Victorian Family History – Medley
Maria Louisa Medley
Maria Louisa Medley who commissioned Winsford Walled Gardens circa 1883, came from a wealthy artistic family. Maria was one of the most influential people in the local region at the time. She was not someone who liked to share the limelight, on the contrary she was a very wealthy, very private person.
She had two sisters, Anne Marie Warren (nee Selous) and Jane Poyer Selous.
By all accounts she was ‘a very proper woman’ who expected people to know their place and behave accordingly, if she said ‘jump’ to anyone, employee or family. the expected response was “how high”. For employees, their family’s livelihood depended upon it. For family, they could be ruled out of her Will – and it did happen.
The approach to Winsford Tower as her home was known, ran along a half-mile lane banked on either side by rhododendrons The shrubs not only protected Maria’s carriage from the winds that would sweep across from Dartmoor, but they also shielded her from the twelve staff (yes, twelve gardeners) who swept the lane clean before she used it. The gardeners were expected to hide behind the shrubbery upon her approach.
Perhaps the most illustrative anecdote is the one recalled by the family of the Head Gardener who, on advising his employer that his wife was ‘in the family way’, was promptly advised ‘not to let it happen again!’ Is it any wonder he emigrated to the far side of the world? His family still quote the punch line whenever the occasion arises!
When Maria died in 1919 she left her extensive personal jewellery and Henry Bone miniatures to her sister, Anne Marie Warren. Then spread £250,000 cash amongst family members and good friends. The figure is still significant today, but in cash in 1919, it was an enormous sum!
She bequeathed paintings and Gobelain tapestries to the Tate Gallery and the V&A museum, still more jewellery for the Dreadnaught Hospital, Greenwich and the West London Hospital, Hammersmith. Finally, she bequeathed funds for an Economics Prize at Oxford University which is still running today (Google ‘George Webb Medley Endowment Fund’). Then she left her property in Park Lane, London and the Winsford Tower Estate to her nephew, plus £80,000 in cash.
George Webb Medley
George Webb Medley was Maria’s husband, a financier and dealer in stocks and shares based in Threadneedle Street (Bank of England). He was a great advocate of Free Trade and a noted chess player.
He was Secretary of the London Chess Club, and is credited as the principal force in the introduction of a time-limit for chess. When George Medley died in 1898 he left the bulk of his estate to his wife Maria and a single substantial cash sum to his nephew, Edward Costin. Upon her own death Maria set up a cottage hospital in the nearby village of Halwill in his memory.
His career really took off in 1780, when he exhibited his first enamel, a portrait of his wife, at the Royal Academy.
He was commissioned as a royal miniaturist painter to both George III and Queen Victoria and was elected to the Royal Academy in 1811. In the same year, he painted one of his best and largest works, a copy of ‘Bacchus and Ariadne’ by Titian, which was shown at the National Gallery.
This enamel was later sold for 2,200 guineas by Bone. (To get some idea of the true value of such a sale, consider that about one hundred years later his great granddaughter paid her head gardener £100 for working a whole year).
Bone’s enamels are predominantly copies of Old Masters and paintings by his contemporaries. The works that made him wealthy also included the hundreds of family portraits he painted for the English and Continental aristocracy. His enamel of Charles X, King of France, after Gérard, 1829, measures 364mm x 260mm and is presently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. If you had about £8,000 to spare, an 8¼inch enamel of Sir Isaac Newton was on sale in November 2002.
Maria’s grandfather Henry Pierce Bone (1779-1855) like his father before him, was appointed enamel painter to Queen Victoria in 1883. Then our documentation gets a bit confusing. While Maria’s last Will specifically mentions Henry Bone as her great grandfather, she also declares her father as Henry Courteney Selous (1803-1890) whom we believe was both a competent painter and dealt in stocks and shares like her husband. (This last fact might explain how Maria and George met). Why her family name changed from Bone to Selous we don’t know, but Maria’s Will does clearly state her parentage as we have described. We have no record that George and Maria Medley had any children of their own. If they did, then they were lost before 1898.
Capt. Frederick Courteney Selous DSO
Maria was the sister of Captain Frederick Courteney Selous DSO (1851-1917). The famous Captain’s life makes for an incredible story which is on full display in the garden’s Covered Exhibition. See separate link.
Edward was the fortunate nephew who received the bulk of Maria Medley’s estate upon her death. Even so, you can get some idea of the ‘background goings on’ as well as the strength of character of his aunt… When you discover he would become a very rich man at the stroke of a pen, PROVIDED he incorporated Medley in to his family name. With considerable alacrity Edward Boyd Costin became Edward Boyd Medley-Costin!!
Edward Medley-Costin married Helen Asser and they had two daughters, Helen (Girlie) and Olive (Bitty). Edward became a County Councillor and dealer in stocks and shares based in London. Unfortunately, he did not have the same enthusiasm for the garden as his aunt Maria. Nevertheless, upon his death, Edward did add to the village hospital and bequeathed the whole to the village. He also required his wife to ‘cherry-pick’ the house contents before the whole estate was sold at auction in lots. The proceeds were then put in trust and the income was paid to his wife, then his daughters and their kin and so on.
Rosemary Hopper, (nee Thopson b1917) recalls visiting Great Uncle Ted and Great Aunt Nellie at Winsford Tower in circa 1926 when she was 10.
with her daughters “We went en famille in the old Trojan. As I remember the house, it was grey stone, baronial, with a tower, in which I had my bedroom. The front of the house looked down the garden onto Dartmoor and I remember magnificent blue hydrangeas. There were peaches, raspberries and masses of other fruit, greenhouses and a big vegetable garden.
It was all a bit overpowering for me, especially the encounters with the snooty butler who seemed not keen on children. On one occasion, I was offered sweets on a silver dish and dropped one; although my Great Aunt played the matter down and asked him to offer me another, he made such a to-do about it that I dissolved in tears. There was a large table where we all ate together and the jolly German housekeeper ate with us.
We enjoyed riding – I had a fat pony to rush around on. Iris, my sister, who was about 16, went to a dance on one occasion with Bitty (Olive) and Girlie (Helen) and two young men, in the Daimler. Iris, had a very embarrassing time because she felt sick in the car, had to ask to stop, got out, was sick, and then got laughed at by the young men! Bitty and Girlie were very nice and kind about it however. We went to Bude for a picnic and a day at the sea.”
A copy of the original 1933 auction details has been generously donated to us. When you pause to consider that the best items had been removed by the family prior to auction and then read about the cases of Krug 1906 champagne and huge sets of Dresden and Minton and ………… and ………….. and ……. pages and pages of it! You begin to appreciate how well they must have lived.
Edward’s wife Helen had two highly decorated General’s for brothers, Maj. Gen. Sir Joseph Asser CB KCMG KCVO and Brig. Gen. Verney Asser CB CMG DSO. Her brother Verney married Hyacinth Irwin in 1911, and Hyacinth’s father was Henry Irwin, the architect of the Maharrajah’s Palace at Mysore, India.