphites, one the guilds of musicians in the first Temple in Jerusalem.

Asaph served both David and Solomon, and performed at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (see II Chronicles 5: 12). His complaint against corruption among the rich and influential, recorded in Psalm 73, for example, might have been directed against some of court officials. The words used to describe the wicked come from words used by officials of the cult or sacrificial system.

Several of the Psalms of Asaph are categorised as communal laments because they are concerned for the well-being of the whole community. Many of these psalms forecast destruction or devastation in the future, but are balanced with God’s mercy and saving power for the people.

Psalm 83 It is generally seen as a national lament provoked by the threat of an invasion of Israel by its neighbours.

This psalm has been seen by some commentators as being purely cultic in nature. Others say the specific naming of particular nations indicates that it refers to a specific historical period, although the prayer itself would be offered in the Temple in Jerusalem.

The dating of the composition of Psalm 83 is debated, but the reference in verse 9 to Assyria is seen by many commentators as an indication that the Psalm was written during the time of Assyrian ascendancy, the ninth to seventh centuries BCE. Others have dated the psalm from the time of Saul onwards, up to the age of the Maccabees, suggested by Theodore of Mopsuestia.

Psalm 83 can be divided into these sections:

1, verse 1 (‘O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!’):

The specific meaning of this verse is disputed. The verb can be translated to refer to either speech (‘be not silent’) or motion (‘be not inactive’). The fact that the verse requests the assistance of God three times emphasises the urgency of the situation and of the people’s prayer.

2, verses 2-5:

Throughout verses 2 to 5, the speaker makes the assumption that individuals who plot against the nation of Israel must inherently be enemies of God. He also ascribes to them the intention of the complete extinction of the people of Israel, as that is the meaning of verse 4, which indicates that the name of Israel will be obliterated or remembered no more.

3, verses 6-8:

These verses list the names of the ten nations that have evidently formed a coalition against Israel, the Edomites, the Ishmaelites, Moab, the Hagrites, Gebal, Ammon, Amalek, the Philistines, Tyre and Assyria.

4, verses 9-12:

The narrator goes on to assume that God himself will fight on Israel’s side in the upcoming battle, based on the stories contained in Judges 4-8, citing individual actions attributed to God in that book.

5, verses 13-17:

In these verses, the narrator specifically requests that God make the opponents of Israel suffer and experience shame and die in disgrace for opposing Israel, and, by extension, God himself. The specifics mentioned, including chaff, fire and storm, are references to the Sirocco.

6, verse 18:

In this verse, the narrator states that he wishes God perform these various acts so that all might know that God is the most powerful entity and has sway over all the Earth. This verse, with verse 16, indicates that, although the bulk of the psalm is a prayer for the destruction of the enemies of Israel, there is some positive hope that the enemies of Israel might come to acknowledge the God of Israel.

‘Let us take the pastures of God for our own possession’ (Psalm 83: 12) … sheep grazing near Newbridge, Co Kildare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 83 (NRSVA):

A Song. A Psalm of Asaph.

1 O God, do not keep silence;
do not hold your peace or be still, O God!
2 Even now your enemies are in tumult;
those who hate you have raised their heads.
3 They lay crafty plans against your people;
they consult together against those you protect.
4 They say, ‘Come, let us wipe them out as a nation;
let the name of Israel be remembered no more.’
5 They conspire with one accord;
against you they make a covenant—
6 the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites,
Moab and the Hagrites, 7 Gebal and Ammon and Amalek,
Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre;
8 Assyria also has joined them;
they are the strong arm of the children of Lot.

9 Do to them as you did to Midian,
as to Sisera and Jabin at the Wadi Kishon,
10 who were destroyed at En-dor,
who became dung for the ground.
11 Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb,
all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna,
12 who said, ‘Let us take the pastures of God
for our own possession.’

13 O my God, make them like whirling dust,
like chaff before the wind.
14 As fire consumes the forest,
as the flame sets the mountains ablaze,
15 so pursue them with your tempest
and terrify them with your hurricane.
16 Fill their faces with shame,
so that they may seek your name, O Lord.
17 Let them be put to shame and dismayed for ever;
let them perish in disgrace.
18 Let them know that you alone,
whose name is the Lord,
are the Most High over all the earth.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Advocacy in Brazil.’

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (17 May 2022) invites us to pray:

We pray for human rights activists around the world. May we do our best to uphold and respect each other’s dignity as children of God.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org