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Edward Loveden Loveden

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Edward Loveden Loveden

1750 -1822

Biography

(see long history)

Edward Loveden Loveden was a regional magnate, economically powerful and politically influential throughout north Berkshire and especially in Abingdon.

He was born as Edward Loveden Townsend into a wealthy family in Cirencester and educated at Winchester and Trinity College, Oxford. Loveden was his mother’s family name. His father died while he was still a minor, and in 1772 he inherited the Buscot Park estate from his maternal relatives. The terms of the will obliged him to adopt Loveden as a surname.

He was now a very wealthy young man, and In 1773 he married Margaret Pryse, heiress to a 30,000 acre estate near Aberystwith and became even richer. He built the present Buscot Park mansion on its hilltop site overlooking the Thames. Completed in 1782, it was said to be one of the finest houses in Berkshire.

Loveden became prominent in a number of fields. Maintaining his intellectual interests, he gained a Doctor of Laws degree, and had a fine library at Buscot Park; he was a member of the Royal Society and of the Society of Antiquaries. As a patron of charity, he was a governor of the Bethlem hospital for lunatics in London. As a businessman, he was deeply engaged in the development of the local canal network. In the 1780s he was one of the proprietors of the Thames and Severn Canal which linked Bristol with Lechlade, and he tried to promote a further stretch from Lechlade to Abingdon as a shorter route to London. When this failed, he built a lock and wharves at Buscot which would later provide a good proportion of his income. In local affairs, he was High Sheriff of the county in 1780 and 1781 and a lieutenant-colonel in the Berkshire militia – a sort of Home Guard to counter the danger of a French invasion – in the 1790s. It went with his status that when in 1795 a regiment stationed in the county behaved badly, it was he who protested to the Duke of Cumberland, head of the army, on behalf of the north of Berkshire. His opposite number and rival, Charles Dundas of Kintbury, did the same for the south.

He became MP for Abingdon in 1783, claiming to be of no party but generally supporting the younger Pitt. Surviving letters show him to have been on friendly terms with many leading Abingdon townsmen, including the influential Baptists of the Tomkins family. His agent and friend was the town clerk, Samuel Sellwood. He gave up the Abingdon seat in 1796, preferring to stand for one of the two county seats. But in this he failed because of the hostility of Charles Dundas who held the other. He re-entered Parliament in 1802 sitting for Shaftesbury, but continued to be actively engaged, largely through Sellwood, with politics in Abingdon. He supported George Knapp through his several attempts to win the Abingdon seat, which he finally did in 1807.

But sadly for Loveden’s reputation, what fame he achieved in his lifetime was through a well-publicised scandal. His first wife, Margaret Pryse, died in 1784. He second was a wealthy widow, Elizabeth Nash, who died in 1788. In 1794 he foolishly married Anne Lintall who was less than half his age. Ten years later, childless and bored, she began a passionate relationship with a young academic friend of her husband, Tom Barker. The lovers were indiscreet, the domestic staff at Buscot scandalised, and Loveden initiated proceedings for divorce.

At this time, divorce could only be granted by Parliament after a sequence of findings in the civil and ecclesiastical courts. It was a complex and expensive process. Eventually, the House of Lords did grant the divorce, but it was then the Commons who had to decide the financial settlement. Loveden was to pay his ex-wife £400 per year. He refused, and persuaded the Lords to rescind their verdict. The affair raised considerable interest, not exclusively for its legal complications, and the intimate evidence given to the courts was widely published.

Loveden and his first wife had two surviving daughters and one son. The daughters were both sickly. Margaret married Samuel Wilson Warneford much against her father’s wishes. She died insane just three years later, and the money she had brought her husband went towards building the Warneford Hospital in Oxford. Jane Elizabeth was a cripple who remained at Buscot Park. The son, Pryse, took his mother’s surname and inherited her estate in Wales; as Pryse Loveden Pryse, he had a long career as MP for Cardigan Boroughs.

© AAAHS and contributors 2020

(see short history)

Edward Loveden Loveden was Abingdon’s MP from 1783 to 1796 and remained influential in the town, as he was throughout northern Berkshire, until the end of his life. He was born in Cirencester in about 1750 as Edward Loveden Townsend and studied at Winchester and Trinity College, Oxford. The family originally came from Bisley, a village close to Stroud that was a centre of the Gloucestershire woollen industry. His paternal grandfather was a baker, his grandmother daughter of a clothier.[1] Edward’s father is not known to have practiced any trade or profession, but he did retain considerable property in Bisley which went at his death in 1767 to Edward’s sister Jane.[2] Edward himself is scarcely mentioned in the will, possibly because of the prospects he had from his mother’s side of the family. She was a Loveden of Buscot Park, and when her brother died childless in 1772 Edward became owner of the Buscot Park estate which the Lovedens had held since the sixteenth century. The change of surname was a requirement under the will.[3] It is often said that Loveden inherited Buscot in 1749 from a great-uncle but this is incorrect.[4]

He was now a very wealthy man, and became wealthier through his three successive marriages. He married in 1773 Margaret Pryse, a Welsh heiress, with whom he had a total of seven children, of whom only a son and two daughters survived. Margaret died in 1784 and in the next year he married a wealthy widow, Elizabeth Nash, who died in 1788. This marriage was childless. His third marriage, which would prove unfortunate and was also childless, took place in 1794.[5]

In 1779 he commissioned the Wiltshire architect James Darley to build the present Buscot Park mansion on a hilltop site overlooking the Thames. The house, completed in 1782, was a refined classical composition - possibly based on a design by William Newton - of nine bays, the central three broken forward slightly under a pediment, and approached up a wide flight of steps. Although it was altered and extended by later owners, many of the alterations were removed in the twentieth century to leave Loveden's house largely intact. It was bequeathed by the then owners, the Henderson family, Lords Faringdon, to the National Trust in 1956 but they continue to reside there and manage the property.[6]

loveden.png

 
Buscot Park, south front
Photo by Rictor Norton and David Allen,
Licensed under Creative Commons

 

 

 

As his position required, Loveden was active in a number of fields. He had a Doctor of Laws degree, and a fine library at Buscot Park; he was a member of the Royal Society and of the Society of Antiquaries. His was among the first of the 250 signatures of Berkshire gentlemen who presented a loyal petition supporting the government against the American rebels in 1775. He was High Sheriff of the county in 1780 and 1781. He was a founder-member and later vice-president of the Board of Agriculture in 1793, a lieutenant-colonel in the Berkshire militia – a sort of Home Guard to counter the danger of a French invasion – in the 1790s, and a governor of the Bethlem hospital for lunatics in London. When in 1795 a regiment that had been sent to Berkshire to put down food riots behaved badly, it was he who protested to the Duke of Cumberland, head of the army, on behalf of the north of the county. His opposite number and rival, Charles Dundas of Kintbury, did the same for the south.

What was probably his main interest was improvements to inland navigation. The Buscot estate is on the Thames, a short distance downstream from Lechlade. In the 1780s he was one of the proprietors of the Thames and Severn Canal which linked Bristol with Lechlade, and he tried to promote a further stretch from Lechlade to Abingdon as a shorter route to London. When this failed, he built a lock and wharves at Buscot which would later provide a good proportion of his income.[7]

As MP for Abingdon, Loveden disclaimed allegiance to any party, but his constituents expected him in general to support the administration. There were many complaints when, in the crisis of 1788, he voted with the opposition against making the Prince of Wales regent during the king’s illness.[8] Nonetheless, his support in the town remained solid. However, in 1796 he decided to stand for one of the Berkshire county seats, more prestigious than a borough one, but Dundas, already a member for the county, did not want him as a colleague. Berkshire was ‘the English Hindoostan’ where many nabobs – men who had made great fortunes in India – had settled. One, Thomas Metcalfe of Fernhill, spent heavily to assure himself of the succession in Abingdon while another, George Vansittart of Bisham, opposed Loveden for the second county seat. Vansittart and Dundas agreed that each would ask his supporters to give their second votes to the other; this worked so well that each finished with exactly 1332 votes while Loveden gathered only 846.[9]

Loveden re-entered Parliament in 1802 for Shaftesbury and continued his political career until retiring in 1812.  However, his interest in Abingdon remained strong, exercised mainly through his agent, the town clerk Samuel Sellwood.[10] It was with Loveden’s encouragement, and possibly financial backing, that George Knapp finally displaced Metcalfe in 1807.[11]

But in spite of his very respectable record as a local magnate, what has earned Loveden his place in many history books is his marital misadventure. This was much publicised, exciting general prurience but also the professional interest of lawyers, for the case proved important in the development of English divorce law.  In 1794, when he was in his mid-forties, he married as his third wife Anne Lintall, who was twenty-one. In 1804, childless and bored with her husband’s perpetual absences for his political or financial affairs, she started a passionate and long-lasting affair with a young man of a neighbouring family, Tom Barker, whom Loveden was financing through college. The domestic staff at Buscot Park were scandalised, and the liaison became notorious in the district. It is impossible to know whether Loveden remained in ignorance or had chosen complaisance, but finally in 1807 he was confronted by his servants with proof of what was going on in the form of intimate letters they had intercepted, and he had no choice but to take action.

Divorce at this time was complicated and very expensive. It required a special act of parliament, but parliament would rely on various prior legal judgements. Loveden’s case had a setback in the court of King’s Bench. Barker’s lawyer pointed out that the adulterous act itself had not been witnessed so, he claimed, could not be assumed. The jury, remarkably, agreed with him. A judge in the ecclesiastical court was scathing about the King’s Bench ruling, declaring that ‘the fact of adultery was sufficiently established’ and that Loveden was entitled to “the remedy he sought for the repeated violations of his honour and domestic happiness”. But the damage had been done. When, in 1811, Parliament finally pronounced the decree of divorce, it could not see the wife as an entirely guilty party and ruled that she should have a regular allowance of £400 per year, corresponding to the income the husband received from her marriage portion. To Loveden, this was tantamount to rewarding sin, and he persuaded the House of Lords to drop the bill it had already passed. This meant that the young couple could not marry and were now in relative penury since Barker had had to give up his college fellowship because of the scandal. It is not known how long they stayed together, or whether they finally married after Loveden’s death when Anne will have become entitled to her jointure of £800 a year.

The case led to a tighter definition – at least in the ecclesiastical courts – of the evidence needed to establish adultery, and to a change in the parliamentary procedures so that the Lords would not hear a case until the plaintiff had accepted the financial awards made by the Commons.[12]

Loveden’s daughters were sickly. Margaret, born 1775, was married in 1796, much against her father’s wishes, to the philanthropist Samuel Wilson Warneford. She died insane three years later and it was in part Loveden money that built the Warneford Hospital in Oxford. Her sister Jane Elizabeth was crippled and confined to the ground floor of the Buscot mansion. She does not seem to have married and the date of her death is unknown. The son Pryse, born in 1774, was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford. He inherited the 30000-acre Welsh manor of Goggerdan, near Aberystwith, from his mother’s family and, as Pryse Loveden Pryse, enjoyed a long career as Whig MP for Cardigan Boroughs.[13]

© AAAHS and contributors 2020


[1] Information from Ancestry.com

[2] The National Archives: PROB 11/927/64

[3]  Lawrence Stone, “Loveden v. Loveden The lady and the don, 1794–1811” in Lawrence Stone, Broken Lives: Separation and Divorce in England, 1660-1857, (1993, re-published in Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011), p. 2; https://buscot-park.com/ (accessed 07/10/2020). 

[4]  Victoria County History of Berkshire Vol 4, (1924), pp 512-517 among others.

[5] Stone, “Loveden vs Loveden”, p. 2.

[6] Geoffret Tyack, Simon Bradley, Nikolaus Pevsner, Berkshire (Buildings of England Series, 2010), pp. 226-8; https://buscot-park.com. 

[7] , E. C. R. Hadfield, “The Thames Navigation and the Canals, 1770-1830”, Economic History Review, 14, (1944),, pp. 172–9; Fred S Thacker, The Thames Highway (2 vols, 1914), passim.

[8] Berks Record Office, D/ELV O10

[10] Berks Record Office, D/ELV O10.

[12] Lawrence Stone, ‘Loveden v. Loveden The lady and the don, 1794–1811’ in Lawrence Stone, Broken Lives: Separation and Divorce in England, 1660-1857, (1993, re-published in Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011); Star (London) - Saturday 14 July 1810 p.3; The Examiner - Sunday 9 July 1809 p. 15.

[13] Ancestry.com; FindmyPast.co.uk; W P Courtney, rev. HCG Matthew,” Samuel Wilson Warneford” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/28752 (accessed 07/10/2020); Margaret Escott, in https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1820-1832/member/pryse-pryse-1774-1849 (accessed 07/10/2020); Stone, ‘Loveden vs Loveden’, p. 2.

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