The Accidental Historian: Eleanor Leicester Warren

Tony Davies the Accidental Historian

Tony Davies the Accidental Historian

First published in News

The Guardian’s Accidental Historian takes a retrospective look at the life of the formidable Eleanor Leicester Warren.

Living as I do on the Tabley Estate I have regularly come across the name of Eleanor Leicester Warren but it is only recently that I have come to recognise what a power-house of a woman she was in the late 19th early 20th century.

She certainly mixed with the great and the good of the day for as a child, for Thackeray drew cartoons for her and Edward Lear composed and illustrated an ABC book for her (which can be seen at the John Ryland Library), and as a young woman she loved amateur theatricals so much that when she married Sir Baldwyn Leighton he built her a private theatre.

When the poet Laureate Lord Tennyson died she even tried, in vain as it turned out, to get her brother, who was something of a poet himself, elected to the vacant post.

When her brother, the poet, died she inherited Tabley Estate in 1895, and once she had the run of the place she went to town on the family archives, removing anything that she deemed ‘controversial’. You can see evidence of this at the County Records Office in Chester where she has inked out any reference to Sir John’s mistresses in his correspondences.

She ensured that Tabley survived when she sold the penultimate J.M.W. Turner painting. It was later sold to the Boston Museum of Art for $95,460.

She allowed visits to the Old Hall at Tabley, on production of a ticket that had to be applied for – but whoa -be-tied if one didn’t adhere strictly to her rules for if you transgress a runner would be sent to the local hostelries with instructions that the transgressors were not to be served.

The original ‘pub signs’ for The Smoker and The Windmill were painted by her daughter Barbara.

Eleanor died in 1914 and the funeral was attended by two of her grandsons, who stood proudly in their uniforms as the world was plunged into the Great war. Both of them were to perish in the conflict.

Eleanor is buried with her poet brother Lord de Tabley in the churchyard in Lower Peover.

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