Stephen Copley Award Report: Amy Boyington, The Gloucester Archives

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The following report from Amy Boyington (University of Cambridge) describes her recent studies at the Gloucester Archives. This research trip was funded by a BARS Stephen Copley Award.

The Stephen Copley Award enabled me to consult a range of eighteenth-century manuscripts located at the Gloucester Archives. The purpose of this research trip was to consult the papers of Elizabeth, Dowager Duchess of Beaufort (1713-99), to investigate whether she commissioned any significant architectural works during her widowhood (1756-1799). Significantly, when her brother Norborne Berkeley died in 1770, Elizabeth inherited Stoke Park (Bristol) which she adopted as her dower House. The manuscripts that I consulted at Gloucester related predominantly to her tenure of Stoke Park (1770-99) and luckily proved to be extremely fruitful.

At Gloucester I consulted accounts, correspondence, bills and disbursements which all supported my hypothesis that Elizabeth was an avid architectural patroness during her widowhood. I discovered evidence that proved that she redecorated her dower house at least three times during her tenure of Stoke, demonstrating that she was conscious of the latest aesthetic trends. She also commissioned a series of architectural improvements to the house ranging from the remodelling of the Dining Room, to the insertion of new water closets, to the refurnishing of the bedchambers and dressing rooms.

Further bills related to her architectural commissions within the gardens and parkland. These included the construction of new entrance lodges which were completed in 1777 and advocated the increasingly popular Gothic style. Such a bold choice in style indicated that Elizabeth was interested in the latest architectural and intellectual movements of the times. Additionally, she also commissioned new greenhouses, ‘cucumber frames’ and estate cottages, as well as spending vast sums on repairing various garden follies, illustrating that her interest in architecture was both functional as well as aesthetic.

My research also uncovered details relating to Elizabeth’s properties in London. Surviving leases, plans, correspondence and bills concerning town houses in Grosvenor Square and Berkeley Square provide a valuable insight into the types of houses that elite widows occupied in the latter eighteenth century. The relationship between Elizabeth’s London house and Stoke Park was a pivotal one and enabled her to enjoy the best of the town and country life. These discoveries will enrich my argument that elite women were regularly involved in architectural patronage.

Surprisingly, until this point, Elizabeth has received little academic investigation. BARS has enabled me to rectify this oversight by providing me with the means to conduct new primary research into the life of this remarkable woman. Elizabeth’s vast fortune, land ownership and status placed her in a privileged position that allowed her to pursue her architectural and aesthetic ambitions. In an age where women were generally subordinate to their male relatives Elizabeth provides a fantastic example of female agency and independence.

To conclude, I wish to heartily thank the British Association for Romantic Studies for enabling me to undertake this research, which would not have been possible otherwise. The conducted research will be used directly in my thesis, bolstering my argument significantly.

Amy is a third year PhD student at the University of Cambridge investigating the extent to which elite women commissioned building schemes in eighteenth-century Britain. She is the co-chair of the Young Georgians, an off-shoot of The Georgian Group, a conservation organisation that aims to protect and save vulnerable 18th century buildings in the UK. She is currently in the process of establishing an East Anglian Country House Partnership, which aims to create a knowledge exchange partnership between Cambridge researchers and the surrounding country houses of East Anglia.