Mary Esther Huddleston

Mary Esther Huddleston was the great, great aunt of Nigel Wollen. Nigel has a large family and didn’t know of her existence until after he had moved to Bishopsteignton in 2017, when a cousin showed him some of the diaries referred to below.

Mary “Esther” Huddleston (1805-1891), owner of The Lodge, later called Murley Grange, from 1849 to 1891.

Sepia photograph of Murley Grange Bishopsteignton no.2
Murley Grange Bishopsteignton

Early Life:

Esther was born in 1805 (the year of the Battle of Trafalgar), the third of 8 children of Artemidorus and Elizabeth Russell (nee Cromwell). The family are directly descended from Oliver Cromwell.

They owned a large house and estate Cheshunt Park, Hertfordshire which had belonged to the Crown but which was seized by Parliament following the execution of Charles I. In the mid 18th century Cheshunt Park passed by marriage to Oliver Cromwell’s great grandson (also called Oliver) whose daughter Oliviera married one Thomas Artemidorus Russell ( Esther’s great grandfather). He petitioned the king for permission to take his wife’s name “Cromwell” but each petition was vetoed by George III with the words “No, no; no more Cromwells!” Cheshunt Park has long since been demolished and is now divided between a public park and a municipal golf course.

Esther’s elder brother Artemidorus Cromwell Russell married Avarilla Aphra Armstrong, who was the daughter of the Rev William Archibald Armstrong (brother of Esther’s first husband General George Andrew Armstrong).  She died in childbirth in 1827, and her husband died only three years later. As a consequence, their daughter Avarilla Oliviera (known as Ollie in the family) was adopted by her aunt Esther Huddleston. In 1849 Ollie married the Rev Paul Bush, who was a Canon of Truro cathedral and rector of Duloe, in Cornwall for more than 50 years. They had 11 children, one of whom left some diaries describing holidays spent with their Aunt Esther at Bishopsteignton.

Marriages:

Esther married Lieutenant General George Andrew Armstrong in 1832. He was the Inspector-General of the Hereford Volunteers. His first wife Elizabeth Hayward had died and there were no children. He was born in 1771, and was therefore 34 years older than Esther. As mentioned above, his niece Avarilla Aphra Armstrong, daughter of his brother Rev Archibald Armstrong,  married Esther’s elder brother.

General Armstrong died on 12th November 1834 at Cheshunt Park. By his Will, made shortly before his death, he bequeathed the whole of his estate to Esther.

His will was challenged by his brother the Rev William Archibald Armstrong and his sister Harriet Armstrong, who claimed that their brother did not have testamentary capacity when he made the will, and that Esther and her parents had been parties to a conspiracy. The case was heard by the Privy Council where Esther was represented by Sir William Follett KC who was to become MP for Exeter and Attorney-General. It is clear from the report of the Privy Council proceedings that there was a great deal of bitterness, and it appears that Esther’s parents played a central role on her behalf as she was still quite young. The fact that Esther’s brother had married  Rev Armstrong’s daughter must have made it all the more contentious, although, as mentioned above, both had died prematurely a few years before the court case. However, the Privy Council found conclusively in Esther’s favour, found no grounds for the allegations of a conspiracy, and upheld the Will.

Esther re-married very soon after General Armstrong’s death (and indeed had already done so by the time the case came to court). Her new husband was Thomas Huddleston and they were married on 13th September 1836. This seems to have been a very happy marriage. There were no children. They lived in a fine William and Mary house called Stedcombe House, near Axmouth in East Devon1.

Thomas Huddleston died on 3rd February 1849 and by his Will he bequeathed the whole of his residuary estate to Esther2. Esther moved to Bishopsteignton that same year and it is assumed that Stedcombe House was sold.

Esther Huddlestone in her garden
Esther Huddlestone in her garden

Bishopsteignton:

The Lodge, as it was then called, had been built by Admiral Sir Edward Thornbrough in 1814. It was set in 12 acres. He died in 1834 and his son Rear Admiral Thornbrough succeeded him there but sold it to Esther in 1849.

It would seem that Esther made several improvements to the house and outbuildings. She never married again, but lived there on her own until her death in 1891. However, as mentioned below, she was never alone for long as The Lodge became a magnet for her 11 great nephews and nieces , who would come to stay for extended periods each year, as well as her brothers and sisters and their families.

Huddlestone stove order
Huddleston stove order

By all accounts she was a generous benefactor to the village for 41 years. She was buried in the Churchyard in June 1891.

Huddlestone Gravestone St John's Churchyard
Huddleston Gravestone St John’s Churchyard

By her Will she made generous provision for some of her husband’s Huddleston relations, and bequeathed the residue, including The Lodge, to her nephew the Rev Paul Bush. He sold it in 1894 to a Miss Erman.

Esther Huddlestone and Oliviera Bush
Esther Huddleston and Oliviera Bush

Later Generations:

One of the daughters of the Rev Paul Bush, Charlotte Avarilla (always known as Aunt Rilla), left some delightful diaries describing the holidays that she and  her 10 siblings  spent at The Lodge when their Aunt was there. These contain some marvellous descriptions of the staff: Pother the coachman, who managed the horses, Jones the butler and Gater the gardener. Gater appears to have ruled the roost!

Esther Huddleston’s nephews and nieces were;

Rev Thomas Cromwell Bush
James Graham Bush (my grandfather)
Admiral Sir Paul Warner Bush
Charles Cromwell Bush (Uncle Charlie)
Rev Herbert Bush
Elizabeth Oliviera Bush
Charlotte Avarilla Bush (Aunt Rilla, became a Sister of the Epiphany, Truro))
Beatrice Maud Bush
Ethel Julia Bush (became a Sister of the Epiphany, Truro)
Gertrude Harriet Cromwell Bush
Mabel Ottley Bush

Charles Cromwell Bush Diary 1
Charlotte Avarilla Bush Diary 1

“Land Escapades

Every year, we used to go from Duloe to stay at Bishopsteignton, near Teignmouth, with my Mother’s Aunt, Mrs Huddleston, who lived by herself at The Lodge, Bishopsteignton, and who had adopted my Mother when she was a baby. Of course, more or less, she adopted us all as well.

We generally went on Mother’s birthday, the 19th July, until the middle of September. We thought there was no place like it. There was a beautiful garden, farm, horses, and everything we could want. Three swings and a see-saw. We had what is called a ‘rare’ time!

The servants there were wonderfully good + kind to us. The house was very quiet when we all ‘went off’ again!

There were 3 ‘great’ men there, Gater the gardener who lived at the Lodge, we were very much afraid of him! Pother the Coachman who managed the horses, and Butler Jones. I think Pother was more subservient to Auntie but Gater…..!!! we used to fly from him, especially when we made a mistake between sloes and damsons! I think one of the girls was seen under the wall, catching the damsons that the boys were throwing down! But unfortunately that time we were caught.

Gater used to turn our misdeeds on to great friends of ours, the Hexts, a large family and not very well off. When they came to see us at Bishopsteignton, the great thing was to get any fruit we possibly could for them. And sometimes Auntie would say: ‘You can go and get as many gooseberries as you like, but______! Take care about the glasshouses, remember no peaches!” Of course, the damsons were ‘outside’, so we took them!! ”

The diaries describe lengthy summer holidays, which must have been quite a contrast to life at the Duloe Rectory. Their father Canon Paul Bush was much revered in his parish and loved by the family,  but was quite strict ; none of his five daughters ever married, and two, including Aunt Rilla,  became nuns! They clearly had a wonderful time when they were let off the leash at The Lodge.

In one of the diaries, Rilla states that Esther “had adopted my mother when she was a baby. Of course, more or less, she adopted us all as well”. As mentioned above, her great grandmother, married to Esther’s elder brother, was Avarilla Aphra Armstrong, whose father was the plaintiff in the bitter dispute before the Privy Council over General Armstrong’s Will. The fact that Esther was being sued by the grandfather of her adopted niece must have made things all the more difficult.

Charles Cromwell Bush Diary 2
Charlotte Avarilla Bush Diary 2

One Winter at Bishopsteignton

It was very mysterious one night, we had gone to bed, + Nurse came in whispering in a consultation with Rebecca, the Nursemaid, opening and shutting drawers, with a lighted pillar candle on the floor. A large old-fashioned travelling basket, several carpet bags which were squashedful of boots, and a beautiful cedar box, was lifted down from the top of the bed.

In it were several beautiful sashes – my Roman one given me by my Godmother from Rome, a very great treasure, lent now and then to the others if I had a bad cold, which I often had in the winter – though I never much cared except if father gave me a new book! Inside the box also was Herbert’s best velveteen suit, all these things, of course were packed carefully. The next morning we heard that we were to go to Bishopsteignton. Libbie, the eldest aged 11, Herbert, Bee and me. A good deal of sitting on the basket had to be done, in order to shut it. I think father strapped it.

It was very delightful going off with Rebecca, and lovely to see Mrs Adams in the waiting-room at Milhay Station where we changed trains.

Auntie was at Teignmouth Station with the close carriage and delicious sponge cakes, + of course Potter on the box! And maybe Jones too! And we all drove up to Bishopsteignton.

The house felt so warm. When we went into the Hall – all smelling so nice, through the Conservatory, of citrons and oranges.

The one person staying there was Cousin Wynyard Warner.

Our schoolroom in the summer was now the nursery – the old Doll’s House was in the corner with some new furniture, and little china dolls.

Aunt Rilla eventually became a nun at the Home of the Epiphany in Truro and died before I was born. However, I have very fond memories of her brother Charles Cromwell Bush (“Uncle Charlie”) who is mentioned in the diaries and was a frequent visitor. I remember being taken by my mother to see him at his home in Bovey Tracey; he  lived to the age of 104.  I remember his 100th birthday party in 1957 when he berated his daughter for buying sparkling wine instead of real champagne!

My mother was Bridget Avarilla Bush, who died in 2001 aged 93. Her father (my grandfather) James Graham Bush was one of Canon Paul Bush’s 11 children. He became a tea planter in India and following his return he and the family eventually settled in Torquay. He died long before I was born but , as a boy, he would have spent many a  holiday at The Lodge with his brothers and sisters.

Esther Huddleston and Bush family at The Lodge
Esther Huddleston and Bush family at The Lodge showing four generations of the family.

This photograph shows (from the left) :
Esther Huddleston (with her great great -nephew Thomas Cromwell Bush on her lap),
Canon Paul Bush and his wife Oliviera Cromwell Bush (Esther’s niece) on the bench. They are my great grandparents.
Rev Paul Bush (Esther’s great nephew) sitting on the ground.

The photo was taken by Valentine and Sons, 9 Somerset Place, Teignmouth.

Read more about the owners of Murley Grange here;

https://www.bishopsteigntonheritage.co.uk/places/murley-grange/

References and credits

  1.  It has recently been restored, see; https://www.housebeautiful.com/uk/lifestyle/property/a29385668/stedcombe-house-william-mary-for-sale-devon/
  2. [note: the copy will from the Archives Office is very difficult to read].