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Stepping back through history

PUBLISHED: 16:15 16 January 2015

Daisy with just a few animals from what was to become an increasing and varied menagerie

Daisy with just a few animals from what was to become an increasing and varied menagerie

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Hannah Salisbury looks through the Essex Record Office archives to share another unique story of one of the county’s most colourful characters. This month we look at the life and times of Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick (1861-1938)

Frances Evelyn Greville (née Maynard), known as Daisy, was perhaps the original Champagne socialist. Her home was Easton Lodge near Great Dunmow.

On the deaths of her father and grandfather in 1865, Daisy inherited their huge wealth, including the Easton Lodge estate. She was aged just three years old.

She spent most of her childhood at Easton Lodge and in 1881 married Francis Greville, Lord Brooke, in Westminster Abbey. Queen Victoria’s youngest son, Prince Leopold, was their best man.

Daisy threw herself into aristocratic social life, attending and throwing lavish parties both in London and at Easton Lodge. She became notorious for a string of affairs, most famously with the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII.

Despite her often flamboyant and extravagant lifestyle, Daisy become increasingly interested in and concerned about the poverty that she witnessed, both in Essex and elsewhere. She gave generously, and eventually beyond her means, and set up organisations such as a needlework school at Easton for girls unable to go into domestic service and Bigods School near Dunmow, which provided agricultural and technical education.

In the 1890s Daisy became interested in socialism and trade unionism. She entertained trade unionists at Easton Lodge and made public speeches on behalf of her various causes. Her social status and flamboyant style made her an easy target for criticism; to some members of her own class she was a traitor, while some socialists doubted her sincerity.

Yet Daisy maintained her socialist beliefs for the rest of her life and became part of a circle of literary figures and political radicals based around her Essex estates, which included Conrad Noel, the socialist vicar of Thaxted, and HG Wells, who rented a property on the Easton Lodge estate.

During World War I Daisy undertook work for the Red Cross and followed a socialist interpretation of the war as the result of unrestrained capitalism. She welcomed the Russian Revolution in 1917.

In 1918, a fire destroyed a large portion of Easton Lodge, but part of it was saved. Daisy continued to host gatherings of socialists and trade unionists, who were now kept company by her increasing menagerie of animals which included monkeys, peacocks and marmosets.

Daisy stood twice as a Labour candidate, but was not elected, and offered Easton Lodge to various Labour organisations. It was used on some occasions for conferences and summer schools, but this did not become a permanent arrangement.

When she died in 1938, aged 76, she left an estate of £37,000 to her son, Maynard, and around 500 birds and 13 dogs. She had hoped that the grounds at Easton would become a wildlife refuge, but a large swathe of the land was cleared for use as an airfield in World War II.

Daisy, with her eclectic life and career, has had a mixed reputation both during her lifetime and since, but her life story makes for fascinating reading today. A full biography of her is available in the Essex Record Office library.

TRACE YOUR HISTORY

Each month the Essex Record Office helps Essex Life trace the history of a particular aspect of county life. Next month we look at Humphry Repton. For more information about the Essex Record Office, call 01245 244644. Leaflets explaining how to begin to research your family or house history are available free of charge on receipt of a SAE. Write to: Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford CM2 6YT.

Events at the Essex Record Office

January 31

9.30am-10.15am

Searchroom Tour

This 45-minute tour will show you how to get the very best from the Essex Record Office’s Searchroom and is ideal if you are just starting your research. The tour includes an introduction to Seax and Essex Ancestors, microfiche and microfilm, maps, the Essex Sound and Video Archive and the ERO library.

Tickets: Free

Please book in advance on 01245 244644

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