The Life of Lady Isabella Battie-Wrightson
Lady Isabella Georgiana Katherine Battie-Wrightson was one of the most prominent residents of Cusworth Hall, presiding over some of the Hall and Park’s most ambitious changes at the turn of the 20th century. Our Assistant Curator Nicola Fox profiles the life of Lady Isabella.
Lady Isabella Georgiana Katherine Cecil was born on 15 August 1853, the third child and eldest daughter of William Alleyne Cecil, the Third Marquess of Exeter. Her childhood was spent at the family home of Burghley House in Stamford.
As a high-ranking female in Victorian Britain, unfortunately the only practical option for Lady Isabella was to marry.
William Henry Thomas
For several years she socialised at parties and receptions throughout the London ‘season’ from March until August, and received an offer of marriage at the age of 30.
In 1884 Lady Isabella became engaged to Mr William Henry Thomas of Doncaster. William Henry was the eldest son of the Rector of Warmsworth and was educated at Eton.
Although he was educated at Eton and later qualified as a barrister, at first glance he seems socially inferior to his wife. William Henry would, however, one day inherit a great deal of land and property as the heir apparent to the estates of both Cusworth Hall and Warmsworth Hall.
William Henry and Lady Isabella were married on 7 August 1884 in the church of St Thomas, London. Following their honeymoon, they moved to Warmsworth Hall in Doncaster.
Their first child was born four years later, on 24 August 1888, when Lady Isabella was 35 years old. The boy, named Robert Cecil after his mother’s family, became the apple of her eye. Two years later, on 6 November 1890, her daughter Barbara Isabella Georgiana was born.
Upon the death of William Henry’s great uncle, Richard Heber Wrightson, in 1891, the family moved into their newly inherited home of Cusworth Hall.
Immediately, William Henry applied to change his surname by Royal Licence to the old family name of Battie-Wrightson. Permission was granted by Queen Victoria on 26 December 1891.
Sadly, the happy family life enjoyed by Lady Isabella was suddenly shattered just four years later. In March 1903, her husband William Henry collapsed with a brain haemorrhage. He died at Cusworth Hall on 28 April that year, aged only 47.
Lady Isabella was plunged into deep grief, yet she was immediately faced with a new threat. A mere five days after his funeral, she received a court summons. The plaintiff was her own brother-in-law Charles Freeman Thomas.
He claimed that the Cusworth estate was rightfully his as Lady Isabella’s son Robert Cecil, at only 15, was too young to inherit the Hall. Charles Freeman Thomas argued that he was the next male in line to inherit, and Lady Isabella and her children must vacate the premises immediately.
Lady Isabella eventually agreed to pay an out-of-court settlement to him amounting to £20,000. She was then granted permission to remain at Cusworth and run the estate on Robert’s behalf until he reached the age of 21.
Cusworth Hall’s Heyday
Lady Isabella remained very active during her years in charge of Cusworth Hall. Many improvements were carried out during this time, including the addition of central heating, a lift installation, and telephone exchange connection.
Her most ambitious project was an extension to the Hall in 1907, with the addition of an extra servants’ quarters, and a new Dining Room next to the Chapel.
Fancy dress parties for estate workers and their families were held every Christmas in this new room. Costumes were ordered from Harrods for the occasion and each child received a gold sovereign as a gift.
Passing the Reins to Robert
24 August 1909 was a momentous occasion at Cusworth Hall. It was Robert’s 21st birthday – a landmark year and the day he assumed responsibility for running Cusworth estate.
Robert’s birthday was celebrated in spectacular style at Cusworth Hall. Harrods of London set up a marquee in the grounds providing food and evening entertainment.
All estate workers, agricultural tenants and cottage tenants, in addition to 35 local shopkeepers and business leaders were invited by Lady Isabella.
After 1909, Lady Isabella was seen less frequently at Cusworth. When the Great War broke out in 1914, she relocated permanently to Wothorpe Villa in Stamford, turning it into a private convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers and styling herself as ‘Commandant of the Villa Hospital’.
Active involvement in war work gave her a new purpose in life. She became a regular supporter of the Red Cross Society and organised a fete in the summer of 1917, raising over £400 for the organisation.
While carrying out work to support the Red Cross, Lady Isabella caught a chill which rapidly turned into pneumonia. On 29 October 1917, she died at her home at Wothorpe Villa at the age of 64 years old.
Isabella’s body was brought back to Doncaster, to be interred alongside her husband in the family vault at Warmsworth. News of her death was received with great sadness at Cusworth Hall and in the village.
The Decline of Cusworth Hall
Sadly, Lady Isabella’s great hopes for her son Robert Cecil would amount to nothing. Although a kind and generous man, Robert presided over a gradual decline of the Cusworth estate from which it never fully recovered.
He was eventually forced to sell off most of the family land and property as the Hall and Park began to crumble and decay. Robert died in 1952 without any children, the last of the Battie-Wrightsons to call Cusworth Hall his home.