The Lowndes Ladies

In the early 19th century Cosgrove Priory was rented by the wealthy Selby Lowndes family of Whaddon Hall as a spinsters’ residence.

Ann and Mary Lowndes were sisters of William, who inherited Whaddon Hall simply by changing his surname. Ann and Mary were widely thought to have named Cosgrove Priory after another Priory they knew. But we have recently found a document from 1764 naming the property as “The Priory” long before their time.

We know that Ann and Mary had a niece, Anne, and great niece, Maria, who also occupied the Priory for a time at a later date. Three out of four of these ladies died at the Priory and their monuments are on the aisle wall in Cosgrove Church. We know from inventories and letters that they had elegant furnishings and an extensive library – revealing their level of education, and interest in far flung places they would never have the chance to visit. They also kept a “chariot” at the Priory!

The Lowndes ladies reflect the position of unmarried women in society at that time – nowadays they would have inherited money that went to brothers, and would have been able to vote, travel, have careers that were impossible for them. One might conclude that working class women had more freedom than single wealthy ladies at this time.

Mary had a friend, Miss Gavey, who was in an even worse situation, being of an educated class but less wealthy – her letters reveal that she lived at the Priory as a “companion”, but on the death of her “dear & ever to be lamented Friend” was forced to move to Stony Stratford, where she found “one bad thing which is ye Water, it is so nasty no one can drink it, I am obliged to have Tea &c. from a Neighbour’s Pump, which makes more work for my Maid, but something will be in every place, that one must put up with.”