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For our last meeting of the season, we were lucky to have as speaker Antony Atkinson, a volunteer for the National Trust at Gibside, to talk about Mary Eleanor Bowes, the great, great, great, grandmother of The Queen.

Sunday, 14th May 2017, 12:00 pm

His knowledge of this extraordinary woman proved to be profound, and Mr Atkinson was able, with insight and humour, to enlighten us about her life, loves and losses.

Her father, George, (1701–1760) was known as a rake, yet he was an educated and clever man, and immensely wealthy. He was a ‘Coal Czar’ in County Durham and a landowner, who inherited 1,500 acres and increased his estate to 43,000 acres before his death.

He loved horse racing and introduced fox hunting to the North, but found time to be a Whig MP too.

It was he who had the famous avenue created at Gibside, half-a-mile long and culminating with the first Statue of Liberty. The statue was originally covered in gold leaf. However, thieves stole the gold.

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When George was 24, he married the 14-year-old Mary Gilbert, adding her £20,000 dowry to his wealth. The marriage was short-lived, for four months later she died.

His second wife was Eleanor Verney, who gave him a daughter, Eleanor Mary Bowes, his only child, much indulged and his heiress.

George had her educated with music, Latin and Greek, as well as in the sciences. Botany became a passion and she was known as the most intelligent female botanist of the age. She created the orangery in 1772, originally glassed. The Gibside Hall was deliberately made derelict to avoid taxes.

She was 11 when her father died, and her mother left her to her own devices until she was taken to London by an aunt and, though of unprepossessing appearance, was soon receiving gentlemen.

She married Lord Strathmore of Glamis Castle in a sumptuous ceremony – £20,000 was spent on her wardrobe alone.