William Heathcote of Hursley Park

July 19, 2014 at 12:54 pm (history, jane austen, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , )

Always searching for more, I’ve come across this ENCHANTING portrait at the Metropolitan Museum of Art – which features a cherubic William Heathcote (later the 5th baronet), with his cousins, painted by William Owen c1803.

wm heathcoteThe museum’s write-up about the painting is fascinating: for it proves how wrong a catalogue attribution sometimes can be! The baby in the quartet was, in 1938, thought to be William (born in 1801). This then meant that the children surrounding the baby were all little girls… When you click on the picture to see the ENTIRE portrait (it will take you to the Met, and open in another window) you will see why this is so important a mistake.

  • when at the Met’s website, click under “catalogue entry” for the painting’s full history

William, who was a GREAT CHUM of Edward Austen, was the son of the Rev William Heathcote, vicar of Worting. Jane Austen knew the Heathcotes well; little William’s mother was the former Elizabeth Bigg, daughter of Lovelace Bigg-Wither. Elizabeth returned to her parental home following the early death of her husband. Jane Austen was friendly with all the Bigg sisters of Manydown.

The painter, William Owen, exhibited the work in 1806.

The fascinating part of the history is what happened in 2012 – just two years ago – when a descendent gave the museum access to family history and, based on birth dates, the Met re-evaluated the sitters.

The Heathcote pictures (yes, in the PLURAL) were sold off in the 1930s, by a distant relation who had inherited the baronetcy (as mentioned, Edward Austen’s friend was the 5th baronet). As the website says, the extensive collection “constituted a rather comprehensive record of the appearance of succeeding generations from the late seventeenth century until shortly after 1800“. Breaks my heart to read of families divesting themselves of The Old Family Portraits – but without such divestment these would not be found online now…

Owen’s work has great charm, in the rusticity of the scene presented.

I forgot to mention: William Heathcote’s first wife was Caroline Perceval, daughter of the 2nd Baron Arden — who was related to the Comptons of Castle Ashby (ie, Emma Austen’s Aunt and Uncle Northampton). So, in a way, William “married into the family” even before Edward Austen did! (He and Emma Smith married on 16 December 1828.)


  1. hursleypark said,

    It’s great to read a piece on Sir William Heathcote and for reminding me to check the Met’s catalogue description of the painting, which still needs a slight revision!

    The information about the family has been available publicly since 1899, as a history of the family was written by Evelyn Dawsonne Heathcote under the title “Account of Some of the Families Bearing the Name of Heathcote which Have Descended Out of the County of Derby”

    Based on the Met’s notes about Embley it is likely the painting was commissioned by Thomas Freeman Heathcote, who lived at Embley Park (later the home of Florence Nightingale) until the death of his father, Sir William Heathcote 3rd Brt., in 1819. By the mid nineteenth century the paining was in pride of place above the fireplace in the dining room at Hursley House surrounded by other family portraits by Owen. Elsewhere in the house were portraits of the family by Kneller and others. Several still hang in the main hall at Hursley Park others are dotted around both private and public collections.

    If Sir William is of interest then feel free to visit my website on the history of Hursley Park ( http://hursleypark.wixsite.com/history ) which will eventually contain more on Sir William and the paintings.

  2. hursleypark said,

    I have just taken this as an opportunity to re-read the 1938 catalogue entry and the Met were a little unfair, I suspect misinterpreting the “cousin” was their error as the 1938 entry is clear …

    44. Portraits of Harriet and Anne, Daughters of Langford Lovell, Esq., with Ellen, daughter of the Rev. Samuel Heathcote, and afterwards wife of William Wyndham, Esq., and Sir William Heathcote, 5th Baronet.

    Four children in a landscape; the boy holding a sheath of wheat on his head; the two elder girls, minding a sleeping cousin, looking towards the boy

  3. Janeite Kelly said,

    The Heathcotes are of GREAT interest, especially in relation to James Edward Austen.

    Sorry to neglect your informative comments for so long! Usually, I get an email and I must have missed it.


    • hursleypark said,

      I know the feeling well. I miss emails and messages all the time. Very frustrating!

      Let me know if I can help in any way and I would love to hear any of the stories you may have on the Heathcote and family. I was talking to several descendants of the Heathcotes a week or so ago when we opened Hursley Park to visitors as part of the national Heritage Open Days


      • Janeite Kelly said,

        HI, Dave – although the Smiths & Goslings – and I’d include James Edward Austen Leigh among that group (as he married into the family!), include a LOT of material, they are not often more than “sightings”. Mentioning of people, or mentions of visits. Have you ever read his daughter’s biography? I’m sure in some way Sir William gets some mentions. When last in England (2016), I collected a few more letters, including those to JEAL; I think a letter of congratulations on the announcement of his intended marriage with Emma Smith is among them. I must look. A small group had been saved from that period – though they really ALL say pretty much the same thing! In essence, how lucky he was. k

  4. Janeite Kelly said,

    Hi, Dave — do you know who might have worked on behalf of the Hursley estate in 1810, in the capacity of valuer of the timber. Also involved in the assessment of tithes, though not necessarily at Hursley. He was present at a meeting several times during the year of 1810, which he refers to it as the “Hursley Comm:n”, which I take to mean “Commission”. k

    • hursleypark said,

      I’ll take a look at the records I have and see what I can find.
      I’m not sure of the dates off-the-top-of-my-head but I am pretty sure there are some Newspaper articles, and I think a couple of the Heathcote Records in the Hampshire Archives, which mention the valuation of the timber. So we may get lucky!

      • Janeite Kelly said,

        HRO is a good idea; something further to look into on my next visit (whenever that may be), if needs be.

        I have found a WILLIAM FOWLIE; alas, he must have come (as steward) to Hursley about 1815, for the last bit I found was his retirement, in 1861, after 46 years.

        Some letters to him at HRO! But he’s not the guy I’m seeking.

        Mine is definitely someone working on behalf of the third baronet; but I’m not wholly convinced he wasn’t a bit more “free lance” than Fowlie.

        I will have a look at newspapers – maybe my guy “advertised” his services.

        From looking at “Discovery” (TNA listings), I have a feeling timber valuations will be those under Fowlie, and therefore later than 1810. But sometimes something gets slipped in that the online catalogue doesn’t account for!


  5. hursleypark said,

    I’ve had a quick look and in a couple of editions of The Salisbury & Winchester Journal I found references to the sale of timber from the Hursley estate for 1809, 1810 and 1812. In the instances I found the Hursley estate’s affairs are being handled by Mr John Birt.

    I hope that helps

    • Janeite Kelly said,

      Ooh! a name! Thank you for digging, Dave. His is “unusual” enough a name (not like Smith!), that maybe I’ll find some biographical information.

      Interesting, that the sale of timber would make the papers! Nothing remained “unknown,” did it. EVERYONE back then could find out news about the neighbors.


      • hursleypark said,

        The sales of timber were advertised in the paper and detailed all the various types of wood that would be available to purchase, and for Hursley that’s quite a lot! As was said by Frances Awdry in his “A Country Gentleman…” this was the time of the wooden walls of England and Sir William (5th Brt) supplied a fair quantity of that timber from Hursley!
        The adverts list the main agent as a company in Salisbury, but for viewing or more detail to contact Mr Birt.

  6. Janeite Kelly said,

    Hi, Dave – just wondering if you’ve ever come across (book or the actual diary) Selina Heathcote’s diary. A copy of the book delivered in yesterday’s mail, so I’ve not had a great chance to read it, but LOVED the portrait of her and a picture of the diary. Seems really “odd” that IBM had a hand in the production of the book!

    Still need to confirm about Birt; he certainly crops up in the papers, as you say, and on dates I would expect. Will have to one day consult HRO, they’ve some handwritten manuscript BY Birt. I do cross fingers that the handwriting is the same. Will keep you posted (and THANKS for that lead).


    • hursleypark said,


      The diary is one my predecessor produced. The diary is in Hursley house and if you’d like any copies of the original do please let me know.

      The IBM link is because IBM now own the estate and they produced it here quite a few years ago.

      There are a few letters I have that add to a few of the references in the diary … especially her NOT meeting the Queen (Victoria) at the Duke of Wellington’s Stratfield Saye home.


      • Janeite Kelly said,

        I’m SO GLAD the diary still exists. From the one picture in the book, it looks so “precious”: small (I bet), yet with such a giant lock. I heartily agree with transcribing what one sees, so the book is quite nicely produced. Has anyone ever thought to republish, expanding with some additional material? (not easy to find a copy) So nice to read about Miss Bigg and Mrs. Heathcote – both (as readers of my blog might realize) friends to Jane Austen. Terrible, though, to read about William Heathcote’s ongoing ill-health. A republication would also give an opportunity to fix the transcription errors (ie, Maria French).

        I’ve been reading the diary the past few evenings (am up to the Scotland tour). She has some really interesting things to say.

        After you mentioned the existence of the letter, it made me wonder as I read the passage in her journal – to meet the Queen, who was also a new-ish mother, pity Selina didn’t bring her baby!

        I did figure there was an IBM connection – but still “odd” to see “them” produce a book.

        You are lucky to have so many tidbits of family history available to you.

        Haven’t forgotten about the Heathcotes, but have currently been in 1820s and on the Continent.


  7. hursleypark said,

    The idea of producing a new, expanded, version to include more of the background and material that has since come to light has definitely occurred but I’ve not been able to devote any time to it owing yet. A consequence of Hursley Park’s quite remarkable history. Currently the focus is on the estate’s history during the Great War but also it’s more recent history. But the Regency and Victorian age’s have not been forgotten!

    Some of the diary was used recently in a publication on the history of Jermyn’s House, which is a neighbouring estate house, not so grand as Hursley, but which has had associations with both the Heathcote and Cooper families. In the diary you’ll see Lady Heathcote and family moved there whilst Hursley was redecorated. During WWII Lady Cooper moved there when she was forced out of Hursley House “owing to security concerns” following its requisition by the Ministry for Aircraft Production to house the Supermarine design team … who designed many variants of the famous Spitfire there.

    I have put a copy of the short article I wrote, for the Hursley Parish Magazine in 2016, on Lady Selina and her not visiting the Queen in 1844 on my website http://hursleypark.wixsite.com/history/single-post/2018/03/14/Lady-Selina-the-Duke-the-Queen This includes one of the letters,

    Hope it’s of interest

    All the best

    • Janeite Kelly said,

      Hi, Dave – yes, HIGHLY “of interest”. I’m reading it now.

      Will blog about it too.

      Thanks, too, for the info about future plans – it’s hard for people NOT to know about “requisitions” of manors during World War II. Glad to hear about all you are concerned in. Thanks!!


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