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Original article by Douglas Ashby, transcribed by Sarah Gilbert

The Ladies of the Hall

The Hall and Gardens in 1905

Apart from the 26 years between 1892 and 1917 and a few years during the last war, the Harpurs have resided continuously at the Hall.  Early in the 1890’s the family moved to Dorset although some of the unmarried Harpur ladies continued to reside at Fern Bank , including Augusta Harpur . Leaving Dorset in about 1904 the family came to live at Hardwick House, near Wellingborough, eventually returning to Burton Latimer in 1917.

The Hall was first leased to Mrs. Villiers, a wealthy widow from London with two unmarried daughters.  It is said Mrs. Villiers wanted her eldest daughter to marry the then Marquis of Exeter and that Burton Latimer Hall was the nearest available residence to Burghley, but that union did not materialise.  However, her younger daughter, Florence Margaret Rose, married Henry Minshull Stockdale of Mears Ashby Hall on July 7th 1896 in Burton Church and became mother of the present Col. H.C.M. Stockdale.  Mrs. Villiers and her daughters were staunch supporters of the parish church and the girls always helped with the flower decorations at the various festivals. The Sunday School treat on Thursday, July 25th 1895 was saved from being washed out.  After a service in the church the scholars processed through the “village” preceded by the Britannia Band, to the Hall field.  Just as tea was being prepared at 5 o’clock it rained heavily, but Mrs. Villiers came to the rescue and offered the use of her large coach-house at the Hall, where the tables were quickly reassembled.  Many scholars were catered for including 250 parents and others. The total cost of the treat was £15.9.3d. towards which Mrs. Villiers subscribed five shillings.  In 1896 Mrs. Villiers subscribed £1.0.0. towards the fund for lighting the church with gas.

After the departure from Burton Latimer of the Villiers about 1904, the Hall was leased to Colonel and Mrs. George Harrison Champion de Crespiggny who had three children, Arthur, Mildred and Gwendoline.

Col de C, a tall handsome man with a distinguished military bearing, was later appointed a magistrate for the Kettering bench.  His wife was a short stout lady of very strong character who had been born a Clark-Thornhill of Rushton Hall.

Life at the Hall in those days was kept up in style, with a butler, two cooks and several house and parlour maids.  Three gardeners maintained the grounds in a beautiful state – the lawns velvet smooth, the yew hedges clipped and the long herbaceous borders a riot of colour.  The gardens were often opened for parties and charitable events.

Arthur was a Lieutenant in the Northamptonshire Regiment during the first world war and at home he had a favourite King Charles spaniel named “Pincher”.

Mildred, elder daughter of Colonel Champion de Crespigny,at her marriage to Captain Harold Cartwright of Aynho in 1913. Lt Arthur  Champion de Crespigny with his favourite dog Pincher in 1917.
Left: Mildred at her marriage to
Captain Cartwright in 1913.

Right: Lt Arthur Champion de Crespigny
with his favourite dog Pincher in 1917.

Mildred was very fond of painting and about 1907 a well known artist, a Mr. Stannard stayed at the Hall to give lessons to the young ladies: some of their friends were also invited to join them at classes, and one was Mabel Talbutt the baker’s daughter from Church Street.  Several of their paintings have survived, also Mildred’s easel.

Painting of Burton Latimer Manor House and Church by Gwendoline De Crespigny 1916
The Society has no paintings produced by Mildred but this one by
Gwendoline has survived. Painted in 1916 it shows the Manor House and Church viewed from the south.

A large party was held at the Hall on December 29th 1911, and a charming little dance programme has survived with a picture on the front of Gwendoline holding a skipping rope.

Mildred married Capt Cartwright from Aynho on October 2nd 1913 at Burton Church, and the Northamptonshire Regiment was in attendance.  It is said that Burton was as crowded as London that day with many of the local aristocracy and gentry.  A photograph shows the family at the reception which was held in the grounds of the Hall.

The wedding party at Mildred de Crespigny's wedding in 1913.
The Wedding Group: Col de Crespigny stands behind the bridegroom
and Mrs de Crespigny is seated. To the left of the bride is their younger
daughter Gwendoline and third from the right is their only son, Arthur.

Gwendoline never married but lived with her father, and died at Instow in Cornwall about 15 years ago.

Click on the Play symbol below to hear Jack Newman talk about The Hall, Mrs de Crespigny, and the wedding

(You may need to download the Quicktime Player for this and other sound clips)

Mrs. De C had her own little buggy or trap drawn by a brown pony which would take her into Burton or Kettering .  Canon G.L. Richardson (Rector 1911-1920) incurred Mrs. De C’s displeasure one Sunday morning at Matins when he criticised in his sermon, people who preferred to be in their potting sheds rather than at church.

Col de C was fond of plants and also was not a regular churchgoer – so his wife took this as a personal slight – standing up in her pew she glared at the Rector and marched out of the church to the surprise and awe no doubt of the congregation.

Another unfortunate occasion in church – Mrs. De C arrived for service and was very annoyed to see a strange woman sitting in her pew.  Not saying a word she sat very close to the unsuspecting visitor, but every time it was necessary to stand up to sing or kneel to pray, the “interloper” was gradually eased out into the aisle, until she had to find herself somewhere else to sit.  

The great blizzard of March 1916 brought Mrs. De C out of doors on foot to make a call in Church Street, being heavily clad in furs and a cape, not to mention the large hat, she was probably not easily recognisable to the cheeky young machinists at Hart and Levy’s factory in Bakehouse Lane, who called out of the windows and poked fun at her.  But the furious lady stopped in her tracks and let forth such language that the windows were hastily closed.

After the departure of the de C’s in 1917 the Harpurs left Hardwick House and took up residence again at the Hall, and this was the home of Mrs. Charlotte Harpur until her death in 1960 aged 94 years.  A very gracious and charming lady, loved by all who knew her – Mrs. Harpur’s long and interesting life spanned almost a century.

Mrs Charlotte Harpur in her upstairs sitting room at the age of 92. Mrs Harpur died two years later in 1960.
Mrs Charlotte Harpur, aged 92 years,
in her upstairs sitting room in the west wing c1958.
Mrs Harpur died in November 1960 aged 94.

A keen historian and antiquarian, Mrs. Harpur did much research into the parish registers and spent hours deciphering the early documents.  She would write articles too for various journals on antiquities.

Although only of small stature Mrs. Harpur showed she was not a person to be taken advantage of.  During the war years she and her daughter Jocelyn lived together on the opposite side of the road in the Hall Cottage and one day a suspicious looking tramp banged on the front door.  He made a quick exit though when the spirited old lady appeared at a bedroom window pointing a fearsome looking blunderbuss at him.  Had the ancient weapon gone off it would probably have blown the cottage and occupants to pieces.

The Rev H.T.A. Edwards (Rector 1930- 1937) did not always find favour with his parishioners. Parochial meetings would be held in a part of the old Rectory known as the Parish Rooms. On one occasion he could not gain admittance to a meeting – Mrs. Harpur had locked him out and “forgotten” where she had put the key!!

Passionately fond of her old home, Mrs. Harpur’s book plate was inscribed “Light be the hand of ruin laid upon the home I love”  CHARLOTTE HARPUR

I will conclude this article by quoting the letter Mrs. Harpur wrote in the Parish Magazine after the death of her husband, Thomas Wilfred Harpur, in February 1934, that I feel would have been a fitting epitaph too after her own long and eventfull life which drew peacefully to its close on a cold November day in 1960. :-

“Burton Latimer Hall,

Feb 17th 1934.

My dear friends,

I wish it were possible for me to thank individually every one who has written letters of sympathy and shown us many acts of kindness in our sorrow.  My children and I hope you will, one and all, accept our very grateful thanks for your kind thoughts of us.

We shall never forget them, and look upon them as a tribute of affection and respect for my husband.

An infinite faith in the wisdom of his Heavenly Father bore him bravely on in the face of bodily affliction, without a backward look, and when on Monday last we laid him to rest within the shadow of the church he loved and served so well, the beautiful service, the sunshine, and the flowers all spoke of that fuller life into which he peacefully passed, leaving us the Memory of a true Christian.

Yours sincerely,


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