Henrietta Vansittart – Female engineer of the Industrial revolution

Industrial Revolution and James Lowe

When you think of the Industrial Revolution what images do you conjure up?  For me its the hardship and bleakness of smoke infested towns, enormous brick buildings pumping, whirring, grinding and shunting – coal, tin, wool, cotton, iron and steam. But its not only the bleakness of the places, it’s also the bleakness of the people – lined, weary faces of those trying to many a penny to survive, fresh faced excitement of those arriving from the countryside, and aristocratic men, in crisp, starched shirts and waistcoats inventing and creating new and even more fabulous inventions.

James Lowe was one such inventor.  Lowe had worked as a mechanist and smoke jack maker and invented a screw propeller for ships.  On the 23 March 1838 he took out a patent for a new screw propeller which ensured his place in history.  New inventions were taken to the Royal Navy weekly, and at this time there was very little money to be made from such things.  But Lowe would not give up and he spent all his wife’s money on his experiments and a succession of patents reducing the family to complete poverty by the early 1850’s.  Therefore it might seem strange, that his daughter, Henrietta Vansittart (nee Lowe) excelled herself to become a respected engineer and inventor in her own right, at a time when Victorian women should have been doing anything but science.

Henrietta Vanisittart nee Lowe

lowemarinepropellerHenrietta was born in 1833, to James and Marie Lowe (nee Barnes) – she did not have the most fortunate of circumstances, she was the third daughter of six sister and two bothers, and her father had almost bankrupted the family by 1852 through his desire to invent.  However, Henrietta it seems was a social climber and had dreams of grandeur, and by 1855 she had married a lieutenant in the 14th Dragoons, Frederick Vansittart who had been based in Paris.  Soon after they bought a house in Clarges Street, London and it seems he sold his commission to they could set up home.  But, this was not good enough for Henrietta and in 1859 she started an affair, which lasted 12 years with the novelist and politician, Edward Bulwer Lytton.  Lytton was a man of social status and Henrietta clearly had an effect on him, although perhaps not to Disrealis liking and is said to have blamed Lyttons absences from the House of Commons on his association with Henrietta.  Lytton became ill and in 1873 died, leaving Henrietta £1200 in his will and very oddly her husband, £300.  She returned to her husband and lived in Twickenham.  Henrietta was clearly a highly charismatic and feisty young lady who knew what she wanted and did not allow things to stand in her way.  (Image 1 – see source

During this time, Henrietta took a keen interest in her fathers work and accompanied him on the HMS Bullfinch in 1857 to test out the new screw propeller.  She had her own ideas for how it could be developed, and after her father was tragically killed by a cart crossing the road in London in 1866, she took on her fathers work without any formal scientific or engineering training.  Within 2 years she had patented another propeller to allow ships to move faster and smoother and use less fuel.  In 1868, the Vansittart Propeller was patented and was used on HMS Druid – she won numerous awards for this, had articles written on her in the Times Newspaper and attended exhibitions all over the world. She was clearly a remarkable woman.   It is believed that she was the only lady who ever wrote, read and illustrated with her own drawings and diagrams a scientific paper before members of the Scientific Institution.

Henrietta and Twickenham

Of course, no street or person would be complete without some intrigue, mystery and scandal and Henrietta certainly had some interesting moments.  It is one of my favourite things about researching a house history – the stories of the people who lived there.  The little scraps that give us a glimpse into the past – of squabbles and stand offs, intrigue and intellect, parties and politicians. Montpelier Row has certainly had its fair show of arguments,

Henrietta seems to have lived a colourful life in all areas.  It is perhaps strange that she left her husband to have her affair with Lytton in this age, and that Lytton then left both Henrietta and Frederick money in his will, £1200 to her and £300 to him, no small sum in 1873.  Stranger still perhaps that she then went back to her husband. Happily or not, who knows.

Mr & Mrs vansittart appear to have become property owners owning a number of houses in Montpelier Row Twickenham as well as on Maids of Honor by Richmond Green.  These were and still are desirable and expensive addresses.

Maids of Honor Row – Richmond Green.

.  The 1871 census lists them at 4 Maids of Honor Row although records suggest she was there in 1869 without her husband.  Perhaps she had bought it with funds from her patent, inheritence or from Lytton. Henry George Bohn in a letter to the Richmond Twickenham Times in 1879 states that she arrived in Twickenham around 1874.  In a later letter by Bohn he talks about 4 houses that she had purchased in complete squalor for between £200-£300, and which had then been converted into two, these appear to have been Number 4 and 5 which later became Seymour House and 1 and 2, which were known as Bell House and St Maur’s Priory.  It seems by 1880 she had No 1, St Maur’s Priory (Which had been named by her) and 2, Bell House left in her possession as she had sold the others off.  The 1881 census, shows that Frederick and Henrietta were living at No 1 Montpelier Row whose main frontage was on the Richmond Road.

The 1881 census shows that Frederick and Henrietta were now living at No 1 Montpelier Row, known at this time as St Mary’s Priory, or St Maurs Priory which had been named by Henrietta.

1 Montpelier Row, Twickenham (Originally Numbers 1 and 2)

 In 1878, Bell House, Number 2 was offered for lease for the sum of £100 and Seymour House, Number 3 was also offered for sale for £73,10s.  Both properties were owned by Henrietta at this time and were offered for sale by Mr Fowler on 25 June 1878.  It appears that a neighbour, Henry George Bohn, the infamous fine art dealer, publisher and book collector, with whom there seems to have been some rivalry and dispute purchased Seymour House from Henrietta in 1879, paying £1100.00 – a vast increase on the alleged two hundred pounds she had spent only a few years earlier.

Henry George Bohn was the Vansittarts neighbour, living at North End House, just the other side of the Richmond Road.  There appears to have been a great deal of rivalry amongst the two households, not least perhaps because of Henrietta’s desire to own and lease property – the same property that Bohn also wanted to own and lease.  There was some argument with the local council in 1879, as the row had been changed to Montpelier Row to which Bohn took great displeasure and wrote to the Richmond Twickenham Times.(5)  He had erected a sign on the from of the wrought iron railings of No 1, Henrietta’s house which stated Montpelier Row,  He claims this had been agreed with Henrietta and that they had been on speaking on terms about it.  However, to his annoyance, early one morning he had spied from his house, Mr Vansittart at the top of a ladder, painting the sign out!  I can quite imagine the surprise and intrigue of curtains twitching as the early morning sun rose in Twickenham, to reveal an ageing Mr Vanisttart balanced among the top of a ladder, with an incensed wife in her long skirts, swishing in the dust at the bottom issuing her instructions.

dsc_0016

Bohn took to paper soon after, seemingly to air his grievances about Henrietta in public – entitle ‘The Montpelier Row Difficulty’, he writes that:

‘It is with great regret that I find myself brought once more into a verbal conflict with Mrs Vansittart, but she is inexorable, and by way of publicly introducing, what appear to me to be mere figment of the brain, contrives to make me the scapegoat.  I have no choice, therefore, but to reply to her, and bring out what may well be called the facts of a Tweedledum affair’ (6)

It seems that Henrietta had claimed that she had spent thousands of pounds on improving the row, both the buildings she had purchased but also the area of land opposite, which Bohn claims that he had in fact sectioned off and made good to stop costermongers and other nuisances taking over himself.  She stresses that she has done so much more for the neighbourhood than Bohn has ever done – keeping up with the Jones of the Victorian age.

He also airs in public his annoyance at her private affairs about the purchase and sale of her properties, and mortgages she had taken out.  Indeed, what obviously had been private discussions seems to have reached a head in 1879/1880 as both wrote backwards and forwards to the paper airing their grievances of one another’s behaviour over several years. A very public affair!

Sadly Henrietta met a very unhappy end.  In the autumn if 1883, it seems she was attending the North East Coat Exhibition of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineer at Tynemouth.  She was, found wandering the streets in a very confused state of mind and was consequently committed to the Tyne City Lunatic Asylum, where she died early in 1883 on anthrax and mania.  A sad end to an eventful life. One wonders why she was not moved back down South, had she fallen out with her husband again? Had she of lived one wonders what she would have gone on to achieve as a great woman engineer.

SOURCES

1.Epsom and Ewell History Explorer, James Lowe and his daughter Mrs Henrietta Vansittart, http://www.epsomandewellhistoryexplorer.org.uk/Lowe.html, first accessed 15/2/2017

2.Howes, A, Capitalism’s Cradle – An Economic History Blog, http://antonhowes.tumblr.com/post/115859870959/female-inventors-of-the-industrial-revolution-part

3.Intriguing History, Henrietta Vansittart Enginner, http://www.intriguing-history.com/henrietta-vansittart-engineer/, first accessed 10/2/2017

4.Wikipedia, James Lowe, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Lowe_(inventor), first accessed 10/2/2017

5. Richmond Local Studies Library, Richmond Twickenham Times, extract from a letter written to the paper from Henry George Bohn, dated 1 July 1879.

6. Richmond Local Studies Library, Richmond Twickenham Times, extract from a letter written to the paper from Henry George Bohn, entitled The Montpelier Row Difficulty.

7. Photographs are all taken from my own personal archive and are copyright to Emma Louise Tinniswood

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Montpelier Row, Twickenham

Montpelier Row Twickenham – Georgian Architecture at its best!

Monteplier row 1

Twickenham has been the much loved home to many writers over the centuries; Alexander Pope, R C Sheriff, Horace Walpole, Elizabeth Twining, Walter De La Mare and Alfred Lord Tennyson.  On the banks of the River Thames this once quiet, village location has been swallowed up into the metropolis of Greater London, but still retains some of its charm.  While many of the beautiful riverside mansions of the 18th and 19th centuries have long since been demolished, there is one perfect row of Georgian homes which have remained.

Both Alfred Lord Tennyson and Walter De La mare lived at some point in this row.  Walter De La Mare moved into Southend House in 1940 and became a tenant of the Sedgwick Family.  Although he spent much of the war time years away from the house, he loved the house and kept his collection of antiques here, as well as his books on crime.  Many of his closest friends and literary friends came to visit him here including Joyce Grenfell, Leonard Clark and Richard Church.  De La Mare died at Southend on 22 June 1956.[1]

Tennyson moved into Chapel House on Montpelier Row in 1851 and stayed there with his wife until 1853.  This was at the time that he had been made Poet Laureate. His son Hallam was born at Chapel House and baptised in the local St Mary’s Church.  However, Tennyson soon found that Twickenham was too close to the ever expanding London.  The railway had recently arrived in Richmond and Twickenham and with it brought a ;large number of visitors.  Although he cherished his visits from his fellow literary friends, W M Thackeray and Edward Fitzgerald he decided to leave Montpelier Row and leave it to his widowed mother, Elizabeth Tennyson while he moved to the Isle of Wight.

Over the years Chapel house became known by other names including Holyrood House and now it is simply number 15.  When first built it was also listed as number 17, and appears to have changed to 16 sometime around the mid nineteenth century and certainly by 1871 when Captain Phillip Antrobus lived there from 1871 with his wife and children.

Yet Tennyson is not the lonely famous artist to have lived there.  Peter Townsend of the band, The Who, lived in the property for a number of years, and his wife continued to live there after their divorce from 1987 to 2004, converting the coach house at the end of the garden into a recording studio.

Montpelier Row, which borders Marble Hill Park was built in 1723 by Captain John Gray. It is situated in East Twickenham, off the Richmond Road and runs alongside the western boundary of Marble Hill Park.  Halfway down is Chapel Road which connects with Orleans Road and this is the site of the old Montpelier Chapel which was demolished in the 1940’s.  Number 15 is on the corner of Montpelier Row and Chapel Road.  The property is Grade II listed and it has a blue plaque for Alfred Lord Tennyson.  The properties were built around 1720-1721 and a plague on number one states ‘Montpelier Row’ 1720.  Gray moved into the Row soon after it was built, and appears to have had a number of financial difficulties.  Many of the properties wouldn’t sell or could be let and as a result many of the builders initially lived in the beautiful Georgian town houses.  Gray in fact continued to live in the row until his death in 1751 and in 1748, was living at number 14.

Chapel House/Holyrood House is a three storey Georgia townhouse with a basement and also has a separate two storey building in the garden. Many of the houses in the street are of similar structure although the mid terraced ones tend to be single fronted.  As Chapel House stands at the end it would most likely have reflected North end House which stood at the far end where the entrance from Richmond Road is now, and which was demolished some years ago.  As is customary these days, many of the houses have also extended upwards into the loft spaces.

Prior to the development by Gray, the whole area of land which ran along the riverside was a part of Eastfield, a name derivative from the medieval period where the area of Twickenham was divided into Eastfield, Westfield, Southfield and Northfield.  Moses Glover’s Map of 1635 lists the area has arable with neighbouring M. Craftons Nursery and orchard.[2]  Also in the locality are the Butts which were targets for archery practice and was situated at the edge of East Field and the village, where Montpelier Row feeds of which is now Richmond Road. Captain Gray became a prominent landowner in Twickenham in the early eighteenth century.  Following the end of his service in 1713 he received a substantial payout which helped him to become a property developer and he leased two plots of land from the Sion Estate, owned by the Duke of Northumberland.

Gray’s concept was urban in style and copied the prestigious homes of the new London squares.  This was a departure from the local style where there were several grand estates, but also large detached properties which stood in their own land along the riverside in Twickenham.  It was the first local urban terrace and they were built to be leased, a speculation perhaps in response to the growth of Twickenham due to agriculture and commercial gardens.[3]  But also to the popularity of the riverside area and the lure of the Thames for the upper classes and when Horace Walpole died here in 1797, large houses and immaculate gardens lined the riverside stretch from Cross Deep to Richmond, incorporating Montpelier Row.

This new style might have surprised the locals and be seen as an intrusion on the style of Twickenham. The other Queen Anne and early Georgian properties adopted a more classical style, which had been made popular by Inigo Jones in the seventeenth century.

Montpelier Row was built on its own, away from the centre of Twickenham which may suggest the clientele that Gray was trying to attract.  They remained for some time as the only properties in the area of what is now East Twickenham.  The map below shows Montpelier Row and the surrounding area in 1741.  We can see that surrounding the property were gardens and open space, and Orleans Road was at this time called Folly Lane.  Although its neighbouring Marble Hill House is indicated, it is not listed until the later map of 1786.

[4] and [5]

[6]

montpelier 8

The enclosure plans of 1819 show the detail of the properties in much greater depth and also include the chapel which is not shown specifically on earlier maps.  The next map shows the area in 1846, and we can see that a number of properties have been built on the land surrounding Montpelier Row, although the area off of Orleans Road or Folly Lane is still gardens.  However, this indicates that the area is beginning to develop further and where Montpelier was once rural, the area was becoming increasingly suburban which may link with the establishment of the railway in Twickenham in 1848. [7]

montpelier 9
The image above shows Montpelier Row to the left of Marble Hill Park in 1749 and this clearly shows, that the properties stood alone at this time, surrounded by land.[8]

montpelier 10

 [9]

The illustration below is taken from a lithograph by Thomas Way in 1900 and shows extension already made to the upper floors of several properties.

montpelier 11

 [10]

A number of people have lived in this house over the years, most of which were not notable writers and artists. Details of the occupiers can be found in the Poor rates records, census returns from 1841-1911, local directories and electoral rolls all of which can be found in the Richmond Local Studies Library.

There is no question that Montpelier Row is one of the finest surviving examples of Georgian architecture in London.  Nearby Sion Road, which runs down to the River Thames was built at the same time, and although is a much shorter row, is as beautiful as Montpelier and well worth a look if you are in Twickenham.

Montpelier Row was no doubt the home of poems, prose and pop songs and fine Georgian houses.

 

Bibliography and Notes

[1] Twickenham Museum Website , http://www.twickenham-museum.org.uk/detail.php?aid=26&ctid=1&cid=7, Wlater De La Mare.

[2] Simpson, D., Twickenham Past (Historical Publications: London 1993) pp16-17

[3] Simpson, D., Twickenham Past (Historical Publications: London 1993) pp116-118

[4] Map of Richmond 1741-45 by John Rocque.

[5] Map of the Manor of Isleworth and Sion 1786.  Duke of Northumberland.  Surveyed and draw by C J Sauthier.  This is a photo of the section surrounding Montpelier Row, Marble Hill and the local area.

[6] Enclosure Wards Plans 1819, held at the Richmond Local Studies Library.

[7] Warrens Plan of the Parish of Twickenham 1846, held at the Richmond Local Studies Library.

[8] Gascoigne, B & Ditchburn J., Images of Twickenham, (Saint Helena Press: Richmond, 1981)

[9] Gascoigne, B & Ditchburn J., Images of Twickenham, (Saint Helena Press: Richmond, 1981)

[10] Gascoigne, B & Ditchburn J., Images of Twickenham, (Saint Helena Press: Richmond, 1981)