At home in a passionate place

HANNAH Davies leads the way through the tangled romantic history of Gibside to a backdrop of stunning Vivienne Westwood clothes.

Hannah Davies leads the way through the tangled romantic history of Gibside to a backdrop of stunning Vivienne Westwood clothes.

RUINED lives, lost fortunes and cruel husbands, the history of Gibside is that of a tangled English aristocracy.

A former house and estate of the Bowes Lyon family, it has been the backdrop to many dramatic tales, perfect for showcasing Westwood’s eccentrically beautiful clothes.

Mirroring the fall of many aristocratic families, Gibside fell into ruin, its most famous visitor the late Queen Mother, who spent happy childhood summer holidays picnicking there.


The ruined manor of Gibside bears the coat of arms of William Blakiston and the initials of his wife Jane, who lived there in the 1620s.

The estate passed to the Bowes family with the marriage of the couple’s granddaughter Elizabeth to Sir William Bowes, of Streatlam Castle, County Durham.

Their son George shaped the grand estate and pleasure grounds but his 14-year-old bride died soon after their marriage.

It was not until 18 years later he married his second wife, the heiress Mary Gilbert, who gave birth to their daughter Mary Eleanor when he was nearly 50.

Mary Eleanor was married to John Lyon, 9th Earl of Strathmore, on her 18th birthday in 1767, who changed his name to Bowes Lyon and inherited the estate through his bride. Mary Eleanor’s mother did not approve of the match, with the 9th Earl, complaining of “disorder in the family, many brothers and sisters, and lastly his being a Scotchman”.

The couple had five children and their union was not happy, the heiress having an affair with George Grey, by whom she became pregnant.

After the Earl’s death in his late 30s from TB, the countess, a passionate botanist, built the Orangery, with seven bays of Tuscan columns to contain her exotic plants and to escape her love affairs.

Her next was particularly disastrous.

She married Andrew Robinson Stoney, an Irish adventurer said to be the model for the roguish hero of William Thackeray’s novel Barry Lyndon.

Mary Eleanor’s pregnancy and relationship with Grey had been featured in the Morning Post and she was impressed by Stoney’s offer to fight a duel with the editor.

But Stoney was infuriated to find later that Mary Eleanor had legally ensured she kept hold of the estate and its income and as the relationship became unbearable, she fled to London and sued for divorce. She was seized from her coach in Oxford Street and after a 33-hour journey north, Stoney demanded at pistol point that she drop the divorce suit.

With the alarm now raised, Stoney took his wife, still at pistol point, to Newcastle, where he was arrested and later imprisoned.

Mary Eleanor’s son John became the 10th Earl and in 1790 he attended a theatrical performance at Seaton Delaval Hall in south Northumberland, where he was enraptured by Lord Delaval’s daughter Sarah.

Although married to the Earl of Tyrconnel, she was also the lover of Frederick, Duke of York, and a frequent visitor to Gibside to see the 10th Earl. She died at Gibside from TB at the age of 37.

Nine years later, the Earl met Mary Milner, a Teesdale housemaid. She became his mistress and gave birth to a son, John, in 1811.

The day before his death in 1820, the Earl was carried into church in a sedan chair and married Mary.

He is buried in the crypt at Gibside Chapel alongside George Bowes and Mary Eleanor.

Thanks to all at Gibside and National Trust. Gibside near Rowlands Gill, Burnopfield, Gateshead, (01207) 541820. Grounds are open during winter from 10am to 4pm. Admission prices: £5, child £3, family £15, family (one adult) £10.

All clothes by Vivienne Westwood, 1 Hood Street, Newcastle, (0191) 260-5220.

Make up by Caroline Donnelly at Mac, assisted by Danielle Hall.

Hair by Katherine Rooney at Tony and Guy

Photography by Steve Lomas,, 07855 941231.

Models Ashleigh and Phillip at Tyne Tees Models.


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