Monday, 10 July 2017

Daisy, Daisy

Easton Lodge in the early 20th Century

In 1865, members of the Maynard family gathered at Easton Lodge, centre of the ancient manor of Estaines in North Essex. The occasion was the reading of the will of Henry Maynard, 3rd Viscount Maynard, whose family had held the Manor since the days of Elizabeth I, and who had recently passed away only months after his eldest son Charles. With the heir apparent having predeceased his father, the family were anxious to know who would inherit the Maynard estates.

The reading of the will took place in the breakfast room, and the table had not been cleared. A portrait of the late Viscount hung on the wall. The buzz of expectation among the family members must have been intense. Who would be the beneficiary? One of the Viscount's four married daughters? Perhaps his eldest daughter's son, next male member of the family line?

The will was duly read, and the growing consternation of the gathered relatives must have been electrifying. Enraged by what they had heard, several of them took pats of butter from the uncleared table and hurled them at the portrait hanging over their heads.

Viscount Maynard had left everything to a three year old girl, the daughter of his late son Charles. Her name was Frances Evelyn Maynard, but she was known affectionately as 'Daisy'.

This child, so unexpectedly a major heiress, would grow into one of the most celebrated women of late-Victorian and Edwardian England. Socialite, socialist, Royal mistress and philanthropist, she would ultimately be immortalised in the song Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built For Two), written in 1892 by Harry Dacre.

Daisy, by Ellis Roberts, 1904

My personal knowledge of the quiet Essex village of Little Easton, with the gardens of Easton Lodge a short distance to the west, was fragmentary. I dropped by on a warm Spring day to visit the Norman church that dominates this picturesque settlement, as I was aware that it contained the tomb of Isabel of Cambridge, Countess of Essex (1409-1484). She was the daughter of Richard Earl of Cambridge, who was executed in 1415 for his part in the Southampton Plot (memorably portrayed in Shakespeare's Henry V), and sister of Richard Duke of York, a leading commander in the Wars of the Roses. This made her the aunt of Edward IV and Richard III. Her tomb was moved here from Beeleigh Abbey in Maldon following the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Little Easton church from the south

The church turned out to be full of surprises. In the churchyard lies the 2007 grave of the comedian and actor Mike Reid. Stepping into the church itself, I was struck by the various wall paintings, dating from the 12th to the 17th centuries, uncovered and stabilised during the 1930's. There is an American chapel, dedicated to the airmen who populated a local airfield during World War II. To the right of the altar, enclosed by the railings that demarcate the Bourchier chapel, I located the tomb of Isabel Plantagenet Bourchier and her husband Henry.

Bourchier tomb

Attached to the railings is an Art Nouveau bronze tablet, an unexpected memorial to the actress Ellen Terry (d. 1928) by the sculptor Albert Gilbert, famous for his 'Eros' statue in Piccadilly Circus. Why would a monument to this famous actress, who lived in Sussex and whose ashes rest at St Paul Covent Garden, be placed in such a quiet spot?

I later learned that Ellen Terry was only one of many famous figures to grace this area in its heyday...

Ellen Terry memorial

The Bourchier Chapel is replete with large and exquisite mural monuments to members of the Maynard family, from the early 17th Century through to the 20th. In one corner stands a bust, brought from Easton Lodge. It was created by Sir Edward Boehm and placed in the chapel during World War II. The bust shows an Edwardian woman with a confident, proud pose. It represents the last and most famous of the Maynards - Frances Evelyn Maynard Greville, Countess of Warwick, the woman better known as Daisy.

Bust of Daisy

When Daisy was 15 years old, family friend Benjamin Disraeli, the Earl of Beaconsfield, presented a glowing report about her to Queen Victoria. The Queen was intrigued by this young heiress and considered that she might be a suitable match for her son Prince Leopold. The two met many times, at Easton Lodge and elsewhere, but a royal romance was not to blossom at this time. Possibly to Leopold's relief, since he had his eye on a German princess, Daisy instead fell in love with the royal equerry, Francis Greville, Lord Brooke. Leopold encouraged the match and stood as best man at their 1881 wedding in Westminster Abbey, reckoned to be the society event of the year.

Lord Brooke, caricatured in Vanity Fair

Following their wedding, Brooke and Daisy became members of the licentious and scandal-ridden Marlborough House Set, headed by the Prince of Wales. The Set convened at Easton Lodge on many occasions, and in 1886 Daisy embarked upon an affair with another of the Set's members, Lord Charles Beresford.

Early in 1889, Daisy learned that her lover had impregnated his wife. She wrote a harsh, berating letter to him but, unfortunately, the letter was intercepted and read by Lady Charles herself. The resulting kerfuffle led to Daisy pleading with the Prince Of Wales for assistance. The Prince agreed to be the go-between for the parties involved, and the scandal was resolved... although it led to Daisy becoming mistress to the Prince himself, supplanting Lillie Langtrey as 'maitresse en titre' (and being supplanted herself a decade later by Alice Keppel).

Lord Beresford, whose affair with Daisy led to a society scandal

Daisy's lack of discretion led to her earning the soubriquet 'Babbling Brooke'. In 1892, the songwriter Harry Dacre penned his popular song 'Daisy Bell', still well known in the present day, and the following year, with the demise of her father-in-law, Daisy became a Countess.

Daisy continued to be a popular figure in high society. In 1895 she held an extravagent gathering, known as the 'bal poudre', at her husband's seat of Warwick Castle, at which she appeared as Marie Antoinette. The ball was criticised in the left-wing publication 'The Clarion' by its editor, Robert Blatchford. Incensed, Daisy visited Blatchford at his offices to complain... and a remarkable, almost Damascene conversion occurred. Daisy entered the offices of the 'Clarion' as a socialite. After meeting and talking at length with Blatchford, she moved from socialite to full-blown socialist.

Daisy as Marie Antoinette

On a further visit to Little Easton, I explored the area around the village, specifically to the south. Most of this area had once been part of the Easton Lodge estate, but after the turmoils of the First World War, when the Maynard family were suffering financial problems, much of it had been sold off.

The fields to the south once formed a deer park, but thousands of trees were lost when the area was cleared for a wartime airfield - the same establishment that inspired the American Chapel in the church. After the war it was turned over to agriculture and quarrying. However, a notable straight track still crosses this land. It is the original driveway to Easton Lodge, starting from a now delapidated 17th Century Gatehouse about a mile from the house, cutting through surviving woodland and across the quarried fields.

Easton Lodge Gatehouse, Grade II listed

The driveway heading north past quarries. Easton Lodge water tower can be seen in the distance.

Driveway heading south through remaining woodland.
Across the torn fields, a belt of trees conceals Easton Lodge... or what remains of it. The grand mansion was swept away decades ago, all but a single wing which today sits near the edge of the grounds, those once magnificent gardens which, slowly but determinedly, are gradually being restored to a semblance of their former glory. Other buildings survive in the grounds, cottages and stable blocks, and the water tower which rises above the trees as though to defiantly proclaim the ongoing legacy of the vanished Maynards.

The forlorn Gatehouse now sits quietly next to a roundabout, close to the A120 bypass. On the other side of the bypass is the Flitch Way, the route of the old Braintree-Bishops Stortford railway, now a footpath. Easton Lodge once had its own station. It closed to passengers in 1952 and to freight in 1972, but the station house and the crossing-keeper's shack remain.

Easton Lodge Station then...

...and now

Daisy had always been possessed of a philanthropic streak. The Agricultural Depression during the 1890's had brought much hardship to the area, and Daisy had ensured that local soup kitchens were provided with produce grown on the estate. Interested in education and equal opoortunities, she had already opened a school at Bigods Hall in nearby Great Dunmow, and now she added to that the Essex Needlework School and the Studley College of Horticulture and Agriculture for Women. She became involved with the TUC and the Labour Party, at one stage standing for election against one of her own cousins, the future Prime Minister Anthony Eden. She came third.

Daisy's affair with the Prince Of Wales fizzled out toward the end of the century, as he became preoccupied with Alice Keppel then, after 1901, the burden of becoming King Edward VII. Her involvement with hedonistic aristocratic activities cooled, thanks to her socialistic zeal. She found herself at the centre of a new circle of progressives, who based themselves at Easton. They included the author H G Wells and the actress Ellen Terry, the latter of whom was already  a regular visitor of friends in the village. Others who came to stay included the playwright George Bernard Shaw, the poet and journalist G K Chesterton, on one occasion, the comedian Charlie Chaplin.


Daisy was also patron of the parish of Thaxted, a village six miles to the north of Easton, and had the power to choose its vicar. In 1910  she presented the 'living' to Conrad Noel, a Christian Socialist then living in his cousin's impressive medieval house Paycockes in the village of Coggeshall. Noel was a good friend of the composer Gustav Holst, who was also living in Thaxted, and who wrote his famous Planets Suite while living there ( his tune 'Thaxted', taken from 'Jupiter, Bringer of Jollity', became the tune of the song 'I Vow To Thee My Country'). The annual Thaxted Festival, and the village tradition of Morris Dancing, owe their existence to traditions introduced by Noel and Holst.

In 1911, Noel hung the Red Flag and the flag of Sinn Féin in the church, which led to the famous Battle Of The Flags, in which Cambridge students and thousands of indignant protesters invaded the village. H G Wells arrived in an attempt to evacuate Noel from danger, but the steadfast vicar refused to leave, even when faced with death threats. A consistory court settled the matter amicably, and Noel remained the 'Red Vicar of Thaxted' until his death in 1942.

'The Old Lock Up' in Great Dunmow, close to Easton
Plaque explaining Daisy's charitable connection

When she was not practising philanthropy, offering property for the use of the TUC or endowing contentious vicars, Daisy also busied herself by bringing improvements to the grounds of Easton Lodge, the most important innovation being to commission the architect and designer Harold Peto to redesign the gardens in 1902.

Harold Peto

Heavily influenced by French, Italian and Oriental designs, Peto introduced wooden pergolas, yew and lime avenues, a sunken garden, classical features and Japanese Gardens.

Peto's wotk at Easton Lodge

All this cost money, of course, and Daisy was beginning to feel the pinch. Following the death of Edward VII in 1910, she audaciously threatened o blackmail his son, George V, by threatening to publish love letters that the late King had written to her during the throes of their affair. Eventually,  the politician and industrialist Arthur Du Cros discreetly acquired the letters in return for £64, 000 ( over 6 million in today's money). The grateful George V rewarded him with a baronetcy.

Daisy's husband, the Earl of Warwick, died in 1924. Despite all the indiscretions and scandals, their marriage had been happy and had produced five children, four of whom had survived infancy. The Earl was buried in the family vault at St Mary's Church, Warwick, and was succeeded by their son Leopold, who passed away himself four years later.

Daisy's charitable works continued. Society events, such as the 'coming out' of her grand-daughter Felice, drew high society to Easton Lodge. She nurtured a herd of prize-winning Jersey cows, and considered giving over a large portion of the estate to become a nature reserve.

Early in 1938, the Countess was diagnosed with cancer. She passed away at Easton Lodge on July 26th, her sister Blanche and daughter-in-law Dora at her side. Dora called Felice with the news, and told her, "I have lost the best friend I ever had."

Daisy was buried in her husband's family vault at St Mary's Warwick, and Easton Lodge passed to her son, Maynard Greville. A year later, the Second World War broke out.

Remnants of a treehouse at Easton Lodge

Peto's Italian Garden restored

The 1816 'Shelley Pavilion' from Maresfield Park, Sussex, was brought to Easton Lodge in 1921

The Gardens of Easton Lodge, now looked after by a Preservation Trust, open to the public on several Sundays a year. They fell into neglect following the death of Daisy and the Second World War, but work began on clearing the overgrown grounds in 1971, and continue to the present day. 

They were busy on the weekend I turned up, and armed with a plan of the grounds I set off to explore, wandering around ruins, reconstructions and remnants of times gone by. Seeing couples picnicking on the lakeside glade where once stood the Japanese garden, seeing children gambolling around the crumbling pavilions and restored lawns, one can imagine the continuity with a time passed, a time when the lawns would throng with members of the entitled classes; Princes, Earls and Ladies mingling at one of the Warwick's garden parties, perhaps discussing in hushed tones the latest scandalous rumours involving their colourful hostess.

I amble through the kitchen garden, currently undergoing restoration, and gaze at the family emblems yet visible in these environs: the 'M' that adorns the Water Tower, the stag-in-a-roundel that graces a doorway. Symbols of the family, still found on many buildings in the area, constant reminders of the reach and influence of the vanished Maynards.

The Kitchen Garden

The Water Tower

Maynard roundel in the Kitchen Garden

Of the mansion itself, all that remains is its west wing, now known as Warwick House. It was in this wing that Daisy spent her final years, and it was the only part of the mansion to survive its post-war demolition.

The Yew Walk

Classical statuary, rescued from ruination

The lawns
The estate was requisitioned by the War Office, and RAF Great Dunmow was created in the Park in 1942, necessitating the destruction of thousands of trees - a development which definitely would not have pleased Daisy. The airfield was occupied by the USAF 386th Bomber Group, known as the 'Crusaders', the name now used for their colourful chapel at Little Easton church.

By the end of the War, the mansion was standing neglected and derelict, having been unoccupied since the death of the Countess. Maynard had the building demolished, with the exception of the West Wing, which stands today under different ownership.

In 1960, the decaying estate was inherited by Felice, who built a house for herself beyond the Garden's lakes. She subsequently wrote many booklets, exploring the history of the estate from its medieval origins to reminiscences of her own time growing up at Easton Lodge, and the many colourful and famous characters that were attracted to the orbit of her irrepressible grandmother.

Felice died in 1994, and with that sad event, the four-century association of the Maynard family with Easton Lodge was at an end...

Grotto in the grounds

The birch copse

Overgrown stairs

Somewhat worn statuary dots the grounds, pavilions both neglected and restored stand in quiet arbours. Signage warns of the danger of the invasive Giant Hogweed, although the only example I've noticed locally was in a ditch about a mile to the southeast, in the fields where the hares hop and the muntjacs munch.

Warwick House...

...Daisy's last home, and all that remains of Easton Lodge

Remnants of the original house, 1597-1847... form part of the modern flowerbeds

A cluster of birch trees provide shade, and among those dappled shadows sound the rustle of springtime leaves and the whispers of vanished times, as the copse was originally planted by Maynard Greville on the site of Easton Lodge itself. Beyond these trees stands the surviving west wing, now Warwick House, and its quiet solitude belies its roaring, kaleidoscopic history, and the touch of Diasy Greville yet caresses the slumbering landscape...


Magnus, Spencer Jones, The History Of Easton Lodge, 2000, Trustees of The Gardens of Easton Lodge

Spurrier, Felice, The Maynards of Easton Lodge, 1992, Five Parishes Publications

Spurrier, Felice, A Guide To The Parish Church of Little Easton Essex, rev.1995, Five Parishes Publications

Spurrier, Felice, Beyond the Forest, 1986, Five Parishes Publications

Further Reading:

The Gardens Of Easton Lodge

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