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LOCAL HISTORY


a lover of Italy


A Lady of Letters,


One is a rural village in Barnsley known for its stage of rolling green countryside on which stands a stately home and folly castle; the other a remotely romantic Italian lakeside town flanked by the amphitheatre-style Adamello mountain.


Poles apart in characteristics and distance. Yet banded together in a shared admiration for one very influential woman whose life story was preserved in the many letters she famously wrote. For Stainborough in Barnsley and Lovere in the Lombardy province of Italy both bear monuments to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, the celebrated travel writer and poet who once lived at Wortley Hall. At Wentworth Castle Gardens, an obelisk dedicated to Lady Mary has stood proudly over the


manicured grounds for almost 260 years. Erected in 1750 by William Wentworth, 2nd Earl of Strafford, the obelisk is thought to be the oldest monument in the UK dedicated to a non-royal woman and stands in recognition of her work to bring the smallpox inoculation to Britain almost 300 years ago. Over 1,000 miles away in


Lovere, a quayside promenade with transparent glass barriers adorned with her own words was named in Lady Mary’s honour in 2016, in remembrance of the woman who


‘‘ Mary forged a name for herself amongst the royal court and poetic society, thanks in part to her marriage to Edward Wortley Montagu of Wortley Hall.’’


Portrait that hangs at Wortley Hall


spent ten years of her later life in the town, which she considered ‘the most beautifully romantic I have seen in my life.’


She was not wrong. Lovere, which is perched at the top of the serene Lake Iseo, regularly takes part in the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy competition and was the only Lombardy town to finish in the top 20 in 2018. However, even 250 years after Lady Mary’s residence, the Bergamo town’s rugged and primitive beauty is yet to be discovered by tourists who favour the more well-known of northern Italy’s idyllic lakes, Como and Garda.


Lady Mary left her former life and family behind for a quieter existence. She bought a deserted palace, dairy house and farm for £100 and traded her high society crowd for time spent doing needlework or caring for the many poultry on the farm. With its tree-lined quay, splendid palaces and shabby backstreets, the Italian charm enveloped Lady Mary into its fold. In return, she introduced them to traditional British delicacies like custard, mince pies and plum pudding; but the Italians were horrified by the ‘unnatural’ idea of a syllabub.


The posthumous promenade is not the first idea of a shrine to Lady Mary. While a resident, the town wished to create a statue in Lady Mary’s honour which she declined many times.


Obelisk at Wentworth Castle Gardens


62 aroundtownmagazine.co.uk


‘This little town thinking themselves highly honoured and obliged by my residence: they intended me an extraordinary mark of it, having determined to set up my statue in the most conspicuous place. The marble was bespoke, and the sculptor bargained with before I knew anything of the matter; and it would have been erected without my knowledge, if it


had not been necessary for him to see me to take the resemblance.’ – To Countess of Bute, 1751. But how did this colourful character and literacy genius of British aristocracy become a mainstay name in the Italian way of life?


Born in 1689, the eldest child of Evelyn Pierrepont, 1st Duke of Kingston-Upon-Hull and his first wife, Mary spent her early years at the family’s seat of Thoresby Hall in the Dukeries, North Notts where she first established her flair for writing. Her mother died when Mary was three and so she was raised by her grandmother while her father spent much of his time at the Houses of Parliament as a Whig politician. With girls being denied a


classical education, Mary stole hers from her father’s library, teaching herself Latin, a language which had always been preserved for men. By the age of 14, Mary had written two albums of poetry and two novels, one being an epistolary made up of letters.


As a young woman, Mary forged a name for herself amongst the royal court and poetic society, thanks in part to her marriage to Edward Wortley Montagu of Wortley Hall. To the disapproval of her father, Mary and Edward eloped in 1712 following a clandestine letter-based courtship. Evelyn had insisted that his daughter be betrothed to Clothworthy Skeffington, heir to the Irish Massereene peerage, having rebutted her calls to marry Edward, a lawyer of the Inner Temple and a fellow Whig politician. However, her heart remained with Edward, a relationship with whom she hid from her father by writing to his sister, Anne.


‘Pray tell me the name of him I love, that I may (according to the laudable custom of lovers) sigh to


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