Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Lady's Legacy That Spotlights Historic Family of North-East

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Lady's Legacy That Spotlights Historic Family of North-East

Article excerpt

Byline: By Tony Henderson

Tony Henderson on how a Victorian country house has been brought back to life.

When Alethea Scott married Sir Edward Blackett, she knew the clock was ticking on her time as the lady of Matfen Hall in Northumberland.

The new Lady Blackett was about 40 years old when she wed in 1880, and Sir Edward was twice her age.

To complicate matters, Alethea had been jilted by Sir Edward's son, to whom she now became a step-mother.

Alethea, who was Sir Edwards' fourth wife, had five years with her husband, who died in 1885.

In that time, she devoted herself to building up what was a cross between a manuscript and scrapbook. In it she wrote details of the Blackett family history, and included photographs - some of which are believed to have been taken by herself.

There were also watercolours of the Blackett houses, many painted by her husband and some perhaps by Alethea.

Her interest was no doubt fuelled by the fact that her family was related to the Blacketts.

With Sir Edward's death, her time as mistress of Matfen Hall was ultimately over.

Three years later Alethea married Henry Holt of Hampshire, who was a little younger than her. Living in the South, she continued her research into the Blackett's history, and died in 1920.

And there her story would have ended if not for a recent chance discovery in a South of England book shop.

Charles Sebag-Montefiore, a collector of rare books and treasurer of the London Library, came across Alethea's leather-bound volume in the bookshop and bought it to, as he says, "rescue it."

Word of the discovery filtered back to Northumberland and to Sir Hugh Blackett, who now runs Matfen Hall as a top country house hotel.

Enter Bill Purdue, resident at the Old Rectory in Allendale in Northumberland, a Reader in British History at the Open University and author of a number of books, including two volumes on the North-East landowning family the Carr-Ellisons. The result is a new book, inspired by and including material from Alethea's work, which will be launched at Matfen Hall on Thursday.

The Ship That Came Home: The Story of a Northern Dynasty, expands greatly on Alethea's manuscript as a history of the Blackett family against the social settings of the North-East over hundreds of years. …

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