Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 46 - W for Mary Waterhouse

Mary Waterhouse, 1871, by Samuel Lawrence

Mary Bevan (1805-1880) was the eldest child and only daughter of Paul and Rebecca (Capper) Bevan of Tottenham. Her mother died in 1817 leaving Mary, aged 12, and five young sons. In time Mary took over the role of housekeeper to her father and brothers, greatly assisted by three of her maternal aunts, Katharine Backhouse, Mary Mounsey and Sarah Harris. Mary was described as ‘of good height, graceful in figure, with perfect features and beautiful profile’ although she had a cast in her left eye (which this portrait disguises).

In 1825 at the age of 20 Mary began to write a spiritual journal. In it she recorded among other things her thoughts, prayers and anxieties, her precarious state of health and family matters. From it we learn that when young Mary refused several suitors and had feelings for one man which were not returned. Eventually in 1829, with the encouragement of her father who knew and did business with the family, she married Alfred Waterhouse (1798-1873) of Liverpool. He came from a large family of 6 girls and 8 boys, children of Nicholas Waterhouse, the founder of a very successful cotton broking business which most of his sons joined.

Oakfield, Aigburgh in 1848
Alfred built a house for his family at Aigburth, Liverpool, taking particular care with laying out the garden and trees. They stayed there, adding extensions as the family grew, until 1849. They had seven children who survived infancy - four sons and three daughters. 

Mary's journal tells of the growth of her family and also of her spiritual struggles. In Liverpool meeting the prosperous young woman was sometimes reprimanded for not dressing plainly enough and as a young mother had qualms herself as this extract from 1831 makes clear - At meeting yesterday for the first time since my confinement:- the beginning of it, I felt uncomfortable – being in a cloak – the colour of which I feared might offend some who would not wear such a one - & might be occasion of offence in others, who might like to imitate it. How much better to endeavour to keep to what could take the attention of none, though I did not feel condemnation on account of the colour with regard to myself, it not being one I preferred, or exactly what I intended to buy. – But of this, enough, - except that if it still occasion me uneasiness it will be better to sacrifice the cloak.

Mary and Alfred Waterhouse c 1872
Mary also struggled for many years against expressing her gift for the ministry, perhaps in part because of her fear of offending her husband, as this passage from 1836 shows - I had another distressing meeting, believing a few words were called for from me, even on my knees, & not obeying. My remorse was great, which my countenance no doubt bespoke, one of my sisters whom I saw some little time afterwards affectionately enquiring what ailed me:- I found no liberty to tell her, nor have I to mention the subject to any-one except that that evening, or before we rose the next morning, I thought it best to tell my precious husband part of what I suffered. The communication met with the reception I could not but expect from him – kindness but no sympathy, & I believe I promised to struggle against all feeling of the kind as long as I could. Alfred felt, and other weighty Friends often told him, that he should be the minister but in the end this did not happen and instead Mary was recorded a minister in 1842. 
Sneyd Park 1854
Alfred Waterhouse retired from business in 1847, when he was nearly 50, and having ambitions to become a farmer, looked around for a place in the country. In April 1849 the family removed permanently from Liverpool to Redland Hall, a house near Bristol, and thence in April 1850 to Sneyd Park, an imposing but damp and rather inconvenient residence in the same area where they remained for five years. As the boys were growing up they then moved to London, to 11 Cumberland Terrace next to Regents Park, so that they could attend University College School  and university.

Whiteknights House from the East
Finally in December 1858 Mary and Alfred Waterhouse moved to Reading where Alfred had purchased part of the Whiteknights estate. A new house called Whiteknights was designed and built for them by their architect son Alfred which they moved into in November 1859 and remained in for the rest of their lives. (This is now occupied by adminstrative staff of the University of Reading which eventually took over the Whiteknights site) Throughout her life Mary remained a member of the Society of Friends but her husband and children became increasingly estranged.

Alfred Waterhouse Junior
In 1864 her five youngest children were baptised into the Church of England and in 1877 Alfred junior and his family followed them.  Mary’s reaction was very like that of Elizabeth Fry – happy if she felt they were truly ‘following Christ’. Mary felt that, especially given her position as a minister, she had to stay faithful to the Society in which she had been brought up – I must stay with those who stay.

Mary was increasingly involved with her family, writing copious letters, visiting them and receiving visits, especially after Alfred junior, who had become a very successful architect (perhaps his most famous building being the Natural History Museum) built Fox Hill House, also on the Whiteknights estate, for his family in 1868. Alfred senior died while walking in his garden in 1873. After some years as a widow, cared for by her unmarried daughter Maria, Mary died in 1880 and was buried at the Meeting House in Reading.

1 comment:

Doreen said...

Gosh, I knew nothing of her before. I shall look for her grave the next time I visit the burial ground/garden.