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Bicentenary of the Birth of Louisa, Marchioness of Waterford Open Weekend 14th-15th April

Type:Open Day

Ford Village, Ford, BERWICK-UPON-TWEED, Berwickshire, TD15 2QG

Add Bicentenary of the Birth of Louisa, Marchioness of Waterford Open Weekend 14th-15th April to your Itinerary

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Bicentenary of the Birth of Louisa, Marchioness of Waterford Open Weekend 14th-15th April


The weekend of 14th and 15th April will be a celebration of Louisa Waterford's life and times, with open days at Ford Castle, St Michael & All Angels Church and the Lady Waterford Hall.  Admission to all will be free, with donations in lieu of admission charges to each venue welcomed. 



Born April 14th, 1818

Tribute by Geoff Bavidge, Curator of the Lady Waterford Hall, Ford.


As the current Curator of the Lady Waterford Hall, I like playing a game of ‘word association’ with newly arrived visitors.  It breaks the ice.  “I’ll call out the name of a city”, I say, “and you shout back the first word that comes to mind”.  Everybody is alert.  “London”.  ‘Bridge’ comes the answer. “Edinburgh”.  ‘Castle’.  Then “Waterford”.  ‘Crystal’.  “No!” I say,  “Here in Ford it’s ‘Lady’.”

The name of this extraordinary woman reverberates as if she still lived at Ford Castle and walked the village street, so great is her legacy.  Born Louisa Stuart in 1818, the second daughter of Lord Stuart de Rothesay, she spent her early childhood in Paris where her father was the British Ambassador. Even at a tender age, she absorbed the beauty of the architecture and art around her.  When he was recalled by the Foreign Office, her father took the family to Highcliffe Castle on the Dorset coast. As she grew from childhood into adolescence her fascination with all things beautiful matured and her love of art developed. Her best friends were a sketch book and a box of paints. They accompanied her wherever she went.  Aged only thirteen she produced wonderful paintings of the birds in her grandfather’s aviary. Her romance with art never left her.

The other romance of her life arrived when she was twenty-one, in the shape of Lord Henry de la Poer Beresford, the third Marquis of Waterford, whom she met at the Eglinton tournament in Ayr in 1839. This extravagant event, organised by Archibald, Earl of Eglinton, was a reproduction of the great medieval tournaments of old, with strutting young knights showing off their horsemanship skills to impress the admiring crowd. Into the ring rode Henry, the biggest show-off of them all. Nicknamed the ‘Mad Marquis’, he was an aristocratic delinquent, a hoodlum with a coronet, inheriting vast estates and a considerable fortune when only fifteen. An 1838 news report referred to him as "that turbulent piece of aristocracy". Henry was bedecked with titles – Marquis of Waterford, Earl of and Viscount Tyrone, Baron Beresford of Beresford of County Cavan, Baron de la Poer of Curraghmore, Baron Tyrone of Haverfordwest in the county of Pembrokeshire. Henry thought his status entitled him to be a law unto himself.  Expelled from Eton and ejected from Cambridge, Henry’s reputation went before him. The expression ‘painting the town red’ comes from his adventures in Melton Mowbray, when, after a day at the races, he and his drunken friends found that the town square was being renovated. Discovering the decorators’ paints and brushes, Henry and his pals set about painting it red. It landed him in court.

They say opposites attract. Louisa was contained, disciplined, dignified and modest. Henry was loud, wild, uncouth and unpredictable. But his eyes were fixed on a beautiful young lady and he felt an irresistible urge to engage her interest. He succeeded.

Louisa’s mother must have been deeply shocked on discovering that her beautiful daughter had fallen in love with this delinquent in lordly ermine.  But Louisa was already working her magic and her magnetic personality on her new love. Henry calmed. He began to behave. Bit by bit, in patience and in total love, Louisa turned him into a reformed character, so much so that in due course even her mother grew to love him. They married in 1842 and enjoyed seventeen years of blissful happiness.

Henry installed her at Curraghmore, the family estate just outside the city of Waterford on the south coast of Ireland but it was not long before Louisa found herself amid a devastating national crisis, the Irish potato famine. Unlike many of the Anglo-Irish landed gentry, some of whom just ignored matters, Louisa and Henry did what they could to alleviate the suffering of the people, many of whom simply dropped dead through malnutrition and exhaustion by the roadside in their search for food. Henry imported cheap grain so that at least there would be bread. Jointly they set up cottage industries to provide local employment and built a school for poor children. It was a sorry time indeed and for ever afterwards Louisa did what she could to improve the lot of the poor.

But although very happy in their relationship, one vital ingredient was missing. Children. It is sad to read of Louisa’s attempts to conceive, her journeys to the Continent to ‘take the waters’ and her other useless attempts at remedies for infertility back home. Nonetheless she drew great pleasure from the children of her wider family and those living in the community.

Although Henry could not bear Louisa to be out of his sight, his addiction to hunting meant that he often left her all day.  She was lonely but it afforded her the opportunity to develop her art. She spent the days painting in her sketch books, many of which are still in the private collection at Curraghmore.  She also made contact with leading British artists of the day, particularly with an emerging new school  – the Pre-Raphaelites. Reacting against the modern art of their day, the Pre-Raphaelites believed that art had become ‘sloshy’ and wanted to return to an earlier form which they deemed more pure and superior. They pinpointed the Italian artist Raphael as the watershed and nailed their colours to his mast. Louisa watched with developing interest and when she later returned to England to live at Ford Castle she met and frequently corresponded with John Ruskin, Slade Professor of Art at Oxford University, and his Pre-Raphaelite associates. She admired Ruskin’s talent but kept him at a formal and safe distance, describing him as ‘the antithesis of the sort of man I most admire’. He acerbically described her as ‘that rose-tinted glacier’.

One dreadful day in 1859, Louisa bade farewell to Henry as he left the house to lead the hunt, a few miles away at Corbally, County Kilkenny.  She always worried about him on horseback, repeatedly warning him to calm down. He took no notice. It must therefore have been with a heavy heart that Lady Waterford saw Henry’s riding companions carrying a stretcher, bearing his body home.  His horse had stumbled on a low wall and had sent Henry crashing to the ground.  His cranium absorbed the full impact and he broke his neck. Louisa had his body taken to the basement of Curraghmore House where she dressed it in his robes of State and then drew a final detailed picture of him which was to be the template for his impressive effigy in the family mausoleum at Clonegam church.

Aged just forty-one, Louisa faced the future alone. The title and Estates passed to Henry’s younger brother John. Louisa was left a considerable sum of money and was given a life tenancy of Ford Castle and the Ford estates, which Henry had inherited through his grandmother, a member of the Delaval family. Within a few months, Louisa bade Curraghmore a final farewell, never to return. Her future lay in the little village of Ford in north Northumberland which she and Henry had visited on several occasions, admiring the beauty of the Cheviots and surrounding countryside.

It would be mistaken to regard Louisa as a sad and pathetic figure. Far from it. Underneath her sublime exterior was a will of iron and an unswerving determination to do what was right, guided by her Christian faith to which she was so committed. Straight away she embarked upon a programme of reconstruction of the Castle and of the village itself, stripping the Castle of what she considered to be Strawberry Gothic flippancies and returning it more to its medieval structure. The hovels in which the locals lived were levelled and new and better housing built. The village benefitted from the services of a trained nurse, and local industries were given a boost. Above all, Louisa had the foresight to realise that the way out of poverty for the next generation was through education. In this she made her greatest contribution. Years before the British government accepted responsibility for the education of children, Louisa had opened the doors to a more prosperous future for the next generation. She built a school, now the Lady Waterford Hall, in 1860 and paid the salary of the local schoolmaster. Over a hundred children attended, travelling miles across fields from outlying farms. In her own quiet and unassuming way, she caused a social revolution.

The interior of her new school provided large empty wall spaces, rising to the roof. Louisa had a vision, an inspirational moment. She launched a ‘Great Experiment’, filling the panels with murals based on biblical stories, a task that took her twenty-one years to complete. To this day her work continues to delight visitors.  Her figures may be described as portraits rather than pictures, for she used local people as models.  Descendants of those faces now come from far and wide to locate their ancestors.  In 2017 a Canadian visitor, knowing from his family that his three times great uncle Robert Allen featured in the murals, was told: ‘Turn around, look up, and say hello to your uncle’. Louisa had used Robert as the model for John the Baptist in the picture on the south wall. Robert had been a young schoolmaster at the school before emigrating to Canada in 1880.

Hand in hand with her extraordinary passion for art went compassion for the disadvantaged. The sick, the elderly and poor were all targets for her concern. Just as she had done in Ireland, Louisa laid aside the status of her privileged position to look the needy in the eye. She distributed clothes, blankets, money and food to those who had none.  Her only unpopular move was to close the village pub, the Delaval Arms.  Her face was probably as stone when she realised why the choir sometimes sung out of tune towards the end of the Sunday service or why the bell ringers were not chiming in accord.  During the interminable sermons, they were sneaking out of the church to partake of a gill or two of beer.  Louisa was not amused and opened a milk parlour in place of the pub. Ford has never had a pub since.  Ironically, the old Delaval Arms is nowadays the village school.

Louisa died at Ford Castle in 1891, aged seventy-three.  Her death certificate cites ‘cerebral apoplexy – 8 months’ as the cause, a term which in those days covered a multitude of disorders. In fact, it would appear to have been a series of small strokes, each leaving her weaker and lessening her grip on life. Peacefully resigned through prayer and scripture-reading  to meet her Maker, Louisa died in the early morning of May 12th. Her grave in the churchyard is marked by a beautiful recumbent Celtic cross and headstone, executed by George and Mary Watts, notable artists and sculptors in their own right, and friends of Louisa’s.  She rests within sight of the Cheviot Hills and of Ford Castle, her home where, she said, she always felt Henry was near her.

It is often said that good people leave a presence behind them when they die, a reverberation of the goodness of their lives. As the current Curator of the Lady Waterford Hall, I sometimes return to the Hall after a busy day. As the gentle velvet folds of evening turn to night, the Hall is peaceful and quiet, lit only by a small lamp.  I glance around and sense a presence, the shadow of an extraordinary woman, a woman of talent and goodness, a woman of strength and determination, the shadow of Louisa, Marchioness of Waterford.



Opening Times

Season (14 Apr 2018 - 15 Apr 2018)

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