Lady Meux of Theobalds Park

Sir Henry and Lady Meux at ThobaldsTheobalds Park in Cheshunt Hertfordshire was once home to the characterful Lady Valerie Meux. Built in the 1760s by George Prescott, Esq, its slightly elevated position would have provided stunning views over the Lea Valley, and today is occupied by the De Vere Hotel.

Sir Henry and Lady Valerie Meux hunting at Theobalds.JPGThe estate was acquired by Sir Henry Meux, a brewer from London, in the 1820s. It was under the ownership of Henry’s son, also named Henry, and his wife Lady Valerie Meux, that Theobalds perhaps witnessed its most colourful period of history.

Born in 1847, before she married into the wealthy Meux family, Valerie Susan Langdon worked as an actress and according to her obituary in the New York Times she had met her husband whilst performing in Brighton. Rumours have however suggested a more scandalous meeting whilst working in Holborn. Her flamboyant character wasn’t too popular within the aristocratic society she had married into, and the marriage had in itself caused quite a scandal.

Nevertheless, once comfortably embedded in the family seat at Theobalds, Lady Meux was not reluctant in making her mark. Fascinated by Egyptian history, she established a museum of Egyptian antiquities at Theobalds, a collection of over 1,700 items. She also improved and enlarged the estate with additions including a swimming pool and indoor rolling skating rink – all impressive features for her to entertain her many guests, including the Prince of Wales and Winston Churchill.

Temple Bar at Theobalds

Perhaps her most lavish influence was persuading her husband to purchase Temple Bar from the City of London, which was residing in storage, so that she would have a grand entrance to her estate. The iconic gateway designed by Sir Christopher Wren remained at Theobalds until 2003, when it returned to Paternoster Square, London. This was not the only extravagant purchase she had persuaded her husband to spend his money on. Race horses were also a passion of Lady Meux’s and so she had her husband buy them for her, which she would race under the name of Mr Theobalds.

In 1881, Lady Meux commissioned James McNeil Whistler to paint her portrait. His portrait Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux can be seen today at the Frick Museum in New York, and Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux belongs to the Honolulu Academy of Arts. A third portrait was also commissioned although was never finished due to a dispute between Whistler and Lady Meux. It was subsequently destroyed by the artist.

Following her husband’s death in 1900, Lady Meux had become concerned for the British forces during the Siege of Ladysmith of the Second Boer War. Her offer quickly to finance artillery was rejected by the War Office, but fearsome as she was she went ahead and did it privately anyway, supplying 12 field guns.

After the war, she got to know Sir Hedworth Lambton, a senior naval officer at Ladysmith. So impressed was she with Sir Hedworth, she left everything, including the Meux brewery, to him in her will on the proviso that Sir Hedworth change his name to Meux, which he readily did on his benefactress’ death in 1910. Sir Hedworth Meux went on to become Admiral of the Fleet and a Conservative MP. His hunting trophies, a tiger and leopard, from an expedition with King George V (then the Prince of Wales) were for many years on display at Cedars Park, Cheshunt and today can be seen at Lowewood Museum.

Theobalds ParkThe Meux family continued to live at Theobalds until 1929. Since then, the house has been used as a hotel, a school and college, before re-opening as a hotel as it is used today.

 

 

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Meet the team – Exhibitions Officer, Pulhams

Jennifer image

Name
Jennifer Rowland

Job title
Exhibitions Officer, Pulhams

Give a brief outline of what you will be working on over the coming year.
I am working on a project celebrating the work of the Pulhams of Broxbourne, key landscape designers of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. I will be developing a touring exhibition and marketing this to potential host venues. The exhibition will launch at Lowewood Museum in January 2017 and be available for tour from May 2017. I will also be organising an event program to accompany the exhibition, and producing interpretation signage on the former Pulham factory site, the remains of which are being conserved as part of the project. The whole project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and is being delivered in partnership with Broxbourne Borough Council and B3Living.

What is your favourite thing about working in Museums?
That moment when a visitor discovers a famous, personal or local history link to a museum object that makes them go ‘oh wow’. Inspiring and enthusing people of all ages with the collections and the areas of history covered by a museum is the most rewarding part of the job. Plus the chance to get involved in lots of different activities, get dressed up in historical costumes for events, and generally have fun all in the name of the job!

Share one piece of advice for those interested in working in the Museum field.
Think outside the box. The role and work of museums is constantly changing, so be flexible and don’t be afraid to put forward your ideas, whether you are volunteering or at a job interview!

Which historical figure would you like to meet and why. What would you ask them?
John Ray, the 17th Century father of natural history, who worked out the first scientific definition of a species and catalogued thousands of plants, animals, birds, fish, reptiles and insects during his life. The sheer scale of his works amazes me. He also wrote very advanced papers for the 17th Century on adaptation and the origins of fossils. However, sadly he is not that well known despite his ground-breaking contributions.  He lived in my former home village of Black Notley in Essex so I guess I would probably ask him – ‘What was it really like to live in Black Notley in the 1690s?’

Where would you choose to go/visit if you could go anywhere in the world for a day?
New Zealand to see the Lord of the Rings sets

What was the first music track or album you bought?
Ronan Keating’s album Ronan

Stephen Warner Diaries, Volume II, June 1916

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Wednesday 7 June

“we hear that the Russians are performing more than favourably – again that Lord Kitchener is unexpectedly drowned off the coast of the Orkneys and so the tide of this war ebbs and flows.”
Wednesday 28 June

“the hospital is still being kept empty and as the people say that our artillery is very active, I suppose we may reckon on an advantage being made shortly and then no doubt we will be busy.”