Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Mrs Byron, Briefly (NZ351442)

Anne Isabella Milbanke, as has already been related on this blog, was the all-too-brief wife of the very famous and very unpredictable Lord Byron. This short-lived affair brought a singular and very talented child into this world, namely one Ada Lovelace, perhaps the world’s first computer programmer. But of this strange and swift affair, the North-East of England can not only claim the venue of the famous wedding (Seaham Hall, in 1815), but it can also bag Milbanke herself as a daughter of the region. For Anne was born at Elemore Hall, two or three miles south of Hetton-le-Hole in Co.Durham.

The stately pile we see there now (as then) was built in the mid-eighteenth century by George Baker (the then owner) to replace an earlier manor house. It stayed in the family for its entire existence as a private residence, until the mid-twentieth century.

Sir Ralph Milbanke and his wife, Judith, who were otherwise based at Seaham Hall, found themselves staying at Elemore in May 1792, where young Anne was born on 17th May – the couple’s only child. She was educated to a high standard and became a formidable (and perhaps prudish) intellectual and moral figure – quite the wrong sort for the likes of her half-mad future husband.

Byron (if you’ve read my related post) described Anne as “a very superior woman, and very little spoiled, which is strange in an heiress … an only child, and a savante … a poetess, a mathematician, a metaphysician … there was never … a more amiable being.” After a long, drawn-out courtship, he finally did the decent thing in 1815 – then almost immediately abandoned his pregnant wife for good. She saw out a still comfortable existence thanks to her well-to-do connections and an inheritance which saw her, eventually, become Baroness Wentworth by a circuitous route. Along the way, she devoted herself to social causes, including, notably, the abolition of slavery. She died in 1860 (outliving her talented daughter) and was buried in London.

During the course of the twentieth century, Elemore Hall passed out of the hands of the Baker family, through the hands of the local council and National Coal Board, and has for many years been known as Elemore Hall School – an institution for children with social, emotional and behavioural problems. It still sits in wonderful isolation in its woodland setting, and has enjoyed a recent bout of remedial work to its decaying fabric.

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